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by Robert Horton

Contributor

Photo credit: Local Sightings

Preview: Local Sightings Film Festival 2016

The autumn movie calendar brings a handful of essential annual events to local screens—for instance, the Seattle Art Museum’s Film Noir series (kicking off Sept. 29) is the world’s longest-running showcase for noir, and SIFF presents its yearly French Cinema Now festival (also Sept. 29). An increasingly important mainstay is the Northwest Film Forum’s Local Sightings Film Festival. Launched in 1997, Local Sightings draws its roster from movies made throughout the Northwest, casting its net far enough to include Alaska and Montana as well as near-flung Canadian provinces.

The result is inevitably a mixed bag, but that’s part of the point. Some of the films are authentic finds, some are not ready for prime time. But all movies need air, and the festival provides a way to get these things onto a screen and exposed to audiences, where they can flourish or wither. Almost as important, Local Sightings surrounds a year’s worth of regional films with panels, workshops, and parties, all part of maintaining the we-can-do-this-here energy.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Photo credit: MGM

Review: The Magnificent Seven

There are, I understand, people who can drive around a mesa in the American Southwest and come upon a vast, stunning expanse of pure Western landscape and not hear the music from The Magnificent Seven in their heads. Sad, but true. The catchiness and ubiquity of Elmer Bernstein’s thrumming music (which Marlboro licensed for their TV campaign peddling a manly, nicotine-loaded lifestyle) is so definitive it instantly summons up the Old West—or at least the cinematic version—in its first few beats. That music is the Western movie.

Bernstein’s score is amusingly hinted at during the remake of The Magnificent Seven, but you’ll have to wait until the end credits for a full nostalgic airing of the main theme. The original music is too heroic and unconflicted for a 21st-century Western, which Antoine Fuqua’s new film certainly is: Multicultural in its casting and pointedly political in its choice of bad guy, The Magnificent Seven is a 2016 movie all the way. In fits and starts, it also manages to be a pretty enjoyable Western.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Disorder

Matthias Schoenaerts in 'Disorder'
Matthias Schoenaerts in ‘Disorder’

For many years I have suffered from tinnitus, which is a great Edgar Allan Poe-ish word for “ringing in the ears.” (I know now we’re supposed to say we “live with” conditions and syndromes, but I suffer from mine, thanks anyway.) Having tinnitus creates an unreal soundscape; for me, along with various pulses and crackles, I often think I hear conversations or music happening somewhere. Or maybe there are conversations and music happening—who can tell, with all the noise going on?

In Alice Winocour’s Disorder, the protagonist Vincent suffers (really suffers) from much more than just tinnitus. This military veteran has PTSD and hearing loss, and his shaky nerves make it unlikely he’ll see active duty again. One thing that drew me into Winocour’s odd film is the sonic depiction of how Vincent hears the world: The soundtrack hums with high-frequency whirring and insectoid buzz, which is all the more maddening to Vincent because he often has to pay close attention to dangers that might be approaching.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Sully

Tom Hanks in 'Sully'
Tom Hanks in ‘Sully’

The opening sequence of Sully is a nightmare: a damaged airplane crashes in New York City. The dreamer wakes and sits up in bed, panting in the dark. He turns his head slightly, and his eyes are softly illuminated by a little band of light. This is an old-movie technique that goes back to the silent days; it’s as simple as it is effective.

The old-fashioned touch indicates the preferred method of director Clint Eastwood, who has crafted an admirably trim, plain film out of a very square subject. Because Sully chronicles the 2009 Hudson River landing executed by US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (played by a white-haired Tom Hanks), the film requires one big sequence of digital spectacle: the six minutes of flying that took Sullenberger’s passenger jet from LaGuardia Airport to the surface of the Hudson on a freezing January day. (Two minutes into the flight, the plane’s engines were disabled by contact with a flock of geese.) But the majority of the movie is utterly unadorned—mostly shots of people walking and talking in nondescript hotels and generic conference rooms.

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Review: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans

From the hamfisted title to the Victorian-era plot machinations, The Light Between Oceans has rich potential to be the kind of insane project that might possibly turn into something great. Consider the elements: Derek Cianfrance, the passionate indie filmmaker who helmed the frowning Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines, adapts a 2012 novel by Australian writer M.L. Stedman. The story’s twists and turns might make a romance novelist hesitate, but Cianfrance embraces them like the bold swain on a paperback cover. He casts two exceptional actors and strands them together at a remote New Zealand lighthouse during the shoot, encouraging improvisation and identification with their roles (sure enough, the actors began a relationship that continues to this day). The whole endeavor is neither commercial nor hip. Surely something intriguing must come out of this stew?

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Video: Framing Pictures – August 2016

Film critics Bruce Reid, Richard T. Jameson, and Robert Horton discuss the careers and legacies of actor Warren Oates and director Hector Babenco, praise Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Our Little Sister (2016), and engage with Oscar Micheaux’s landmark race film Within Our Gates (1920) in the August 2016 edition of Framing Pictures, now available to stream via The Seattle Channel.

These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The video appears a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.

The September edition will take place on Friday, September 9 at 7pm at the Scarecrow Video Screening Room. More information at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Review: Southside with You

Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers in 'Southside With You'
Tika Sumpter and Parker Sawyers in ‘Southside With You’

The first laugh in Southside with You is a close-up of a cigarette in a man’s hand. We laugh because we know this movie is about the first date of Barack Obama and Michelle Robinson, and we recognize this close-up as a droll joke about the 44th POTUS and his curiously stubborn—curious, that is, for someone famously in control—bad habit. The cigarette indeed belongs to the young law student Obama, seen here on a warm summer day in 1989 as he prepares to meet his co-worker (who’s also his superior) for an outing.

This early moment in Southside with You, and the assumption that the audience is in on the joke, indicates both the film’s strength and weakness. Nobody can experience this movie as merely a pleasant portrait of two young African-Americans on the town; we know who they are—or who they will be—and we see the film through that historical prism. The movie repeatedly confirms that the young Obamas were extremely smart, deeply committed people. It’s like an extended version of a convention video, crafted to please the faithful and maybe haul in a few uncommitteds.

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Review: Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World

Lo and Behold

Werner Herzog has been making films for 50 years, and when an artist lasts that long, the distance between his original defining self and his latest work can be dizzying. For instance, who could have predicted Herzog would become a kind of holy-oddball celebrity, renowned for his films but also for his sonorous all-purpose voice, his unexpected acting roles (bothering Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher), and his presence in inexplicable encounters (pulling Joaquin Phoenix from a car wreck in Los Angeles; being shot with a BB gun in the middle of a TV interview)? We seem to be living in Herzog’s world.

As for the films themselves, consider that when he reached his full powers in masterpieces such as Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) and The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (1974), he was working in a raw, mystic style that examined man and nature in a strange new way.

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Review: Our Little Sister

Our Little Sister

Three adult sisters stand on a small-town road, gazing at the discharge from a nearby chimney. “Smoke from a crematorium is so old-fashioned,” one of them remarks—not as a put-down, but more as a dreamy observation. The ashes inside the chimney are what remains of their father, but the sense of detachment is understandable; he abandoned his family 15 years earlier to be with another woman and have another child. The sisters have come to his town for a dutiful funeral visit. As quickly as possible, they will return to their seaside city of Kamakura, where they share a house.

They will not get away without complications, which is how Hirokazu Kore-eda’s wonderful new film (based on Akimi Yoshida’s award-winning graphic novel Umimachi Diary) takes flight.

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Video: Framing Pictures – July 2016

Film critics Bruce Reid, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, and Robert Horton debate and discuss the polarizing film The Neon Demon, the work of director Michael Cimino, and the unifying filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami in the July 2016 edition of Framing Pictures from Scarecrow Video.

These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The video appears a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.

The August edition will take place on Friday, August 12 at 7pm at the Scarecrow Video Screening Room. More information at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Review: Don’t Think Twice

Don’t Think Twice

Are there people who don’t know what improvisational comedy is? Writer/director Mike Birbiglia seems to think so, because he begins his new film Don’t Think Twice with a short history of the development of improv and an explanation of the rules, the way each new onstage inspiration requires a “Yes, and … ” response from the other player in order to keep the sketch going. This primer makes the film stumble out of the gate, but all right, the rare individual who chooses to see a film about improv comedy without knowing how it works will be up to speed. Happily, the film does not feel the need to explain itself thereafter, and we are free to enjoy a pleasantly low-key comedy-drama credibly laced with disappointment and frustration—and the occasional onstage high.

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Review: Bad Moms

Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn are ‘Bad Moms’

The thing I hate most about Bad Moms isn’t its relentless crudeness, or its waste of talented actresses, or the way it hides bland middlebrow homilies in the naughty wrapping paper of an R-rated Girls Gone Wild premise. No, the thing I hate most comes during the end credits, where bad movies usually stash the blooper reel. No outtakes here; instead we get a mini-documentary of the film’s actresses—out of character—filmed with their real-life mothers. On its own, the segment has charm, and I assure you that I take great personal comfort in knowing that these successful women have mothers who are proud of them. But the segment serves no purpose, except to provide another way to soften the outlines of an allegedly edgy comedy.

You didn’t see this kind of crap at the end of the Hangover pictures. And not coincidentally, Bad Moms is written and directed by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who wrote the first Hangover movie.

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Review: Café Society

Café Society

In Annie Hall, Los Angeles is “a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light.” That was 40 years and 40 Woody Allen movies ago, and the humor that worked back then—L.A.’s mind-set summed up thus: “I’m going to have the alfalfa sprouts and plate of mashed yeast”—has mellowed with time. For Café Society, Allen remains skeptical about La-La Land, but this portrait of a New York lad trying his luck in 1930s Hollywood is sticky with nostalgia: wrapped in lush costuming, honeyed by golden California light, and scored to the vintage toe-tappers that Allen continues to love. Satirical arrows are dutifully aimed, but the overall gorgeousness makes the target a soft one.

The lad is Bobby Dorfman (Jesse Eisenberg), whose Uncle Phil (Steve Carell in a good turn) has become a successful movie agent. Bobby gets stuck with menial jobs, but he’s able to observe chic pool parties and meet movers and shakers.

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Review: Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen and family in ‘Captain Fantastic’

In Captain Fantastic, the winner of this year’s SIFF Golden Space Needle award, Viggo Mortensen has found a role that fits his own reluctant image as a movie star. His character, Ben, withdrew from society years ago to enjoy a communal hippie-hang in the Washington woods. He and wife Leslie (Trin Miller) went off the grid for political and philosophical reasons, and the couple has raised a brood of children whose survivalist expertise outstrips their knowledge of everyday life in the outside world. Ben is skeptical of the System, the Man, and other capitalized sources of authority; he wants to stay out of view and raise the kids as “philosopher-kings.” The favored life skills he has instilled in his family include killing deer with bow and arrow, rigging a water cistern, and playing musical instruments at night instead of gazing at TVs or laptops.

Not every actor could pull off this combination of Thoreau and MacGyver, but Mortensen is utterly credible—in part because the actor himself has so frequently seemed to withdraw from the camera’s gaze, even when he’s at the center of a movie.

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Review: The Fits

The Fits

One way you can spot a strong new movie director is by listening to what she does with the soundtrack—not the music, although that’s part of it, but the whole sonic enchilada. I like a lot of things about The Fits, and the first thing that got me was the way it sounds. As the film evokes one Cincinnati girl’s bumpy journey into the mysteries of adolescence, the soundtrack ripples with densely layered noise: the slap of feet on a hardwood floor during dance practice, the rhythmic meeting of boxing gloves in the workout room, the specific way a song echoes in a big empty school gym. The noises are realistic enough, but when they’re piled atop each other, it all sounds like a dream.

The Fits is written and directed by Anna Rose Holmer, who developed the story with editor Saela Davis and producer Lisa Kjerulff. But “story” isn’t the right word, because The Fits is more an immersion into one girl’s point of view as she tries to figure out her identity during a peculiar time at her school.

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