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by Robert Horton


Certain Women

Review: Certain Women

Kelly Reichardt’s films quietly creep up on plotlines, sniffing around the possibilities of storytelling before shifting away into a different kind of thing. In Meek’s Cutoff, a wagon train of pioneers is lost in the parched West; in Night Moves, a group of environmental saboteurs plans a bombing; in Wendy and Lucy, a traveler faces a transportation problem on the road to somewhere. None of these situations is allowed to come together in the usual kind of completion, which means you’re left with Reichardt’s wonderful way with actors and dialogue and a sense that we should be concentrating on gesture and intonation rather than plot.

I don’t want all movies to be like this, but I’m grateful for Reichardt’s talent for warping our movie expectations.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Rachel Weisz in 'Denial'

Review: Denial

“Not all opinions are equal.” How good it is, in this our time of cultural lunacy, to have these words definitively spoken. The fact that the phrase is uttered in a not-especially-great film is perhaps disappointing, but you gotta start somewhere, and movies have been known to lead the cultural conversation. Even when they’re not great.

Denial is written by the esteemed David Hare and directed by the journeyman Mick Jackson, so you might be able to guess where it soars and where it staggers. Hare, the unsparing author of Plenty and Skylight, based the script on Deborah Lipstadt’s experience in the world of Holocaust deniers. Lipstadt is a New York-raised academic (she once taught at the University of Washington) who was sued for libel in British court in 1996 over her book Denying the Holocaust, which named English author David Irving as an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier. The UK legal system mandated that Lipstadt had to establish that what she said was true—a situation that essentially put her legal team in the strange position of proving the Holocaust happened.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

The Birth of a Nation

Review: The Birth of a Nation

The provocation begins with the title, a kind of reverse cultural appropriation: Nate Parker’s Sundance smash takes its name from a famous film released 101 years ago. Not just any film, but a cinematic titan of its era:The Birth of a Nation. D.W. Griffith’s mammoth Civil War film sold more tickets than any other movie, inspired a resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan, and caused enormous controversy as soon as it was released. The film is a synthesis of Griffith’s profound cinematic eloquence and some appallingly racist material, the latter having frequently dominated the conversation about Birth. Parker is reclaiming the title and adjusting film history. Fair enough, but if you’re going to reach that big, you’d better deliver.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Video: Framing Pictures – September 2016

Film critics and Seattle film mavens Richard T. Jameson, Bruce Reid, and Robert Horton discuss the new films Hell or High Water, Sully, and Disorder, and they pay tribute to late comic actor, screenwriter, director and novelist Gene Wilder (1933-2016), who passed away August.

These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend (note: there will be no September edition due to scheduling issues). The video appears a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.

Keep up with the discussion at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Deepwater Horizon

Review: Deepwater Horizon

The miracle of Sensurround was uncorked in 1974 as part of the gimmicky release of Earthquake. Universal Pictures wanted to add something extra to the glut of disaster pictures in the marketplace (this was the epoch of The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno), so Sensurround was born. Theaters added huge speakers, booming bass notes were embedded in the soundtrack, and the ads warned that the effect would be akin to an actual earthquake: “The management assumes no responsibility for the physical or emotional reactions of the individual viewer.” That sold a lot of tickets, and the walls really did shake. But Sensurround was used on only a handful of films before more sophisticated audio systems came into use.

Today, technical advancements make it possible for theaters to rumble and quake with deafening authority—many movie experiences are the equivalent of getting stuck in traffic in front of a car with its thumping subwoofers tuned to the “bleed” setting. Such a film is Deepwater Horizon, a throwback to the ’70s-era disaster flick. The cheesy come-on of Sensurround is nowhere to be seen here; the filmmakers have said the movie is meant as a sober tribute to the 11 workers killed in the oil-rig disaster in 2010. But Deepwater Horizon follows the Earthquake formula, and its sound effects spare nothing in pursuit of tooth-rattling.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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?

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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.