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by Robert Horton

Contributor

Review: De Palma

“And that’s when I came up with the flying utensils.” A seemingly innocuous phrase, right? If the speaker is a Disney animator, you might be visualizing a charming sequence of movie magic. But no—the speaker is Brian De Palma, so this out-of-the-blue comment can only lead to something perverse. His fans will know that the notorious director is talking about Piper Laurie’s death scene in Carrie, his 1976 horror hit. On the page, the telekinetic Carrie gives her mother a heart attack. Speaking to us in the documentary about him, De Palma rolls his eyes over how uncinematic this would be. Why have a character simply clutch her chest and fall over when you could send an arsenal of flying cutlery toward her, crucifying the evil witch in her own contaminated house?

This is one of dozens of stories in De Palma, a feature-length interview in which the filmmaker, 75, tells anecdotes, copiously decorated with clips from all his films. The tidbit about Carrie is typical of the documentary at its best: It’s a colorful story, but it also underscores De Palma’s keen, sometimes lurid grasp of what cinema is. That scene in Carrie may be over the top, but it is cinematically alive in a way that De Palma’s better-behaved colleagues rarely touch.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: The Other Side

When Walker Evans traveled into 1930s America and photographed the people hit hardest by the Depression, he captured the perseverance and dignity of poor folks in the rural South. A similar journey is traced in the new documentary The Other Side, but here perseverance has become hostility and dignity is in shreds. In modern-day West Monroe, Louisiana, the faces are distorted by methamphetamine and alcohol, animated by fear, and given definition by resentment toward an enemy (the black man in the White House, gun-safety advocates—any enemy will do).

For two-thirds of the film’s running time, we follow Mark and Lisa, lovers and lost souls. They cook and sell meth, sometimes tenderly injecting each other. We first see Mark waking up naked along a roadside, the first of the film’s startling images; director Roberto Minervini shoots the scene as though it’s the first morning in an American Eden (the sculpted photography is often in direct counterpoint to the squalid living conditions).

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Maggie’s Plan

Maya Rudolph and Greta Gerwig

It’s possible that the author of Death of a Salesman might have fathered a child with a gift for the rapid-fire style of screwball comedy. But in her films as writer/director, Arthur Miller’s daughter has remained true to his somber mood. Rebecca Miller seems entirely at home in the heaviness of her 2005 drama The Ballad of Jack and Rose (which starred her husband, Daniel Day-Lewis, no laugh riot himself). And when hilarity breaks out in Miller’s Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009), it’s like a desperate bark from someone drowning.

Miller’s new film, Maggie’s Plan, has the contours—and the far-fetched storyline—of a screwball comedy, and although it misses the happy rhythm of that ditzy film subgenre, it substitutes something intriguing.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Video: Framing Pictures – May 2016

Film critics Bruce Reid, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy, and Robert Horton debate and discuss the recent restorations of film noir orphans Too Late for Tears and Woman on the Run, the legacy of Sam Peckinpah, Ben Wheatley’s new film High-Rise, and (non)critical opinions of Captain America: Civil War in the May 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 June edition will take place on Friday, June 10 at 7pm at the Scarecrow Video Screening Room. More information at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Review: Weiner

Anthony Weiner in the documentary ‘Weiner’

Even the title of the documentary is a punch line. It could’ve been given a tragic title like The Last Crusade, or something soberly ironic like Public Service, or maybe the Raymond Carver-esque You Would Know If This Was Your Underpants (taken from perhaps the greatest thing Wolf Blitzer ever said to anybody on CNN). But no, the documentary is called Weiner, and its title character is just going to have to live with that. As he will have to live with many things for the rest of his life.

Anthony Weiner is a former seven-term U.S. representative (a New York Democrat) whose career collapsed after a 2011 sexting scandal. He sent indelicate messages to women who were not his wife, some of which included explicit photographs of himself, or parts of himself. Before the scandal broke, Weiner was a lively—indeed fiery—congressman, prone to splendid displays of temper on the House floor. He was also a reliably eloquent and bellicose guest on cable-news shows.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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?

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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.

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