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by Robert Horton

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Review: Puzzle

August is not too early to start the Oscar guessing game, especially when the Academy itself is already teasing big changes for next year. A few days ago they breathlessly—and idiotically—announced the creation of a new award, for “Achievement in Popular Film,” details to be hammered out later. It’s Hollywood admitting they make a lot of dumb movies that will never win awards—an admission that won’t sit well with people making popular movies that are actually smart. The move also stems from panic over declining ratings for the Oscar telecast, allegedly because the audience hasn’t seen winners such as BirdmanSpotlight, or La La Land (sorry, I mean Moonlight). If the idea goes forward, it will likely mean that a superhero picture like Black Panther is relegated to the kiddie table of Best Popular Film, instead of getting nominated for Best Picture, which it probably would have anyway.

You may be thinking, “Haven’t the Oscars always been absurd?” Well, sure. For instance, actors generally win not for giving the best performances, but the showiest. This year an appropriately low-key sort of Oscar buzz is gathering around a genuinely deserving performance: Kelly Macdonald’s understated lead turn in Puzzle. The Scottish actress has bounced around agreeably since her 1996 debut in Trainspotting, nailing the occasional supporting appearance in a big movie (No Country for Old Men) and doing duty on TV (Boardwalk Empire). But this is the first time she’s ever really carried a film, and she’s frankly wonderful.

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Review: You’ve Got Mail

[Originally written for Film.com in 1998]

Set the wayback machine to 1998. Parallax View presents reviews of films released 20 years ago, written by our contributors for various papers and websites. Most of these have not been available for years.

I saw You’ve Got Mail in a spanking-new multiplex located in a spanking-new downtown development, a place with an atrium and coffeeshop and Tiffany’s and J. Peterman. It’s the kind of gleaming, upscale mall that drove out (or will drive out) all the little shops and longtime dives that used to define the downtown of a city. It doesn’t really matter what city I’m talking about, because the downtown of my city could now be the downtown of AnyCity, blessed as it is with Planet Hollywood and Old Navy and a Starbucks on every corner.

The new development also has a Barnes & Noble at ground level. Well, gee, how ironic. You’ve Got Mail is about the owner of Barnes & Noble – er, “Fox Books” – opening a new megastore on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) is untroubled by the fact that his new store will drive the little booksellers out of business, including The Shop Around the Corner, a funky children’s book nook. It’s owned by Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan), who declares war on Fox and his heartless methods.

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Review: The Miseducation of Cameron Post

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

Every kid at the gay-conversion-therapy center must draw an iceberg. If they can fill in the huge, below-water section of the iceberg with reasons for their homosexual activity, they will better understand how they could have slipped from the straight path. And then they will be “cured.”

In The Miseducation of Cameron Post, the iceberg is a running joke, born of despair. The teenagers trapped in the therapy center try to think of gay-causing explanations they can write on their icebergs—a childhood trauma? an overbearing parent?—and sometimes borrow other kids’ scrawlings (how well I remember being a Catholic schoolboy and trying to come up with two or three credible transgressions to offer up in the confessional every week, so I would sound believably sinful). You have to wonder whether the organizers of God’s Promise, the fictional gay-conversion school, have really thought through this iceberg metaphor. Are the teenagers the icebergs, or are they the ships steaming toward a collision?

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Review: Generation Wealth

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

If you look at recent headlines and conclude that society is about to implode, the new documentary Generation Wealth is here to confirm your worst fears.

This movie is a mosaic of distorted values and conspicuous consumption. I would say it’s like being locked in a room showing a repeated loop of Keeping Up With the Kardashians episodes, except I’ve never sat through that show (which may explain the thin threads of innocence I have left). The Kardashians turn up in Generation Wealth, along with a roster of plastic-surgery fanatics and affluent men whose cigar-smoking evidently replaces some other primal need. I know Freud said “Sometimes a cigar is only a cigar,” but he hadn’t seen this movie.

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Review: Mission: Impossible — Fallout

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

The first Mission: Impossible movie came out in 1996, and its athletic star is now 56 years old. The numbers tell us this franchise really ought to be out of gas.

It seems Tom Cruise and writer/director Christopher McQuarrie are not good at math, because the tank is full in Mission: Impossible — Fallout, the sixth installment of the series. This hellzapoppin’ sequel delivers a string of unlikely but wonderfully executed stunts; it’s a summer movie that knows exactly what it’s doing.

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Review: Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

Portland’s resident filmmaking genius, Gus Van Sant, can go either way. Sometimes he’s mainstream (lest we forget Good Will Hunting) and sometimes he’s experimental (in the remarkable Elephant and Gerry). For his latest film, he wears both hats.

Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is Van Sant’s tribute to fellow Portland legend John Callahan. You may remember Callahan: the carrot-haired quadriplegic cartoonist whose squiggly-lined drawings repeatedly crossed the borderline of good taste. The title refers to the caption of one of his most famous panels, a picture of some cowboys pondering an abandoned wheelchair in the middle of the desert. Before his death in 2010, Callahan worked with Van Sant on developing this biopic.

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Review: On the Seventh Day

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

The first thing you notice about On the Seventh Day (En el Séptimo Día) is that it doesn’t sound like a sports movie. In the opening sequence we watch a soccer game in a Brooklyn neighborhood park, and it takes a moment to adjust to the realism: There’s no inspirational music swelling or digital thudding of the ball colliding with a foot. Nobody’s doing “the wave.” (Note to self: Find out if people still do “the wave.” Editor’s note: They do.) It sounds exactly like what you’d hear if you walked past a game in progress at your local park on a quiet Sunday afternoon and decided to lean against the fence to watch for a while.

Writer/director Jim McKay is clearly gifted at capturing authentic places and faces, and that’s what gives On the Seventh Day its everyday enchantment.

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Review: The King

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

Almost 20 years ago I took off to Memphis by myself and stayed in a motel with a small, guitar-shaped swimming pool. It was across Highway 51 from Graceland.

The first thing I did was take the tour at Elvis Presley’s mansion. It seemed natural at the time, but in recent years I have wondered: Why did I want to see Graceland? I like Elvis, and I like Americana, and Graceland’s blend of excess, tragedy, and kitsch was right up my alley. People of every variety, from all over the world, were on the tour. But really: Why were we there? Surely it’s partly because the life of Elvis—an age-old story of innocence, success, decline, and exaltation—resonates in ways that go beyond his music, enough that we all performed a pilgrimage to this secular shrine. But that still doesn’t quite explain it.

Documentary filmmaker Eugene Jarecki (Why We Fight) explores the Elvis mythology in The King, but he’s not so interested in the why.

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Review: Leave No Trace

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

The first thing that strikes you in Leave No Trace is the density of the Pacific Northwest forest—all that enveloping greenness. People live in these woods, swallowed up by the choking undergrowth. And that’s the way they want it. The movie’s title, usually employed as an anti-littering motto, refers to a main character’s desire to vanish from society, to exist on his own terms and then disappear.

The forest in question is actually a park just outside Portland; it’s close enough to walk into the city for supplies. The disappearing man is Will (Ben Foster), a veteran with some degree of PTSD. What complicates his retreat from the world is his fierce bond with his adolescent daughter Tom (Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie, a New Zealander), who lives with him in the woods. They hunker down in their tent, build fires when they need to, and stay out of sight. The end of this idyll coincides with Tom’s wistful desire to have a more normal, settled life—a life that would be unbearable for her father.

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Review: Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

Twice during Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Bryce Dallas Howard’s character enters a scene with the camera focused on her shoes. Maybe this is the director’s foot fetish, but more likely it’s a comment on one of the criticisms of 2015’s huge-grossing predecessor Jurassic World: that Howard’s character, theme-park corporate lackey Claire Dearing, was so retrograde she spent an entire film wearing high heels while being chased by dinosaurs. That criticism was actually slightly unfair—Claire wore heels because her stupid job forced her to—but rest assured that in Fallen Kingdom, Claire is kitted out with a set of badass military-grade boots. And they’re ready for their close-up.

Fallen Kingdom reunites Claire and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) when a volcano threatens to destroy the remaining dinosaur population on Isla Nublar.

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Review: ‘2001’ in 2018

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

The greatest movie mind-blower of them all turns 50 this year—a wildly imaginative, influential, psychedelic riddle.

But I know what you’re thinking: What about its algorithms?

I checked Rotten Tomatoes, and 2001: A Space Odyssey sits with an 89 percent audience score. From critics, it has a comfortable 92 percent “Fresh” rating. That’s a mere eight percentage points behind Paddington 2. Sweet.

But Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic has been an official classic for decades. That tends to skew the vote. How would audiences rank 2001 on Rotten Tomatoes or IMDb if the film were unleashed as a new thing today? Even in 1968, critics argued over its slow pace, its violation of storytelling conventions, its baffling ending. Given the recent low audience scores for arty horror movies such as Hereditary and Annihilation, and the online tantrums thrown by Star Wars true believers who can’t abide variations on the formula (the faithful deliberately tanked online ratings for The Last Jedi and Solo), I wonder how the perversity of 2001 would go over now. The Internet-era urge to “solve” enigmatic movies might also work against Kubrick’s masterpiece. What’s the deal with that black slab? Who begins a movie with 20 minutes of monkeys? Why the giant baby?

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Review: American Animals

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

Until last weekend, I had a pretty simple opinion of MoviePass. It was obviously insane.

The service, which has been hemorrhaging money for months, sounded way too easy: For a low fee, you sign up and see a huge number of movies at participating theaters. How can this be good for theaters or distributors? How can it be good for MoviePass? Of course it works out nicely for frequent moviegoers, but the business model seems completely unsustainable, an example of the Amazonian lose-money-before-we-make-money philosophy gone mad.

The profit-making plan still eludes me, but something interesting happened a few days ago. The indie film American Animalsacquired at Sundance in a shared deal by distributor The Orchard and MoviePass (not heretofore a distributor)—scored fabulous box-office returns at four theaters in L.A. and New York.

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Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle weekly

At this point in the movie he’s just Han. But we know he’ll acquire the last name sometime soon. In a tight spot in a galaxy far, far away, Han glances at a billboard-sized recruitment video for the Empire, a laughably macho commercial for future pilots. Beneath the come-on, we can hear the unmistakable swagger of John Williams’ Darth Vader music—a great winking touch. The Few, the Proud, the Dark Side.

As you would expect, there are many in-jokes in Solo: A Star Wars Story, and this is one of the best.

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Review: Beast

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

At first it comes on like a grim version of Sixteen Candles: a young, flame-haired woman flees her house after being upstaged at her own birthday party (where her older sister makes a happy announcement, with perfect malicious timing), then gets tipsy at a club and ends up with a dodgy boy who turns out to be a creep. Life is almost comically frustrating for Moll (Jessie Buckley), but Beast is no John Hughes scenario. Moll’s not a teenager anymore, and her stunted existence—she lives with her parents and helps tend a father with dementia—is shadowed by a troubling incident from her past.

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Review: Deadpool 2

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

How deep do the pop culture references go in Deadpool 2? Let’s dive. In an early scene, our sardonic titular superhero (Ryan Reynolds) and his very special lady friend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) are chilling after a long day of crimefighting, watching Yentl on TV, like you do. A few minutes later, after a traumatic incident that allegedly shapes Deadpool’s behavior for the rest of the film, we find him dazedly worrying about whether the song “Papa Can You Hear Me” from Yentl is suspiciously similar to a tune from Disney’s Frozen. (Deadpool 2, released by Twentieth Century Fox, is full of jabs at Disney.) This would be an amusing enough throwaway joke, but of course it will resurface at a later point in the movie. And this might be some kind of meta-trolling of this movie’s villain, Josh Brolin, whose real-life stepmother is Barbra Streisand, the star of Yentl. Brolin’s casting is almost certainly an in-joke itself, as he also currently does villain duty in Disney’s much more serious Marvel blockbuster, Avengers: Infinity War.

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