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by Robert Horton

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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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Review: Tully

Review by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

Marlo, Charlize Theron’s lead character in Tully, fends off small talk with barrages of acid-dipped put-downs, and dismisses anything sentimental as corny. So you wonder what she would think of her own film, which conceals a tender heart within an outer skin of sandpaper.

That’s not a knock; Tully makes hipster sincerity look good. Its approach is the modus operandi of screenwriter Diablo Cody and director Jason Reitman. Their 2007 film Juno also used pregnancy as its jumping-off point, before coasting along on its cutesy one-liners and very conventional resolution. Thankfully, Tully is thornier and wearier, with an authentic sense of both dejection and hope.

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Summer Movie Preview 2018

Preview by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

Deadpool 2

In 2016’s Deadpool—a refreshing whiff of unfiltered R-rated sarcasm—Ryan Reynolds got to merge his tongue-in-cheek image with an antihero character who could break the fourth wall and mock other Marvel Comics franchises. The sequel has—somewhat alarmingly—parted ways with Deadpool director Tim Miller (subbing in Tim Leitch, of the listless AtomicBlonde), but Reynolds appears to be in charge. Josh Brolin—also doing megavillain duty in Avengers: Infinity War—plays the bad guy. If the movie is half as inventive as its marketing campaign (which included an issue of Good Housekeeping magazine “guest-edited” by Deadpool), we’ll be fine. (May 18)

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Review: Avengers: Infinity War (2)

Reviewed by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

Young Peter Parker, still a newcomer to his role as Spider-Man, asks his mentor Tony Stark (aka Iron Man) to explain why a villain is pummeling New York. “He’s from space,” says Tony. “He came here to steal a necklace from a wizard.” End of explanation. Back to saving the universe.

If only snarky Stark could have been in charge of telling the Marvel Comics saga, it might not have taken 18 movies to set up Avengers: Infinity War—which itself is only the first half of the series’ climactic opus. In a way, of course, Stark’s voice (in the invaluable person of Robert Downey, Jr) has been telling the Marvel story; these movies have usually taken a sarcastic squint at their own ludicrousness, while at the same time expecting us to stay emotionally invested in their gallery of superheroes.

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Review: Zama

Reviewed by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

A man stands beside a South American river, striking a distinguished pose in his 18th-century Spanish finery. You can guess his thoughts: Aren’t my boots impressive? See how my cocked hat radiates authority? Am I not the picture of a New World conquistador? But the longer we watch the opening sequence of Lucrecia Martel’s Zama, the less grand he seems. Within a minute, he’ll be crawling above the riverbank to spy on the women bathing below, until they chase him away with angry shouts of “Voyeur!” Behold the hapless Don Diego de Zama (played by Daniel Gimenez Gacho), a mid-level flunky in Spain’s colonial government. He wants success, he wants women, but most of all he wants to get out of this humid backwater.

Zamaa terrific film that plays like a fever dream—will deny him all of these.

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Review: You Were Never Really Here

Reviewed by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

In You Were Never Really Here, Joaquin Phoenix continues his dogged campaign to be our crustiest actor. Nothing tops his disheveled turn as “Joaquin Phoenix” in the similarly titled pseudo-documentary I’m Not Here—ever the gold standard for an actor trashing his own good looks—but Phoenix looks remarkably awful in this new thriller, which earned him the Best Actor prize at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. His hired killer is a pot-bellied, nest-haired wreck, raising the question: Is cultivating the “gutter-sleeping hobo” look really the best way for a hit man to slip in and out of dicey situations? Director Lynne Ramsay has suggested that her goal was to upend our expectations of the smooth, sleek professional assassin. If so, she and Phoenix have succeeded.

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Review: Submergence

Reviewed by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

I interviewed director Wim Wenders in the mid-’90s, and a sizable part of the conversation focused on an element of filmmaking he found supremely important: the sense of place. One can’t just parachute in somewhere and shoot a film; you need to know a location and understand it.

Well … hmmm. Wenders’ new film, Submergence, travels to a terrorist encampment in Somalia and a deep-diving submarine at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Compared to Wenders’ explorations of his native Germany in Wings of Desire and The American Friend or his deep drilling of the American landscape in Paris, Texas, this is a tourist’s visit. It might explain why Submergence—though sincere and sometimes woozily affecting—feels like a skim over the surface.

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

Review: Outside In

Reviewed by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

“You are to stay within Snohomish County,” the man says sternly. These words—not often uttered in the cinema—are spoken by a parole officer to a newly released ex-con in Outside In.

They are also taken to heart by the film’s director, Lynn Shelton, who creates a beguiling mood piece by staying close to her local roots. This film is especially evocative in its sense of place: There’s an unmistakable familiarity in the way the camera sees the evergreen-lined byroads east of Everett and the homey storefronts of Granite Falls. I spotted the little smear of green mold that develops around car windows when they haven’t been cared for during a Northwest winter (something I might possibly have some experience with). Outside In is about feeling like an outsider on your own home turf, but it’s been made with a native’s view of the landscape.

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Review: Isle of Dogs

Reviewed by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Wes Anderson returns to the world of stop-motion animation with his latest feature, Isle of Dogs. If you’re familiar with Anderson’s rigidly arranged chocolate-box technique, you can guess why animation appeals to him. For starters, it allows total control over the image, with nary a lock of hair (or piece of fur) out of place. Anderson’s fondness for squared-off, symmetrical compositions looks less strange in a cartoon (see 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox) than it sometimes does in live action. And with animation, Anderson can fully indulge his decidedly non-realistic style (stretched to its live-action limit in the dazzling Grand Budapest Hotel): he can exaggerate color, design, and behavior without literalists howling.

Here’s another theory about why Anderson returns to animation in Isle of Dogs: It gives him cover for making his most dramatic film yet.

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Review: Love, Simon

Reviewed by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

Early in Love, Simon, the hero jokes about getting together with friends and watching bad ’90s teen movies—the real joke being that Love, Simon essentially is a ’90s teen movie … with a few tweaks. Already acclaimed for being the first wide multiplex release with a gay high-schooler as its protagonist, Love, Simon dutifully follows the outline of other groundbreaking movies since at least the time of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. Put another way, it’s as bland as vanilla pudding. But unless you’re completely vanilla-phobic, the movie’s unforced good feelings are easy to enjoy.

You’re probably wondering: Hasn’t this ground been broken? There have been plenty of gay teens in TV and indie movies, but let’s allow Love, Simon its distinction in opening in 2,400 theaters at once.

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Review: The Death of Stalin

Reviewed by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

If satire doesn’t draw blood, what’s the point? For years that was the problem with Saturday Night Live, which tended to make its political caricatures into lovable clods, figures of fun rather than fury. (Things have been more barbed around there lately.) In Britain, there’s a long tradition of going for the jugular rather than the jocular, and Scottish writer/director Armando Iannucci wields the scalpel with cutting precision. His Oscar-nominated 2009 comedy In the Loop was a scathing look inside UK politics, and he co-created Steve Coogan’s long-running character Alan Partridge, an acidly sketched broadcaster whose first TV talk show was canceled when Partridge accidentally fatally shot a guest. More recently, Iannucci created Veep, HBO’s Emmy-winning political satire.

For his latest big-screen project, Iannucci comes close to perfectly balancing comedy and savagery.

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Review: Submission

Reviewed by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

In Submission, Stanley Tucci has this little chuckle he deploys in a variety of situations. He plays a creative-writing professor at a second-rank college, and his automatic laugh comes in handy when placating inquisitive students, attending faculty parties with pedantic colleagues, or shrugging off incessant questions about when he’s going to finish his new novel. I swear Tucci delivers it so that it expresses a dozen different meanings and feelings, all appropriate to the position in which he’s trapped at that moment. Acting is a precise craft but also a mysterious alchemy, and when you’ve gotten as good as Tucci has, a seamless performance like this can transform a so-so movie into a pleasure, merely for watching a veteran at the top of his game. The professor’s practiced chuckle also proves useful when navigating conversations with an attractive student who idolizes him, a case of sexual boundary-trampling that becomes the crux of the movie.

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Review: The Party

Reviewed by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

As we applaud the wave of women making (still far from equitable) inroads into film directing, let’s pause to appreciate a veteran in the field. Primarily a choreographer, songwriter, and performance artist in the early part of her career, Sally Potter began making experimental films in the 1960s. Her cinematic breakthrough was the surprise 1992 arthouse hit Orlando, an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel, with Tilda Swinton as the gender-hopping protagonist. Since then Potter has sometimes hit the mark, as with her hothouse coming-of-age picture Ginger & Rosa, but more often I’ve found her work insufferable. If you’ve seen the relentlessly politically correct Yes, in which all the dialogue is rhyming iambic pentameter, you know the desperate wish for large wads of ear-stuffable cotton.

It’s a pleasure to report that Potter’s newest, The Party, is a nasty little gem.

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Chimes at Midnight (1965 France/Spain/Switzerland) aka Campanadas a medianoche Directed by Orson Welles Shown: Orson Welles

An American in King Henry’s Court: Orson Welles’ ‘Chimes at Midnight’

Originally published in Linguaculture, Volume 8, Number 2, 2017

Orson Welles, a boy from Kenosha, Wisconsin, was one of the most audacious Shakespearians who ever lived. He recited soliloquies as a child, wrote a book on the plays as a teenager, and at age 17 roamed across Ireland before brazenly (and successfully) presenting himself at the Abbey Theatre as a distinguished American actor. Welles also created three of the most ambitious Shakespeare films. As an American pretender, a colonial presuming to re-interpret the greatest British writer, Welles approached Shakespeare with a mix of bravado and insecurity. This paper explores how Welles’ American nature informs these roles and, especially, his final Shakespeare film, Chimes at Midnight (1965). In this production, Welles plays Falstaff and is understandably identified with the role, but it could be argued that he speaks more directly through Prince Hal, whose anxiety about inheriting the throne might be reflected in the way an American Shakespearian seeks to be accepted by the British keepers of the text. The words of Hal’s father, Henry IV— Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown —might apply to Welles’ American-inflected depictions of kings and princes who do not entirely believe in their own royal agency. The tension between Welles‘ brashness and his fretfulness created some of the most memorable Shakespeare in the cinema.

Continue reading at Linguaculture (.pdf alert)