Browse Category

by Robert Horton

Contributor

‘Stories We Tell’: Sarah Polley’s Family Secrets

Sarah Polley with her father Michael during the ’70s

The phrase “spoiler alert” gains new currency in the realm of narrative documentary. The reveals and gotchas contained within them are probably already public record—but still, one hesitates to blow the incredible surprises of, say, Searching for Sugar Man for unsuspecting viewers. In the case of Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, we should be able to dance around the spoilers. And yet, because the actress/director wants not merely to tell a tale of her family’s life, but also to question the reliability of storytelling itself, we might wonder why old-fashioned issues such as suspense and surprise should be part of the program in the first place.

But Stories We Tell is suspenseful and surprising, even if the filmmaker might want to disown those qualities. Polley was a child star in her native Canada, won raves for her youthful roles in The Sweet Hereafter and Go, and snagged an Oscar nomination for writing Away From Her (2006), a much-liked film she also directed.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

‘The Kings of Summer’: Ohio Teens Build Their Dream House

Erin Moriarty plays Kelly, Joe’s dream girl

Maybe it’s a lingering childhood memory of the classic book My Side of the Mountain, or a weakness for a certain kind of afternoon-daydream movie, but The Kings of Summer fell directly into my sweet spot. The movie doesn’t exist in a real world (please don’t waste energy trying to reconcile psychological motives or social logistics), but in the enchanted realm of a teenage summer. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts understands this charmed mood, which is why he layers the film with dewy inserts that would not be out of place in a Terrence Malick picture. The result is a nicely bittersweet ode to killing time and patching up differences.

We must begin by buying into screenwriter Chris Galetta’s implausible premise: Three high-school lads build a ramshackle house of their own in a clearing in some woods outside their suburban Ohio hometown. Joe (Seattle native Nick Robinson) has had it with his ill-equipped father (Nick Offerman); both are working through hostilities connected to the death of Joe’s mother. Joe’s friend Patrick (Gabriel Basso) is almost as disenchanted with his parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Evan Jackson), so he joins his bud for the adventure.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

‘What Maisie Knew’: An Updated Take on Henry James

Onata Aprile as the girl at the center of the storm

The most famous children to spring from the pen of Henry James are the brother and sister from The Turn of the Screw, that celebrated and oft-filmed ghost story. The young heroine of James’ What Maisie Knew is about to receive her most prominent film exposure, albeit in a setting the author could not have imagined. Directing team Scott McGehee and David Siegel (The Deep End) place the 1897 novel smack in the 21st-century urban jungle. Here, the ghosts in 6-year-old Maisie’s life are her parents: Julianne Moore plays the mother, an irresponsible singer trying to revive her career; Steve Coogan plays the father, a sarcastic art dealer.

They’re splitting up, and Maisie (Onata Aprile) is the club with which they can hammer each other. The fact that Maisie’s nanny (Joanna Vanderham) has moved in with Dad gives Mom an excuse to retaliate with an abrupt marriage to a genial bartender (Alexander Skarsgård of True Blood) in her bohemian circle. The audience is quick to spot how these younger stepparents behave more lovingly toward the kid than her own flesh and blood does.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

‘Frances Ha’: A Star Turn for Greta Gerwig

Greta Gerwig (left) and Mickey Sumner romp through the city

From her earliest mumblecore movies, something about Greta Gerwig didn’t quite fit the scene. Here were these lo-fi indie efforts (including LOL, Hannah Takes the Stairs, and Baghead), nobly scruffy around the edges, intended as the antitheses of Hollywood—and right in the middle of them was a movie star.

Hard to miss it: Gerwig may have been an unknown, but she had crack timing and silent-movie eyes. Despite the best efforts of all concerned, she jumped off the screen at you. Non-mumbly filmmaker Noah Baumbach took note and cast Gerwig in his caustic Greenberg, a move that led to a personal and professional partnership between the two.

The fruit of this is Baumbach’s Frances Ha, co-written by and starring Gerwig, an unabashed tribute to the actress’ distinctive (don’t you dare say “quirky”) charms. The outline of a typical indie picture is in place, as we follow 27-year-old Frances and her New York apartment-hopping over the course of a few months. Frances dreams of being a dancer, as though nobody’d told her that if you haven’t made it as a dancer by 27, your dream should probably be in the past tense. (Actually, somebody probably told her. But her go-with-the-flow optimism is undaunted by such realities.)

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

‘In the House’: Bad Teacher, Naughty Pupil

Luchini as a very bad teacher

François Ozon’s parents were schoolteachers. That could account for the slyly mixed feelings he shows toward the protagonist of his new film. Meet Germain, a high-school teacher whose commitment to his profession is tested by his boredom, his frustrated dreams of being a writer, and the seductive series of papers turned in by a precocious student.

Not “seductive” in the obvious sense—the movie’s got more on its mind than an inappropriate affair. What Germain (Fabrice Luchini) sees in the serial narrative written by Claude (Ernst Umhauer) is a spark of talent, a reason to invest himself in a student, and a string of cliffhangers that have him—and eventually his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas)—waiting breathlessly for each new installment.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

‘Graceland’: Crime and Parenthood in the Philippines

The device at the heart of Graceland is unsavory but gripping: A flunky for a crooked politician is driving his daughter and his boss’ daughter home from school when kidnappers pounce. The baddies immediately kill one of the girls and drive away with the other, a huge ransom demand trailing in their wake.

The twist? The kidnappers have killed the wrong girl, and the driver is the only person who knows that his daughter, not the rich guy’s kid, is the one held captive. As it happens, this is not the only twist waiting in Ron Morales’ Graceland, a Philippine suspense picture that puts the hammer down, hard.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

‘Midnight’s Children’: Salman Rushdie Helps Adapt His Own Novel

Saleem (Bhabha) in transit between identities and nations

When Midnight’s Children was published in 1981, one might have assumed that its promising author would become best known as a writer of magical realism and an observer of the divide between India and Pakistan. That’s not the way it worked out for Salman Rushdie. His 1988 novel The Satanic Verses was judged to be blasphemy against Islam by the world’s worst literary critic, the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Rushdie has lived under threat of death ever since.

Midnight’s Children predates all that, yet its absurdities depict the maelstrom out of which such chaos comes. And when the new film adaptation was in production in Sri Lanka, it encountered lingering hassles related to Rushdie’s notoriety; at one point a forced shutdown was lifted after director Deepa Mehta made nice with the president of the island nation.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

‘Eden’: A Locally Made Tale of Sex Trafficking

Proposed: One of the basic concerns for a storyteller is what to put in and what to leave out. That sounds really obvious. But it’s a huge deal, and deciding what should go in—as opposed to all the other stuff that might, but shouldn’t—makes the difference between a spellbinding experience and a nap. It matters even more in movies than in literature: Ten pages of dull writing in a 400-page novel can be forgiven, but 10 off-key minutes in a movie will break an audience’s faith.

Eden (Jamie Chung) soon after capture

I thought about this principle while watching Eden, a harrowing film by Seattle director Megan Griffiths. Handled in middling fashion, the subject would have some punch: Eden is based on the true story of Chong Kim, a victim of the U.S. sex-trafficking trade, so horror and suspense are already built into it.

Even with that backbone in place, there are ways to mess this up, but Eden rarely sets a foot wrong. Given the potentially lurid material, Griffiths gives the film a sort of committed austerity—which comes to seem more horrifying for its calm approach.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’

Kate Hudson and Riz Ahmed

The 2010 film Four Lions is about a British cell of Islamic fundamentalists plotting to plant homemade explosive devices at—among other targets—the London marathon. It’s an uproarious comedy.

Too soon after the Boston bombings to recall this scathing movie? Maybe, but it shouldn’t be—Chris Morris’ prediction of stupid, self-styled jihadists looks even keener and more furious than it did three years ago.

In Four Lions, Oxford-educated actor and hip-hop artist Riz Ahmed played the leader of the hapless terrorists. That movie’s a better vehicle for the wunderkind artist Ahmed than this tepid new effort from director Mira Nair, which passes glumly over distantly related turf.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: ‘Renoir’

Michel Bouquet as Pierre-Auguste Renoir

Pretty pictures in a movie are sometimes dismissed as eye candy, the implication being that empty calories are no substitute for the sound nutrition of noble stories and thematic depth. That may be, although it would be difficult to deny the chocolate-box allure of Renoir, a lushly photographed gloss on a real-life moment in an artistic family.

The title identifies the family; the moment is 1915. As war rages on the other side of France, Pierre-Auguste Renoir (Michel Bouquet), by now elderly and arthritic, paints at his sun-dappled estate on the Côte d’Azur. He employs a new model, Andrée (Christa Theret), a willful redhead who suits Renoir’s vision of glowing flesh and interior mystery.

Actually we have to take the mystery on faith, because Theret doesn’t suggest much beyond a handsome surface.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Seattle Screens: Brandon Cronenberg goes ‘Antiviral’

Caleb Landry Jones loves his cultures in ‘Antiviral’

Robert Horton, curator of the Museum of History and Industry exhibit “Celluloid Seattle,” and Richard T. Jameson, one-time film critic of Seattle Weekly and editor of both Seattle’s own Movietone News and Film Comment (as well as frequent Parallax View contributor) will discuss Seattle’s lively film culture back through the decades in a free event at the MOHAI Café tonight, Thursday, April 18, at 7 pm. Details here.

Antiviral, the debut feature from Brandon Cronenberg, brings inevitable comparisons to his father, with its story of “biological communion” with cultural superstars via celebrity viruses, black market viral thieves (who use their own bodies to smuggle the cultures), and genetically-modified meat that borders on cannibalism. The rigorously austere, antiseptic look recalls Cronenberg pere’s earliest films and the fascination with disease and deterioration of the human body his later work, while its cultural fascination with celebrity and the physical desire to connect is right out of J.G. Ballard. Which isn’t to call it derivative, mind you, merely to place him in an evolutionary context. His approach is appropriately intimate and sensuous, physical yet disconnected, and there is something fascinating and disturbing in the way our ostensible hero (Caleb Landry Jones, perfectly creepy and almost inhuman) makes himself the viral petrie dish for every heist. He’s as addicted to this culture as any of his customers. At Grand Illusion for a week.

Oblivion, with Tom Cruise as the last man Earth (or so he thinks) patrolling the devastated planet from guerilla attacks by the remnants of an alien invasion, is as derivative a science fiction film as you’ll see. It borrows whole cloth from 2001 to The Matrix to WALL-E to Moon to Independence Day and just about every other alien invasion movie you’ve every seen. But director Joseph Kosinski, adapting his own graphic novel, sure knows how to make it look beautiful and evocative. There are plenty of digital effects but its Kosinski’s superbly-scouted and strikingly-photographed locations that give the fantasy a physical resonance. Cruise does what he does best here, playing the good, loyal soldier whose romantic streak drives him to bend the rules to feed his soul and satisfy his curiosity. The twists aren’t all that surprising, but they are nicely delivered. Multiple theaters

Openings

“It is middling praise to declare that The Company You Keep improves on Robert Redford’s previous directorial offerings, The Conspirator and Lions for Lambs, politically minded properties that seemed drained of life by their own unimpeachable good intentions.” Everett Herald film critic Robert Horton is now also in Seattle Weekly, and this is one of his first featured reviews here. Multiple theaters.

Keep Reading

‘Welcome to Doe Bay’

Last year when the jury members for the Reel NW prize at the Seattle International Film Festival got together, we were strongly agreed on Megan Griffiths’s film Eden as our top pick. But it would’ve been a short meeting if we hadn’t at least kicked around our next-favorites, and so we did.

‘Welcome to Doe Bay’ by Daniel Thornton, Nesib CB Shamah, and Sarah Crowe

I made a next-best case for Welcome to Doe Bay, a cheerful, hang-loose account of the annual Doe Bay musical festival on Orcas Island. I have never attended this weekend music fest, having been born between the hippies and the retro-hippies and thus slightly out of key demographic range, but this documentary conveys some of the vibe of being there.

The movie’s built around performances from the Head and the Heart, Pickwick, Damien Jurado, Maldives, and Lemolo, among others. Lots of performers are Northwest-based, and the setting for the festival is one of those green waterside perches in the San Juans that seem designed to entice outsiders to seek out this part of the country. There’s also a lot of conversation and explanation from the organizers of the event, whose entrepreneurial spirit is somehow both laid-back and savvy. In some ways the D-I-Y approach of the Doe Bay organizers and participants, emphasizing smallness and specialness over huge commercial ambitions, is like a mirror of the Northwest film scene: Don’t wait for someone else to give you permission, don’t go gigantic, and don’t worry about looking weird.

Continue reading at KCTS9 Reel NW blog

Parallax View’s Best of 2012

Welcome 2013 with one last look back at the best releases of 2011, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View and a few notable Seattle-based film critics.

Sean Axmaker

1. Holy Motors
2. Zero Dark Thirty
3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. Margaret (2011 in NY and LA, didn’t screen elsewhere until 2012)
5. Cosmopolis
6. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
7. The Master
8. The Turin Horse
9. Tabu
10. This is Not a Film

Ten more: Amour, Barbara, Deep Blue Sea, Django Unchained, Hyde Park on Hudson, I Wish, The Kid With a Bike, Life of Pi, Lincoln, Magic Mike

My greatest cinematic events of 2012
Hands down the cinematic experience of 2012 for me was the American premier of the complete restoration of Abel Gance’s Napoleon (1927) with live accompaniment by Oakland East Bay Symphony conducted by Carl Davis. The density of Gance’s ideas, the frisson of his images and experiments in cinematic expression, and the complicated perspectives on the legacy of Napoleon have a weight that is undeniable. And watching the full 5 ½ Napoleon with a live orchestra in a magnificent theater elevates the film to a cinematic experience without parallel, and that experience electrifies the storytelling and imagery.

Local (Seattle) Event: Joe Dante’s The Movie Orgy, one-night-only at Grand Illusion. It was a perfect marriage of film and venue: the tiny, independent house with a storied history and an audience of regulars, and a scrappy compilation movie with some surreal moments and a climax that manages to bring over dozen films into the same narrative universe, if only for this moment. And hey, don’t crowd me, man.

Other published Top Ten Lists: MSN, Village Voice, Fandor

Best of Home Video lists: Top Ten Disc Debuts, Top Five Blu-rays, Top Five TV on Disc Releases, Top Five MOD Releases and Notable Achievements for 2012

Sheila Benson

(as published in Village Voice)

1. Rust and Bone
2. Amour
3. Argo
4. Lincoln
5. Holy Motors
6. The Master
7. The Perks of Being a Wallflower
8. Life of Pi
9. Quartet

David Coursen

(the first nine in alphabetical order, the last as the film of the—um—year)
Holy Motors, Hugo, Lincoln, Margaret, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Rust and Bone, Silver Linings Playbook, Tabu, Take this Waltz, and La Rabbia: the Rage of Pasolini (“a film released, in what must have been an infinitely less compelling form, in 1963, but listed this year by the National Gallery of Art as a “Washington Premiere” in a form so imbued with greatness it triggered a private pre-New Years Pasolini epiphany”).

Jim Emerson

(as published in Village Voice)

1. Holy Motors
2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
3. The Deep Blue Sea
4. Lincoln
5. Amour
6. Tabu
7. Moonrise Kingdom
8. The Turin Horse
9. This is Not a Film
10. The Master

John Hartl

Technically, Kenneth Lonergan’s remarkable Margaret may not have qualified as a 2012 film (a few people saw it in 2011), but the years he spent in the editing room paid off in this story of a high-strung teenager (Anna Paquin) who causes a horrendous traffic accident. The writer-director’s unique focus on responsibility–and its limits–led to the creation of the year’s most haunting and original film. Almost equally affecting were Michael Haneke’s wrenching account of an older couple facing the end of their relationship, Amour, and Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, about an American personality cult spinning out of control. Among the most playful new movies: Wes Anderson’s tale of romantic runaways, Moonrise Kingdom, and Richard Linklater’s stranger-than-fiction Jack Black vehicle, Bernie. The latter, like Ben Affleck’s self-assured Argo, Steven Spielberg’s painstaking Lincoln, and Kathryn Bigelow’s vigorous Zero Dark Thirty, is based on fact. Gary Ross’ The Hunger Games took a popular young-adult book and made something majestic of it. Northwest filmmaker Jon Garcia’s The Falls, a perfectly cast love story about 20-year-old Mormon missionaries, was the best of several strong gay films.

A second 10: Rust and Bone, How to Survive a Plague, The Invisible War, Keep the Lights On, Barbara, A Royal Affair, Life of Pi, Silver Linings Playbook, Queen of Versailles, Any Day Now.

Robert Horton

(as published at Everett Herald)

1. Margaret
2. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
3. Silver Linings Playbook
4. This Is Not a Film
5. Lincoln
6. The Turin Horse
7. The Master
8. Bernie
9. Searching for Sugar Man
10. To Rome With Love

For the second 10: The Secret World of Arietty, Wreck-It Ralph, The Deep Blue Sea, Cosmopolis, Django Unchained, Holy Motors, Elena, Moonrise Kingdom, The Dark Knight Rises, The Grey.

Richard T. Jameson

1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Lincoln
3. Django Unchained
4. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia
5. The Turin Horse
6. Silver Linings Playbook
7. Moonrise Kingdom
8. Cosmopolis
9. The Deep Blue Sea
10. The Sessions

Mooned by the misbegotten: Les Misérables, Rock of Ages

Other published lists: MSN

Jay Kuehner

(as published on Fandor)

1. Leviathan (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel)
2. Tabu (Miguel Gomes)
3. Neighbouring Sounds/O som ao redor (Kleber Mendonça Filho)
4. In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo)
5. Two Years at Sea (Ben Rivers)
6. small roads (James Benning)
7. Viola (Matias Piniero)
8. O Gebo e a Sombra/Gebo and the Shadow (Manoel de Oliveira)
9. Vers Madrid/The Burning Bright (Sylvain George)
10. Arraianos (Eloy Enciso)

Moira Macdonald

(as published in The Seattle Times)

Anna Karenina
Argo
The Avengers
The Deep Blue Sea
Flight
I Wish
Lincoln
Margaret
Pina
Ruby Sparks

Ten more terrific movies, any of which might have slipped into my first ten on a different day: A Cat in Paris, Bernie, Liberal Arts, The Master, Middle of Nowhere, Moonrise Kingdom, A Royal Affair, The Sessions, The Silver Linings Playbook, Skyfall, Smashed. OK, that’s 11. So be it.

Best 2012 movies that haven’t opened in Seattle yet (but I’ve seen them): Amour, Zero Dark Thirty

Kathleen Murphy

(as published at MSN Movies)

1. Zero Dark Thirty
2. Lincoln
3. The Master
4. Amour
5. Holy Motors
6. Django Unchained
7. Moonrise Kingdom
8. Silver Linings Playbook
9. The Deep Blue Sea
10. Cosmopolis

Bruce Reid

1. The Turin Horse
2. The Kid with a Bike
3. Moonrise Kingdom
4. Cosmopolis
5. The Master
6. Holy Motors
7. This Is Not a Film
8. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
9. Not Fade Away
10. The Loneliest Planet

Andrew Wright

1. Django Unchained
2. Holy Motors
3. Elena
4. Looper
5. Margaret
6. Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning
7. Argo
8. The Master
9. The Grey
10. Skyfall

Lists of lists:
MSN Movies (lists at end of gallery)
Village Voice (poll and lists)
Indiewire’s Criticwire
Movie City News
Fandor
Time Out London
Keyframe Daily Lists and Award 2012 Index

Polls (no individual lists)
Film Comment
Indiewire Poll
Sight and Sound

Other lists
2012 additions to the National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1922
New York Times Year in Culture

See the 2012 Seattle Film Critics Wrap at the Frye, with Robert Horton hosting Kathleen Murphy and Jim Emerson, after the jump below.

Keep Reading

Robert Horton Blogs North by Nordwesten

“I’m Robert Horton, Seattle film critic and RIAS 2012 fellow. As we travel through Europe for the RIAS fall program, I’ll blog along the way, from Berlin to Dresden to Prague to Brussels.”

Seattle film critic and Parallax View contributor Robert Horton is American abroad for the next few weeks. He’s been chosen as a Fellow in the RIAS Berlin Kommission’s fall 2012 German/American Journalist Exchange Program and is now on a very busy itinerary in Berlin. So he’s set up a new blog to chronicle his activities: North by Nordwesten.

Here’s Horton checking in on his Second Day:

“The RIAS program for U.S. journalists does not skimp on activities. This is no problem whatsover, but it makes for days when it is difficult to cast one’s mind all the way back to, oh, the morning. But I feel certain that this morning we had a breakfast talk with the very personable and knowledgable Erik Kirschbaum, an American journalist who has lived in Germany for many years and seems capable of commenting on virtually any topic, cultural or political, we could bring up.”

You can find the North by Nordwesten blog here.

Like Dracula: David Thomson

[Originally published in Movietone News 64-65, March 1980]

No event exists without the process by which it is apprehended and understood. It is irrelevant and impossible to refer it to an absolute standard like realism because the means of measurement cannot be extricated from the observation. The relationship between the real and the surreal is not distinct but blurred
David Thomson, Movie Man

The cinemas alone stayed open, twinkling with lights and turning the night into dark velvet. The cinema comes to life with dark—like Dracula.
—David Thomson, America in the Dark

It all begins in the dark. This is a point of crucial poetic and philosophic importance for David Thomson; he is obsessed with the fact that the delicate interplay of light and dark images on the screen, as produced by film and projector, is possible only after a room has been completely darkened and a shaft of light sent streaking across that room to illuminate the screen. Illumination occurs elsewhere. For the adolescent David Thomson, sitting in a cinema in South London, it strikes him while watching and rewatching Hitchcock’s Rear Window. The realization that an intelligence guiding the camera was commenting on movie-viewing itself—a man sitting in the dark, watching people move in a box—was a stimulating experience, and Thomson works with the tangled mesh of art, life, observation, and participation in his three books Movie Man (1967), A Biographical Dictionary of Film (1975), and America in the Dark: Hollywood and the Gift of Unreality (1977). The very private relationship he maintains with films, even when he expands his notions to include theories and pronouncements on all society, is passionate and idiosyncratic (need I add, subjective?). Thomson refuses to be pinned down or to wear a label; humanist, auteurist, structuralist, whateverist, he remains doggedly an individual, exploring his personal contact with movies—with prejudices, usually acknowledged, but always with a real determination to get at the roots of the power that has hold of him: cinema.

Keep Reading