Review: Black Christmas

17 August, 2015 (11:00) | by Ken Eisler, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Movietone News contributor

[Originally published in Movietone News 38, January 1975]

“The Film Funding Corporation Limited in association with Vision IV” has produced a serviceable-enough Canadian low-budget shocker in Black Christmas and pitched it at the end-of-year trade. Unless I’ve missed some subtle subtext, the tie to Christmas is tenuous: an establishing shot of wassail seen through the windows of Gothic-looking Hart House, University of Toronto (decked out with Christmas lights and disguised as a sorority house in the college town of “Bedford”), and an advertising campaign built around a Christmas wreath gift-labeled “Season’s Greeting’s” and enclosing a still of a polyethylene-wrapped corpse propped in a rockingchair. One question about this campaign teases my mind more persistently than any puzzle propounded by the film itself. Did the merchandiser who dreamed it up personally place the apostrophe before that plural s in “Greetings,” as unselfconsciously as if he were scrawling the words on a wrapped Christmas gift in the sanctity of his own home; or could FCC Ltd./Vision IV in fact be trying to hip us, via their use of this endemic seasonal illiteracy (see also: Greetings from the Smith’s, The Smith’s Live Here, etc.) to their extraordinary concern in Black Christmas for the exact social detail?

Read more »

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

Summer of ’90: ‘Wild at Heart’

14 August, 2015 (16:30) | by Robert C. Cumbow, Film Reviews | By: Robert C. Cumbow

The power of David Lynch’s Wild at Heart is the endurance of an Elvis Presley song (or two), the staying power of a children’s movie, and the sight and sound of a match being struck: romantically mellow, wackily comic, and deadly, darkly serious.

Lynch gets more and scarier mileage out of fire in Wild at Heart than he did out of Frank Booth’s lighter in Blue Velvet. In between the two came the game-changing Twin Peaks, which, soon after Wild at Heart, Lynch would round off with Fire Walk with Me. It’s easy to see the whole arc from Blue Velvet to Fire Walk with Me as part of a single centralizing vision, an identifiable phase of his artistic development—his “fire period,” if you like.

You find it everywhere in the reds and yellows of Wild at Heart: fire as a murder weapon; fire as the spark of recollection and of wisdom; not only a destructive force, but a creative one as well. The reds and yellows of Wild at Heart recall the reds of Hitchcock’s Marnie—the nagging, ever-present trigger to a memory that hovers just outside the border of consciousness and refuses to be grasped and confronted in all its detail. There as here we see red washes shroud the screen like the curtain between the lies we live and the truth we can’t face. Sailor tells Lula: “We all got a secret side, baby.”

Continue reading at The House Next Door

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of August 14

14 August, 2015 (12:14) | by Bruce Reid, Links | By: Bruce Reid

‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?’

The new issue of feminist film journal cléo arrives, with a focus on camp. Among the writers quoting Susan Sontag are A. Mistry on how Bollywood’s employment of camp values “creates a cultural and linguistic bridge that can be meaningful when struggling with the tension of growing up between identities” in the Indian diaspora; Willow Maclay on the hatefulness of Sleepaway Camp’s notorious twist; Sara Black McCulloch on how What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? knowingly invoked its stars’ personas and famous rivalry; Simran Hans uniting Showgirls, Crossroads, and Glitter as sly, camp features that play off the naïveté of their awkward stars; and Davina Quinlivin on how some recent portrayals of Queen Elizabeth play on constricted ideas of femininity, from the “dense and structured” layers of costume that transformed Quentin Crisp to the Beyoncé tour poster that marks the Elizabeth trope as “part of the very fabric of contemporary camp iconography.” Via David Hudson.

Nick Pinkerton’s history of wide-screen formats reminds you the push for expansive canvases is as old as the cinema itself, and has been pursued diligently by artists and hucksters alike. (Not that there’s such a sharp distinction between the two when it comes to movies.) Via Criterion.

Read more »

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

Film Review: ‘Phoenix’

13 August, 2015 (03:20) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Ronald Zehrfeld and Nina Hoss

Taking most of its plot from Hubert Monteilhet’s 1961 novel Return From the Ashes, the new movie by German filmmaker Christian Petzold feels like something out of that era. With its contrived plot and high-gloss possibilities, Phoenix would have been an ideal project for Lana Turner and director Douglas Sirk after Imitation of Life.

It begins at the end of World War II, with the re-emergence of the heavily-bandaged Nelly (the soulful Nina Hoss) from Auschwitz. She has been disfigured by a gunshot wound to the face; her friend Lene (Nina Kuzendorf) helps nurse her back to health, urging Nelly to claim her postwar reparations and join other surviving Jews in Palestine. Nelly, however, is fixated on her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld, who really looks like an old-fashioned movie star), but he thinks she is dead and doesn’t recognize her with her new face. He has an idea, however—the rat. If this mystery woman will pretend to be Nelly, they can claim her inheritance and split the money.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

Film Review: ‘People Places Things’

13 August, 2015 (03:15) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Jemaine Clement with Aundrea and Gia Gadsby

Unlike, say, six-foot-six Vince Vaughn, who has a jazzy physical grace that makes him deft at comedy, the New Zealand performer Jemaine Clement is a big guy who looks uncomfortable in his skin. Or maybe he’s not that big (IMDb says he’s six-foot-one) and he just looks like a hulk—large facial features, arms that hang down awkwardly at his sides. The low-pitched Kiwi twang, too, is the voice of a lumberer. But this slow-looking man is a very funny person, as his old HBO series Flight of the Conchords and scattered big-screen appearances—in Jared Hess’ cracked-nuts cult picture Gentlemen Broncos, for instance—have proved.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

Film Review: ‘Tom at the Farm’

13 August, 2015 (03:12) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Xavier Dolan

Not every 25-year-old filmmaker comes out fully formed, as Orson Welles did with Citizen Kane. Xavier Dolan, born in 1989 and already with five features as a director, is less protean in his talent, less wise, less articulate, than wunderkind Welles. But there’s something urgent going on with this French-Canadian director, and youth has a great deal to do with it. The success of his 2014 Cannes prizewinner Mommy has prompted a proper U.S. release for Tom at the Farm, a sinister 2013 film directed by and starring Dolan (from a play by Michel Marc Bouchard). The opening half-hour sets up expectations for a familiar kind of social drama, circa 1998.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

Blu-ray: The original 1931 ‘The Front Page’ rescued from video neglect

12 August, 2015 (16:41) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

FrontPageThe Front Page (Kino Classics, Blu-ray, DVD) – The original 1931 screen version of the rapid-fire newspaper comedy written for the stage Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur stars Pat O’Brien as the crack reporter Hildy Johnson, ready to leave the beat for marriage and an office job, and Adolph Menjou as the crafty editor who pulls every trick to keep Hildy on the job to cover a breaking story: the execution of a convicted killer who is more addled political radical than murderous felon. The film opens on a test drop from the scaffold that is to hang Earl Williams (George E. Stone), then the camera glides over to the reporter’s room where the thick-skinned gentlemen of the press prove that they are no gentlemen.

Is this the stuff of comedy? It is in the hands of Hecht and MacArthur, former newspapermen with plenty to say about the cutthroat tactics of journalists. These guys are equal parts con men who will do anything for a story, hard-boiled professionals jaded by the job, and public servants out to dig up the hidden dirt of corruption and crime (even if they have to commit a few themselves along the way). And they knew the dirty game of Chicago politics. Though the film never explicitly says so (the opening titles put this in “a mythical kingdom”), this is set in the cradle of Chicago politics, where everything is a matter of power and public appearances, including the impending execution of a socialist who has been railroaded to placate the voters. When he escapes—using the Chief of Police’s own gun!—Hildy and Walter become conspirators in hiding the felon until they can get their scoop and blow the lid off the mayor’s scheme.

Read more »

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

Review: The Gambler (2)

11 August, 2015 (09:36) | by Kathleen Murphy, Film Reviews | By: Kathleen Murphy

[Originally published in Movietone News 38, January 1975]

The Gambler is a curiously cerebral film in which the play of ideas (particularly literary assessments of the American experience) is transferred from the incestuous séance of the academic seminar to green baize gambling tables. There, those ideas are raised, not as ghosts, but as the highest stakes a man can wager. In California Split Robert Altman used gambling as an excuse for getting at the marginalia, the milieu, rather than as a metaphysical metaphor. Director Karel Reisz and screenwriter James Toback (a professor of English) are clearly after bigger fish—say, about the size of Moby Dick. For like Ahab, Reisz’s gambler bets on himself, his own power or will, to make some impression, to impose some meaning on … what? Perhaps that which resists will: fate or chance, the existential territory that refuses to be enfeoffed by the central “I-am.”

Read more »

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

Summer of ’90: The Exorcist III

10 August, 2015 (12:55) | by Robert C. Cumbow, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Robert C. Cumbow

“Georgetown 1990”: A college rowing team trains on the Potomac. Suited-up runners pass by. A tired movie way of introducing life at a big-city university. It’s been done a hundred times to code Harvard. But stay with it. Just a few minutes in, our skepticism about the racing shell turns sour in our mouths as we hear the details of a brutal serial killing, its victim a young boy, crucified on a pair of rowing oars. And that’s not the worst of it.

It’s 20 years after the events of The Exorcist, and, as it turns out, after the grim reign of a monster dubbed the Gemini Killer. Following the college athletics and campus atmospherics of the opening shots, we’re introduced—at first visually only—to Jesuit teacher Joe Dyer (Ed Flanders) and Detective Lieutenant Bill Kinderman (George C. Scott), linked for us both to 1970 and to each other in a photograph we see on Kinderman’s desk.

A church is invaded by a howling wind. Statuary eyes open wide. Something very ancient and evil has returned.

Continue reading at The House Next Door

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

Review: The Gambler (1)

10 August, 2015 (03:17) | by Rick Hermann, Film Reviews | By: Rick Hermann

[Originally published in Movietone News 38, January 1975]

James Caan has graduated from the half-wit college boy of Coppola’s The Rain People right into a professorship at NYCC in his latest picture, Karel Reisz’ heavyhanded non-exploration into the befuddled and befuddling id of a compulsive gambler which ultimately becomes knotted up in its own tangle of 19th century existentialism and carelessly applied Nietzschean superman metaphysics. Somehow I was more convinced by Caan’s gentle inarticulateness in Coppola’s movie than I was by the cutely masochistic cool he sardonically exudes in The Gambler, and although he’s still impaling women against walls (shades of The Godfather) and strutting about with the typical Caan machismo which fails to be tempered by his role as a teacher in Reisz’s film, the character of Axei Freed lacks some of the gritty credibility which Caan was able to give to the role of gangster Sonny Corleone. Which may not be so much Caan’s fault as that of Reisz and screenwriter Toback who, instead of trying to develop their character from the bottom up, begin in some metaphysical realm far above his head and pigeonhole his personality in a framework of neatly defined psychological concepts, with the result that Caan’s character reads like a textbook case rather than reminds us of a man.

Read more »

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

Film Review: ‘Fantastic Four’

8 August, 2015 (08:20) | by Andrew Wright, Film Reviews, Science Fiction | By: Andrew Wright

Kate Mara and Miles Teller

Even among the legions of characters in long underwear, the Fantastic Four have always stood apart, both for their squabbling family dynamics and an endearingly retro squareness. The latest attempt to move the team to the big screen captures, well, exactly neither of those aspects, with results that are too bloody and dour for kids (heads start popping off toward the end, GWAR-style), too laissez faire for continuity geeks, and too uninspired for everybody else.

Continue reading at The Stranger

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of August 7

7 August, 2015 (00:05) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links, Obituary / Remembrance | By: Bruce Reid

“Malick’s three historical epics can be seen as extensions and refinements of the cinematic techniques and philosophical concerns initiated during the laborious filming and editing process for Days of Heaven (1978). Indeed, this was one of film critic Roger Ebert’s chief criticisms of The Thin Red Line; Ebert believed the film was uncertain and derivative. However, it’s now apparent that in actuality Days of Heaven is the film that feels like an artist’s compilation of uncertain notebook sketches and detail studies. Yes, it’s a film with the full backing of a studio at the height of a cultural and artistic revolution and so its pictorial scope is sweeping and expansive, but it was also a film born from conflict, change and exploration. It’s a film about soulless wanderers that, in retrospect, itself is searching for a greater calling beyond its own celluloid artifice.” In the first of two articles on Terrence Malick, Reno Lauro might lay on the philosophy a bit much, fantasizing the director stumbling across Deleuze texts during his Paris sojurn; then again, this is Malick we’re talking about, and Lauro’s connecting his cinema to the movies of Sokurov is both sourced and concretely rewarding.

The Thin Red Line

“When Channel 4 approached [Kureishi], his first instinct was to write a sprawling multigenerational family epic that did for Pakistanis in Britain what The Godfather had done for Italians in America. Originally intended to be a film for television, My Beautiful Laundrette was ultimately a far more modest affair than Coppola’s masterpiece, but both films are about immigrants fighting to be accepted in their new homeland; when one of the characters says “I believe in England,” there is an unmistakable echo of the opening line from The Godfather.” Sarfraz Manzoor relates how much has changed—not unambiguously for the better—for England’s Pakistani community in the 30 years since My Beautiful Laundrette.

“A cat is an ambiguous gazing presence. Blofeld, James Bond’s arch-nemesis, has a cat. Would Harry Lime’s introduction in The Third Man work as well if it were a puppy that nudged itself between his shoes, rather than a stray kitten? Cats laze into suspense movies as though they were familiar windowsills facing the afternoon sun. But dogs—especially dogs in close-up, edited to suggest that they are reacting to something—aren’t open to interpretation.” Ignatiy Vishnevetsky raises some interesting points on how much movies allow us to interpret for ourselves as he contemplates why the ubiquitous reaction shot of a cock-headed dog inevitably comes off as hokey.

Read more »

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

Film Review: ‘Jimmy’s Hall’

6 August, 2015 (10:02) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Barry Ward

As political filmmakers go, Ken Loach makes the admirably committed John Sayles look like a tenderfoot. Now in his sixth decade of filmmaking, the British director shows no signs of softening his stance, even amid recent rumors of a possible retirement. A dedicated social-concern standard-bearer in his films and a strident activist in his life, Loach is capable of balancing his passions when he’s on his game (see My Name Is Joe and Sweet Sixteen, for instance). When he’s not, his films can get talky and obvious—and alas, Jimmy’s Hall finds Loach working with stilted material.

Loach and his frequent screenwriter Paul Laverty return to Ireland, the setting for their beautiful The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006).

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

Film Review: ‘The Look of Silence’

6 August, 2015 (09:58) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Adi Rukun

Joshua Oppenheimer’s 2013 documentary The Act of Killing earned an Oscar nomination and a raft of astonished reviews. There were skeptics, however, who questioned the film’s nausea-inducing strategy of encouraging the mass murderers of Indonesia’s mid-1960s genocide to proudly re-enact their atrocities for the camera. That’s a point worth raising, but with the release of The Look of Silence, we glimpse Oppenheimer’s larger canvas. This film—not a sequel, but a complementary project—has an interrogator.

Instead of the neutral camera-eye of The Act of Killing, we see the new film from the perspective of Adi Rukun, an optometrist (born in 1968, after the slaughter) whose older brother was tortured and killed during the purge.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email

Film Review: ‘The Wanted 18’

6 August, 2015 (09:50) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

‘The Wanted 18’

Taken separately, there is nothing wrong with political documentaries, animation, or talking animals. Put them together, and you have my kryptonite. So my lack of enthusiasm for The Wanted 18 can be taken with that in mind, especially if you like all of the above. The very slim 75-minute film is based on an incident that took place during the First Intifada: In 1988, as part of a general organized pushback against Israel, some Palestinian inhabitants of the town of Beit Sahour purchased 18 milk cows from a sympathetic Israeli farmer. This way, the population could produce its own dairy products and stop relying on Israel for that part of its diet. Not being dairy farmers, there was a good deal of bumbling involved, which makes for some mildly amusing reminiscences from people who were there. Then the Israeli authorities decided to stop the project, and a hunt ensued as the Palestinian milkmen tried to hide the bovines for a couple of increasingly bizarre weeks.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Facebook Twitter Linkedin Digg Stumbleupon Email