The Beatles

Review: The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years

Do we need another documentary on The Beatles? Yes, they are music legends, rock royalty, and a popular culture phenomenon, and they have been duly studied, appreciated, dissected, and celebrated practically from the moment they set foot on American soil. Is there anything left to say?

Ron Howard’s The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years hasn’t much new to add apart from perspective but that makes all the difference. The title is a ungainly but accurate. After sketching in the birth of the band, it follows the familiar career arc from club favorites to pop hitmakers to sophisticated songsmiths pushing the boundaries of our conception of rock and roll in “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” which (apart from a fitting coda) is where this study ends. The focus, however, is on their non-stop activity from their first chart success to their last live concert.

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Review: Disorder

Matthias Schoenaerts in 'Disorder'
Matthias Schoenaerts in ‘Disorder’

For many years I have suffered from tinnitus, which is a great Edgar Allan Poe-ish word for “ringing in the ears.” (I know now we’re supposed to say we “live with” conditions and syndromes, but I suffer from mine, thanks anyway.) Having tinnitus creates an unreal soundscape; for me, along with various pulses and crackles, I often think I hear conversations or music happening somewhere. Or maybe there are conversations and music happening—who can tell, with all the noise going on?

In Alice Winocour’s Disorder, the protagonist Vincent suffers (really suffers) from much more than just tinnitus. This military veteran has PTSD and hearing loss, and his shaky nerves make it unlikely he’ll see active duty again. One thing that drew me into Winocour’s odd film is the sonic depiction of how Vincent hears the world: The soundtrack hums with high-frequency whirring and insectoid buzz, which is all the more maddening to Vincent because he often has to pay close attention to dangers that might be approaching.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Santee

[Originally published in Movietone News 28, December 1973]

Santee is a very unremarkable program western with a familiar plot complication: a former lawman, now bounty hunter, runs down and kills a bad fellow, only to have the man’s adolescent son swear vengeance on him; the bounty killer takes the boy under his wing, mainly to keep him where he can see him, and gradually (so tradition has it) the lad comes to love and respect him, and to assume the place of the son killed long ago.

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Erasable Bond

[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1974]

Watching the last three James Bond films in close succession, one constantly sees contrasts. Not so with the first two films of the series, Dr. No and From Russia with Love, which frequently play together as a double feature. They invite comparison rather than contrast, their parallels in plot and style having established a “James Bond formula” with which viewers quickly became familiar, expecting its recurrence in subsequent films. Goldfinger, Thunderball and You Only Live Twice fulfilled the expectation.

But the juxtaposition of the next two films, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds Are Forever, which also have circulated as a double bill, impresses the viewer more with differences than similarities, provoking one to redefine his notion of exactly what a James Bond film is, or is supposed to be. And the most recent offering, Live and Let Die, compared with its two immediate predecessors, comes off decidedly third-best.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, September 9

Oscar Isaac in 'Inside Llewyn Davis'
Oscar Isaac in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’

“While cooler styles have always been with us, from Greta Garbo and Cary Grant to Steve McQueen and Charlotte Rampling, those actors communicate that they are above or outside of emotion, either aristocratically detached or winningly unflappable. In contrast, the thread of resistance to and evasion of spectacular emotionality among many in today’s new generation of stars doesn’t evoke emotional detachment or indifference but rather a tortured mistrust of expression itself—one that, in its understated way, clearly forms its own kind of emotional appeal to the audience at the same time as it dramatizes why the actor must resist making one. In fact, many of today’s most popular young actors communicate to us, in various ways, that they don’t want to perform.” Shonni Enelow traces a new trend in American acting, a withdrawal from expression, and suggests there’s no paradox that audiences happily embrace stars who embody such stand-offishness. Staying at Film Comment, whatever your method (or lack of it), some actors are just going to be better at it than others; Steven Mears writes up two less celebrated but typically fine turns—in The Gypsy Moths and I Never Sang for My Father—by one of the best, Gene Hackman. (“It’s difficult to imagine, let alone recall, an inauthentic moment from Hackman—a reading that isn’t at once perfectly judged and erupting with surprise. Paired with an antithesis of vanity, Hackman was a star both of and outside his time.”)

A Movie is set to excerpts from Respighi’s Pines of Rome (it, too, sampled from another movie, Kenneth Anger’s 1947 debut short, Fireworks). In the first two-thirds of the film, the music is in sync with the tone and tempo of the pictures, but as the images spiral downward, the music rises in triumph. The juxtaposition heightens the horror—surely horror is at the very heart of “It’s All True”—and also sharpens Conner’s critique of our (and his) pleasure and fascination. What exactly have we all been enjoying?” Observant, thoughtful, and alive to the different ways the films, photographs, and artpieces speak to one another, Amy Taubin offers much the best walkthrough I’ve read of MoMA’s Bruce Conner exhibit. Via Mubi.

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Seattle Screens: Cinerama 70, Spock, Ted Neely, and revivals of Mankiewicz and Warhol

Lawrence of Arabia
Lawrence of Arabia

Framing Pictures convenes in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on Friday, September 9. More details at the official Facebook page.

Cinerama’s 70mm Film Festival opens on Friday, September 9 with screenings of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Tron (1982) and continues through Monday, September 19. The offerings are wide ranging, from such large-gauge standbys as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Spartacus (1960) to modern 70mm event releases The Master (2012) and Interstellar (2014) to unconventional choices like Tobe Hooper’s Lifeforce (1985), John Carpenter’s Starman (1984), and Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon (1985). You’ll want to get your tickets in advance; it’s all reserved seating and the first two shows of 2001, the Saturday show of Lawrence, and both screenings of Aliens (1986) are already sold out. Embrace the old school standard for high-definition cinema and remind yourself what it looks like to see film projected on the big screen. Showtimes and tickets here.

Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Suddenly, Last Summer (1959) starring Elizabeth Taylor, Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift plays on 35mm at NWFF on Saturday, September 10.

Andy Warhol’s Lonesome Cowboys (1968) plays one show at NWFF on Sunday, September 11. It screens from a 16mm print, just like it did in its original release.

Actor Ted Neeley will appear at the screening of Jesus Christ Superstar (1973) at SIFF Cinema Uptown on Tuesday, September 13.

The American indie comedy Chatty Catties plays three shows over the next few weeks at NWFF. The first is screening is on Friday, September 9, and it plays again on Saturday, September 17 and Saturday, October 8.

WRETCHED WOMAN // Pig or Poet? showcases the video works by Chicago-based artist Emily Esperanza in a two-part program at NWFF on Sunday, September 11. All screened from VHS tapes with the artist in attendance.

Cosmos, the final film from Polish-born filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski, continues at NWFF through Sunday, September 11.

More screenings of the 3-D music documentary Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: One More Time, directed by Andrew Dominick, have been added this weekend at SIFF Cinema Uptown.

For the Love of Spock, a documentary from Adam Nimoy, plays for a week at SIFF Film Center with a special Saturday screening at SIFF Cinema Uptown featuring a live Skype intro by the director.

The French Truly Salon, presented by SIFF and French Truly, reconvenes for an evening of French food, wine, culture, and cinema, with a screening of L’Amour Fou on Wednesday, September 14 at SIFF Cinema Uptown.

The documentary Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise screens one night only on Wednesday, September 14 at SIFF Film Center.

Ways of Something, a contemporary remake of John Berger’s BBC documentary Ways of Seeing (1972), presents one-minute videos by over 114 network-based artists. Screens Wednesday, September 14 at NWFF.

The People Garden, from Canadian filmmaker Nadia Litz, screens Wednesday, September 14 at NWFF.

Take Three 2016 is a showcase of experimental film and animation curated by Barbara Robertson, Joseph Pentheroudakis, and Janet Galore. It screens on Thursday, September 15 at NWFF. Some of the artists represented in the showcase will be at a pre-screening reception at 7pm.

Don’t Blink: Robert Frank, a documentary on the legendary photographer and filmmaker by Laura Israel, opens on Thursday, September 15 and plays through the weekend at NWFF.

More openings: Nanni Moretti’s Mia Madre from Italy at Guild 45, the American indie comedy Brother Nature at Sundance Cinemas, the documentary Hooligan Sparrow from China at Grand Illusion.

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

Review: Sully

Tom Hanks in 'Sully'
Tom Hanks in ‘Sully’

The opening sequence of Sully is a nightmare: a damaged airplane crashes in New York City. The dreamer wakes and sits up in bed, panting in the dark. He turns his head slightly, and his eyes are softly illuminated by a little band of light. This is an old-movie technique that goes back to the silent days; it’s as simple as it is effective.

The old-fashioned touch indicates the preferred method of director Clint Eastwood, who has crafted an admirably trim, plain film out of a very square subject. Because Sully chronicles the 2009 Hudson River landing executed by US Airways pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (played by a white-haired Tom Hanks), the film requires one big sequence of digital spectacle: the six minutes of flying that took Sullenberger’s passenger jet from LaGuardia Airport to the surface of the Hudson on a freezing January day. (Two minutes into the flight, the plane’s engines were disabled by contact with a flock of geese.) But the majority of the movie is utterly unadorned—mostly shots of people walking and talking in nondescript hotels and generic conference rooms.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Macunaíma

[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1974]

The allegedly quintessential Brazilian film begins solemnly, from the absence of color. The screen is black. No sound, no music, nothing. Finally, in white letters, something to lip-read: a preamble heavy and hackneyed as the baritone of the late, great Lowell Thomas…. In the depths of the Brazilian jungle, bla bla bla … all is utter silence, bla bla bla … except … An ungodly shriek rends the air and the audience’s eardrums. Sudden extreme closeup of ancient hag—ugh, what a mug on this old party! Medium shot: the crone (wait, maybe it’s a man, outlandish drag)—she—he—bends clumsily. W-a-a-a-a-w! Grande Otelo (an adult actor), fullgrown and black as the ace of spades, thuds bawling onto the turf; and Macunaíma, with a cry of comical outrage, is born.

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Blues for Mr. Chandler: ‘The Long Goodbye’

[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1974]

Raymond Chandler’s novel The Long Goodbye, and others of its genre and worth, operate somewhat like a Socratic dialogue. Philip Marlowe (or whoever) moves from chance meeting to chance meeting, from one seemingly unrelated event to another, and by these means a Gestalt of existential accident and dislocated drift is achieved. That these dark tales are often played out in an urban environment of sleazy hotels and bars, sinister vacant lots, heavily guarded and highly suspect private sanitaria, plush residences, bookstores and photography shops without clientele, and of course the disreputable backrooms of police stations, only adds to the general ambience of paranoia and disorder. This geographical web, without apparent center or pattern, in which men like Marlowe operate perfectly mirrors the tangled, convoluted motives and desires of those enmeshed in its toils. However, a thread of logic, a path towards ultimate clarification, is consistently extended, delineated by the proliferation of event and character, though it is not until practically the dénouement that the reader fully apprehends the overwhelming sense of fatedness and design which retrospectively permeates the novel.

Inevitably, these novels generate a sort of mythic significance: the private eye takes on some of the benighted grandeur of a Greek hero seeking blindly for the key to a divine—whether benevolent or malicious—plan or doom; he becomes like some medieval quester for the Holy Grail, or the solution to a spiritual conundrum that will set all the world right—until the next quest is initiated. Ross Macdonald has authored few books in which he does not deal with the classical theme of familial sin that taints generation after generation until some final purgation is achieved, usually by means of Lew Archer’s (Macdonald’s Marlowe) intervention. Macdonald sets his characters in an environment that reflects their spiritual malaise: in his next-to-last published novel, The Underground Man, he turns L.A. into a hellish arena in which, surrounded by encroaching brush fires and blinded by smoke and smog, Archer and his clients confront old sins and new retribution.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, September 2

Oliver Stone, Edward Snowden, Anatoly Kucherena and Kieran Fitzgerald
Oliver Stone, Edward Snowden, Anatoly Kucherena and Kieran Fitzgerald

“When someone else asked about Stone’s experience of making Snowden, his answer was despondent. ‘It was really a horrible experience in every way,’ he said. Everyone laughed except for Stone.” Irina Aleksander’s account of how Oliver Stone came to make Snowden involves opportunistic Russian lawyers, ACLU lawyers idealistic to a fault, shady Hollywood executives, and a director who finally found a story to match his own paranoia. (Which has always been there, if you check out the interview below.) Via Longform.

“So I’m editing in Montreal—we’d moved the film there—and [cinematographer Roger Racine] didn’t get paid and he locked me out of the editing room. I somehow legally “seized” the film back under Canadian law. I accompanied the bailiff and police to Racine’s office to get the work print; he was livid. But we couldn’t locate the sound masters. But we smuggled the workprint out through the Michigan border in the back of a rented car we hadn’t paid for. We had to “re-dub” the whole picture, all from lip-syncing. Motherfucker! That motherfucker!” In an excerpt from The Oliver Stone Experience, the director tells Matt Zoller Seitz about his surreal struggles to film Seizure, and going from nobody to the suddenly celebrated screenwriter of Midnight Express and (back when it was still bouncing from director to director) Platoon.

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Seattle Screens: Andrzej Zulawski’s ‘Cosmos,’ Louis Malle’s ‘Gallows,’ and the fall Film Noir schedule

Cosmos
Cosmos

Passes are now available for the 39th edition of the longest-running film noir series in the world. This year’s edition begins on Thursday, September 29 with Nightmare Alley (1947) and ends on December 8 with the modern noir Nightcrawler (2014), and seven of the nine feature will be screened on 35mm prints. Screenings are on Thursday evenings at Plestcheeff Auditorium at the Seattle Art Museum downtown. More information here.

Cosmos, the final film from Polish-born filmmaker Andrzej Zulawski, opens at NWFF for a five-day run beginning on Wednesday, September 7.

A Rialto Pictures revival of Louis Malle’s 1958 Elevator to the Gallows, a thriller starring Jeanne Moreau and featuring a score by Miles Davis, opens for a week-long run at Sundance Cinemas.

The People vs. Fritz Bauer, a German drama about the district attorney who fought the state to bring criminal charged again Adolph Eichmann in the late 1950s, topped the German film awards with nine nominations. It opens at Seven Gables.

Miss Sharon Jones!, a profile of the R&B star from Oscar-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple, opens for a week at NWFF and the documentary Los Sures plays over the weekend.

The Trans List and Mariela Castro’s March, two new documentaries about LGBTQ identity from HBO Documentary Films, play for free on Wednesday, September 7 at SIFF Cinema Uptown. RSVP required.

The 3-D concert music film Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds: One More Time, about the recording of the band’s 16th studio album, plays for two shows only on Thursday, September 8 at SIFF Cinema Uptown.

It’s not too late to make your plans for next week: Framing Pictures will convene in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on Friday, September 9. Check the official Facebook page for details and updates.

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

'Sweet Smell of Success' plays as part of the Fall film noir series
‘Sweet Smell of Success’ plays as part of the Fall film noir series

Review: Morgan

Morgan
Morgan

As we slide into the late-summer multiplex doldrums, movies with neurons to spare are especially welcome. The clinical cautionary tale Morgan happily fits into the latter category, moving past some early familiarity to become a smart, sneakily ambitious thriller.

Set in the not too distant future, the story follows a no-nonsense corporate troubleshooter (Kate Mara) sent to a secluded forest compound to assess the status of a rapidly developing artificial humanoid (The Witch’s terrifically spooky Anya Taylor-Joy). As she and the swiftly dwindling team of scientists—including Toby Jones, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and a perfectly assholish Paul Giamatti—soon discover, the experiment has some significant gray areas.

Continue reading at The Stranger

Review: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans
The Light Between Oceans

From the hamfisted title to the Victorian-era plot machinations, The Light Between Oceans has rich potential to be the kind of insane project that might possibly turn into something great. Consider the elements: Derek Cianfrance, the passionate indie filmmaker who helmed the frowning Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines, adapts a 2012 novel by Australian writer M.L. Stedman. The story’s twists and turns might make a romance novelist hesitate, but Cianfrance embraces them like the bold swain on a paperback cover. He casts two exceptional actors and strands them together at a remote New Zealand lighthouse during the shoot, encouraging improvisation and identification with their roles (sure enough, the actors began a relationship that continues to this day). The whole endeavor is neither commercial nor hip. Surely something intriguing must come out of this stew?

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Video: Framing Pictures – August 2016

Film critics Bruce Reid, Richard T. Jameson, and Robert Horton discuss the careers and legacies of actor Warren Oates and director Hector Babenco, praise Hirokazu Kore-Eda’s Our Little Sister (2016), and engage with Oscar Micheaux’s landmark race film Within Our Gates (1920) in the August 2016 edition of Framing Pictures, now available to stream via The Seattle Channel.

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 September edition will take place on Friday, September 9 at 7pm at the Scarecrow Video Screening Room. More information at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Review: Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street

[Originally published in Movietone News 29, January-February 1974]

Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street is Sam Fuller’s Godard movie. The title is gradually pieced together (cf. Pierrot le fou), there is a scene in a movie theater where the hero grooves on hearing John Wayne in German in Rio Bravo (cf. Boetticher’s Westbound with an Apollinaire soundtrack in À bout de souffle and Jack Palance’s orgiastic response to a cinematic bathing belle in the screening room of Le Mépris), there is a plethora of clique-y movie jokes (e.g., a one-scene appearance by Stéphane Audran as a certain Dr. Bogdanovich), and the director’s wife is featured in all her punishing ineptitude (there’s even a nearly subliminal flash of her playing a scene with Akim Tamiroff in Godard’s Alphaville). Besides these factors, none of which is exactly ignorable, the movie parodies its own narrative homeground to a fare-thee-well. After a bang-up opening in which a dead pigeon and a dead man and a wounded assassin named Charlie Umlaut all fall in Beethovenstrasse, in fist-in-the-kisser images slammed into a very jagged rhythm, Fuller gives us a shot of a pair of bare soles being wheeled down the corridor of a morgue. Looking above and beyond them (which is hard), we see Glenn Corbett and a West German cop and, of course, a morgue attendant; Corbett’s voice is droning on, in four lines piling up enough hyperchromatic exposition to occupy most films for a reel. Indeed, for a moment we can’t be sure whether Corbett is telling this to the German cop or doing a Spillane-style voiceover for our benefit.

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