Hollywood Goes to War

When America entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hollywood was also drafted into the effort — not just to support the cause but also to beat the drums of patriotism and duty. America was going to war and with it, so did the entire country. The men enlisted, the women took jobs in the factories, families tightened their belts and pitched in on civil defense and scrap drives, and the studios were expected not just to reflect the new paradigm, but to set the tone.

It was a sudden, dramatic shift. Before the war, studios were wary of merely hinting at politics in its films, let alone being blatantly partisan. Germany was a major market for American movies and, disgust for Hitler’s European aggression and nationalistic bigotry aside, business was business. Only Warner Bros. defied Hitler, giving up the German market to publicly support the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of May 26

The journal Movie might only release one issue a year, but it always guarantees you plenty to chew on. This edition contains a dossier concerning opening scenes, but these close readings bore deeper into the mysteries and loveliness of the selections than some entertaining blogger rounding up and describing his favorite such, and how these entries into a movie’s world prepare us for the journey to come. Thus Nathaniel Dayo profitably contrasts the “spartan” establishing shot of London from John Irvin’s BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to the Hollywood norm (and the feature remake) (“For non-British viewers (such as the author) encountering the series in syndication or on home video, however, that moment of instant recognition is much less likely to dawn, and in the absence of a captioning title a certain fog of indeterminacy will hang over the image.”); Pete Falconer unravels most of the cues for character and setting that Hawks sets down with the first shot of Rio Bravo (“The door we see is a mundane, everyday fixture, its colour a drab brown. It is not the type of door conventionally associated with the main entrances of western saloons, and Dude does not enter in a way associated with that type of door. His entrance is not emphatic or frontal—he seems instead to be creeping in through a side door”); Anthony Coman underscores the confrontational subversiveness of Ophuls’s seemingly “cream-cake” introduction to Lola Montès (“We begin in the rafters; we see the ropes from which the props dangle; we see the camera’s tracks. If the CinemaScope framing allows us the freedom to hunt for significance, Ophuls’ mise-en-scène makes significant the circus’—and even the film’s—construction”).

Also Christa Van Raalte on the disturbing juxtaposition of Zero Dark Thirty’s audio-only prologue of 9/11 calls and its opening scene of torture (“Whereas collapsing towers and falling bodies could invite us to take an outsider’s view of disaster-as-spectacle, these voices take us inside the experience, aligning us with the participants and inviting us to imagine the view from within”); Catherine Constable breaks down the abstract “birth” that opens Glazer’s Under the Skin (“The absence of scale means that the first two images of Under the Skin conjoin the cosmological—a new planet—with the individual—the emerging eye / I”); and Lola Breux admires the naked acknowledgement of authorship played out in the opening (and closing) credits of Bunny Lake Is Missing (“The identity which is revealed to us right at the start is Otto Preminger’s. It is hard to miss his name as it is the first element which the hand reveals, so his ‘appearance’ benefits from the initial impact of the unique design”). Via David Hudson. [.pdf warning]

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Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Almost everything worth anything in the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie is geared toward spectacle. You want to see ghost sharks? We have great whites and hammerheads, rotted away but still capable of taking a bite out of Captain Jack Sparrow’s dinghy. Want to see Sparrow escape from a guillotine? A rescue sends our drunken hero somersaulting while still strapped into the contraption, the blade sliding up and down toward his neck as it tumbles head over heels. Want to see an entire building dragged through the streets of a Saint Martin town while Sparrow rides it? It’s here. This movie doesn’t have much in the way of plot or character, but maybe this franchise has simply returned to its origins as a Disneyland ride: disconnected sensations, strung together at regular intervals.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a very expensive gamble on the continued life of this series, which seemed exhausted with the ho-hum On Stranger Tides in 2011.

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Blu-ray: Walter Hill’s ‘Streets of Fire’

A self-described “A Rock and Roll Fable” from “another time, another place,” I think of Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire (1984) as a rock and roll western dropped into the urban badlands of a brick and neon noir. It opens on what appears to be the 1950s frozen in time, a working class neighborhood forgotten in the explosion of the post-war American big city dreams. It could be Chicago (where some of the film was shot) or New York or any city, really, a film noir in comic book color, and it’s where former soldier turned shaggy soldier of fortune Tom Cody (Michael Paré) returns to play reluctant hero.

Shout! Factory

The opening sequence is a model of narrative efficiency and stylistic exhilaration, setting the atmosphere and culture of this urban backwater where the elevated train rumbles the reminder of the way out of town and the neon-bedazzled old music palace is the only reminder of the glory days. It’s lit up to welcome superstar Ellen Aim (Diane Lane), the local girl made girl as a rock and roll star, and the crowds are revved up for the show. So is Raven (Willem Dafoe in lizard-faced villain mode), who leads his biker gang The Bombers (doppelgangers of Marlon Brando’s The Wild Ones right down to the cocky caps) into town and leaves with Ellen in tow: a western raid reworked in mid-century mode. It’s all set to the beat of Jim Steinman rock anthem belted out by Ellen Aim and the Attackers and supercharged by jagged wipes, driving cuts, and a restless camera that sweeps along with the swirl of constant movement. It is action cinema as pulp mythology and it is exhilarating.

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Blu-ray: Logan

Can a comic book superhero movie tell a human story? Logan (2017) makes the case that the genre is not limited to spectacle (though this film does offer some accomplished—and violent—action scenes), end of the world stakes, or world-building chapters in a massive franchise.

Fox Home Video

Set in the near future of 2029, which is a lot like today but a little more automated and a little more depressed, a world worn out and run down with a population to match, it presents Logan (Hugh Jackman), the former X-man also known as Wolverine, in hiding. He works as a chauffeur for hire under the radar while looking after an ailing Xavier (Patrick Stewart in a fearlessly vulnerable performance). Once immortal, thanks to healing powers that have kept him young for years, Logan is now breaking down and wearing out, his body ravaged by disease he can no longer combat, while Xavier is slipping into dementia and losing control of his once-finely focused mind. A dangerous thing for a telepath of his power, even more dangerous in a culture where mutantkind has been hunted to near extinction. And while Logan saves money for an escape from their Mexican compound, a kind of fantasy involving a boat and a life on the high seas, the government is on the hunt for them and for a silent young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who is a pint-sized Wolverine in her own right. It’s no spoiler to say that Logan, nudged by crotchety old man Xavier, becomes a reluctant protector to the girl who, at least on a genetic level, could be his daughter.

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Blu-ray: Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’

The Stepford Wives meets Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner in Get Out (2017), the directorial debut of writer / comedian Jordan Peele, a tricky and successful mix of social satire, modern horror, and savvy commentary on race as experienced by a person of color in a largely white society.

Universal Home Video

Daniel Kaluuya stars as Chris Washington, a photographer with a promising career and a gorgeous, supportive girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), and after months of dating, he’s finally meeting the parents for a weekend stay. Her parents are white, liberal, and affluent, and on the drive over he finds out that she hasn’t told them that he’s black, which makes him a little uneasy. No worries, they are warm and welcoming, perhaps a little too overeager to make him welcome. Dad (Bradley Whitford) is a chatty hugger who launches into his spiel of how he would have eagerly voted Obama in for a third term. Mom (Catherine Keener) is a therapist who seems to be sizing up all those suppressed feelings, a suburban Earth Mother who seems just a little too eager to hypnotize him. They make a point of just how much they don’t see color, which of course only accentuates how much he stands out in this upstate social pocket where the only other black faces are groundskeeper Walter (Marcus Henderson) and housekeeper Georgina (Betty Gabriel). They have been with the family so long they have become part of the family, explains Mom. Just maybe not quite in the way you assume.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of May 19

“Virtually plot-less, Sheep alternates its focus on Stan, his wife and kids, and the people in his Watts neighborhood, representing a community oppressed, yet teeming with life. Stan works at a slaughterhouse, and it’s changing him so much so his wife (Kaycee Moore) does not recognize him anymore. He’s distant, frowns, and has the thousand-yard stare. Outside, in the neighborhood, it’s dog-eat-dog. Kids and adults alike must fend for themselves. Children taunt, throw rocks, and wrestle with each other. Adults borrow, rob, or barter just to make it to the next day. Inside, in the homestead, however, life’s pressures dissolve for a little while. Home is haven, at least in Stan’s it is.” The 40th anniversary of Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep has Tanner Tafelski reminding us what a marvelous mix of diurnal struggle and daily grace it is. While Richard Brody orients it within the larger L.A. Rebellion movement by comparing it to Billy Woodbury’s contemporary study of work and manhood (written and photographed by Burnett), Bless Their Little Hearts. (“Where Burnett keeps the characters of Killer of Sheep in their neighborhood (Stan may work outside Watts but he seems to hardly touch the ground anywhere else), Woodberry starts outside Charlie’s local sphere, in the employment office, and continues to watch his characters as they pass, detached and rueful, through the wider city, in transit through a blasted post-industrial landscape in which Stan, in particular, sees his own enforced idleness reflected.”) Via—as so many of these entries always have been, even as a token number are acknowledged—David Hudson, who’s found a new home at Criterion.

Devoted to both the profound necessity and the sublime silliness of social interchange, Good Morning is therefore much subtler and grander than it might initially appear to be. Commonly identified as a remake of Ozu’s silent 1932 masterpiece I Was Born, But . . ., also included in this release, it is even more interesting for its differences with that film than for its similarities—above all, the difference between what a father’s authority meant in prewar versus postwar Japan…. [The] more pervasive humor of Good Morning extends to the rebellion itself and all it engenders, as well as the local intrigues surrounding it; one no longer feels that the father’s authority is a monument that can be toppled.” Jonathan Rosenbaum traces both the formal complexity and no less dazzling humanity in Ozu’s two comic masterpieces.

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SIFFing: Parallax View’s SIFF 2017 Guide

The 43rd Annual Seattle International Film Festival opens on Thursday, May 18, with the opening night gala presentation of The Big Sick, from director Michael Showalter and writer/star Kumail Nanjiani, and closes 24 days later on Sunday, June 11 with the North American premiere of Raoul Peck’s The Young Karl Marx. In between there are (at last count) 161 feature films, 58 documentary features, 14 archival films, and 163 short films. All told: 400 films representing 80 countries (as of opening night).

Here is Parallax View’s coverage and guide to SIFF resources from around the web. We will update a few times a week.

SIFF Week by Week, Day by Day:

SIFF 2017: It’s a wrap! (Parallax View) NEW
The 13 Best Movies to See at SIFF This Weekend: June 9-11, 2017 (staff, The Stranger) NEW
Highlights of the film festival’s final weekend (staff, Seattle Times) NEW
Closing Weekend Picks (staff, The SunBreak) NEW
Homestretch Roundtable (The SunBreak) NEW
SIFF 2017: Week Four Preview (Sean Gilman, Seattle Screen Scene) NEW
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Sifting Through SIFF

At some point the numbers are overwhelming. This is the 43rd annual Seattle International Film Festival, a marathon that lasts 25 days across 15 venues (Bellevue, Kirkland, and Shoreline included), with around 400 feature-length and short films from 80 countries. There are gobs of panels and festivities and visiting filmmakers.

It seems churlish to be a movie lover and complain that SIFF is too big, especially when the city seems to love it so much. It is, undeniably, a vast and glittery party, and every year it brings necessary gems and some lovely out-of-left-field experiences. Still, I can’t help thinking there’s a splendid 10-day festival to be carved out of this unfocused sprawl.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: The Friends of Eddie Coyle

[Originally published in Movietone News 24, July-August 1973]

The French Connection was about as good as a movie can get without reflecting the creative concentration of a single controlling artistic presence. Ernest Tidyman’s script evoked a convincing sense of a behavioral reality realized and sustained in pungent language that sounded as if it were spoken by people, not characters in a screenplay; William Friedkin’s direction paced that reality perfectly and extended it in patterns of action and movement; Owen Roizman’s camerawork achieved precision while staying limber and unaffectedly nervous, and Jerry Greenberg’s editing wired the whole thing into a dynamic narrative experience. One tended to accept producer Phil d’Antoni’s claims that it was his film: at no point did the picture flag, owing to the expert collaboration of a committee of accomplished artisans, but neither did it suggest (save perhaps in Gene Hackman’s performance) that its aspirations were anything but shrewdly commercial. The Friends of Eddie Coyle recalls the earlier—and better—film, especially in relation to its director. Nothing in William Friedkin’s earlier projects pointed toward The French Connection (nor did they seem related to one another). And, like Friedkin, director Peter Yates has never manifested anything but a technician’s interest in earning his wage: Bullitt, John and Mary, and Murphy’s War are comparable only in a consistent failure to get inside any of the characters and, especially in Bullitt and Murphy, a tendency to substitute facile rhetoric (McQueen’s indefensibly complacent “Bullshit!” to Robert Vaughn, followed shortly by Vaughn’s retreat behind a copy of The Wall Street Journal) for serious moral perspective.

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Review: Melvin and Howard

[originally published in The Weekly, November 5, 1980]

Middle of the night in the Nevada desert, a little ways off the Tonapah Highway. Melvin Dummar has left the main road to take a whiz. Decent young fella: even at this remove from civilization, he steps around to the blind side of his truck and looks both ways before undoing his fly. A moment later he’s back in the cab of his pickup, wheeling around to return to the highway, when his headlights sweep something. Sprawled in the dust is an old coot in a flying-jacket, with silver hair like a fright wig grown tired: a streak of dried blood below his left ear seems the natural complement of all the other stains upon his costume and person. He says he’s Howard Hughes.

Melvin and Howard is the title of this movie, and a fit and proper title it is. But the film is scarcely more “about” the putative relationship of the legendary billionaire and the gas-station operator who almost got a share of his estate than, say, All the President’s Men was about Richard Nixon and his helpmates. Less than a reel is taken up with Hughes and Dummar’s nocturnal passage to Las Vegas (where the old man asks to be dropped at the service entrance to the Sands Hotel, and bums his Good Samaritan’s last quarter); and only the last reel or so is devoted to Melvin’s receipt of “the Mormon will,” seven or eight years later, and the celebrity it brings.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of May 12

“I show up at the airport. And the guy asked me, ‘Is there anything we might find suspicious in there?’ I said, ‘There’s an art piece [read: a glass bong] inside in the shape of a gun.’ And literally the entire security department was like, ‘What is wrong with you?’ Long story short, it made it through.” “And we got the movie.” From the paraphernalia they had crafted to show off their passion to the producers of Spring Breakers to Moonlight’s briefest of Oscar losses to La La Land, A24’s David Fenkel, John Hodges, and Daniel Katz (and several grateful filmmakers) talk to Zach Baron about the distribution company that’s gone from idle dream to major indie power-player in just a few years’ time.

“Film Forum’s centennial Melville celebration has enabled audiences to see how much terrific work this ultra-masculine director pulls off with female performers in close quarters. Melville is best known for the fabulous hard-guy iconography of films like Bob le Flambeur, Le Doulos, and Le Samourai and for blending granular detail and Homeric breadth in underground extravaganzas like Le Cercle Rouge and the Resistance epic Army of Shadows. Recent appreciations have focused on his tributes to crime-world professionals and the tough feelings that bind his gesture-laden style. But Melville also displays his distinctive surgical keenness in chamber dramas and “women’s pictures.”” Not least the exceptional Leon Morin, Priest, whose complex examination of faith under occupation—and its sterling central performance by Emmanuelle Riva—receive praise from Michael Sragow.

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Review: King Arthur: Legend of the Sword

It’s easy to pick on something like a celebrity cameo to measure a movie’s hollowness. So if I tell you that soccer god-turned-style icon David Beckham pops up halfway through the new King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, I trust it will stir plenty of anticipatory ridicule. Beckham submits to uglifying makeup scars for his role as some kind of medieval taskmaster here. (Same 21st-century Eurotrash haircut, though.) The thing is, Beckham’s brief appearance is actually one of the livelier moments in King Arthur, especially because it accompanies the celebrated—you might say legendary—moment when Arthur royally yanks a sword from a stone.

If a celeb cameo supplies a highlight in a movie, the movie is probably in trouble. Such is the case with Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur. Ritchie does something unexpected here: Although he broke through to the blockbuster arena by blanding out his style in a couple of Sherlock Holmes movies, he’s gone back to his roots. The bro-centric camaraderie and Brit-lingo of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch is attempted here, as though the knights of the Round Table were just another group of lads deciding where to get the next pint.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Blu-ray/DVD: ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles’

“A singular work in film history,” begins the description on back of the case of Criterion’s release of Chantal Akerman’s astounding Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (France, 1975).

The Criterion Collection

That is no hyperbole. Jeanne Dielman is a painstaking, excruciatingly exacting portrait of the life of a perfectly organized homemaker, an epic portrait of a quotidian life where every gesture through the 200-minute study becomes important and the slips in routine reverberate like aftershocks of an earthquake. It’s astounding to realize that Akerman was only 25 when she put this uncompromising vision on the screen. It’s almost as astounding that this landmark work took so long for finally arrive on home video in U.S. Almost impossible to see for decades (it wasn’t even released in the U.S. until 1983 and was rarely revived in the years since), this singular work made its DVD debut in 2009, presented by Criterion in a magnificent two-disc special edition. Criterion has now remastered the film for its Blu-ray debut.

Middle-aged widow and single mother Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig) lives a carefully structured life with a clockwork routine. She wakes up before dawn, sees her son Sylvain (Jan Decorte) off to school, cleans every last dish in her tiny and spotless kitchen, then continues on with the errands and duties of her day. One of those duties just happens to be servicing an afternoon client as a part-time prostitute. Jeanne is all business when the bell rings and she puts the pot on low simmer to welcome her client for the day. It’s creepily expressive the way Akerman frames her head out of the shot when she answers the door, matching Seyrig’s inexpressive formality with each man.

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Blu-ray: Josef von Sternberg ‘s ‘Anatahan’ restored

Inspired by the true story of Japanese sailors stranded on a deserted island during World War II, Anatahan (1953) was the final film completed by Josef von Sternberg. In a career where he was increasingly forced to compromise his style and sensibility, it marked his final hurrah: a film over which he had complete control.

Kino Classics

After a prologue on a Japanese ship bombed by an American plane, the film takes place almost entirely on Anatahan, a former plantation island in the South Pacific that is now completely overrun by the tropical jungle. The twelve survivors, a mix of sailors and soldiers, find the old plantation and a couple who stayed behind when the rest of the island population either enlisted or was evacuated. “We were to be here for seven long years,” reports the narrator (Sternberg himself), speaking in a tone of recollection and reflection long after the fact. (There is no effort to assign the narration to an individual character; it could very well stand in as the guilty conscience of the survivors.) As they await their rescue, their discipline breaks down and their desire for Keiko (Akemi Negishi), the lone woman in the society of men, stirs them to aggression and murder, which becomes easier when they find and scavenge the remains of a downed fighter plane, including a pair of handguns. “There was no law on our island, no police,” observes the narrator. “Only two pistols.”

Continue reading at Stream On Demand