Film Review: ‘Dracula Untold’

10 October, 2014 (10:17) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Luke Evans

The title is Dracula Untold. Which means that despite all the movies and TV shows and comic books over the years, there’s still something left to be said about Bram Stoker’s great fictional vampire.

Well, now it’s been told. And it’s pretty boring.

This movie skips past Stoker’s time period and concerns itself with the historical character cited as an inspiration for the blood-sucker: Vlad the Impaler. His rad nickname is just about the only thing that isn’t in dispute about the Impaler, but he was a 15th-century Eastern European ruler who battled the Ottoman Empire and managed to stick a number of his enemies onto large sharpened poles.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Film review: ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’

10 October, 2014 (10:13) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Ed Oxenbould

A relatively simple children’s book gets pumped up into epic mayhem in Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Apparently the filmmakers felt it necessary to live up to the humongous title. Published in 1972, Judith Viorst’s Alexander has charmed readers ever since. It’s about the travails of a kid who wakes up with chewing gum stuck in his hair — an early sign that everything is going to go wrong for him on this particular day.

Alexander (played by Ed Oxenbould) is having his birthday today, not that anybody else in his family seems overly interested — as usual. His unemployed dad (Steve Carell) has a job interview, mom (Jennifer Garner) has a big presentation at work.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Film Review: ‘The Two Faces of January’

9 October, 2014 (05:24) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst

Many people are milling around the Greek tourist sights at the beginning of The Two Faces of January, but our story will ignore almost all of them. It’s only the shady characters who interest us here. Con artists always have something at stake—exposure, the possibility of their past transgressions catching up with them, and suspense about their next game. Three of them meet in the shadow of the Parthenon: Rydal (Oscar Isaac), an American tour guide knocking around Athens in the early 1960s, and Chester and Colette MacFarland (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst), a stockbroker and his younger wife on extended vacation.

Patricia Highsmith, the author of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley, hatched this group of expat swindlers, so there’s likely to be at least as much psychological game-playing as conventional suspense.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘The Zero Theorem’

9 October, 2014 (05:21) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

‘The Zero Theorem’

Since creating the dystopian classic Brazil in 1985, Terry Gilliam has directed just eight more features—a disappointing total for such a feverish imagination. And those films have frequently been half-cocked or messed up, as though damaged in transit. His newest is signature Gilliam: visually exuberant and robustly cynical, it shows the director still circling the big ideas he’s been nursing since his Monty Python days.

Pat Rushin’s futuristic script is draped around the defeated shoulders of a worker drone named Qohen Leth (Christoph Waltz). Convinced he is dying, he pesters his manager (David Thewlis) to be allowed to work—Qohen inputs “entities” into a fearsomely complicated database—at home.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘The Judge’

9 October, 2014 (05:18) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Robert Downey, Jr. and Vera Farmiga

Leave out Robert Downey, Jr., and The Judge looks like a painfully old-fashioned exercise in the Tradition of Quality. Big-city defense attorney Hank Palmer (that’s Downey) comes home to Indiana just in time to see his father (Robert Duvall), a respected judge, arrested for vehicular homicide. Father and son do not care for each other, but the dominoes are poised to let Hank stick around and mount a spirited defense.

In the course of the trial, family dynamics are tested, Hank brushes up against an old girlfriend (Vera Farmiga), and zero coolness points are awarded to anyone involved in the movie. Well, maybe Billy Bob Thornton earns a few as a sleek prosecutor (think George C. Scott in Anatomy of a Murder), but otherwise this is a very square film, suitable for limited Oscar buzz and a safe choice for seeing with your parents.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Odysseys: VIFF 2014

8 October, 2014 (08:00) | by Sean Axmaker, Film Festivals | By: Sean Axmaker

After the official fall film launch of the Venice/Telluride/Toronto triumvirate, the first significant American fest is the New York Film Festival. But due to the quirks of international film festival branding, another event that plays out during roughly the same period offers many of the films showcased in New York as well as a great variety of additional international films. While New York provides the American launches of Jean-Luc Godard’s Goodbye to Language, David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars, Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria, the Dardennes’ Two Days, One Night and Mike Leigh’s Mr. Turner (among many others) to great media attention, Vancouver quietly screens them across the country almost simultaneously, hot off their respective World or North American debuts at Toronto. For folks on the West Coast, the Vancouver International Film Festival is not just a great alternative to see these and other films, it’s an easier festival to navigate and an affordable festival to play in. Plus, if you have a particular interest in Asian cinema, it’s the place to find films from those directors yet to be anointed and celebrated in the anchor festivals around the world.

‘Wild’

Opening night was set aside for a Canadian filmmaker continuing his Hollywood success story. Wild, directed by Jean-Marc Vallée and adapted from Cheryl Strayed’s memoir by novelist Nick Hornby (who also scripted An Education), is more than a vehicle for its star/producer Reese Witherspoon. It’s an odyssey on a human scale: a hike along the Pacific Crest Trail, a 1700 mile journey undertaken without any preparation or training. For Sheryl, pulling herself out of depression and a self-destructive detour into drugs, it’s an American walkabout cleansing by way of a dare, though the only person she has to prove anything to is herself.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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Videophiled: ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ restored

7 October, 2014 (18:05) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

OnceUponAmericanBDOnce Upon A Time in America: Extended Director’s Cut (Warner, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital HD) is Sergio Leone’s portrait of a 20th century American success story as a gangster epic of greed, loyalty, betrayal, and power, seen through the haze of an opium high. Shuffling back and forth through the century, from New York’s East side in 1923, where scrappy street kids Noodles and Max form a partnership that will blossom into a mob empire, though the glory days of the depression cut short by mob warfare, to 1968, when the graying Noodles (Robert DeNiro) returns from a 35 year exile to the scene of the crime to discover what really happened to his partner and best friend Max (James Woods) all those years ago, this is Leone’s most passionate, elegant, brutal, and elegiac film. William Forsythe and James Hayden complete the gangster quartet, with Joe Pesci and Burt Young as gangster cohorts. Elizabeth McGovern, Treat Williams, Tuesday Weld, Danny Aiello, and young Jennifer Connelly co-star. Ennio Morricone’s score is one of his most haunting and beautiful.

The film was originally released in the US in a butchered version cut by over an hour and torn from its evocative time-shifting structure to a traditional linear narrative. It was restored to its 229-minute European cut decades ago but earlier this year it was expanded with an additional 22 minutes of footage that Leone was forced to cut out before its Cannes premiere in 1984. The added footage was taken from workprint material and, faded and sometimes damaged, stands out against the well-reserved and beautifully-mastered material from the previous cut. Among the restored sequences is a legendary scene with Louise Fletcher as a cemetery director, previously only glimpsed in publicity stills (you can see the clip below). Susan King goes over the history of the cuts and the scope of the restoration in an article for the Los Angeles Times.

It’s available on DVD and Blu-ray along with an excerpt from the documentary Once Upon a Time: Sergio Leone and trailers. A deluxe Blu-ray Book edition also features the previous Blu-ray release of the 229-minute European cut, which features commentary by Richard Schickel, and an UltraViolet Digital HD copy of the “Extended Director’s Cut.”

More new releases on disc, digital, and streaming at Cinephiled

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‘Destroy All Monsters': Rumble in the Jungle with Godzilla and Friends

7 October, 2014 (08:40) | by Sean Axmaker, Essays, Science Fiction | By: Sean Axmaker

The original Godzilla (1954), especially the original Japanese release, is more than a mutant monster movie of the atomic-scare fifties. It is a stark disaster thriller that evokes the terrors of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the lingering poison of the nuclear radiation. The two destructive forces come together in a screaming atomic lizard, a dinosaur roused from dormancy by the lingering radiation and set loose for a new nuclear holocaust, and the black and white photography lends an atmosphere of dark and doom.

‘Destroy All Monsters’

The sequels are a different story. The films went color. The special effects of cities stomped to rubble by a radioactive dinosaur became a kind of giddy entertainment instead of a nightmarish metaphor. And as far as the movies were concerned, Godzilla was no longer a post-nuclear plague unleashed upon Japan let alone a villain. He was a character in its own right and the stories that followed his 1954 debut mutated (so to speak) into monster smackdowns that allowed audiences to root for his victory against a new menace to civilization without any sense of irony. While not exactly a friend of mankind, he turned into a protector of Earth when it is threatened by other monsters and, later, alien invaders. This was Godzilla’s turf and no one was muscling in.

Destroy All Monsters (1968), the ninth Godzilla film and the twentieth kaiju (giant monster) movie from Toho, returned Godzilla godfather Ishiro Honda to the helm.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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Review: ‘At Long Last Love’

6 October, 2014 (12:37) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published in Movietone News 43, September 1975]

By no stretch of the critical imagination can At Long Last Love be deemed other than a bad film but, even allowing for an outspoken desire to “get” Bogdanovich, the negative reaction has been extreme—as if the director had set The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Cole Porter, whereas all he’s done has been to turn loose a few of his vehemently unmusical movie-actor friends and let them stumble through a multimillion-dollar home movie. I know that people are starving, and yet I can’t subscribe to the rites of excommunication.

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Essay: ‘The General’

5 October, 2014 (07:53) | by Sean Axmaker, Essays, Silent Cinema | By: Editor

This essay was originally written for the Silent Fall 2014 program presented by the San Francisco Silent Film Festival on September 20, 2014

‘The General’

No silent moviemaker ever engaged with the machinery of modern life as resourcefully as Buster Keaton did. From One Week (1920), his debut as a solo director after his apprenticeship with Fatty Arbuckle, to The Cameraman (1928), his final masterpiece, Keaton routinely sparred with the mechanized world. He could be confounded in his early shorts—sometimes modern conveniences got the best of him—but as Keaton moved into feature films and matured as a filmmaker, his characters persevered in the struggle, thanks to a combination of curiosity, commitment, and ingenuity. Whereas Chaplin waged war against the machines with underdog defiance, Keaton mastered the magnificent marvels of modern engineering to triumph over seemingly insurmountable odds. In The Navigator (1924), Keaton tamed an abandoned luxury liner and emerged with one of the biggest hits of his career. After making three features of a more modest scope, The General (1926) marked his return to filmmaking on an ambitious scale. Built around a majestic prop that becomes a character in its own right—a locomotive steam engine—it is still filled with intimate moments. It is a grand achievement.

The story of The General comes from a chapter of Civil War history, a true tale of Union spies who infiltrated the South, stole a passenger train in Georgia, and drove it north pursued by Southern conductors who eventually captured the raiders. According to Keaton, Clyde Bruckman, his reliable collaborator and gag man, handed him William A. Pittenger’s account of the incident as a potential project. Keaton streamlined the story to a deceptively simple structure of two mirrored chases—one north to recapture the stolen engine and another back south—as well as added a love interest and a kidnapping to make the rescue personal. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, he took on the perspective of the South.

Continue reading at San Francisco Silent Film Festival

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Blu-ray: ‘Used Cars’

4 October, 2014 (12:18) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

The opening of Used Cars (1980) has the ominous, wind-scoured character of a modern crime film in a desperate southwest town where a Sergio Leone western wouldn’t be out of place. The camera cranes down from a high shot over a struggling used car dealership, where a few pathetic beaters line the lot, and slowly glides over to one car with someone is crammed under the dashboard. The only sound is the lonely wind–the kind of strangled, desolate howl you get in dustbowl dramas and desert survival thrillers–and the grunts of the man struggling with the mechanics under the dash. And then we see the odometer turn back, shaving some 40,000 or so miles from the record. The title hits the screen, a brass band jumps in with “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and the unidentified mechanic wriggles out to reveal Kurt Russell in a cheap, loud suit making his rounds to mask the sorry condition of the cars on the lot. It turns out that this is a crime movie after all, or at least a film of multiple misdemeanors and bald-faced misrepresentation, and the perpetrators are the good guys.

The second feature from director Robert Zemeckis and co-writer and producer Bob Gale, Used Cars comes right out of the screen comedy culture of the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the underdogs snubbed their collective noses at authority, propriety, property and privacy laws and anything else that crossed their paths in slobs vs. snobs comedies like Animal House (1978), Caddyshack (1980) and Ghostbusters (1984). Used Cars is raucous and reckless and far more gleefully corrupt than any of its brothers in rebellion …

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of October 3

3 October, 2014 (10:25) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links, screenings | By: Bruce Reid

Chicago’s own Bill Murray

Ray Pride (with “additional contributions” from Brian Hieggelke) offers a rundown of the film talent located between the coasts, with his list of 50—Count ‘em 50—key players in the Chicago movie scene.

Speaking of Chicago talent (number two on Pride’s list, in fact): Unreturned calls to a 1-800 number, regretfully declined invites to Cannes, limo rides to Indian reservations; as St. Vincent director Theodore Melfi describes it, the process of getting Bill Murray to star in your film is as drolly surreal as the performance he’ll almost certainly deliver. Via Movie City News.

The new issue of multilingual journal La Furia Umana offers lengthy, interesting interviews with avant-gardists Anthony Stern (“Film is always about time, but the recording of time needs to be re-looked at. You don’t really want to spend all that time living in real time, you want to spend it in artificial time.”) and Lav Diaz (“All interpretations are valid, it is a composite of so many things. As I said, it’s an abstraction, it is a Filipino voice from somewhere in time and space.…”). But the meat of the issue is a collection of shorter pieces, old and new, about a filmmaker whose engagements with the periphery of the mainstream are arguably more radical than either, Monte Hellman. Victor Erice and the journal’s editor Toni D’Angela offer heartfelt “postcards” to the filmmaker; Hellman’s frequent screenwriter Steven Gaydos lists ten things he’s learned from the man (“Hollywood talks in terms of “four quadrant movies.” Monte talks in terms of four finger tequila shots.”); Brad Stevens praises Hellman’s overlooked vampire short Stanley’s Girlfriend; and from Hellman himself, a bracingly minimalist runthrough of his oeuvre (“THE SHOOTING: How many different ways can you shoot three people on horseback?”) and a pair of rhyming photographs, secular and spiritual, though I suspect part of the point of the latter is how little different they are.

“I’ve got poetry in me. I do. I’ve got poetry in me. I ain’t going to put it down on paper.” Matthew Dessem points out that McCabe & Mrs. Miller didn’t just spring fully-formed from the thigh of Zeus; Edmund Naughton’s source novel McCabe not only possesses many of the film’s qualities, they were put back in by co-scenarists Altman and Brian McKay after earlier passes at the adaptation went a whole other, more conventional way. (And yes, that opening quote throws another writer in the mix.)

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Film Review: ‘Gone Girl’

3 October, 2014 (09:36) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Ben Affleck

You’ve got to admire the confidence of Gone Girl: this truly odd movie coughs up a bizarre story line mixed with comic social commentary, but it never loses its swagger. Being the eagerly awaited adaptation of a best-selling page-turner will encourage that kind of attitude, I guess.

Gillian Flynn’s 2012 novel has a few twists up its bloodied sleeve, but we’ll be discreet here. The story begins with the disappearance of Amy (Rosamund Pike) from her unloved Missouri home, and escalates into a media circus as suspicion is cast on her husband Nick (Ben Affleck). Nick has the help of his sister (Carrie Coon) and a celebrity lawyer (Tyler Perry, excellent), but his status in the public eye is dismal. Meanwhile, we see excerpts from Amy’s diary, which fill in the picture of a marriage gone sour.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Film Review: ‘Tracks’

2 October, 2014 (05:56) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Mia Wasikowska

Mia Wasikowska’s face, body language, and vocal delivery are in perfect harmony with the countryside that surrounds her in Tracks: human figure and landscape are equally mysterious and unforgiving. The place is the Australian desert, where in 1975 a young woman named Robyn Davidson determined she would walk the 1,700 miles from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean.

In writing a National Geographic article and subsequent best-selling book about the trek, Davidson offered little explanation for her impulse, and the movie is blunt about acknowledging that no coherent justification can be made on that score. She just needed to do it. Wasikowska’s skeptical gaze and stony delivery are ideal for this tough character, and the actress never makes a bid for likability.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘Kelly & Cal’

2 October, 2014 (05:03) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Juliette Lewis and Josh Hopkins

Kelly is a onetime ’90s riot grrrl, now a domesticated new mom and prisoner of suburbia. Who better to play the part than Juliette Lewis, a survivor of such wild-child projects as Natural Born Killers and Strange Days and a veteran musician known for her theatrical caterwauling?

Lewis lends lived-in credibility to the otherwise bogus Kelly & Cal, a stilted indie without a compass. Kelly is new to the neighborhood, shunned by the local ladies (they suggest she consult their website if she’d like to join their social group), and ignored by husband Josh (Josh Hopkins), who’s at the office all day. And so she starts hanging out with local teen Cal (Jonny Weston, from Chasing Mavericks), a paraplegic who makes it clear he’s interested in Kelly’s body as well as her sassy punk-rock attitude.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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