Film Review: ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

11 July, 2014 (08:49) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews, Science Fiction | By: Robert Horton

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

After much adversity, Caesar — the leader of the simian takeover of Earth — must admit a hard truth. His bickering, backstabbing ape brethren are much more like humans than they’d care to admit.

Ouch. Caesar’s grunted insight comes as no surprise as we’re watching Dawn of the Planet of the Apes: the human population is not behaving admirably in the wake of the health apocalypse that killed off most of the population. In the time since the collapse, the apes have only gotten stronger. As you no doubt recall from Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the successful 2011 reboot of a dormant franchise, the renegade primates got new brain power from an experimental drug and are just beginning to talk.

The best thing about Dawn is the opening 20 minutes or so, spent entirely with non-humans.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Film Review: ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’

10 July, 2014 (07:38) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor

The problems of squishing down a novel to fit a two-hour movie are familiar; when a complicated historical setting is added to the mix, things really get thorny. Half of a Yellow Sun tackles a decade or so in Nigeria’s tortured chronology, from its early years of independence to the disastrous Biafran war that divided the country in 1967–1970. The pattern is cut from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s prize-winning 2006 novel, and pattern is about all you can discern in the film’s dutiful but sketchy treatment.

The early scenes in post-colonial Nigeria are vivid and saucy. We meet two sisters, Olanna (Thandie Newton) and Kainene (Dreamgirls dynamo Anika Noni Rose), who’ve been raised in wealth and educated abroad.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘Venus in Fur’

10 July, 2014 (07:35) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Emmanuelle Seigner and Mathieu Amalric

In this adaptation of the 2010 stage play by David Ives, Roman Polanski casts his wife in the main role and makes his leading man look as much like himself as possible. As tempting as it is to read autobiographical intention into these decisions, I think it’s probably wise to take them as sardonic jokes. It’s much better to simply watch the French-language Venus in Fur as an extended and often hilarious riff on power plays and erotic gamesmanship, both of which are offered here in ripe-flowering abundance.

Venus in Fur features just two people on a single set. The conceit is that a stage director, Thomas (Mathieu Amalric), is caught at the end of a day of auditions by an obnoxious, gum-chewing actress, Vanda (Emmanuelle Seigner). He’s casting the lead in an adaptation of the notorious 19th-century novel Venus in Furs, by Leopold von Sacher-Masoch—you know, the guy who put the Masoch into masochism.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘Third Person’

10 July, 2014 (07:31) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Olivia Wilde

Paul Haggis has had such a curious career, it’s no wonder he seems to make movies with no regard for fashion or demographics. The Canadian-born filmmaker labored for years as a TV writer/producer before scripting two successive Best Picture Oscar winners, Million Dollar Baby and Crash (he also directed the latter). He then co-wrote a couple of James Bond pictures and the somber Iraq War movie In the Valley of Elah, and caused a rumpus in 2011 by loudly resigning his longtime membership in Scientology.

Someone with a resume like this—did we mention he also created Walker, Texas Ranger?—likely has little left to prove. That might explain the untethered quality of Third Person, which Haggis wrote and directed.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Blu-ray: ‘Il Sorpasso’

9 July, 2014 (19:00) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

Vittorio Gassman is a force of nature in Dino Risi’s 1962 road movie Il Soprasso, an odd couple odyssey that begins on a whim and drives off into one long detour from the staid, serious, self-repressed life of a bookish law student. Gassman’s Bruno roars into the film, screeching his Lancia Aurelia convertible through the all but deserted streets of Rome, which is practically shut down for the summer holiday, searching for cigarettes and a pay phone while Riz Ortolani’s jazzy score bounces through the background. It’s all high spirits and impulse behavior and this swinging bachelor seems destined to pull the shy, suspicious Roberto (Jean-Louis Trintignant) from his apartment, where he’s cramming for finals, and out into the world. What begins as a quick drive to a bar for a drink turns into a road movie that carries them through a couple of days bouncing from one restaurant to another and finally landing at the shore for a sunny beach escape.

Director Dino Risi was a prolific and popular director and one of the masters of the commedia all’italiana, the witty, earthy comedies and social satires that were hugely popular in Italy but overshadowed internationally by the “serious” works of Antonioni, Visconti, Fellini and others. Il Sorpasso was his breakthrough film, a lively road movie and a deft character piece. The title Il Soprasso is an Italian term for passing cars on the road, a defining action in the film as speed demon Bruno constantly overtakes cars on the highway like it was a road race. It was released in the U.S. under the title The Easy Life, which works too, but the original title is about rushing to the next thing, to living in the fast lane and rushing past the crowd.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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Review: ‘Blanche’

9 July, 2014 (08:58) | by Ken Eisler, Film Reviews | By: Movietone News contributor

[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]

I think I would find Borowczyk’s feature films insupportable if they weren’t so much fun. Come to think of it, I did find Goto, île d’amour insupportable: I walked out on it. Having recently seen and greatly enjoyed Blanche (1971), it seems to me in retrospect that all I really needed to enjoy Goto equally well was a cocked eyebrow and a few grains of salt. This guy used to make cartoons after all, right? OK, he made Animated Films Shot Through With Lacerating Black Humor. Yeah, like: cartoons.

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Videophiled: Imagining ‘Jodorowsky’s Dune’

8 July, 2014 (17:33) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Documentary, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

JodorowskyDuneJodorowsky’s Dune (Sony, Blu-ray+DVD Combo, Cable VOD) is probably not “the greatest science film never made,” as the movie poster tagline insists, but this journey through the most improbable screen epic embarked upon in the seventies isn’t really about mourning what could have been. Alejandro Jodorowsky, director of the aggressively trippy cult classics El Topo and The Holy Mountain, is a spellbinder of a storyteller and it’s not hard to get caught up in the vision he spins of his dream adaptation of the Frank Herbert novel, which he and his producer, Michel Seydoux, managed to option. With his artistic idealism and beaming smile (the man lights up with creative energy whenever he starts describing his vision of the film), Jodorowsky’s enthusiasm is intoxicating. It’s no wonder he attracted such a passionately loyal and dedicated team of collaborators—his “warriors,” as he called them—along the way, including artists Jean “Moebius” Girard, H.R. Giger and Chris Foss, special effects designer Dan O’Bannon, and actors Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali.

If filmmaker Frank Pavich gets caught up in the dreams of the Jodorowsky and his warriors and the hyperbole of commentators like Richard Stanley and Nicolas Winding Refn, filmmakers who proclaim the project some kind of lost masterpiece so visionary that Hollywood was scared of the possibilities, he at least gives voice to the more measured response of the Hollywood studios via producer Gary Kurtz. Any practical look at the project finds a rickety foundation built on promises rather than contracts, a budget insufficient to meet the scope of Jodorowsky’s ideas, and elaborate special effects beyond anything Hollywood would accomplish for years to come. And that doesn’t even address Jodorowsky’s utter dismissal of studio concerns of his ability to create a commercial film for the millions of dollars he was asking for. He was ready to make a 12-hour epic if that’s what his muse demanded.

What’s most interesting is not that the project failed to get made but that it got as far as it did and Jodorowsky and Pavich let us revel in the conceptual art, costume and character designs, storyboards, musical concepts and other elements that Jodorowsky pulled together for his presentation. He gives us an art movie of a space opera with a spiritual message and a mad poetry to its execution. And rather than treat this as a wake for a stillborn film (as many of the interview subjects do), Jodorowsky celebrates the entire endeavor as a creative effort in its own right, which inspired ideas that he used in other projects. It’s unlikely that he could have brought to the screen anything resembling the grand vision he shares with us given his resources and the technology of the era, but it sure is exciting it imagine, and that imagination is what powers the film: the sense of artistic freedom, idealism, freewheeling creativity at work in the preparation, and the excitement he raised in his warriors, inspiring them to imagine beyond what had been done before. That is a work of art in its own right.

The Blu-ray+DVD Combo also includes 46 minutes of deleted scenes, or rather expanded sections that explore elements of the project in more detail than the finished film allows.

More new releases on Blu-ray, DVD, and digital formats at Cinephiled

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Review: ‘Hard Times’

8 July, 2014 (09:32) | by Rick Hermann, Film Reviews | By: Rick Hermann

[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]

The beginning of Hard Times comes close to successfully evoking a sensitive feel for rundown Thirties landscapes and the forced freedom of men on the move to the next city in hope of something better than what they left behind. Charles Bronson rides into town in an empty freight car, gazing out at a countryside whose facelessness is placed in perspective by a simple touch: a truckload of Depression-reared children who, perhaps enviously, stare back at Bronson as he rolls on by. He hops off the train and wanders towards a clump of deserted factory buildings, then off into the town where, like a man with nothing much to do, he sits down in a sleazy joint for a bowl of chili and a cup of coffee. Soon he’ll stumble onto a little fistfight between two hulking sluggers, the object of a few friendly bets, and he’ll take up as a fighter himself in order to win enough money to get him to the next stop. So far, though, we simply hope that his quiet and quietly depicted arrival may be building towards an understated film of real men in hard times. Bronson’s lived-in face seems as unflinchingly stoic and potentially lethal as it does in any Michael Winner movie, but there’s that lurking possibility that a period movie like Hard Times will soften its edges and crags and turn Bronson into something of a more easygoing romantic figure.

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Uncertainty and the Making of ‘Boyhood’ – Richard Linklater interviewed

7 July, 2014 (17:21) | by Sean Axmaker, Interviews | By: Sean Axmaker

“I’ve been lucky. I’ve made a lot of what, on paper, looks like a wide range of different type of things but they were just all stories I was really interested in telling. It’s a storytelling medium and I’m lucky to tell a variety of stories. But I never put a limit on myself. We’re limited enough in the world as it is.”

‘Boyhood’

Richard Linklater made a splash with the micro-budget collaborative indie Slacker (1991) and followed it up with the evocative high school time capsule Dazed and Confused (1993) has never stopped trying new things. Even while he’s flirted with mainstream comedy in School of Rock (2003) and Bad News Bears (2005), he keeps returning to his indie roots, experimenting with DIY animation, documentary and oddball fiction / non-fiction hybrids like Fast Food Nation (2006). And he is one of the most collaborative filmmakers in American cinema. After exploring the brief connection between two young adults in Vienna in Before Sunrise, he reunited with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy to revisit the characters later in life, collaborating with his stars on the scripts for Before Sunset and Before Midnight to further explore characters and their lives and relationship evolved over the years. What began as a stand-alone film turned into a continuing meditation on the nature of individuals and relationships over time.

Before he embarked on Before Sunset, however, Linklater had already begun an even more unconventional project: Boyhood, a film that covers twelve years in the life of a boy (and to a less extent his older sister) growing up in Texas, from first grade to arrival at college.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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Fab film at 50: ‘A Hard Day’s Night’

7 July, 2014 (08:41) | by Sean Axmaker, Essays, Musicals | By: Sean Axmaker

The rock movie was never the same after A Hard Day’s Night opened 50 years ago, on July 6, 1964. The Beatles black-and-white comedy, which is being re-released in theaters for the anniversary, immediately became the cheekiest, wittiest, most inventive film in the then-fledgling rock and roll movie genre.

Before A Hard Day’s Night, there were two basic approaches to the rock movie. Neither demanded much in the way of creativity. There was the Elvis model, where you cast a pop star in a dramatic or comic role and shoehorned a few songs between the scripted scenes, and the “Beach Party” model, where singers and bands simply dropped into a movie to perform a number and then quickly disappeared.

A Hard Day’s Night was something different. The Beatles played themselves, in a tongue-in-cheek fantasy of a day-in-the-life of the band. They were real and unreal at the same time, goofing their way through the world as a way of dealing with the insanity of superstardom, and they were likable and funny and just a little impertinent. If this isn’t how they were in real life, it’s how we wanted them to be.

Continue reading at Today Entertainment

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Hal Hartley Explores New Voices in ‘My America’

6 July, 2014 (09:36) | by Sean Axmaker, Essays, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

In 2012, Baltimore’s Center Stage, the State Theater of Maryland, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary by soliciting scores of American playwrights, both established veterans and emerging voices, to answer the question “What is my America?” with a short monologue. Fifty pieces were ultimately commissioned and director Hal Hartley filmed them all for Center Stage. Twenty-one of these pieces are woven into the feature My America.

‘My America’

This is not a collection of Hartley film shorts, at least not in the way we think of a “Hal Hartley” film. Whether working in short film or feature-length modes, Hartley’s voice is unmistakable and he put his camera in service to the word, or more precisely the lively, playful interplay of words. Imagine a college grad student’s reworking of a screwball comedy with a deadpan approach and Godard-ian flourishes. Conversation, debate, argument, lecture, philosophical musing, and the odd poetry of intellectual discourse in the measured cadences of call and response and cyclical talk, those are the heart of Hartley’s cinema and until now he’s written his own screenplays.

My America, a collection of monologues, raps and one-way conversations by American playwrights grappling in one form or another with the identity, the dreams and the realities of the American citizen, is Hartley engaging with other voices.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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DVD: ‘Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction’

6 July, 2014 (07:43) | by Sean Axmaker, Documentary, DVD | By: Sean Axmaker

“Do I have any lines? I don’t want any lines. How about I do nothing? How about silence?”

Harry Dean Stanton, the veteran character actor with (by his own count) over 250 film appearances to his credit, would rather not talk about himself. Or about his family, his life, his career, or the craft of acting. Which makes him a curious subject for a documentary. Director Sophie Huber follows him around Los Angeles, films him hanging out at his favorite L.A. bar, Dan Tana’s, where he’s known the bartender for more than 40 years, and shoots him in his home singing folk songs and standards between sessions trying to get the actor to open up.

“How would you describe yourself?” asks friend and frequent director David Lynch. “There is no self,” he answers, his craggy, lined face maintaining a nearly unreadable stoniness. “How would you like to be remembered?” “Doesn’t matter.” He’s not simply an actor with nothing to prove. He’s a private man who prefers to keep his thoughts and feelings to himself and a few chosen friends. Stanton opens up a little over coffee and cigarettes with Lynch, who makes a game of lobbing questions from a card provided by Huber and then spins off in remembrances of their long history together, and he eases into reminiscing with Kris Kristofferson, who credits Stanton for his first film role in Cisco Pike and then launches into his iconic song “The Pilgrim”: “He’s a poet, he’s a picker. He’s a prophet, he’s a pusher. He’s a pilgrim and a preacher, and a problem when he’s stoned.” Stanton was one of the inspirations for those lyrics, according to Kristofferson, along with a few others, and the two start checking off all those early seventies characters who fit the bill.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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Blu-ray: ‘Sorcerer’

5 July, 2014 (08:36) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

“Despite all the problems and setbacks, bruised egos and shattered friendships, I felt then and still do that Sorcerer is the best film I’ve made.” – William Friedkin

After William Friedkin’s career took off with the consecutive successes of The French Connection (1971) and The Exorcist (1973), he used his clout to make a passion project, a reworking of Henri-George Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear (1953) (Friedkin insists that it’s not a remake) that he rather abstractly titled Sorcerer, named after one of the two trucks that set out across treacherous jungle roads with a cargo of unstable dynamite in the back.

It was a resounding commercial failure and it took the luster off of Friedkin’s golden boy image. Forty years later it’s being heralded, at least in some quarters, as an overlooked masterpiece. Distance, along with the film’s unavailability for well over a decade, has allowed viewers to return to it with fresh eyes and a better understanding of Friedkin. I’m not part of the “masterpiece” chorus, at least not to the extent of The French Connection, but I find a terrible, beautiful power in the film’s primal imagery and almost abstracted conflict of man and nature. Like Apocalypse Now and Heaven’s Gate and other passion projects by seventies filmmakers that spun out of control in a perfect storm of ambition, obsession, arrogance, and bad luck, Friedkin’s passion and commitment comes through in some superb filmmaking and riveting scenes and stunning imagery.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of July 4

4 July, 2014 (09:37) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

Four lads from Liverpool

“How did you find America?” “Turned left at Greenland.” We pause our native readers’ patriotic reminiscences of 1776 to consider the British invasion of some 188 years later, when A Hard Day’s Night opened louder and brighter than any firework. Sam Kashner relates the making-of, including excerpts from a rare 2008 interview with Richard Lester (“I suspect that the documentary style was the most logical, because you didn’t particularly want acting classes for the four boys while we were actually filming”). While David Thomson looks back at the movie as only he can. (“The important thing, [screenwriter Alun Owen] felt, was to get their cheeky, snarky talk—the way any gang sounded, with much more familiarity than respect, needling, teasing, wisecracking, inflected with the amazed realization that they were the Beatles and everyone wanted them.”)

If you’ve forgotten (or had never heard), just as his critical reception was tilting towards complaints of megalomania and political naiveté, Emir Kusturica decided to found his own town, Andricgrad, named after Serbia’s Nobel laureate Ivo Andri?. The director gives Peter Aspden a tour, complete with a view of the town’s heroic mural of Gavrilo Princip, firer of the shot heard round the world, and tries to justify his own aggressive pacifism. (“It is war that makes the major turns. It makes Wall Street function, it makes all the bastards in the Balkans function. What would happen if an angel appeared before the American president and told him there was no more need for war? Everything would collapse.”)

“As much as Martin Scorsese, Fassbinder was a maverick in his use of pop music in narrative film.” A point Glenn Kenny demonstrates, efficiently and insightfully, laying out the associations swirling around Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross” that help explain it popping up three times during the course of World on a Wire.

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Film Review: ‘Life Itself’

3 July, 2014 (06:55) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert

For the last 25 years of his life, Roger Ebert was the most famous film critic in America. In his final decade—he died in April 2013—Ebert became famous for something else. He faced death in a public way, with frankness and grit. Cancer altered his appearance and robbed him of the ability to speak and eat, but he was unleashed as a writer. Those last years—and his embrace of blogging and Twitter—steered him into feisty agitprop and mellow memory-writing (he published his memoir Life Itself in 2011).

This new documentary about Ebert focuses perhaps too much on the cancer fight. This is understandable; director Steve James—whose Hoop Dreams Ebert tirelessly championed—had touching access to the critic and his wife Chaz during what turned out to be Ebert’s last weeks. It’s a blunt, stirring portrait of illness.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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