Nightmare Alley

Seattle Screens: Film noir ‘Nightmare,’ Local Sightings at NWFF, and Arthouse Theatre Day

The 19th edition of Local Sightings, “Seattle’s only festival dedicated to Pacific Northwest films and filmmakers,” continues at NWFF with over 100 features and short films, including 26 world premieres (four of them features), plus workshops and panels and other events. Plays through Saturday, October 1 at NWFF. Complete schedule and other details here, and Robert Horton’s preview is at Seattle Weekly.

The 39th edition of the longest-running film noir series in the world kicks off on Thursday, September 29 with a screening of Nightmare Alley (1947). Matinee idol Tyrone Power is brilliantly cast as the opportunistic carnie who tramples his partners to climb out of the sideshow and into nightclub glamour and high society in one of the most offbeat examples of film noir. Opening and closing in the dregs of a two-bit carnival, the rise and fall of a drifter who connives a mind-reading act from a rummy has-been and transforms it into a scam targeting the gullible rich straddles the chasm between sleaze and class, thanks to the oddly interesting miscasting of studio stalwart Edmund Goulding as director. He never manages to sink to the depths suggested in Jules Furthman’s screenplay (behold the Geek!) but his studio elegance has its own rewards. Tyrone Power’s self-conscious screen persona perfectly fits his character, a phony whose entire life is a performance, and Colleen Gray is film noir’s baby-faced innocent, though she’s anything but naïve here. Joan Blondell and Mike Mazurki co-star as Gray’s protective carnie pals and Helen Walker proves herself just as ruthlessly cunning as Power’s scam artist in the role of a corrupt analyst. It screens from a 35mm film print at 7:30 pm at Plestcheeff Auditorium at the Seattle Art Museum. More information here, and the series continues on Thursday nights through December at SAM.

French Cinema Now kicks off with on Thursday, September 29 with opening night feature Lost in Paris from filmmaking team Dominique Abel and Fiona Gordon. The series plays through Thursday, October 6. The complete schedule and ticket and festival pass information is here.

Cameraperson, a personal documentary from filmmaker Kirsten Johnson, screens at SIFF Cinema Uptown on Wednesday, September 28 with a Skype Q&A with the filmmaker. The film opens for a theatrical run on Friday, September 30.

SIFF Cinema Uptown celebrates Arthouse Theatre Day with a screening of the newly restored cult horror film Phantasm (1979) on Saturday, September 24 at SIFF Cinema Uptown, with a live stream Q&A with director Don Coscarelli joined by J.J. Abrams.

A new digital restoration of I Drink Your Blood (1973) plays on Friday, September 23 at Grand Illusion as its anti-Arthouse Day offering. Then on Saturday, Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981) is the official Arthouse Theatre Day offering.

Central Cinema gets back to school with repertory runs of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and Mean Girls (2004). Showtimes here.

More openings: The conspiracy thriller Operation Avalanche at Sundance Cinemas, the French drama Come What May at Guild 45, the romantic comedy/fantasy Zoom at Grand Illusion, and the documentaries Dying to Know: Ram Dass & Timothy Leary at SIFF Film Center and Three Days in Auschwitz at Sundance Cinemas.

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.

Photo credit: Local Sightings

Preview: Local Sightings Film Festival 2016

The autumn movie calendar brings a handful of essential annual events to local screens—for instance, the Seattle Art Museum’s Film Noir series (kicking off Sept. 29) is the world’s longest-running showcase for noir, and SIFF presents its yearly French Cinema Now festival (also Sept. 29). An increasingly important mainstay is the Northwest Film Forum’s Local Sightings Film Festival. Launched in 1997, Local Sightings draws its roster from movies made throughout the Northwest, casting its net far enough to include Alaska and Montana as well as near-flung Canadian provinces.

The result is inevitably a mixed bag, but that’s part of the point. Some of the films are authentic finds, some are not ready for prime time. But all movies need air, and the festival provides a way to get these things onto a screen and exposed to audiences, where they can flourish or wither. Almost as important, Local Sightings surrounds a year’s worth of regional films with panels, workshops, and parties, all part of maintaining the we-can-do-this-here energy.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Photo credit: MGM

Review: The Magnificent Seven

There are, I understand, people who can drive around a mesa in the American Southwest and come upon a vast, stunning expanse of pure Western landscape and not hear the music from The Magnificent Seven in their heads. Sad, but true. The catchiness and ubiquity of Elmer Bernstein’s thrumming music (which Marlboro licensed for their TV campaign peddling a manly, nicotine-loaded lifestyle) is so definitive it instantly summons up the Old West—or at least the cinematic version—in its first few beats. That music is the Western movie.

Bernstein’s score is amusingly hinted at during the remake of The Magnificent Seven, but you’ll have to wait until the end credits for a full nostalgic airing of the main theme. The original music is too heroic and unconflicted for a 21st-century Western, which Antoine Fuqua’s new film certainly is: Multicultural in its casting and pointedly political in its choice of bad guy, The Magnificent Seven is a 2016 movie all the way. In fits and starts, it also manages to be a pretty enjoyable Western.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

John Lithgow and Lolita Davidovich in Brian De Palma's 'Raising Cain'

Blu-ray: ‘Raising Cain: Collector’s Edition’ with a De Palma-blessed Director’s Cut

raisingcainbdRaising Cain: Collector’s Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray) – Jenny (Lolita Davidovich, all soft curves and dreamy smiles) is married to “the perfect man,” says her best friend Sarah (Mel Harris). At first glance Carter (John Lithgow) seems exactly that: a thoughtful husband, a doting father, a child psychiatrist who put his practice on hold to stay home and raise their daughter while she, an oncologist, worked as the family professional and breadwinner. So what’s she thinking when she slips off with Jack (Steven Bauer), a handsome widower of a former patient she hasn’t seen in years, and makes love in the park where her daughter plays? Okay, that’s no secret. The first shot of the Raising Cain: Director’s Cut (1992/2012) puts a Valentine’s heart around her entrance, a cheesy video effect in an upscale boutique that taps right into romantic dreams that her “perfect” husband is failing to satisfy. When this dreamboat sails back into her life and Carter spies their affair, we have a pretty good idea where this is headed. And we couldn’t be more wrong.

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Orson Welles on 'Chimes at Midnight,' on Blu-ray and DVD from Criterion

Blu-ray: Orson Welles’ ‘Chimes at Midnight’ and ‘The Immortal Story’ debut on Criterion

chimesmidChimes at Midnight (Criterion, Blu-ray, DVD) has been difficult to see under any circumstances for at least the last three decades. It suffered from distribution issues during its original release (a woefully misguided pan by New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther, an old-school moralist at sea in the era of new visions, essentially sunk it American release) and has been in legal limbo thanks to competing claims of ownership for decades. Original 35mm prints had issues with image and sound mixing and timing and surviving prints were worn and degraded over time. After years of negotiating and gathering materials, the film was restored in 2015. The re-release was a revelation and the first time that many Americans had the opportunity to finally see the film that Welles had called his favorite (admittedly he had said that about more than one of his films over his career, but Chimes did hold a special place in his heart). Welles called Falstaff “the greatest creation by Shakespeare” and said of the film: “If I wanted to get into heaven on the basis of one movie, that’s the one I would offer up.”

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Review: Cops and Robbers

[Originally published in Movietone News 28, December 1973]

Cops and Robbers is another of those teddibly clever caper comedies whose subject and bid for commercial success are both safely swaddled in kuntemperairy muhlayz. It’s more enjoyable than most, enough so that the casual moviegoer looking to drop out of reality for a couple hours will be reasonably satisfied. The opening is amusing, and stylistically a harbinger of things to come: seen as if from across the street, in the gritty-spongy color cinematography that has become a certification of authenticity (and, frequently, an excuse for sloppy direction and framing), a policeman enters a New York liquor store one evening and holds it up: leaving in his customary, just-walking-my-beat,-putting-in-a-day’s-work saunter, he disappears around the corner while the frantic storeowner hesitantly calls “Police!” and tries to communicate his complete perplexity to a bored derelict who’s been leaning against the store window the whole time. Days later, the cop (Joseph Bologna) delightedly confesses the deed to his neighbor and fellow officer (Cliff Gorman), adding that since it happened he and his wife have had fantastic rapport in the sack. Eventually the two decide to try one together—but no liquor store, no coupla hundred bucks—something big. Before long they have agreed to grab $10 million in bearer bonds and sell them, for 20 percent of value, to the Mafia. And they do it.

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Review: Papillon

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

Like Franklin Schaffner’s previous picture Nicholas and Alexandra, Papillon improves markedly in the second half. Not that, in the manner of a true roadshow, Papillon has an intermission (at least not in its present berth at the Coliseum—don’t take bets on the second run). And in some respects that’s what it looked to be, a roadshow: 150-minutes running time, reported $13,000,000 cost, bestseller origin. But the producers’ spectacular ambitions are undercut time and again by two factors: by the fact that the essential dramatic interest inheres in the grotesquely confined agonies of one man and, beyond that, in the unlikely (which is to say, in entertainment terms, likely) friendship and love of two men; and by the very nature of Franklin Schaffner as a director—that he is also one of the producers serves not so much to contradict my idea of Schaffner the director as to index an ambivalence that is the richest source of tension in the movie. Schaffner came from TV, and while he has few of the obnoxious visual affectations of the TV-trained director, he tends to restrict the most significant actions and relationships in his films to spatial arenas that could be served very adequately by the tube rather than the Panavision screen: the real convention hustle in The Best Man takes place in hotel rooms, hallways, and basements; the tensest moments in his strange and (to me) very sympathetic medieval mini-epic The War Lord are confined to a small soundstage clearing or that besieged tower; the battle scenes in Patton are hardly clumsy, but the real show is George C. Scott; and Nicholas and Alexandra comes alive only after the royal family has been penned up under the watchful eyes of Ian Holm and then Alan Webb, far from the splendor of St. Petersburg or the shambles of the Great War.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of Friday, September 16

With a restoration of The Man Who Fell to Earth playing England, the film has become quite the hot topic for discussion. Candy Clark talks with Neil Armstrong about the charms of working with David Bowie, who was always more straight-laced than he appeared (“Does [Bowie in the film] look like someone on heavy cocaine? No. His eyes are clear, his skin is clear, he is very relaxed. He had vowed to Nic Roeg that he would not do drugs while doing this film. I believe he kept his word. I think he made up all that other stuff just to be controversial, which he liked to do.”); while drugs—and sleeping around with Bianca Jagger—do make an appearance in Chris Campion’s account of how John Phillips came to make the film’s score. (“‘Those kind of episodes with Nic were relatively … I wouldn’t say frequent but they were not infrequent,’ says Graeme Clifford, who edited The Man Who Fell to Earth. ‘Everybody who knows Nic, at one point or another, has got into a rolling around on the floor fight with him. If John Phillips had not had a fight with him, I’d say, Oh really?’”) And cinematographer Tony Richmond shares some behind-the-scenes tales—including how his own blood made an on-camera appearance—with Leigh Singer. (“The spinning in the air—“aliens having orgasms”! We did that at Shepperton Studios afterwards. We built two towers and were up there with a camera, about 20 feet up. And we bought a huge trampoline and brought a trampoline specialist in, and the prop men were on another tower. And as they jumped up, they threw buckets of wallpaper paste all over them. And that’s what’s coming off them! Although quite frankly what I hate nowadays, is all these ‘how-they-did-this’ [features]. There’s no magic in movies anymore.”) Via David Hudson.

“It’s very hard for me to talk about the backlash because for me it was so directly personal. It was my mother getting sympathy cards, it was people coming up to me on the street telling me that they wished I was dead, saying they want their money back. It was me in my 84 Toyota Celica breaking down in LA in La Cienega underneath a billboard with my own face on it. It was a profoundly surreal experience.” As the new Blair Witch film hits theaters, Emalie Marthe talks to filmmakers Eduardo Sanchez and Dan Myrick and actors Heather Donohue and Joshua Leonard about the making of the say-what-you-will-but-it-was-certainly-influential original, and the downside to having the most hyped film of your career marketed on your supposed death.

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Seattle Screens: Sketchfest, ‘Moonrise’ talk, and ‘Dr. Strangelove’

The 19th edition of Local Sightings, “Seattle’s only festival dedicated to Pacific Northwest films and filmmakers,” opens at NWFF on Thursday, September 22 with “The Future is Zero: Local Sightings Edition,” a local game show taped live in locations around Seattle. The festival presents over 100 features and short films, including 26 world premieres (four of them features), plus workshops and panels and other events. Plays through Saturday, October 1 at NWFF. Complete schedule and other details here.

The 9th Annual SketchFest Seattle Comedy Film Challenge, a short film festival that screens on Saturday, September 17 at Central Cinema.

Lyall Bush is your host and guide through the Cinema Dissection of Moonrise Kingdom at SIFF Film Center on Sunday, September 18. The all-day audience participation event begins at 11am.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, a documentary directed by Ron Howard (his first), opens for a week-long run at SIFF Cinema Uptown. It also plays on Hulu for streaming subscribers, but the theatrical version features an exclusive 30 minute concert of The Beatles’ performance at Shea Stadium in 1965. Reviewed on Parallax View here.

Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove (1964) plays on big screen in select theaters across the country for two nights this week through Fathom Events: Sunday, September 18 and Wednesday, September 21. You can find participating theaters in your area here.

Heidi (1992) is an experimental reinterpretation of the classic children’s novel by artists Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley. It screens on Sunday, September 18 at NWFF in a special presentation co-sponsored by the Henry Art Gallery.

History of the American City is a lecture and discussion with instructor Christopher Rufo on how documentaries shed light on the life cycle of the American City. Thursday, September 22 at SIFF Film Center Classroom.

The Department Q Trilogy—The Keeper of Lost Causes (Denmark, 2013), The Absent One (Denmark, 2014), and A Conspiracy of Faith (Denmark, 2016)—plays through the week at SIFF Film Center.

More openings: Alice Winocour’s Disorder at The Varsity (reviewed at Seattle Weekly here), Max Rose with Jerry Lewis at Sundance Cinemas, Stellan Skarsgård in the Scandinavian thriller In Order of Disappearance at Grand Illusion, and the documentaries Hieronymus Bosch: Touched by the Devil at SIFF Cinema Uptown and Author: The JT LeRoy Story at SIFF Cinema Uptown and Sundance.

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.

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.