The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of November 7

7 November, 2014 (09:43) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

Shelley Duvall in a scene from ‘The Shining’

“If you men only knew.” Adam Nayman defends the films of Stanley Kubrick from charges of misogyny by pointing out these aren’t films about women ruining things, but of “male self-absorption, and its dire consequences.” Via Mubi.

Kalefa Sanneh’s profile of Chris Rock does a good job explaining movie stardom by counter-example, as pretty much everyone’s choice for our greatest stand-up comedian explicitly acknowledges his lack of impact on the screen and the changes—in attitude and performance—he’s taken to rectify that. Step one being listening to Scott Rudin’s advice.

“The climactic shot of Trafic—people with umbrellas crossing a car park—is epic and beautiful and somehow funny, but if you try to pinpoint the source of amusement, you end up with something meaningless like “Everybody’s walking in straight lines.”” Criterion presents another fine essay on Tati, as David Cairns analyses the structural importance of gags in his films, and Tati’s delight in avoiding their expected payoff.

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Film Review: ‘Interstellar’

7 November, 2014 (08:53) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews, Science Fiction | By: Robert Horton

Matthew McConaughey

Everybody in Interstellar keeps talking about Gargantua, a massive black hole that must be delicately negotiated during space travel. Christopher Nolan’s movie is similarly scaled: This 168-minute epic contains vast sights and wild images, and exerts a heavy gravitational pull. At its center are some basic, reliable sci-fi ideas. They’re just intriguing enough to justify the film’s poky sequences, but in Nolan’s universe this one falls shy of the ingenious spectacle of The Dark Knight and Inception.

The very slow opening reels introduce us to Coop (Matthew McConaughey), a former astronaut now involved in Earth’s last-ditch effort to grow crops. The future is starving to death, but Coop has a shot at saving the day when he’s called back into astro-service for a do-or-die mission.

Continue reading at The Herald

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Film Review: ‘Diplomacy’

6 November, 2014 (05:49) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Niels Arestrup

Paris was not destroyed by the retreating Germans during World War II, so the outcome of Diplomacy is not in question. That is, unless some Inglourious Basterds–style historical embroidery were to break out. But director Volker Schlöndorff is no Quentin Tarantino, and Diplomacy plays as a minimalist dialogue on the nature of ethics and responsibility. Most of it takes place in a room at the Hotel Meurice in August 1944, the headquarters of General Dietrich von Choltitz (Niels Arestrup). Von Choltitz has been military governor here for less than a month; with the Allies already pounding at the outskirts of town, he’s doomed to eventually surrender the city. But Hitler has charged him with destroying the riches of Paris—bridges, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower—before capitulation.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter’

6 November, 2014 (05:43) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

‘On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter’

“You have to be crazy to do this,” according to—oh, let’s face it, this could have been said by anybody in this movie. On Any Sunday: The Next Chapter is crammed with people who ride motorcycles too fast: These vehicles travel across flat tracks, dirt roads, and sometimes the air, with alarming amounts of space between bike and ground. The documentary world is full of thrilling sports videos, but few have the authentic life-and-death stakes of high speed on two wheels.

The movie’s distinguished pedigree sets it apart, too. Its title reminds us of the hit 1971 doc On Any Sunday, a classic from The Endless Summer director Bruce Brown. His son Dana, who also specializes in surf-’n’-dirt movies (Step Into Liquid among the former), directs and narrates this one.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Review: ‘Bite the Bullet’

5 November, 2014 (09:37) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published in Movietone News 42, July 1975]

Bite the Bullet will be easy for some people to underrate and easy for others to overrate—which evens out to saying it’s a pretty good movie. Richard Brooks has hardly specialized in Westerns, but those he’s made are worth remembering: The Last Hunt, an utterly original tale about buffalo hunters, full of pain and cold, and vouchsafing Robert Taylor and Stewart Granger rare opportunities to acquit themselves admirably; and The Professionals, a fat and sassy Mexican-bandido thing that bit off its gritty-romantic conceits too neatly for serious credibility but still yielded a generous portion of thrills, laughs, and shameless glory. Bite the Bullet is built around a 700-mile endurance race sponsored by a newspaper called The Western Press. The reporters and a few high-toned gamblers, promoters, and horse-owners travel by railroad while a satisfyingly diverse band of aspirants and one hired rider—cover the terrain the hard way.

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Videophiled: Angelina Jolie is ‘Maleficent’ and Philip Seymour Hoffman is ‘A Most Wanted Man’

4 November, 2014 (10:12) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

MalifecentMaleficent (Disney, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, VOD) does sort of a “Wicked” number on the story of Sleeping Beauty’s evil sorceress, casting her as the tragic figure of a dark fantasy (but not too dark for children—barely) of a revisionist fairy tale. Angelina Jolie plays the adult Maleficent, a fairy who watches over and defends the natural and supernatural wilds from human assault. With her magnificent leathery wings and curled horns, she has the look of a beautiful demon (even her cheekbones are sharpened to an edge that look like they could cut an unwary lover to ribbons) but is at heart an innocent, a primeval force whose emotions are pure and motives without guile. Her betrayal, at the hands of a human (Sharlto Copley) who was once a friend and lover, is an assault so personal and intimate and disfiguring that children can’t help but feel the transgression as a terrible, horrible wrong while adults see it as a form of rape. It is as powerful a dramatic moment you will see in an American film, let alone a mainstream spectacle, and coupled with Jolie’s committed performance (ripples of personality and conflicted emotions, as well as a playful sense of humor, play under even her iciest moments), it gives the film a power beyond the CGIed-to-monotony fantasy designs and magical creatures.

Not to slight Elle Fanning, who plays the princess Aurora as another innocent whose purity gets under Maleficent’s vengeful shell. Fanning has the ability to radiate pure joy and wonder and does so, but Jolie shows us that the potential for love is still within her, merely buried under rage and hatred and vengeance. It is a righteous revenge film, but with a feminist twist and a redemptive journey. To quote Matt Zoller Seitz: “The movie is a mess, but it’s a rich mess. It has weight. It matters.”

The five featurettes are quite brief (the longest, “From Fairy Tale to Feature Film,” runs only eight minutes) and there are five deleted scenes. The Blu-ray also features bonus DVD and Disney Anywhere Digital HD copies.

MostwantedA Most Wanted Man (Lionsgate, Blu-ray, DVD, VOD) will stand as the final film completed by Philip Seymour Hoffman before his untimely death in February and that alone is reason enough to see the film, adapted from the post 9/11 novel by John le Carré and directed by Anton Corbijn, a music video veteran who becomes more accomplished with each feature. Hoffman has the ability to lose himself in his roles and as Günther Bachmann, the leader of covert German intelligence agency that monitors potential terrorist activity, he seems to pare down a performance to give us a man who betrays nothing of what he’s thinking or feeling yet radiates a gentle warmth for his team (made up of superb German actors Nina Hoss, Daniel Brühl, and Franz Hartwig). All we really know is his loyalty to his country and to his crew, and they return that loyalty in spades.

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VHS Obsessed: ‘Adjust Your Tracking’

3 November, 2014 (16:48) | by Sean Axmaker, Horror, Industry, Technology | By: Sean Axmaker

‘Adjust Your Tracking’

Perhaps you need to be of a certain generation to get nostalgic over the low-fidelity, awkward, more-fragile-than-it-looks technology of movies on VHS tape. Those little plastic movie bricks storing reels of magnetic tape aren’t just outmoded twentieth-century technology, they’re downright archaic, not to mention fatally impermanent. That’s not to say that DVD is forever, but apart from the fragility of those half-inch ribbons, which get brittle over time and can get creased or crinkled or snapped as they are wound across the spinning drums of the VCR with pincers that wouldn’t be out of place in a David Cronenberg film, the magnetic seal holding the information recorded on the oxide strip of the tape decays over time. The images will eventually break up, dissolve, evaporate into the ether. In the case of many tapes from the beginning of the video era, they already have.

But as former video store mogul Sam Sherman remarks in the documentary Adjust Your Tracking, “People will collection anything,” and there is tremendous nostalgia associated with VHS tape and video culture it defined from the first “Select-a-Vision” commercial tape releases in 1977 to A History of Violence, the last movie released on VHS by the studios. It’s no exaggeration to say that the videocassette changed our relationship with movies.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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Blu-ray: ‘Point Blank’

3 November, 2014 (05:37) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film music, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

When documentary filmmaker John Boorman made the leap to feature filmmaking with Catch Us If You Can (aka Having a Wild Weekend, 1965), a low-budget rock-n-roll vehicle for the Dave Clark Five, he transformed the quickie into a surprisingly biting satire of popular culture set to a bouncy soundtrack, displaying a remarkable sophistication and creativity unexpected from such a project. It was enough to land him his first American film, Point Blank (Warner) where he revealed an even greater ambition and talent.

Based on the novel The Hunter by Richard Stark (a pen name for Donald Westlake), Point Blank shuffles the lean, straight-forward story of a gunman named Walker (Lee Marvin), who is double crossed by his partner in crime and returns (seemingly from the dead) for revenge, into a surreal, abstracted crime drama. The plot is faithful to original novel, a hard-boiled piece of crime fiction reimagined for the underworld culture of the sixties, but Boorman and Marvin, who requested the young director and supported his unconventional vision for the film, refract it through a modern lens. Walker’s odyssey from Alcatraz in San Francisco to the underworld of Los Angeles is splintered with short, sharp shards of memory that cut through his story, as if reflecting Walker’s attempts to put the pieces of cause and effect together in his mind.

Boorman views L.A. through an alienated lens and edits it more like a European art film than an American crime thriller, but fills it with offbeat, ultra-stylized scenes of violence.

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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Blu-ray: ‘Ravenous’

1 November, 2014 (10:29) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Sean Axmaker

Ravenous (Scream Factory) channels the story reminiscent of the Donner Party disaster and the legend of Alferd Packer (the only American ever convicted of cannibalism) into a gruesome survival thriller with a crimson-hued streak of black humor and an elemental hint of the supernatural. The resulting film takes top honors as the definitive frontier cannibal movie. Not that there’s a long list to choose from, mind you, but this earns its position with honors, thanks to a gleefully weird and savagely bloodthirsty sensibility.

Guy Pearce is Captain John Boyd, whose battle cowardice during the Mexican-American war inadvertently results in making him an accidental hero. The ordeal of playing dead under the bleeding corpses of his fellow officers also puts him off meat, as the opening scenes so vividly illustrate. Director Antonia Bird cuts straight to the heart of the situation as she intercuts soldiers devouring bleeding-rare steaks at a military luncheon with the bloody casualties of battle stacked like cordwood: meat is meat, at least as far as this film is concerned. Boyd’s commanding officer (John Spencer of The West Wing), who knows that his valor is a fraud, ships him out to the fringes of military reach: a fort in a California mountain pass, which runs with a minimal compliment during the impassable winter months. “This place thrives on tedium,” smiles fort commander Colonel Hart (Jeffrey Jones), who takes everything with a bemused indulgence. How else to survive a company made up of a useless drunk second-in-command (Stephen Spinella), a giggling weed-head idiot (David Arquette), a twitchy, mumbling chaplain (Jeremy Davies), and a macho soldier boy (Neal McDonough) who holds the rest of the company in utter contempt?

Continue reading at Turner Classic Movies

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of October 31

31 October, 2014 (09:49) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links, Seattle Screens | By: Bruce Reid

‘Mon Oncle’

All due (and seasonally apposite) respect to Clive Barker, the video release of the moment is clearly Criterion’s complete Tati set. At their website the company is offering some fine essays connected to the release. Jonathan Rosenbaum displays how precise Tati’s use of color and sound was to guide the viewer through his open, detailed frames. (“This means that any discussion of Tati’s mise-en-scene has to cope with the reality that he effectively directed each of his films twice—once when he shot them and then once again when he composed and recorded their soundtracks.”) James Quandt outlines the intellectual underpinnings of comedies that, for once, it’s not condescending to say they have more on their mind than making you laugh. (“This contradiction [of using rigidly designed imagery to decry mechanized life] is central to understanding all of his work. His Cartesian comedies inveigh against order and logic but generate beauty and laughter from both.”) And Kristin Ross places these films in context against the hustling economic boom of postwar France’s Thirty Glorious Years. (“Commenting upon the strikingly memorable soundtracks that he designed to accompany all of his important films from Mon oncle (1958) to Parade (1974), Jacques Tati remarked, ‘Well, when people are in strange surroundings, natural sounds always sound louder.’ Each of Tati’s films works to turn the most familiar lived landscapes of postwar French society into strange surroundings.”)

“This is a cinema ruled by the shadow of destiny—a powerful force that casts its spell and grows like a malady, contaminating everything.” Cristina Álvarez López runs through a series of films—from naked kisses to stolen faces, from The Stranger to The Trial—that shut down cinema’s rich tradition of offering second chances, trapping their protagonists in fates by forces external and otherwise.

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Film Review: ‘Nightcrawler’

31 October, 2014 (09:07) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Jake Gyllenhaal

If ever we needed proof that a real go-getter with an upbeat and fully-developed philosophy of life can also be a raging sociopath, Louis Bloom supplies it. The main character of Nightcrawler admits he has been studying a lot on the Internet, and the way Jake Gyllenhaal inhabits the role leaves no doubt that Bloom has spent a great deal of energy learning how to act like normal people. With all that readiness, Bloom hits the ground running when he stumbles into a possible source of income: freelance video journalist.

In this case, that means slinking through the streets of L.A. at night, trying to get to crime scenes and car accidents before the police shut off the area. TV news pays for the grisly footage — if only Bloom and his “intern” (Riz Ahmed, from Four Lions) can get there before their rival jackal (Bill Paxton).

Continue reading at The Herald

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Videophiled Classic: Halloween Disc Pick – ‘Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut’

30 October, 2014 (14:27) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Sean Axmaker

NightbreedNightbreed: The Director’s Cut: Special Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)
Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut: 3-Disc Limited Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo)

Clive Barker’s 1990 film Nightbreed, adapted from his novel Cabal, was taken from Barker’s hands, cut down drastically from his 142-minute rough cut (which made the bootleg rounds in a version called “The Cabal Cut” taken from a video workprint), and released in a form that Barker was never happy with. The release of Nightbreed: The Director’s Cut: Special Edition (Scream Factory, Blu-ray+DVD Combo) features a new cut of the film overseen by Barker and restored by Mark Allan Miller, who hunted down the original footage discarded from the rough cut. This is the version that Barker claims as his director’s cut, as he was not given the opportunity for his own final cut before the studio stepped in.

That brief history comes from Barker and Miller themselves in a new video introduction to Scream Factory’s release and it’s clear they are both proud of this release. Morgan Creek, the producing studio, wanted something along the lines of his low-budget Hellraiser. Barker had something else in mind, a celebration of misfits and monsters in a weird story of fear and prejudice filled with Biblical references and mythic resonance. The real monsters of Nightbreed are the humans, especially a psycho psychiatrist named Dr. Philip K. Decker played by filmmaker David Cronenberg with a flat delivery and deadened voice that makes him all the more unnerving. This doc is a real piece of work, drawing his kills from the nightmares of his patients and then framing them for the crimes, but Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer) is not a normal patient and his visions of a place called Midian aren’t nightmares. They are anticipations of his legacy: he belongs to an ancient race of misfit outsiders considered monsters and banished to an underworld away from humanity.

Continue reading at Cinephiled

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Film Review: ‘Citizenfour’

30 October, 2014 (05:54) | by Robert Horton, Documentary, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Edward Snowden and Glenn Greenwald

Edward Snowden sits on his hotel-room bed, about to keystroke a password into his laptop. Without looking particularly sheepish about it, he drapes a blanket over his head and upper body, so he can comfortably input the information without being observed. This gesture evokes many things: a kid reading a book under the covers at night; the Elephant Man disguising his grotesqueness; a conspiracy theorist muttering warnings about cosmic rays coming through his skull. None of these associations is unjustified, and all underscore the absorbing character study that Citizenfour presents in you-are-there fashion.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘Young Ones’

30 October, 2014 (05:49) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Michael Shannon

The old postapocalyptic shuffle is alive in Young Ones, but this catastrophe is more credible than most such speculations. The problem here is water, which has evaporated, at least in this corner of the world. Patriarch Ernest Holm (Michael Shannon, apocalypse vet from Take Shelter) trades trinkets in exchange for supplies, and just manages to keep hold of his “farm”—a patch of brown desert—in hope that the soil needs only the rain to come back. But the film’s real attention is on the next generation, played by a trio of child stars aging into young adulthood. Holm’s patient son Jerome (Kodi Smit-McPhee, the kid from The Road) and resentful daughter Mary (Elle Fanning) must negotiate their future with the ambitious Flem Lever (Nicholas Hoult of Warm Bodies, soon to appear in the Mad Max reboot). Ernest isn’t crazy about Flem hanging around with Mary, for reasons that turn out to be pretty well-founded.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Review: ‘Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore’

29 October, 2014 (10:29) | by Rick Hermann, Film Reviews | By: Rick Hermann

[Originally published in Movietone News 42, July 1975]

In Mean Streets Scorsese used a relatively unknown but near-perfectly cast group of actors to play out his sort-of-autobiographical story of smalltime gangsters enmeshed in the violence, death, and deadendedness of a grotto in the New York underworld. In Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore he has peopled the screen with a warm little community of transient characters whose slightly better-known faces communicate a greater sense of familiarity. Long before Kris Kristofferson edges his way almost imperceptibly into the corner of a frame, we’ve already been treated to a number of vivid character portrayals and bit-part niceties including Billy Green Bush’s role as Alice’s first husband, Harvey Keitel’s as Ben, Harry Northup’s brief appearance as the gosh-and-golly yokel bartender in Joe and Jim’s Café, to name but a few. No one’s around for very long—just long enough—and of course transience is one of the things with which Alice is concerned, just as Mean Streets was preoccupied with identity, fear, and mortality.

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