Review: The Final Year

Reviewed by Robert Horton for Seattle Weekly

High on my list of “moviemaking don’ts” is the use of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” Nothing against the song, it’s a true anthem by the Nobel laureate with 1963-penned lyrics that remain applicable to any era. But plop it in a movie and heavy-handedness abounds (go directly to the particularly cringe-worthy moment in Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July for confirmation). However, I am suspending my decree for the new documentary, The Final Year. By the time this chronicle of 2016 politics reaches its climax, Dylan’s words (not sung by him, in this case) sound more perceptive than ever.

The Final Year follows the Obama administration’s foreign-policy team, with a focus on three main players: Secretary of State John Kerry, United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power, and Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Blu-ray: Blade Runner 2049

35 years after the original Blade Runner changed the landscape of big screen science fiction, Blade Runner 2049 (2017) dared build on the dystopian portrait of the ecologically devastated urban imaged on screen by director Ridley Scott and his team of designers and artists. Just as in the original, this film is as much about the texture of the world on screen as it is the story of the Replicants (artificially manufactured humans created as slave labor) decades after Deckard first strolled the mean streets of L.A.

Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

Ryan Gosling is K, the Blade Runner of this story, a next generation Replicant whose job it is to “retire” the last of the old models, the ones created with a more flexible will that led to rebellion. His new assignment unearths artifacts that leads directly back to the story of Deckard (Harrison Ford) and Rachel (Sean Young) and the legend of a Replicant child, a messiah myth for the Replicant underclass not unlike the Christian virgin birth: the first non-virgin birth of a race genetically designed in a lab. It’s a story that Niander Wallace (Jared Leto), the techno-industrialist who took over the collapsed Tyrell Corporation, will do anything to bury and he sends his own Replicant enforcer, Luv (Dutch actress Sylvia Hoeks), to eradicate the evidence.

This is science fiction spectacle and futuristic detective story as art movie tone poem, a conspiracy thriller with flying cars, blaster handguns, and big brawling fights that defies the breathless pace of the action genre.

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

“Before her husband goes to the leaves to the theater, Madame fixes his shirt; afterward, her hand slides, naturally and forcefully, toward the piano. Her reflex gesture will be punished: he locks up the piano case, preventing her from playing. As always, every affirmation of her self is crushed by her husband. The film’s drama starts precisely here: when the door to Madame Beudet’s fantasies is locked up, and when her husband debases and colonizes those fantasies, turning them progressively into her worst nightmare.” Cristina Álvarez López praises Germaine Dulac’s The Smiling Madame Beudet as a film that employs surrealist freedom of imagery to pierce its domestic melodrama with a greater, more terrifying truth than most subsequent “women’s pictures” could allow.

“Here it’s perhaps worth asking why so many artists become a part of our lives and identities, while only a precious few are enlisted to prop up our moral universe. Though he’s never claimed to be a dissident, and has in fact proven allergic to ironclad political positions, Jia still inspires a special kind of hope, particularly among fans in the Chinese world who long to see change in the motherland. His principal genius lies in how he makes that longing palpable, often by interpreting social upheaval through the subtle modulations of sentiment you find in Mando- and Cantopop songs, which he uses liberally and without irony. He does this with the knowledge that, not long ago, those private yearnings were condemned as “decadent.” Indeed, he often recounts a memory of his father implying that, at the height of the Maoist era, a movie like Platform, with its languid evocations of nostalgia and thwarted possibility, would have gotten him labeled as a rightist.” With Jia Zhangke launching a new festival, directing car commercials, and indulging in other moves that seems to ensconce him into the mainstream of the Chinese film industry, Andrew Chan reminds us to consider both Jia’s obstacles and his personal ambitions, which never perfectly aligned with the rebel image many thrust upon him.

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Review: Phantom Thread

The main character in Phantom Thread is a 1950s fashion designer named Reynolds Woodcock, a meticulous craftsman and a godlike giant of his industry. Early in the film he prepares for the day’s work, and you know he’s enacting the same rituals he does every morning: the careful brushing of hair, the measured buttering of toast. It’s a terrific introduction to a character, but I suspect writer-director Paul Thomas Anderson is also paying tribute to his leading man. The actor we’re watching is Daniel Day-Lewis, the three-time Oscar winner who previously worked with Anderson on There Will Be Blood. Godlike in his own profession, Day-Lewis is famous for his pickiness and obsessive research. Woodcock’s fussiness must be partly a portrayal of this remarkable and very controlled actor.

If Phantom Thread is an excellent portrait of an artist, it is not a predictable or conventional one.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Paddington 2

If marmalade sandwiches are back on the menu, it can only mean the Paddington sequel has arrived. The 2014 original, a live-action film with a computer-generated bear, was as warm ‘n fuzzy as its main character. If the sequel has a few odd ideas—Paddington spends almost half the movie in jail?—it still supplies a happy ration of kid-friendly slapstick, grown-up jokes, and a batch of the most recognizable actors in Britain.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Parallax View’s Best of 2017

Welcome 2018 with one last look back at the best releases of 2017, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations. (In reverse alphabetical order, just so you don’t have to see your intrepid managing editor at the top of the list every single year.)

Andrew Wright

1. War for the Planet of the Apes
2. Brawl in Cell Block 99
3. Ex Libris
4. Soul on a String
5. Okja
6. Phantom Thread
7. The Florida Project
8. Lady Bird
9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
10. The Girl With All the Gifts

Amie Simon

A quick list of my fave 2017 films (in alphabetical order):
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
The Big Sick
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Cult of Chucky
Get Out
Jim & Andy
John Wick: Chapter 2
The LEGO Batman Movie
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War For the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman

Bruce Reid

The Florida Project
A Quiet Passion
A Ghost Story
Marjorie Prime
Personal Shopper
Gerald’s Game

Kathleen Murphy

1.  Best war films: “Dunkirk” (Christopher Nolan), “Detroit” (Kathryn Bigelow)
2.  Best films about mortality, memory, human connection: “Personal Shopper” (Olivier Assayas), “Marjorie Prime,” elevated by the magnificent Lois Smith (Michael Almereyda), and most especially, “A Ghost Story” (David Lowery)
3. Best Distaff Revenge (and much more) films: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Martin McDonagh) and “In the Fade” (Fatih Akin). Frances McDormand (“Billboards”) and Diane Kruger (“Fade”) kill.
4. Richest evocation of a poet’s place, time, character, art: “A Quiet Passion” (Terence Davies). Cynthia Nixon shines.
5. Best growing-up film: Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” a Petri dish—place, time, family dynamics—where a passionate misfit and artist-to-be takes form. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf rule.
6. Best films about sharing ground with the Other: “Mudbound” (Dee Rees), “The Other Side of Hope” (Aki Kaurismaki)
7. Best Big Movies: Patti Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” (Gal Gadot!); “War for the Planet of the Apes,” Gotterdammerung demise—well-deserved—of Homo sapiens as master species (Matt Reeves); “Logan,” the genuinely poignant passing of an aging superhero (James Mangold)
8. Best evocation of the eloquent patience of beasts vs. surpassing cruelty of Homo sapiens: “Okja” (Bong Joon-ho)
9. Best down-and-dirty cinematic energy, celebration of genre, Vince Vaughan performance: “Brawl in Cell Block 99” (S. Craig Zahler)
10. Five good, not-great, movies well worth a second viewing: “Split” (M. Night Shyamalan), “Good Time” (Benny and Josh Safdie), “Wind River” (Taylor Sheridan), “The Lost City of Z” (James Gray), “Super Dark Things” (Kevin Phillips)

TV I could not quit, from standouts to guilty pleasures: “Mindhunter,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Big Little Lies”; “Halt and Catch Fire” and “The Leftovers” (final seasons); “The Deuce,” “I Love Dick,” “Fargo,” “Peaky Blinders,” “Longmire,” “Godless”

Moira Macdonald
(originally published in The Seattle Times)

In alphabetical order:
The Big Sick
Lady Bird
Lady Macbeth
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Their Finest

Richard T. Jameson

(Order of 3-10 in alphabetical order)
Get Out
A Ghost Story
Lady Bird
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Robert Horton
(originally published in Seattle Weekly)

1. Twin Peaks: The Return
2. Phantom Thread
3. Get Out
4. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
5. A Quiet Passion
6. The Lovers
7. Detroit
8. The Shape of Water
9. Personal Shopper
10. Logan

John Hartl

Five Came Back
Battle of the Sexes
The Other Side of Hope
Call Me by Your Name
Land of Mine
Lady Bird
The Crown
Get Out
The Post

Runners-up: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I Am Jane Doe, The Killing Fields of Dr. Hang S. Ngor, Feud: Bette and Joan, Whose Streets?, A Journey Through French Cinema, The Farthest, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Nuts!

Jim Emerson

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo)
A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
Get Out (Jordan Peele)
Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
Mudbound (Dee Rees)
A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)
The Shape of Water (Guillermo Del Toro)
Long Strange Trip (Amir Bar-Lev)
Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)
I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie)

Robert C. Cumbow

I don’t know from “best” and “worst” but here’s a list, in no particular order, of the ten films of 2017 that I most enjoyed watching, thinking about, and discussing with friends. [NOTE: I have not yet seen The Last Jedi or The Shape Of Water.]

The Lost City Of Z
A Ghost Story
Logan Lucky
I, Tonya
3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Get Out
Lady Bird
Wind River
Atomic Blonde

David Coursen

1. I Am Not Your Negro
2. Get Out
3. Faces Places
4. Neruda
5. The Florida Project
6. Lady Bird
7. Right Now, Wrong Then
8. The Other Side of Hope
9. After the Storm
10. A Quiet Passion

Honorable Mention: Jackie, The Workshop, In the Fade, Paterson

Sean Axmaker

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayass)
A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)
BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo)
Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)
The Shape of Water (Guillermo Del Toro)
Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes)
Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda)
Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villenueve)

10 more films (alphabetical): Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler), In the Fade (Fatih Akin), Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow), Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017), Get Out (Jordan Peele), Logan (James Mangold, 2017), Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig), The Lost City of Z (James Gray), The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Noah Baumbach), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)

Filmmakers and film programmers

Rick Stevenson (director, Magic in the WaterExpiration DateThe Millennials)

Favorite Ten of 2017 (really favorite 11 since his amp goes to 11), in no particular order:
Wonder Woman
Call Me by Your Name
The Shape of Water
Get out
Lady Bird
I Tonya
The Greatest Showman

Jennifer Roth (executive producer: The Wrestler, Black Swan, Laggies, Mudbound)

1. The Phantom Thread
2. The Square
3. I, Tonya
4. Get Out
5. The Meyerowitz Stories
6. Call Me By Your Name
7. Baby Driver (Because I love a good musical)
8. 3 Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri
9. Good Time
10. Mudbound (shameful plug, I know)

Megan Griffiths (director, Eden, Lucky Them, The Night Stalker)

1. Get Out
2. Sami Blood
3. Call Me By Your Name
4. Beach Rats
5. Detroit
6. Wonder Woman
7. The Shape of Water
8. The Florida Project
9. Lane 1974
10. First They Killed My Father

Beth Barrett (Artistic Director, SIFF)
(originally published on IndieWire)

Top 10 in no particular order:
Call Me By Your Name
I, Tonya
Get Out
Lady Macbeth
The Square
Lady Bird
Faces Places
Beach Rats
The OA

More Seattle lists:

Scarecrow’s Top Ten

1. Get Out
2. Logan
3. Moonlight
4. Twin Peaks: Season 3
5. Dunkirk
6. Shin Godzilla
7. The Handmaiden
8. Wonder Woman
9. Raw
10. Arrival

The Seattle Film Critics Society gave their 2017 awards; you can find them here.

Polls / Lists

Village Voice (annual film poll comes out later this week)
Time Out London
Sight and Sound / BFI
Roger (compilation list and individual lists)
Indiewire (critics list and filmmakers list)
Film Comment

Other lists

2017 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1927
David Hudson Remembers Those We Lost in 2017
Here’s the Parallax View list for 2016

Review: I, Tonya

Surely Tonya Harding was one of the last great pre-internet tabloid sensations, an unlikely headliner in a tacky saga of criminal intentions and bad taste. Before the internet, a jaw-dropping scandal like Harding’s could linger for a while, instead of being instantly elbowed aside by Twitter outrage or the latest meme. The drama unfolded in 1994, when an assailant hit figure skater Nancy Kerrigan in the leg with an iron bar; rumors flew that Harding, Kerrigan’s rival, had something to do with the attack. At the Olympics a few weeks later, both Kerrigan (bruised but not broken) and Harding competed amid a swirl of bizarre headlines about Harding’s fantastically trashy ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and his beefy, sage-like sidekick Shawn Eckhardt. Gillooly and Eckhardt did jail time for planning the attack; Harding has always maintained she wasn’t in on it. The crime was lurid enough, but the story had multiple levels, including economic: Harding was a blue-collar kid who sewed her own costumes out of financial necessity, a contrast to Kerrigan’s movie-star looks and classy commercial endorsements.

The movie version of this tale, I, Tonya, works hard to suggest why we might sympathize with Harding: her poverty, the abuse she suffered from her husband and her mother, the snooty condescension of skating’s top brass.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of December 22

The new issue of feminist film journal cléo has dropped, built around the theme of “hot”. Among other pleasures, Kathleen Kampeas-Rittenhouse shows the bleak political view that undergirds Ceyda Torun’s Kedi (“And so perhaps the more-or-less explicit themes of interdependence and fragility woven in among Kedi’s lighter-hearted narratives are an attempt to apply a loving lens to a bleak reality—a gentle, wet-nosed nudge reminding audiences of their capacity to nurture“); Elise Moore offers an interesting perspective on the dilemmas presented in The Bigamist and There’s Always Tomorrow (“A comparison of the Lupino and Sirk films highlights what Lupino’s outsider approach added to American cinema’s criticism of postwar conformism”); Kiva Reardon highlights Denis’s Friday Night as an important precursor to her supposedly anomalous latest, Let the Sunshine In (“in Denis’ filmmaking, we locate a cinematic space where the immediacy of women’s wants and needs is foregrounded, indulged and generously examined”); and Sarah Fonseca shows a century’s worth of obsessing about mermaids culminating in Smoczynska’s The Lure (“When the viewer realizes what Smoczynska is cheekily telling us about gender, the question of whether or not the mermaids’ song is manipulating audiences becomes irrelevant”).

“In Arbuckle’s [first] two features, it’s his physical presence that matters, not consistency of character; in one he’s a genial sheriff, in the other a lawyer inclined toward crookedness. Chaplin retained the Tramp persona in The Kid, but the film is a rather episodic affair. Once the main plot is resolved, a reel pads out its length with a dream sequence set in heaven. The Linder films are lively but digressive, with plots propelled by casual pranks and lovers’ misunderstandings. By contrast, Lloyd’s features moved toward tight construction. Despite his claim that his films just grew longer accidentally, they were shaped in ways that make them seem through-composed. His comedy sequences are deftly prolonged, building and topping themselves with great speed. Gags are embedded and interwoven in ways that yield surprises, and motifs set up early in the film pay off later. We may have forgotten about them, but Lloyd hasn’t.” David Bordwell argues that most dismissals of Harold Lloyd are flat-out wrong, shaped by a prescient hold on copyright that restricted our sense of his variety and innovation. Though even he can’t make Lloyd’s meticulous courting of the commercial come off any less depressingly chipper.

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Review: Darkest Hour

So you know all the stuff that was going on offscreen during Dunkirk? That’s centerstage in Darkest Hour, a historical drama that observes British higher-ups during a decisive moment in 1940. Most especially, it focuses on Winston Churchill, who had been Prime Minister less than a month when the evacuation of Dunkirk was executed. But that unlikely event—300,000 trapped British troops ferried across the English Channel from France—is merely one piece of Darkest Hour.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Downsizing

Alexander Payne has become known for directing bittersweet comedies rooted in recognizable—you might say warts and all—humanity. Movies like NebraskaAbout Schmidt, and Sideways are not always easy on their characters, but they sometimes crackle with lightning bolts of insight. Payne’s latest, written with his frequent writing partner Jim Taylor, adds a sci-fi framing device to his work. But ultimately Downsizing looks a lot like his previous films—and I think that’s a good thing.

The gimmick here is that Norwegian scientists have discovered a way to shrink people, a breakthrough that will lead to enormous environmental and financial benefits for the planet.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Call Me by Your Name

Since it premiered at film festivals earlier this year, Call Me by Your Name has inspired reviews that sound as though they were written in mid-swoon. Frankly, the movie itself encourages this: It’s a lush wallow at an Italian villa, a coming-of-age story that presents sensual adventure and a warm portrait of a functional family. Everything’s ideal, even the angst. It also features sex with a piece of fruit, although this is rendered cute and endearing; nothing too weird disturbs this movie’s handsome surface.

If I sound a little skeptical, I am—but the film is certainly pleasant to be seduced by.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

The Movies That Mattered in 2017

The new Star Wars movie opened a few days ago. It will make a mint. But within hours of its opening, it also made waves.

Before the end credits had finished rolling, an army of devoted Star Wars faithful had taken to their devices to declare that The Last Jedi was a disgrace to the memory of the doctrinal faith. One online commenter called it the “assassination of the entire star wars universe,” which sounds really serious. The new film’s alleged sins include over-jokiness, a reluctance to answer every plot question raised by the previous chapter, and, well, just being different. Being different is the worst offense of all.

Perhaps because I do not worship at the House of Skywalker, I found The Last Jedi to be perfectly delightful, and probably the best Star Wars picture since the first one. If that doesn’t get me excommunicated, I don’t know what will. But I bring up the issue because while the films of 2017 offered plenty of worthwhile titles, it marked a downturn in how we talk about movies.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Blu-ray: ‘Fritz Lang: The Silent Films’

Kino Classics

Fritz Lang: The Silent Films (Kino Classics, Blu-ray)

Fritz Lang was a towering giant of silent cinema, legendary for his ambitious, epic scope and the imagination and grandeur of his visual storytelling. Kino has been releasing glorious new editions of his silent films as restored by The Murnau Institute in Germany for years: eleven silent features in the last decade, including the landmark restoration of MetropolisFritz Lang: The Silent Filmscollects them all, with the respective Blu-ray debuts of three early films previously only on DVD and the home video debut of an early film written by Lang. In all, 12 silent features on 12 discs: an instant collection of one of the most important–and most entertaining–filmmakers of the 1920s.

Making its disc debut in the set is The Plague of Florence (1919), directed by Otto Rippert from Lang’s original screenplay loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe’s story “The Masque of the Red Death.” This is on DVD only and not available separately at this time.

Harakiri (1919), Lang’s adaptation of “Madame Butterfly,” features German star Lil Dagover as the Japanese geisha married then abandoned by (in this version) an American naval officer. Lang is still learning to tell a visual story and he hasn’t mastered the art of directing actors but it sure looks impressive. It’s one of the three films making their respective Blu-ray debuts in this set, along with The Wandering Shadow (1920), his first collaboration with screenwriter Thea von Harbou, who became his longtime collaborator and, later, his wife (until Lang fled Germany and von Harbou joined the Nazi party), and Four Around the Woman (1921). The latter, a complicated thriller of intrigue, crime, suspicion, and mistaken identity, looks forward to his popular spy and crime thrillers and is mastered from the only known available print, which is incomplete and damaged. It features a lively score by a small combo.

No supplements with these films.

The rest of the set collects the superb Blu-ray editions previously released in separate editions.

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of December 15

“Now that professional opportunities have expanded and marriage has lost both its inviolability and its exclusivity, what are we to make of Lisa Berndle and of a love at once heroic and wildly destructive, even delusional? One of the marks of a great film is how it changes over time as social context and you, the viewer, change. Certain themes recede, others emerge, sympathies shift, reappraisals are in order. The lens widens. Is Lisa’s besottedness a mark of daring or sheer masochism? Inspired and slightly idiotic? Is she heroine or anti-heroine? Could it be both?” Ophüls’s Letter from an Unknown Woman remains unmatched in its portrait of l’amour fou, Molly Haskell argues, because however it felt its heroine’s keening, its perception is wide enough to encompass the decency of those left in its wake.

The Harder They Come’s relationship to reggae, however, goes beyond music. The film is immersed in Jamaica’s everyday life and culture reflected through the creative beauty of reggae’s flesh and blood: Ivan’s struggle for a better life in the face of a rigid class structure; the presence of the Rastafari (in the person of the character Pedro) as righteous beacons of peace, love, and equity; the use of the Jamaican language; the argot of body movement through action and dance; and, of course, the reggae rhythm itself. Deeply and vitally engaged with all aspects of the movement, The Harder They Come is the film component of Jamaica’s reggae-influenced golden age.” Klive Walker recounts the phenomenon that was The Harder They Come, an introduction to movie screens of a country, music (reggae) and spirituality (Rastafari) that was so highly anticipated the audience at its Kingston premiere wouldn’t disperse to let in the Prime Minister.

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Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Nostalgia can only get you so far, even when wookiees are involved. While 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens succeeded in its designated task of rescuing the venerable franchise from the doldrums of its prequels, it also practiced a frustrating form of risk aversion, putting the next generation of characters through some very familiar paces. (Now coming up on your left: another Death Star!) Thankfully, The Force Awakens’ thunderously hyped sequel, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, takes a much more proactive tack, fully honoring the touchstones of the series while zigging and zagging in satisfying, provocative ways. If the previous entry presented a respectably staid melding of old and new, this one wires everything up, cranks the juice, and lets her rip. It’s escapism on a grand scale—the kind of experience that reminds you why you fell in love with movies in the first place. Believe the hype, and then some.

Continue reading at The Portland Mercury