Review: High Plains Drifter

[Originally published in Movietone News 24, July-August 1973]

As a director, Clint Eastwood cannot be simply written off as mindlessly imitative. He is far too intelligent in his eclectic appreciation of what works in the films of Sergio Leone, Don Siegel, and Alfred Hitchcock. Unfortunately, Eastwood has not yet subsumed what he has learned from his mentors into a coherent vision of his own. Thus, High Plains Drifter, like Play Misty for Me, occasionally promises more than it cumulatively delivers. Eastwood’s main problem here—both as director and as actor—is that he never quite gets together how he wants to come at a story which must wed a Leone-like revenge motif with a scathingly satirical examination of a town inhabited by rejects from High Noon. Sergio Leone’s Man With No Name carried within his very character implicit hints of more-than-human motivation, so that at times he resembled nothing so much as a warrior Christ. Eastwood clearly had his former role in mind when he made High Plains Drifter, but that doesn’t save him from alternately overemphasizing his demonic hero’s supernatural origins and almost completely losing sight of them as he begins to focus more and more on his blackly humorous exposure of the town of Lago’s communal sins and deceits.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of June 16

“The discovery of a ‘secret child’ (L’Enfant secret, J’entends plus la guitare), the failed or successful suicide attempts (Les Hautes Solitudes; the short Rue Fontaine, 1984; Night Wind, 1999; Frontier of Dawn, 2007), May ’68 (at the core of Regular Lovers but repeatedly referenced in many others), electroshock therapy (L’Enfant secret, Frontier of Dawn), the inaugural infidelity of the female partner (Emergency Kisses; J’entends plus la guitare; The Birth of Love; Regular Lovers; A Burning Hot SummerJealousy, 2013; In the Shadow of Women), the birth of a child (J’entends plus la guitare, The Birth of Love, Frontier of Dawn, A Burning Hot Summer, Jealousy). It is the traumatic or joyful mark left by those events in the memory of the filmmaker that dictates their reappearance from film to film, as if the emotion associated with them compelled their depiction.” Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin take stock of Philippe Garrel’s 50-year career, a half century dedicated to minimalist staging of autobiographical tales that insist upon authenticity even as they eschew realism.

“He more than once filmed Jane giving birth, turned their arguments and lovemaking into cinematic subjects, embellished his footage of their life in rural Colorado with wild superimposed images drawn from Norse mythology, and—in the Eighties—made pained films about their separation and divorce. But the moment he turned his camera on his family they, too, became concentrations of light whose “qualities and varieties” he could study. The films he made of them shine with love and tenderness and at the same time suggest an odd disregard for the recipients of that love.” Another career five decades in length, and for large stretches as disquietingly autobiographical, was Stan Brakhage’s. Max Nelson limns the domestic tension that acted as source for several of the most rapturous images ever captured, painted, scratched, or pasted on to film; a source Brakhage let drop with appropriate humility when his second wife nixed his filming the family for his art. Via David Hudson.

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Video: Framing Pictures for June 2017

Film critics and Seattle film mavens Robert Horton, Richard T. Jameson, Kathleen Murphy and Bruce Reid discuss Wonder Woman, David Lynch’s return to the Pacific Northwest Gothic of Twin Peaks, and home video releases of two classics: Nicholas Ray’s They Live By Night and Sam Peckinpah’s The Ballad of Cable Hogue.

These discussions are held in the screening room of Scarecrow Video on the second Friday of every month and are free to attend. The Seattle Channel records and presents many of these a few weeks later on the Seattle Channel.

You can also watch it on the Seattle Channel website.

Keep up with the discussion at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Review: Beatriz at Dinner

In Beatriz at Dinner, Salma Hayek’s face is cleansed of glamour. But even more noticeable is the expression she wears: empathetic yet often empty, as though a life of being around affluent people had trained her character to wear a mask of watchful neutrality. This is apt, because she plays Beatriz, a Mexican immigrant who works as a holistic healer in Hollywood—her clients are the very rich, albeit the kind who believe in mind-body interventions and shamanism. Beatriz’s poker face is all the more impressive because her brand of medicine requires her to take on the pain of her patients, rendering her something like an old-fashioned saint.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

SIFF 2017: It’s a wrap!

The Golden Space Needle Audience Awards were handed out for SIFF 2017 on Sunday, June 11, and soon after the Best of SIFF 2017 line-up was announced.

Parallax View has both covered for you here.

(You can also peruse reviews, interviews, and other features collected and curated in Parallax View’s SIFF 20187 Guide here.)

Rodrigo Grande’s Argentine crime thriller At the End of the Tunnel won the Golden Space Needle Audience Awards for Best Film and Best Director and Peter Bratt’s Dolores, a portrait of racial and labor activist Dolores Huerta, won for Best Documentary. Seattle audiences also awarded Sami Blood star Lene Cecilia Sparrok the Best Actress award and David Johns of I, Daniel Blake the Best Actor award.

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of June 9

Criterion’s latest release of another collection culled from the Film Foundation’s World Cinema Project has Martin Scorsese’s name and stamp of approval on the box cover art, but some hefty names on the liner notes doing the actual introductions. This round features Phillip Lopate pondering the Fassbinderian elements of Brocka’s Insiang (“It is hard to say what part of this is crude filmmaking and what part a conscious stylistic device, meant to draw us further into an oneiric, meditative space”); Dennis Lim celebrates the narrative delirium of Weerasethakul’s debut Mysterious Objects at Noon (“As with the work of many of today’s most adventurous filmmakers… Apichatpong’s films rewire the relationship between fiction and documentary. More precisely, they perform a kind of alchemy by which contact with reality turns their narratives that much richer and stranger.”); Fábio Andrade is as compelling on the mythology that accrued around Peixoto’s long-unseen Limite as he is on the film itself (“When the magazine Filme cultura conducted a poll in 1968 on the best Brazilian films of all time, Limite ranked tenth, even though the film had been out of circulation for over thirty-five years and completely inaccessible for almost a decade”); Andrew Chan imagines the shock to the system Yang provided audiences with Taipei Story (“[the film] regards globalized architecture, in all its pervasiveness, not as a portal to the outside world but as an enclosure, something to be thrashed against”); Kent Jones does the magisterial job you’d expect using his brief space to tie Shinarbaev’s Revenge into the larger Kazakh New Wave (“The word Kazakh means “the people who wandered away from the center,” and the nomadic spirit is present in all of these films, whether they are set in the Altai Mountains or in downtown Almaty or Astana”); and Bilge Ebiri makes note of Law of the Border, the momentous collaboration between writer/actor Y?lmaz Güney and director Lütfi Ö. Akad that “[in] many ways… is the fulcrum on which much of modern Turkish cinema turns.”

“This is where the act of creation meets the act of viewing and engaging, where the common life of the filmmaker and the viewer exists, in those intervals of time between the filmed images that last a fraction of a fraction of a second but that can be vast and endless. This is where a good film comes alive as something more than a succession of beautifully composed renderings of a script. This is film-making.” Scorsese, meanwhile, is over at the Times Literary Supplement offering up a defense of cinema as an artform as interactive, as dependent upon the viewer’s imaginative participation, as any novel.

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Review: My Cousin Rachel

Is she or isn’t she? This is the question, and the tantalizing draw, of My Cousin Rachel, a new adaptation of a Daphne du Maurier novel. The story is the sort of genteel-gothic potboiler that du Maurier mastered in Rebecca, and like that novel it features a woman arriving at a mansion where mystery awaits. But this forceful new arrival is far from the meek, unnamed bride of Rebecca—she herself is the source of the mystery.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Review: Paris Can Wait

In the notes I jotted down while watching Paris Can Wait, I find these words scribbled: “Everything is off.” I don’t remember what specific scene or moment I was referring to, but I know what I meant. The timing is awkward, the camera doesn’t seem to know how to frame people for anything other than scenic effect, the actors sound uncertain. Odd shifts in tone are randomly distributed throughout the action. But wait, you might be asking, isn’t that “technical” stuff that only critics care about? To which I would say (if we can carry this imaginary conversation a little longer) that these shortcomings are not technical stuff, they are the movie itself, and they are the reason Paris Can Wait feels baggy and unoriginal. Everything is off, at the granular level.

Having said that, I get that Paris Can Wait might be liked by some viewers, in the same way you might like a bad painting of cheese because you just really love cheese.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Blu-ray: ‘Rumble Fish’

 

Francis Ford Coppola described Rumble Fish (1983), his screen adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s young adult novel, as “an art film for teenagers.” He shot it right after making The Outsiders (1982), also adapted from a Hinton novel, but where that was a lush, operatic tale, Coppola made Rumble Fish in stylized black and white, like a teen noir seen through the eyes of a kid who has mythologized the idea of street gang chivalry to the point that he can’t see the reality through the idealization.

Criterion

Matt Dillon is teenage tough guy Rusty James, a good looking, recklessly charming high school kid in the shadow of his brother The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke), trying to live up to a reputation that his brother wants only to live down. He’s an aspiring juvenile delinquent with a boozer dad (Dennis Hopper) and a nice girlfriend, Patty (Diane Lane), who attends Catholic School across town. Rusty James (always the two names, like a brand) is, of course, from the wrong side of the tracks in the industrial grit of a Tulsa that time left behind and this culture of bars and boozer and packs of kids who imagine themselves as real gangs is steeped in its own mythology, or rather Rusty is steeped in the mythology that no one else seems to revere.

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

Documentary: Capturing the Human Experience of War

There is no shortage of documentaries on war. The subject fascinates us as history, as sociology, and as drama. Some documentaries chronicle history in great detail, some grapple with the issues and forces behind the conflicts, and some flat-out propagandize. But very few of those documentaries actually engage with the human experience. So for Memorial Day we look at films about the diverse group of men (and in some cases the women) in war—not just why they fight but what they saw, heard, and endured, and how it changed them.

The Battle of Midway (1942)

American director John Ford (The Quiet Man, The Searchers) served his country by offering his talents as a filmmaker to the Armed Services. His first assignment was to photograph what turned out to be the first major American victory in the war against Japan. “Yes, this really happened,” informs one of the film’s four narrators during the combat section of the film, but audiences didn’t need to be reminded. The authenticity was evident. One bomb landed so close to the camera that it knocked both Ford and his camera assistant off their feet.

Continue reading at Independent Lens

Hollywood Goes to War

When America entered World War II after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Hollywood was also drafted into the effort — not just to support the cause but also to beat the drums of patriotism and duty. America was going to war and with it, so did the entire country. The men enlisted, the women took jobs in the factories, families tightened their belts and pitched in on civil defense and scrap drives, and the studios were expected not just to reflect the new paradigm, but to set the tone.

It was a sudden, dramatic shift. Before the war, studios were wary of merely hinting at politics in its films, let alone being blatantly partisan. Germany was a major market for American movies and, disgust for Hitler’s European aggression and nationalistic bigotry aside, business was business. Only Warner Bros. defied Hitler, giving up the German market to publicly support the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League.

Continue reading at Keyframe

The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of May 26

The journal Movie might only release one issue a year, but it always guarantees you plenty to chew on. This edition contains a dossier concerning opening scenes, but these close readings bore deeper into the mysteries and loveliness of the selections than some entertaining blogger rounding up and describing his favorite such, and how these entries into a movie’s world prepare us for the journey to come. Thus Nathaniel Dayo profitably contrasts the “spartan” establishing shot of London from John Irvin’s BBC adaptation of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy to the Hollywood norm (and the feature remake) (“For non-British viewers (such as the author) encountering the series in syndication or on home video, however, that moment of instant recognition is much less likely to dawn, and in the absence of a captioning title a certain fog of indeterminacy will hang over the image.”); Pete Falconer unravels most of the cues for character and setting that Hawks sets down with the first shot of Rio Bravo (“The door we see is a mundane, everyday fixture, its colour a drab brown. It is not the type of door conventionally associated with the main entrances of western saloons, and Dude does not enter in a way associated with that type of door. His entrance is not emphatic or frontal—he seems instead to be creeping in through a side door”); Anthony Coman underscores the confrontational subversiveness of Ophuls’s seemingly “cream-cake” introduction to Lola Montès (“We begin in the rafters; we see the ropes from which the props dangle; we see the camera’s tracks. If the CinemaScope framing allows us the freedom to hunt for significance, Ophuls’ mise-en-scène makes significant the circus’—and even the film’s—construction”).

Also Christa Van Raalte on the disturbing juxtaposition of Zero Dark Thirty’s audio-only prologue of 9/11 calls and its opening scene of torture (“Whereas collapsing towers and falling bodies could invite us to take an outsider’s view of disaster-as-spectacle, these voices take us inside the experience, aligning us with the participants and inviting us to imagine the view from within”); Catherine Constable breaks down the abstract “birth” that opens Glazer’s Under the Skin (“The absence of scale means that the first two images of Under the Skin conjoin the cosmological—a new planet—with the individual—the emerging eye / I”); and Lola Breux admires the naked acknowledgement of authorship played out in the opening (and closing) credits of Bunny Lake Is Missing (“The identity which is revealed to us right at the start is Otto Preminger’s. It is hard to miss his name as it is the first element which the hand reveals, so his ‘appearance’ benefits from the initial impact of the unique design”). Via David Hudson. [.pdf warning]

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Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

Almost everything worth anything in the fifth Pirates of the Caribbean movie is geared toward spectacle. You want to see ghost sharks? We have great whites and hammerheads, rotted away but still capable of taking a bite out of Captain Jack Sparrow’s dinghy. Want to see Sparrow escape from a guillotine? A rescue sends our drunken hero somersaulting while still strapped into the contraption, the blade sliding up and down toward his neck as it tumbles head over heels. Want to see an entire building dragged through the streets of a Saint Martin town while Sparrow rides it? It’s here. This movie doesn’t have much in the way of plot or character, but maybe this franchise has simply returned to its origins as a Disneyland ride: disconnected sensations, strung together at regular intervals.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales is a very expensive gamble on the continued life of this series, which seemed exhausted with the ho-hum On Stranger Tides in 2011.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Blu-ray: Walter Hill’s ‘Streets of Fire’

A self-described “A Rock and Roll Fable” from “another time, another place,” I think of Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire (1984) as a rock and roll western dropped into the urban badlands of a brick and neon noir. It opens on what appears to be the 1950s frozen in time, a working class neighborhood forgotten in the explosion of the post-war American big city dreams. It could be Chicago (where some of the film was shot) or New York or any city, really, a film noir in comic book color, and it’s where former soldier turned shaggy soldier of fortune Tom Cody (Michael Paré) returns to play reluctant hero.

Shout! Factory

The opening sequence is a model of narrative efficiency and stylistic exhilaration, setting the atmosphere and culture of this urban backwater where the elevated train rumbles the reminder of the way out of town and the neon-bedazzled old music palace is the only reminder of the glory days. It’s lit up to welcome superstar Ellen Aim (Diane Lane), the local girl made girl as a rock and roll star, and the crowds are revved up for the show. So is Raven (Willem Dafoe in lizard-faced villain mode), who leads his biker gang The Bombers (doppelgangers of Marlon Brando’s The Wild Ones right down to the cocky caps) into town and leaves with Ellen in tow: a western raid reworked in mid-century mode. It’s all set to the beat of Jim Steinman rock anthem belted out by Ellen Aim and the Attackers and supercharged by jagged wipes, driving cuts, and a restless camera that sweeps along with the swirl of constant movement. It is action cinema as pulp mythology and it is exhilarating.

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

Blu-ray: Logan

Can a comic book superhero movie tell a human story? Logan (2017) makes the case that the genre is not limited to spectacle (though this film does offer some accomplished—and violent—action scenes), end of the world stakes, or world-building chapters in a massive franchise.

Fox Home Video

Set in the near future of 2029, which is a lot like today but a little more automated and a little more depressed, a world worn out and run down with a population to match, it presents Logan (Hugh Jackman), the former X-man also known as Wolverine, in hiding. He works as a chauffeur for hire under the radar while looking after an ailing Xavier (Patrick Stewart in a fearlessly vulnerable performance). Once immortal, thanks to healing powers that have kept him young for years, Logan is now breaking down and wearing out, his body ravaged by disease he can no longer combat, while Xavier is slipping into dementia and losing control of his once-finely focused mind. A dangerous thing for a telepath of his power, even more dangerous in a culture where mutantkind has been hunted to near extinction. And while Logan saves money for an escape from their Mexican compound, a kind of fantasy involving a boat and a life on the high seas, the government is on the hunt for them and for a silent young girl, Laura (Dafne Keen), who is a pint-sized Wolverine in her own right. It’s no spoiler to say that Logan, nudged by crotchety old man Xavier, becomes a reluctant protector to the girl who, at least on a genetic level, could be his daughter.

Continue reading at Stream On Demand