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Review: Sadie

At the beginning of a movie, you look for little indicators that you’re in good hands. It could be a neatly-choreographed action scene, an actor’s brilliant monologue, or a fantastic “How did they do that?” camera move.

In Sadie, I got that feeling from a plate of Ritz crackers. We’ve just met the 13-year-old title character (played by Sophia Mitri Schloss) in the trailer park where she lives, along with her school chum Francis (the wonderfully deadpan Keith L. Williams) and his laid-back grandfather (Tee Dennard). Francis disappears into a trailer and reappears a minute later carrying the tray of crackers (can’t swear it’s Ritz, could possibly be Cheez-Its), which he offers to his pals. No one calls attention to this, or makes a joke of it; it stays in the background, and it tells you something about Francis, and the community in the park, and that somebody behind the camera has an eye for details.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

Save Scarecrow Video! The next evolution of Seattle’s home video legend

Seattle’s Scarecrow Video, arguably the greatest video story in the known universe, has been holding out against the changing habits of film viewing due to the onslaught of streaming video and digital distribution.

Today, Scarecrow announced The Scarecrow Project, which will transition the business to a non-profit organization. It’s the next step in preserving the amazing collection of movies on Blu-ray, DVD, laserdisc, and VHS: the largest single collection of physical home video in the United States, including thousands of movies and other programs no longer available in any format.

The project was initiated by the employees themselves, led by Joel Fisher and Kate Barr, who are going forward with the help of local and national advisers, including Tim League, the founder and CEO of the Alamo Drafthouse.

I myself worked at Scarecrow back in its glory days of the 1990s, where I was a manager on the inventory team during the launch of DVD and the bankruptcy of the store under its original owner, George Latsiois. Scarecrow has weathered a lot of changes and come through them all thanks to the commitment of its employees and its owners, who have always seen the film as more than simply a business. The current owners, Carl Tostevin and Mickey McDonough, have kept the store running despite falling rentals and sales. They now hand the reigns over to the next generation.

Viva Scarecrow!

Go to The Scarecrow Project on Kickstarter for more information and to support the project.

The complete press release is printed below.

See also Moira Macdonald’s story for The Seattle Times and my feature on the future of the independent video store for Indiewire.

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Metro Classics save summer?

As the dearth of current film commentary here might suggest, the summer movie season has been largely ignorable; at least, I for one have largely ignored it. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t movies worth seeing and talking about. Nine of them are coming up on Wednesday evenings at Landmark’s Metro Cinemas in the U District—4500 Ninth Ave. N.E., to be precise—as the summer edition of the Metro’s ongoing “Movie Classics” repertory. The films are mostly first-rate. The only drawback is that none will be projected via 35mm prints; all presentations are digital. Tickets are $10.50 general, $8.25 for students with ID, $8 for children and senior citizens. (Landmark Discount Cards accepted.) Showtimes and information: (206) 781-5755 or www.LandmarkTheatres.com

The series kicks off with Rebecca (Aug. 3, 6:45 & 9:10 p.m.), the first Alfred Hitchcock film to be made in America—in 1940—and the only one to win the Oscar for Best Picture. Actually, the statuette went home with producer David O. Selznick (who’d claimed the same award the previous year for Gone With the Wind), and for better or worse, Selznick was an equal partner in the film’s creation. The production is lavish, more so than almost any other Hitchcock picture, with an all-star cast headed by Laurence Olivier as Maximilian de Winter, the master of Manderley, and Joan Fontaine as the lady’s-companion he takes as his second wife. She’s a shrinking violet so lacking in force of identity that, in both film and the Daphne du Maurier novel, she is given no name; whereas both novel and film bear the name of the first wife, deceased under mysterious circumstances, whose spirit remains strong as ever. Judith Anderson is chilling as Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper and chief acolyte of the dead woman, and George Sanders couldn’t be bettered as “cousin Jack” hovering on the periphery. Also, not to give the wrong impression, Fontaine is superb in limning the second Mrs. de Winter; she, too, should have been Oscared—and was, the following year, for her performance in another Hollywood-British Hitchcock movie, Suspicion.

The spirit of a beautiful woman dead under mysterious circumstances also haunts Laura (Aug. 10, 7 & 9 p.m.), the great 1944 mystery cum film noir cum perverse romance that haunted director Otto Preminger, too: it came early in his film career and conventional wisdom holds that he never topped it. Gene Tierney plays the title part (seen in flashbacks, up to a point…) and, as the police detective investigating the murder, Dana Andrews makes what could have been a conventional heroic role a study in nicely calibrated unpleasantness. Vincent Price and, again, Judith Anderson supply expert support as two of the people closest to Laura, but the movie belongs to Clifton Webb’s Waldo Lydecker, the waspish Manhattan columnist who fancies himself the only person who really knew her. This was Webb’s belated movie debut (he’d been a dancer for decades), and it’s a tour de force. He and Preminger were Oscar-nominated, and Joseph LaShelle won for his Black-and-White Cinematography.

Gilda (Aug. 17, 7 & 9:10 p.m.) is Rita Hayworth’s most iconic movie, the one featuring her stripping off arm-length gloves as she musically assents to the putting of the blame on Mame. This—like another 1946 movie, Notorious—is a noir with a difference: the action is set principally in a South American city, where Hayworth is married to suave, dueling-scarred casino operator George Macready. Macready’s character (great name: Ballin Munsen) also has taken gambler Glenn Ford under his wing, unaware that Rita and Glenn were once an item. It’s a fine, silky intrigue, sleekly photographed by noir-director-to-be Rudolph Maté. Director here was Hungarian-born Charles Vidor (no relation to King), whose best picture may have been the 1941 Gothic number Ladies in Retirement.

No, not everything in the series is noirish. My Night at Maud’s (Aug. 24, 7 & 9:10 p.m.) was the international breakthrough effort of the late Eric Rohmer, albeit the fourth film in his cycle of “Six Moral Tales” (just before Claire’s Knee). Jean-Louis Trintignant stars as an earnest, just slightly complacent Catholic whose tidy purchase on all the essential aspects of his life and belief is profoundly shaken by his encounter with a free-spirited divorcée (Françoise Fabian). Marie-Christine Barrault co-stars.

Sullivan’s Travels (Aug. 31, 7 & 9 p.m.), written and directed by Preston Sturges, is one of Hollywood’s best films about Hollywood. It also shapes up as a classic screwball comedy which suddenly isn’t funny at all—and that, in this case, is quite a good and startling thing. Joel McCrea (a long-underrated actor who was in an amazing number of good-to-great movies) stars as a successful musical-comedy director who decides he has to make a Significant Statement, a post-Depression allegory entitled “O Brother Where Art Thou?” In preparation, he hits the open road as a hobo—with entourage. His traveling companion is played by Veronica Lake, who, with This Gun for Hire and The Glass Key in the offing, was having her best year. The nature of the film gives short shrift to Sturges’s glorious stock company of juicy character actors, but Robert Greig does get a chance to shine as Sullivan’s butler.

Rosemary’s Baby (Sept. 7, 6:45 & 9:15 p.m.), Roman Polanski’s first American film, kept the summer of 1968 chilly and still stands as a demonically effective thriller—and a brilliant social satire of the time. Based on the Ira Levin novel, the movie focuses on a newlywed couple—Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes—who luck into an apartment in a venerable building on the edge of Central Park (yep, The Dakota, home variously to Lauren Bacall and Lennon-Ono), then begin experiencing some very creepy goings-on. Polanski’s direction and Oscar-nominated script are spot-on, and the idea of casting such cozy old character-actor veterans as Maurice Evans, Ralph Bellamy, Sidney Blackmer, and Patsy Kelly in key roles was absolutely inspired. Among them, Ruth Gordon reigns in the role of a lifetime, which brought her both an Academy Award and a Saturday Night Live host gig.

The series winds up with three distinguished and challenging arthouse classics. Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Double Life of Véronique (Sept. 14, 7 & 9:10 p.m.) has Irène Jacob playing two young women who never meet—except for one near-mystical moment—yet just may share a soul. Best film of 1991 in my book. Céline and Julie Go Boating (Sept. 21, 7 p.m. only) is a three-hours-plus voyage into the imagination and the very nature of fiction, directed by Jacques Rivette and co-starring Juliet Berto and Dominique Labourier. Chantal Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (Sept. 28, 7 p.m. only) goes Céline and Julie eight minutes better and seems to abandon fiction altogether in meticulously recording the utterly mundane life of an almost defiantly dull Belgian woman, albeit one incarnated by the enchanting Delphine Seyrig. It’s maddening or mesmerizing, your call. But you’ve never seen anything like it.

Originally published in Straight Shooting, July 26, 2011