Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Robert Horton, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

[Written for The Herald]

Once upon a time, the Oscars used to give out awards for “Dance Direction.” These days the art of choreography goes mostly unnoticed at Academy Award time.

They should revive the award, or invent a new one, for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The award wouldn’t be for dancing, per se, but for the beautifully choreographed martial arts scenes in this hugely enjoyable movie. The fight choreographer is Yuen Wo-Ping, who also designed the kung fu action in The Matrix. His work here is literally breathtaking.

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Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Robert Horton, Film Reviews, Science Fiction

2000 Eyes: Mission to Mars

[Written for Film.com]

In the opening ten minutes of Mission to Mars, we receive all the mandatory backstory of the typical modern Hollywood movie: relationships are explicitly spelled out in the dialogue, a bond between a father and son (never again referred to) is invoked, personal histories are described with a minimum of subtlety. Director Brian De Palma, who has often been bored by this sort of thing in his movies, barely makes an effort here. A couple of longish Steadycam shots, at an astronaut party on the eve of a Mars expedition, represent an attempt to jazz things up — albeit rather pale in the light of the pyrotechnics of the opening of De Palma’s Snake Eyes. The dialogue is rock bottom, EXPOSITION writ large and crammed into every available mouth. Houston, we’ve got a problem.

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Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Robert Horton, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: Malena

The Italian director Giuseppe Tornatore picked up the best foreign film Oscar in 1989 with Cinema Paradiso, his widely-beloved ode to a movie theater in his native Sicily. This year, Tornatore is positioned to make another run at the Oscar. His new one, Malena, has already picked up a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign film, announced last week. It’s another period piece set in small-town Sicily, a time and place beautifully re-created. And, again like Paradiso, we see the story through the eyes of a boy.

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Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Robert Horton, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: Battlefield Earth

[Written for Film.com]

A thousand years from now, things haven’t changed all that much. Oh, the Earth is rubble, and mankind is reduced to a small band of ragged tribesmen. The planet is ruled by the Psychlos, a tall race of alien meanies who breathe acidic air in their huge biodome enclosing what used to be Denver.

For all the apparent differences, however, life is still a series of bureaucratic frustrations and thwarted ambitions. This is what we learn from Battlefield Earth, a dismal sci-fi epic that recalls the tired-blood landscapes of Saturn 3 and Solarbabies.

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Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Robert Horton, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: You Can Count on Me

[Written for The Herald]

Good movies almost always let you know they’re good within the first couple of minutes. You Can Count on Me is that kind of good movie.

In a way both casual and heart-stopping, this independent film begins with a car accident that takes the lives of a married couple. They leave behind two children, a sister and brother. You may think you’ve seen this kind of sequence before, but writer-director Kenneth Lonergan, a playwright making his first film, hits all unexpected notes.

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Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Robert Horton, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: Wonder Boys

[Written for Film.com]

by Robert Horton

If we can stop talking about Catherine Zeta-Jones for a moment, we might give Michael Douglas his due for Wonder Boys. After enduring a lot of jokes about May-December romances, Douglas comes bouncing back with one of his best performances, the central role in an adaptation of Michael Chabon’s comic novel.

The role is Grady Tripp, novelist and college professor at a university in Pittsburgh. If he is not actually over the hill, it is only because Grady never got to the top in the first place, although his previous novel — seven years old now — received acclaim. Trying to bash out that follow-up book has proved difficult, and Grady’s love life is an even bigger mess: his wife has just left him, and his married mistress (Frances McDormand) is pregnant. Oh, and her husband is the head of the English department at school.

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Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Robert Horton

2000 Eyes: Traffic

[Written for Film.com]

In a very short period of time—since monkeying around with a self-made fandango called Schizopolis—Steven Soderbergh has mounted a kind of stealth attack on Hollywood formula moviemaking. Out of Sight brought suppleness to the traditional star vehicle, The Limey dizzily jumbled expectations in a revenge plot, Erin Brockovich expertly balanced the dictates of political film and inspirational comedy, and Traffic looks coldly but energetically at the drug war. Each film also manages the feat of being an obviously personal project of its director. And except perhaps for The Limey’s overtly indie status, each uses big Hollywood bucks (and movie stars) to subvert the usual order of things. That’s what makes it a stealth attack, of course.

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Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Robert Horton, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: Vertical Limit

[Written for Film.com]

There is no vertical limit on inanity, a principle aptly proved by this unbelievable mountain climbing movie. It begins on sacred cinematic ground, Monument Valley, where the air is defiled by three climbers singing the old Eagles tune “Take It to the Limit.” They are a family: siblings Peter and Annie Garrett (Chris O’Donnell and Robin Tunney) and their father (Stuart Wilson). While hanging from one of the mesas, they are caught in a spectacular fall, and Peter must make a decision that changes their lives.

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Posted in: by Robert Horton, Film Reviews, Lynn Shelton

Your Sister’s Sister

[originally published in The Herald in 2012]

One thing everybody could agree on at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival was the rightness of the opening night movie. It was Your Sister’s Sister, directed by Seattle resident Lynn Shelton, and it set the tone for the Northwesty slant of the festival that followed.

It makes an even better story that Your Sister’s Sister happens to be a highly enjoyable film, perhaps Shelton’s best yet. This one shares the semi-improvised method of Shelton’s Humpday, and also the sneaky sense that there really is a structure underlying the apparently easygoing story.

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Posted in: by Robert Horton, Film Reviews, Lynn Shelton

My Effortless Brilliance

[originally published on GreenCine in 2008]

Is there something in the misty Northwest air that makes its filmmakers incline toward the dreamy, the open-ended, the unresolved? Seattle has had no slick Hollywood “breakthrough,” instead turning out poetic little movies that seem embarrassed about conventional storytelling.

This can be a good thing. Case in point: Lynn Shelton’s My Effortless Brilliance, a 2008 feature that browses through the delicate business of broken friendship. After a brief prologue, the film travels to a forest cabin where the grandly-named, once-promising novelist Eric Lambert Jones (played by Harvey Danger frontman Sean Nelson) has gone to maybe patch things up with the testy Dylan (Basil Harris), an old friend who got fed up with Eric’s narcissistic ways. For a day and a night, they drink, chop wood, talk around it.
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