Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews

Blu-ray: Walter Hill’s ‘Streets of Fire’ on Shout! Factory

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.

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Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews

Blu-ray: ‘The Lovers on the Bridge’ on Kino Lorber

The Lovers on the Bridge (France, 1991) (Kino Lorber, Blu-ray), Leos Carax’s tale of l’amour fou, was the most expensive film ever made in France at the time and one of the most ravishing made anywhere ever. It was also a commercial disaster, alternately celebrated as a triumph of personal expression and vilified as the French equivalent of Heaven’s Gate, and despite the presence of Juliette Binoche it was almost a decade before the film finally made it to American shores. The Lovers on the Bridge is the American title, a rather prosaic translation of Les Amant du Pont-Neuf. In French, the title references the oldest bridge spanning the Seine in Paris and all the history and romance that name embodies.

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Interviews

Monte Hellman on “Road to Nowhere”

[originally published August 11, 2011]

Road to Nowhere is Monte Hellman’s first feature in 21 years. The director of The Shooting and Two-Lane Blacktop, a resolutely personal director who turned out drive-in pictures for Roger Corman and spent his career largely transforming work-for-hire productions into distinctive and mysterious films, spent years taking jobs as editor and second-unit director while one project after another failed to come together. Among his projects during that time was working with the Sundance institute, where he helped a young filmmaker named Quentin Tarantino workshop a film called Reservoir Dogs. Hellman signed on as executive producer and helped Tarantino get his film made. The role of educator and mentor eventually took him to CalArts, the private arts college where he has been teaching for the past six years.

Road to Nowhere is a welcome return by a master filmmaker. It’s a film about making a film and a film within a film, with an unknown actress (played by Shannyn Sossamon) hired to play a role in a film based on a murky true story about a politician who embezzled $100 million and disappeared with a young woman. She may or may not in fact be the very woman she is portraying on film. The mystery may be real or a fiction within the film. This film’s director, Mitchell Haven (Tygh Runyan), shares the same initials as Monte Hellman, and the echoes don’t end there.

This is a film aware of its existence as a film, constantly pushing against the nature of representation and storytelling. It’s a mystery where part of the mystery is what the mystery is really about. It’s the best film about the nature of filmmaking since The Stunt Man but with a very different approach to the blurring of life and art. Its name could serve as the alternate title to Hellman’s 1971 masterpiece Two-Lane Blacktop and its play with doubles and characters in reflection recalls The Shooting, his starkly abstract 1968 western. It is a film with imagery as rich as paintings and characters roiling with anxiety even as they appear frozen in space. And it is a film in love with the mystery of cinema, a film about characters playing characters, about stories that shift as they are put on film, shift again as they are placed beside other stories in the editing, and once again shift as the audience pieces together the elements of the narrative. American filmmakers seem unable to stop and watch a character be. Hellman finds the most revealing moments between the beats of action, where characters at rest let their facades down. Or do they simply put on a different character for us to see?

Road to Nowhere opens Friday, August 19, for a week at Grand Illusion in Seattle’s U-District. I had the opportunity to speak with Monte Hellman by phone and discuss the film, his return to filmmaking and his unique take on cinematic storytelling.

Road to Nowhere opens with a character taking a DVD that has “Road to Nowhere” written across it in black marker, dropping it into a laptop DVD-ROM tray and watching a film called “Road to Nowhere” with its own credits sequence of fictional names. Why do you foreground the act of watching a movie at the beginning of us watching your movie?

Because it is a movie within a movie, or if you like, it’s all the movie within the movie. Maybe everything we’re watching is what he puts into that laptop.

I see a director making a film based on a “real life event” and getting father and farther from the event itself because he was finding the story that he wanted to tell, which didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the event. He is searching for a story true to him, not true to the foggy facts of the mystery that inspired the script.

I think this is not untypical of making all movies. I think we start out with an idea and the movie, certainly this one, took over and it let us know what it wanted to be. It was a very interesting process. It was a process for me of letting go, of giving up on some of my concepts of being a control freak.

You’ve know Steve Gaydos, who wrote the screenplay, for years. He worked on Cockfighter almost 40 years ago and wrote the scripts to a number of your films. Did he write this original script specifically for you?

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Film Reviews

A Sunday in the Country

[Originally published in The Weekly (Seattle)]

Bertrand Tavernier’s achingly beautiful A Sunday in the Country records one bittersweet day in the turn-of-the-century life of Monsieur Ladmiral (Louis Ducreux), a 76-year-old painter in pastoral retirement. It’s Indian summer, that lavishly spendthrift season poised at the edge of winter. Edouard and Irène, the old man’s offspring, pay him a visit. An uneventful day, really, punctuated by little pleasures, small-scale estrangements and reunions a family gathering is always sure to promote. Still, in the privileged time-warp of this particular Sunday in the country, M. Ladmiral meets himself coming and going, from playful child to played-out graybeard. Every frame of the film mirrors a life’s promises and foreclosures.

Tavernier begins with an evocative prologue, uninsistently establishing the visual and spiritual dialectic that ultimately sums up a man and his art. While the screen’s still a black background for credits, we hear childish voices singing. Once in a while, a mildly remonstrating adult interrupts, bringing their spontaneity to heel. Then, an exasperated, maternal query: “When will you stop asking so much of life, Irène?” Black screen gives way to the film’s first image, window-framed: an exquisite Monet landscape of trees banked beyond a lawn, leaves and grass shimmering in liquid light. The camera passes through the open window so that the outdoor scene seems to become accidental art, uncomposed—but still held within the film’s own painterly frame of reference.

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Posted in: by Richard T. Jameson, Film Noir, Film Reviews

Coup de Torchon

[Original published in The Weekly (Seattle), July 13, 1983]

It’s 1938 in the French-African village of Bourkassa and Lucien Cordier, the one-man local constabulary, can’t get no respect. The lone inhabitant of the jail, an ancient black trustee who once poisoned his wife, must have been incarcerated long before Lucien’s time, because Lucien never arrests anybody. Let one of the locals start getting rowdy and Lucien, if he can’t run the other way, does his damnedest to look the other way. Small wonder that the principal resident predators, a pair of bored pimps, don’t hesitate to make public sport of him, or that his immediate superior, a half-day’s train journey removed, treats him the same way. Lucien fares little better in his own home: his wife Huguette refuses to sleep with him out of general disgust and also because she’s busy carrying on with a live-in lout named Nono, who may or may not be her brother. All in all, Lucien Cordier is a congenital, if affable, loser.

He’s such a loser that when he finally, grandly announces “a decision,” it’s that “I decided I don’t know what to do.” This decision is imparted to his big-town superior, Marcel, who has his usual fun scrambling Lucien’s already-dim wits and booting his ass. Somewhere in the course of this lazy-afternoon exercise, Marcel carelessly gifts Lucien with An Idea: if you’re kicked, kick back twice as hard. Serenely bearing what he takes as carte blanche for retribution, Lucien climbs back on the train, returns to Bourkassa, and straightaway shoots down the pimps.

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Posted in: by David Coursen, by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, by Robert C. Cumbow, by Robert Horton, by Sean Axmaker, lists

Parallax View’s Best of 2020

A belated welcome to 2021 with one last look back at the best releases of 2020.

It goes without saying that this has been an unusual year in every way. It is no less true for the year in cinema, as theaters shuttered across the nation (in Seattle, they were shut down for more than half of 2020). Many films were delayed by studios, some independent films chose the Virtual Cinema route, other films went the more tradition video-on-demand, and an unprecedented number of major films debuted directly to streaming services. That leaves the question “What qualifies as a 2020 film?” more open to interpretation. It also disperses the releases across a more varied landscape, making it harder to see everything that one might have access to in more normal years. That’s one reason our annual accounting is delayed this year. We’re just trying to grapple with the changes and catch up with what we can.

With that noted, here are the lists of Parallax View contributors and friends.

Contributors listed in alphabetical orders. Films listed in preferential orders (unless otherwise noted)

Sean Axmaker

1. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)
2. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)
3. Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov)
4. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)
5. Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen)
6. News of the World (Paul Greengrass)
7. The Assistant (Kitty Green)
8. Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell)
9. Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg)
10. The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannel)

Absolute joy in a hard year:
Bill and Ted Face the Music (Dean Parisot) and American Utopia (Spike Lee)

Great drama, dubious history:
Mank (David Fincher) and The Trial of the Chicago 7 (Aaron Sorkin)

And a few more memorable films (in alphabetical order): Ammonite (Francis Lee), Bacurau (Juliano Dornelles and Kleber Mendonça Filho), Corpus Christi (Jan Komasa), Da Five Bloods (Spike Lee), Emma. (Autumn de Wilde) (the last film I saw in a theater), One Night in Miami (Regina King), Palm Springs (Max Barbakow), Sound of Metal (Darius Marder), The Vast of Night (Andrew Patterson), Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart)

Vasilisa Perelygina and Viktoria Miroshnichenko in ‘Beanpole.’ Photo credit: Kino Lorber

David Coursen (Washington, D.C.)

1. Dead Souls (Wang Bing, China)
2. Small Axe: Red, White and Blue (Steve McQueen, UK)
3. Da 5 Bloods (Spike Lee, U.S.)
4. Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov, Russia)
5. Small Axe: Alex Wheatle (Steve McQueen, UK)
6. Young Ahmed (Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, Belgium)
7. The 40-Year-Old Version (Radha Blank, US) 
8. The Assistant (Kitty Green, U.S.)
9.  Atlantiques (Mati Diop, Senegal)
10. (Tie): Small Axe: Mangrove/Lovers Rock/Education (Steve McQueen, UK)

Honorable Mention: Uncut Gems (Josh and Benny Safdie, U.S.), Bacurau (Kleber Filho and Juliano Dornelles, Brazil)

And thanks to MUBI for, among much else, introducing me to the work of Yuzo Kawashima.

Jake Horowitz and Sierra McCormick in ‘The Vast of Night.’ Photo credit: Amazon Studios

Robert C. Cumbow

I watched about 230 movies during 2020 (and the few weeks since), but only 14 were 2020 films. Of those, seven make my Top 10. I’d call them the most interesting films of 2020 that I saw, rather than the best, because I saw so few 2020 releases. Lots of catch-up to do in 2021. Most looking forward to Tenet and Synchronic.

First Cow
When Forever Dies
Bacurau
Vast Of Night
The Invisible Man
Beanpole
A Muse

My best home movie-watching experiences of the year were:
Beau Travail on Criterion
The Grey Fox on Blu-ray at last
Mädchen In Uniform from Kino

I also loved catching up with:
Dragged Across Concrete
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

Micheal Ward and Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn in ‘Lovers Rock.’ Photo credit: Amazon Studios

Kathy Fennessy

1. House of Hummingbird (Kim Bora) 
2. Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen) 
3. The Invisible Man (Leigh Whannell) 
4. Possessor (Brandon Cronenberg) 
5. Mangrove (Steve McQueen) 
6. Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles) 
7. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)  
8. Zombi Child (Bertrand Bonello) 
9. Relic (Natalie Erika James) 
10. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)  

Frances McDormand in ‘Nomadland.’ Photo credit: Searchlight Pictures

Robert Horton

(as published at Scarecrow Blog)
1. First Cow (Kelly Reichardt)
2. Nomadland (Chloé Zhao)
3. Gunda (Victor Kossakovsky)
4. Fourteen (Dan Sallitt)
5. Lovers Rock (Steve McQueen)
6. Never Rarely Sometimes Always (Eliza Hittman)
7. Ammonite (Francis Lee)
8. (tie) Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov)
            Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell)
10. French Exit (Azazel Jacobs)

Very close to making the last spot: Major Arcana, And Then We Danced, The 40-Year-Old Version, Babyteeth, Bacurau, Sound of Metal, The Assistant, The Invisible Man, La Verite, Vast of Night, Collectiv, Sorry We Missed You

Carey Mulligan in ‘Promising Young Woman.’ Photo credit: Focus Features

Richard T. Jameson

First Cow
Nomadland
The Vast of Night
Lovers Rock
Beanpole
Mank
Promising Young Woman
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
The Assistant
A White, White Day
The Trial of the Chicago 7 / News of the World

Sidney Flanigan and Talia Ryder in ‘Never Rarely Sometimes Always.’ Photo credit: Focus Features

Kathleen Murphy

First Cow
Beanpole
Nomadland
Promising Young Woman
Never Rarely Sometimes Always
Lovers Rock (Small Axe)
Ammonite
The Vast of Night
A White, White Day
The Assistant

The Seattle Film Critics Society will announce their 2020 awards in February.

Polls / Lists

The Village Voice Poll (Reconstructed) at Filmmaker

Sight and Sound / BFI

Slant

Roger Ebert.com

Indiewire Critic’s Poll

Other lists

2020 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry

Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1930

Rotten Tomatoes Top-rated movies of 2020

Here’s the Parallax View list for 2019

Remembering those we lost in 2020

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, streaming

What to stream: ‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ on Netflix, ‘The Expanse’ returns on Amazon, ‘Tenet’ comes to VOD

Here’s what’s new and ready to stream now on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, video-on-demand, and other streaming services …  

Viola Davis plays Ma Rainey, the mother of the blues, and Chadwick Boseman (in his final screen performance) is the fiery trumpeter in her band in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (2020, R), a drama of music, power, ambition, and race in America set at Chicago recording studio in 1927. Tony Award-winning Broadway director George C. Wolfe helms the screen adaptation of the August Wilson play and Colman Domingo and Glynn Turman costar. Davis and Boseman are favored to get Oscar nominations. (Netflix)

Tenet” (2020, PG-13), Christopher Nolan’s high-concept thriller starring John David Washington as a nameless agent whose mission to save the world involves the unraveling of time, is a puzzle box of a mystery with spectacular set pieces. Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, and Kenneth Branagh costar. Nolan insisted that it get a theatrical release when major theaters were closed during the Covid lockdown, where it made back a fraction of its cost. Months later, it now debuts at home. (VOD and Cable On Demand, also on DVD and Blu-ray and at Redbox)

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, streaming

What to stream: ‘I’m Your Woman’ on Amazon, ‘The Prom’ and ‘Funny Boy’ on Netflix, ‘Let Them Talk on HBO Max

Here’s what’s new and ready to stream now on Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, HBO Now, video-on-demand, and other streaming services …  

I’m Your Woman” (2020, R) stars Rachel Brosnahan as a housewife who goes on the run when gangsters come after her husband (Bill Heck), who has kept his criminal life hidden from her, and she’s forced to fend for herself when they come for her. Julia Hart directs this 1970s throwback crime thriller costarring Arinzé Kene and Marsha Stephanie Blake. (Amazon Prime Video, also available in HDR)

The Broadway musical comedy “The Prom” (2020, PG-13), about a group of stage actors who descend on a small Indiana town to support a lesbian couple barred from attending their high school prom, comes to the screen from director Ryan Murphy with Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Andrew Rannells, and James Corden as the Broadway performers. (Netflix)

Meryl Streep also stars in “Let Them All Talk” (2020, R) as novelist with writer’s block on a sea cruise with old friends (Candice Bergen and Dianne Wiest) she hasn’t seen in some time. Steven Soderbergh directs the film, which was partly improvised, and Lucas Hedges and Gemma Chan co-star. (HBO Max)

Continue reading at Stream On Demand

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

2000 Eyes: The House of Mirth

[Written for Film.com]

Gillian Anderson’s performance as Lily Bart in The House of Mirth is weirdly un-modern — the actress seems to have tapped directly into the mindset of the Edith Wharton novel, to a style predating ironic distance. Anderson maintains this even though the film’s dialogue and line readings are (rightly so) pitched in a way that heightens the artificial nature of the New York social scene, circa 1905. Anderson, whose performance often has a trapped, corseted intensity, gets Lily’s tragedy: It’s not that Lily doesn’t understand the rules of the game — it’s that she does, but she thinks her wit and beauty can skirt that calcified code.

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Posted in: 2000 Eyes, by Richard T. Jameson, Film Reviews

2000 Eyes: In the Mood for Love

[Written for Mr. Showbiz]

Listed in the Cannes festival catalog as “Untitled” and shown via a print lacking its final sound mix, Wong Kar-wai’s new picture is both more of the same and a tentative step in a new direction. Although the Hong Kong director continues his fruitful partnership with first-rate, Australian-born cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and although In the Mood for Love is often gorgeously framed, lit, and color designed, there’s virtually none of the swoopy/slithery camera moves that frequently outran purpose and sense in Chungking Express, Fallen Angels, and Happy Together. Instead the visuals respect the discretion and emotional delicacy of the two principal characters, nextdoor neighbors (Maggie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-wai) who gradually realize that their respective spouses are having an affair. Mutual pain draws them together, after a fashion (the spouses themselves are scarcely seen and remain faceless even then). But this being the hyperromantic yet inveterately lonely world of Wong Kar-wai, we should know not to count on the fulfillment that the wall-to-wall Nat “King” Cole song track yearns for.

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