Posted in: by Jeff Shannon, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors

Jeff Shannon 1961-2013

Jeff Shannon, longtime Seattle film critic and a good friend, passed away on Friday, December 20, after a long struggle with pneumonia. Even if you didn’t know Jeff, if you’ve lived in Seattle for any length of time you surely read his reviews in the Seattle Times or, before that, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He was a part of the original Cinemania DVD-ROM, wrote for, and hundreds of his capsule reviews can still be found on Amazon, where he was a long-time freelance critic and, for a few years, an editor in their DVD section.

And in 2008, he teamed up with a few optimistic Seattle film critics to found Parallax View, a project into which he was unfortunately unable to put much time in recent years. You can find his contributions here.

Jeff was also disabled, confined to a wheelchair since an accident in 1979 left him paralyzed from the chest down, with use of arms but no control over his fingers. With the help of glove-like pointers, he wrote thousands of articles and reviews, first on typewriter and then on computer, and with a modified van with hand controls and wheelchair lock in place of a driver’s seat, he had the mobility that the rest of us take for granted. Jeff refused to let his disability limit his options. At least until health issues started taking their toll in the last few years. He didn’t talk about them much, but he was spending more and more time in hospitals, fighting infections and illness.

More than anything, Jeff loved movies. He loved to talk about them, he loved to write about them, and he especially loved to watch them, preferably in the theater but increasingly at home as his health issues worsened. That was tough on him because Jeff loved the big screen experience. He went to get swept away by the movies and could not contain his enthusiasm when they did so.

His brother Kevin took over Jeff’s Facebook page over the last few days and posted this upon Jeff’s passing:

It is with both great sadness and great joy that I report the passing of my little brother Jeff. We will arrange for a memorial service after the New Year. We will also let you all know at that time where any remembrances can be made.

He fought so hard for so long, but put an end to his trials this afternoon at 2:25. He was able to clearly communicate to me his wish to be off the ventilator. The tubes were removed at 2:10 and he died in peace and without pain just 15 minutes later.

My wife and I were with him the whole time, our sister spoke to him over speakerphone, and he faced his death as he faced his life, head on, with focused, solid purpose and reason. He was very much at peace, and at the very end, even appeared happy.

My God, how he loved and appreciated you all. Each of your well wishes and prayers were conveyed to him and he knew to the end the passion and concern and love you had for him.

One of our favorite films as kids was “Little Big Man” and I told him, as Chief Dan George’s character often said in the film, “It is a good day to die.” There was an almost laugh to his response, but with my final words to him, he was gone.

“Fly. Run. Be free.”

Matt Zoller Seitz pays tribute to Jeff Shannon at

In the last few months, Jeff wrote a column for Facing Disability. Those essays can be found here.

Posted in: by Jeff Shannon, Contributors, Television

TV Review: ‘Bates Motel’

“My mother just gets … impulsive. She has these ideas about things …”

That’s 17-year-old Norman Bates (Freddie Highmore) in the premiere episode of “Bates Motel,” explaining to his admiring new teacher, Miss Watson (Keegan Connor Tracy), why he’s been bounced around to five different high schools. His mother Norma (Vera Farmiga) has just moved them from Arizona to White Pine Bay, a sleepy coastal Oregon town, following the tragic (accidental?) death of her second husband. Apparently Norma has valid reasons for her impulsive behavior. Either that, or … she just goes a little crazy sometimes.

We’ve heard that line before; it’s from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 horror/suspense classic “Psycho,” in which motel owner Norman (now in his twenties and played by Anthony Perkins) is revealed to be a homicidal psychopath, driven to murder by an extreme case of split personality.

Continue reading at Roger

Posted in: by Jeff Shannon, Contributors, Film Reviews, Horror

Frequently bloody, occasionally disgusting: A Halloween roundup from the fringes of horror

With the exception of “The Woman” (which is still in limited theatrical release), all of the films from “Bloody Disgusting Selects” are currently available on multiple platforms including Netflix, and most VOD providers including Comcast, DirecTV, Amazon, iTunes, CinemaNow, VuDu and Verizon FiOS. Check your VoD provider listings, or go to for more information about the films and where to find them.

On DVD, all of the foreign-language films reviewed here include an optional English-dub dialogue track for viewers with an aversion to subtitles.

Historically and statistically, the most abundant, profitable, and creatively expressive movie genre has always been horror. It has consistently been the most viable proving ground for new talent and a focal point for the most obsessive movie fans on the planet. It’s the most purely cinematic of genres, playing to the strengths of an artistic medium that has shock, surprise, dread, fear, and bloodletting built into every molecule of its DNA. It’s a realm of expression that challenges masters and amateurs alike.

An outgrowth of (billed as “the world’s #1 website for horror fans”), “Bloody Disgusting Selects” was launched earlier this year in partnership with The Collective (“a full-service entertainment, media and content production company”) and AMC theaters. The partnership aims to bring independent horror films to U. S. theaters (mostly given limited releases in major cities) and to world-wide audiences on multiple VOD platforms.

Are the films always worthwhile? Of course not. Is this partnership a great boon for horror fans and filmmakers? Absolutely. Over the past several months, Bloody Disgusting Selects (which boasts an animated company logo of a gruesome skull capped off by a spinning saw blade that becomes a kind of gory halo) has rolled out a half-dozen films (most had brief exposure in AMC theaters) that you might — I repeat, might — want to include in your at-home Halloween fright-fest. Here’s my take on each of them (in alphabetical order by title) accompanied by a brief assessment of their “yuck” factor.

“Atrocious” (2010) (directed by Fernando Barreda Luna, Spain, 75 minutes)
Here’s a genuine curio, and one of my moderate favorites in this horrific half-dozen. At first glance, it’s yet another dreary exercise in “Found Video/POV” horror, seeming to offer little beyond what we’ve already seen in “The Blair Witch Project,” “Paranormal Activity” and dozens of copycat thrillers. The set-up is familiar: Spanish police discover 37 hours of video that reveals most of the details surrounding a multiple homicide case at a summer house where an entire family was brutally murdered. The brother and sister team of Cristian and July (Cristian Valencia and Clara Moraleda) have arrived to video-document an urban legend about a little girl who got lost in the nearby forest while looking for her mother and…(wait for it!)… never returned! So of course they venture into the deep, dark forest, with the night-vision function on their video-cams working overtime, and… what happens? Along with the requisite amount of down-time for marginal character development (and respite between shock-jolts), director Barreda takes a low-budget gamble that pays off handsomely: He keeps his characters’ POV cameras running through a seemingly endless maze of trees and shrubbery…and keeps them running aimlessly until we feel the same out-of-control dread that they do.

This goes on seemingly forever — ten minutes or more, in one marathon stretch — until you wonder if Barreda is just wasting precious time in a 75-minute feature that dares to (almost) wear out its welcome. But through a combination of anxiety-inducing sound and dialogue and brief, progressively more revealing glimpses of horror and bloodshed, “Atrocious” shapes up to be a surprisingly effective little chiller that provides just enough ingenuity to compensate for the familiar trappings of the POV sub-genre. Yuck factor: Minimal (bloodshed and murderous aftermath, mostly held until the film’s climax and denoument).

Continue reading at Movies on Demand

Posted in: by Jeff Shannon, Contributors, Documentary, Essays, Television

The Promised Land Will Be Wheelchair-Accessible

“Lives Worth Living” premieres on the PBS series “Independent Lens” on October 27th at 10:00 p.m. (ET/PT). For more information, visit the film’s PBS website and filmmaker Eric Neudel’s website.

To be disabled in America, in 2011, is to occupy the midpoint of a metaphorical highway, some stretches smooth and evenly paved, others rocky and difficult to navigate. When you look back at the road behind, you feel proud and satisfied that people with disabilities (PWD) have made significant progress since the days when we had no voice, no place in society, no civil rights whatsoever. Looking ahead, you see fewer physical obstacles but other remaining barriers, in terms of backward attitudes and ongoing exclusion, that society is still stubbornly reluctant to remove.

title card-fred fay.jpgLike those of us with disabilities, Eric Neudel’s documentary Lives Worth Living is situated at that halfway point on the rocky road of progress. In just 54 inspiring and informative minutes, Neudel’s exceptional film (airing Oct. 27th at 10pm on the PBS series Independent Lens) provides a concise primer on the history of the disability rights movement in America. The film culminates with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush on July 26th, 1990.

And yet, it’s only half the story. In a perfect world, PBS would immediately finance a sequel so Neudel (who has devoted his career to documenting political and civil rights struggles) could chronicle the first 20 years of the ADA. That history is still unfolding, and the struggle to enforce and fully implement the ADA is just as compelling as the struggle for disability rights throughout the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s.

Continue reading on Movies On Demand

Posted in: by Jeff Shannon, Contributors

Pearl Jam at 20: American Masters? Yes.

“Pearl Jam Twenty” is available On Demand (check your satellite or cable listings) and premieres on the PBS series “American Masters” at 9 p. m. (ET/PT), Oct. 21. It will be released on Blu-ray and DVD Oct. 25. For additional viewing, the grunge documentary “Hype!” is available on Netflix (DVD only).

Crowe and the Jam

Here in Seattle, we think of Cameron Crowe as an honorary native. When he married Nancy Wilson in 1986, he married into local rock royalty: Nancy and her sister, Ann, are the pioneering queens of rock in Heart, the phenomenally successful and still-touring Seattle-based band that is presently nominated for induction into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. It wasn’t long before Crowe became a kind of de facto ambassador of Seattle-based rock.

At the time, the rest of the world still knew Crowe as the rock-journalist wunderkind who started writing for Rolling Stone at age 15 (an experience Crowe would later dramatize in “Almost Famous”) and the author-turned-screenwriter of Amy Heckerling’s 1982 high-school classic “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” You could reasonably speculate that the seeds of the Crowe/Wilson romance were planted in “Fast Times”: Nancy Wilson makes a cameo appearance in the film as “Beautiful Girl in Car,” catching Judge Reinhold’s character in yet another moment of humiliating embarrassment. One can imagine Crowe thinking “I’m gonna marry that girl.” When he actually did, countless male Heart fans turned green with envy.

Continue reading at Movies on Demand

Posted in: by Jeff Shannon, Contributors

A Master Emerges: Conrad Hall and “The Outer Limits”

Eyes Wide Open: A Single Artist’s Vision

Ask anyone who’s devoted their life to the study and appreciation of movies and they can probably tell you exactly when they were “bitten by the movie bug,” that moment of personal epiphany that sparked an all-consuming passion for what is arguably the greatest, most powerful medium of artistic expression.

In my case, it was Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey that literally changed my life. That’s an influential milestone I share with many cinephiles who came of age in the 1950s and ’60s, especially those “movie brats” (among them James Cameron, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg) who were drawn to imaginative visions of the future. Because I’d spent most of my childhood outdoors or casually enjoying Disney films and other kid-friendly fare, I didn’t see Kubrick’s visionary masterpiece until it played a return engagement at Seattle’s glorious Cinerama Theater, in 1971, when I was nine years old.

(With its huge, curved Cinerama screen, the Cinerama is still the only theater in Seattle capable of showing “2001” as Kubrick intended. It exclusively hosted the film’s original 77-week Seattle run beginning in April 1968, and the fully restored 70-millimeter print of “2001” had its world premiere there, appropriately enough, in 2001, two years after the aging cinema was purchased and beautifully renovated by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It’s now one of only three theaters in the world — along with the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles and the Pictureville Cinema in Bradford England — equipped to exhibit three-panel Cinerama, requiring three synchronized projectors for the only seven films created in the three-strip Cinerama process, including 1956’s “This Is Cinerama” and 1962’s “How the West Was Won.” Starting this week [Sept. 30th] and running through mid-October, Seattle’s Cinerama is hosting a “70mm Festival” of 15 films, including “2001,” that originally premiered there.)

Continue reading at Movies on Demand

Posted in: by Jeff Shannon, Contributors, Film Reviews

“How to Die in Oregon”: It’s personal

I’ve been encouraged to write autobiographically in this forum, so bear with me, dear reader. We’ve barely been introduced, and this time it’s personal. I’ll be sharing some thoughts about HBO’s extraordinary new documentary How to Die in Oregon, but first, allow me this indulgence:

When my father died four months ago at the age of 79, I sat beside him in my wheelchair as his death drew near. I couldn’t hold his hand and he couldn’t hold mine, so I gently touched the parchment-like skin of dad’s withered right arm while my older brother, standing on the other side of the bed, leaned over and quietly suggested to our father that this was “a good time to go.”

Dad must have agreed, because a few seconds later, he did.

Continue reading on Shannon on Demand

Posted in: by Jeff Shannon, Contributors, Film Reviews

“How to Fold a Flag”: 12 times, for each of a soldier’s virtues

Shannon on Demand is a new column devoted to films available via Video on Demand in all its forms, written by Jeff Shannon for Roger Ebert and the Chicago Sun-Time online. Here is his first feature.

“How to Fold a Flag”
“We Are the Night”

To say that Javorn Drummond, Jon Powers, Michael Goss and Stuart Wilf come from different walks of life is something of an understatement. If they hadn’t served together in Iraq in 2003-04, they never would’ve met. Now they’re back home, separated by geography, uneasy peace and haunting memories of what they saw and did during a war they determined to be pointless. They might meet again someday — or not — but they share a bond of life, death and military service that they’ll take to their graves.

These are the guys we got to know in “Gunner Palace,” the superb 2005 documentary co-directed by the husband-and-wife team of Michael Tucker and Petra Epperlein. They defended America as soldiers in the Army’s 2/3 Field Artillery Division, never quite sure what they were killing or dying for. There was a fifth “star” in the film, Ben Colgan, who sacrificed his elite Delta Forces post to join the artillery unit in Baghdad. Then he sacrificed his life to an IED.

Continue reading at Shannon on Demand