Posted in: Blu-ray, by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Essays, Film Reviews


[First published in 1982, in “This Sceptr’d Isle” Autumn Quarter Film Series, Office of Cinema Studies, University of Washington.]

Bob Peak's original artwork for "Excalibur"

The Quarry, a 75-minute film for the BBC (early 1960s): A sculptor named Arthur quests for a very particular kind of stone, amid many references to King Arthur, Merlin, and magic.

Point Blank (1967): On some level, a conventional tale about betrayal and revenge among corporate gangsters and their women. This strange film, in which time slides backwards and forwards, begins in a deserted, decaying Alcatraz, where a man named Walker (provocative name for a quester) is doublecrossed and seemingly murdered by his wife and best friend. Reborn or resurrected in the waters of San Francisco Bay, he sets out to pay them back and to find out who ultimately “runs things.” Guided by Yost, a Merlin-like figure, Walker passes through a sterile city encased in plastic, metal, concrete, and glass. Nature is buried, love and friendship dead, and only the greedy accumulation of “things” and sensations a thriving concern. The film comes full circle back to its beginning, at a disused San Francisco landmark described as “safe as a church” and used for a gangland money-drop. Walker finally discovers the identity of the corporate puppetmaster: Yost/Merlin himself. Walker, a mindless, primitive force—perhaps a zombie—recedes into the shadows, back into his own dream, thwarted by a world in which the unconscious is an anachronism.

The Lord of the Rings (1969): An abortive project in which Frodo was conceived as a young King Arthur and Gandolf as Merlin. (Boorman’s Merlin script deemed “too expensive” to film by United Artists.)

Deliverance (1972): Four city men trek into a Southern forest and down river rapids with the notion that nature can test a man benignly. Where the land is to be “drowned” into a lake by the construction of a dam, primitive forces and emotions are loosed, and the four friends fall into terrible knowledge of themselves and their environment. They try to bury that knowledge, but the corpse’s hand that thrusts up out of the dark lake at the end of the film signals the futility of such repression.

Zardoz (1974): Its title an elision of The Wizard of Oz, this film takes place in a 23rd-century wasteland devastated by nuclear war. Survivors who have regressed into brutality are kept in check and occasionally exterminated by the Eternals, sexless, immortal intellectuals who cannot sleep and therefore never dream, but consider themselves the “custodians of the past for an unknown future.” A hand—holding a gun—explodes out of a heap of golden grain: thus Zed, a time-bound catalyst of evolution, is “born.” Three women assist Zed in his quest for the Creator—a scientist, a visionary, and his eventual mate. May, the scientist, warns him when he opens his mind to her knowledge, “It will burn you”; he replies, like Excalibur’s Morgana, “Then burn me.” The “wizard,” only a lesser god, turns out to be one Arthur Frayn, part show business con-artist, part magician, who professes admiration for Merlin and T.S. Eliot. Paradoxically, Arthur insists that he has “invented” Zed even as his intelligent primitive wrecks the godhead, kills the Eternals, and flees into the natural world, a new Adam with his Eve, promising to be fruitful and to multiply. In the last moments of the film, the couple make love in a cave and then, in a series of dissolves as they stare at the camera, at us, they pass from youth to age to death, and finally into dust. The cycle of birth and death, frozen by the Eternals, moves again and the earth is satisfied. All that remains of Zed is a hand painted on the cave wall and a rusted gun, symbols of making and destroying.

Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977): A child once possessed by the Devil becomes the best hope of salvation for humankind. This strange messiah is guided by a lapsed priest who must journey to Africa, where man began, to seek renewed faith and knowledge from a scientist who, in visions, sometimes becomes a primitive and powerful native priest.


The above is offered in evidence that John Boorman did not come to Excalibur unfamiliar with archetypal patterns of myth, especially as they are embodied in the legend of King Arthur, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table. Boorman is a literate man who has actually read those literary, philosophical, and critical works that inform, directly or by allusion, nearly all his films. Sometimes that’s made for a problem: too much self-consciousness about mythic ideas and images can retard the movement and impact of a visual narrative. People begin to say things so Significantly and take action that is so Fraught with Symbolic Weight that after a while there isn’t any life left in the old story—and myths are nothing if they aren’t alive and kicking us into new ways of seeing and being. Boorman has said that he wanted to make Excalibur “as if it is the story—not a retelling of the myth, but the very events on which the legend was based.” In this, I believe, he succeeded—as he had not done so completely in any of his previous films.

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Posted in: by Andrew Wright, by David Coursen, by Jay Kuehner, by John Hartl, by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, by Robert Horton, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Editor, lists

Parallax View’s Best of 2010

Welcome 2011 with one last look back at the best releases of 2010, as seen by the contributors to Parallax View.

Sean Axmaker

1. Carlos
2. Let Me In
3. The Social Network
4. White Material
5. Winter’s Bone
6. The Ghost Writer
7. Wild Grass
8. Eccentricities Of A Blond Haired Girl
9. Sweetgrass
10. Our Beloved Month of August

Runners up: Amer, The American, Alamar, Black Swan, Inception, Red Riding Trilogy, Somewhere, Vengeance

Best festival films I saw in 2010 without a 2010 theatrical release: Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, Poetry, Mysteries Of Lisbon

Best Unreleased film of 2007 finally getting an American release in 2010 (but still feels like a film from another era): Secret Sunshine

Most Impressive Resurrection/Restoration/Real Director’s Cut: Metropolis

Also see lists at MSN here and the Village Voice / LA Weekly poll. And the Best of DVD / Blu-ray 2010 is on Parallax View here.

David Coursen

A splendid year, in both quality and quantity.   These were all shown for the first time in the Washington, DC area in 2010.

The best film is a tie:
Certified Copy-Kiarostami

The next seven, in roughly descending order:
A Prophet-Jacques Audiard
The Social Network-Fincher
The Ghost Writer-Polanski
The Strange Case of Angelica-Oliviera
Red Riding Trilogy-in total, with James Marsh’s 1980 segment putting it on the list
The Kids are Alright-Cholodenko

And for the final entry, a pairing I couldn’t resist:
Police, Adjective-Poromboiu
Winter’s Bone-Debra Granik

John Hartl

Truth proved far stranger than fiction in many of 2010’s best films. My favorite was Craig Ferguson’s devastating documentary, Inside Job, which painstakingly demonstrates just how our economy was hijacked by greed and ideology. In Roman Polanski’s Ghost Writer, Pierce Brosnan gives a career-best performance as a politician clearly based on Tony Blair. In Doug Liman’s Fair Game, Naomi Watts is equally persuasive as Valerie Plame Wilson, a vulnerable spy whose marriage is nearly demolished in a political feud. James Franco wins this year’s versatility award for convincingly reincarnating two exceptionally different people: Allen Ginsberg in Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman’s underrated Howl and a carefree rock climber in Danny Boyle’s 127 Hours. Jesse Eisenberg deftly captures the drive and insecurities of Facebook’s billionaire chief, Mark Zuckerberg, in David Fincher’s The Social Network. The shameless wartime exploitation of the late Pat Tillman’s heroism is the focus of Amir Bar-Lev’s The Tillman Story, an excellent documentary that goes behind the headlines to suggest the personal extent of that loss. Jim Carrey’s excesses are tapped and artfully used in I Love You Phillip Morris, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa’s mostly true comedy about a con artist who is locked away in prison, but for how long? More fictional, but still quite strange, are Noah Baumbach’s Greenberg, a brave portrait of a mid-life washout played by Ben Stiller, and Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling daring to play the walking wounded in an impossible marriage.

A second 10: The King’s Speech, Animal Kingdom, Cairo Time, Life During Wartime, Toy Story 3, Never Let Me Go, Shutter Island, Restrepo, Cell 211, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work.

Robert Horton

1. A Prophet
2. Winter’s Bone
3. Four Lions
4. Sweetgrass
5. The Ghost Writer
6. Eccentricities of a Blond-Haired Girl
7. Mid-August Lunch
8. True Grit
9. The Kids Are All Right
10. Greenberg

See also indieWIRE here and Best and Worst lists at The Everett Herald.

Richard T. Jameson

In chronological order seen, but the first two have landed in the right place and there’s a non-chronological tie at 10.

The Ghost Writer
Winter’s Bone
Please Give
The Kids Are All Right
Un Prophète
The Social Network
Let Me In
The American / White Material / True Grit

See also lists at MSN and Queen Anne News.

Jay Kuehner

(as compiled for indieWIRE, originally published here)

1. Sweetgrass
2. White Material
3. Carlos
4. Everyone Else
5. The Strange Case of Angelica
6. Alamar
7. Change Nothing
8. Restrepo
9. The Anchorage
10. Daddy Longlegs

Kathleen Murphy

(as originally presented at the Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap)

1. The Ghost Writer
2. Winter’s Bone
3. Let Me In
4. Sweetgrass
5. A Prophet
6. The Social Network
7. Please Give
8. The Kids Are All Right
9. White Material
10. Black Swan

See also MSN here.

Andrew Wright

(as originally presented at the Frye Art Museum Critics Wrap)

1. A Prophet
2. Inception
3. True Grit
4. Red Riding Trilogy
5. Winter’s Bone
6. Hausu
7. The Ghost Writer
8. Four Lions
9. Greenberg
10. Let Me In

More lists:

Village Voice / LA Weekly Poll (and individual lists here)
indieWIRE Critics Survey
Movie City News list compilations (individual lists are here)
BFI 2010 Critics Poll

And the year in review from select publications in print and on the web

New York Times Year in Review
Los Angeles Times Year in Review
SF360 Top Ten Lists and Year in Film
The Onion AV Club
Slant Magazine
MSN Movies

Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Essays, Film Reviews

A Community of Two: Blake Edwards’s ‘The Tamarind Seed’

[Originally published in Movietone News 35, September 1974]

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world…
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
—Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach

More than one person, myself included, was not too terrifically turned on by the prospect of The Tamarind Seed. Despite Blake Edwards’s modest rep as a quirkily competent director, and memories of his refreshingly adult Peter Gunn television series in the late Fifties, the notion of Julie Andrews and Omar Sharif let loose in an environment “where love grows and passion flowers” (to quote the early ads) did not set my critical—or indeed, any other—pulses racing in anticipation. Mary Poppins and Dr. Zhivago, as one Movietone News writer aptly dubbed them, might make magical music for Middle America, but they aren’t the couple that comes most readily to mind in the context of passionate, grownup love. In fact, I fear I had come to cast the two as top-of-the-line Barbie and Kenny doll stars: handsomely groomed and coiffured, offending no one (and even enchanting some) with their unrelieved attractiveness, and wholesomely bereft of bothersome genitalia.

Even when I got the word that the love story was set within the spy-thriller framework, I wasn’t much more sanguine about The Tamarind Seed. I’ve about had my fill of the institutionalized world-weariness of this venerable genre. Like the cop flick, the international spy drama has come to wallow in unearned cynicism, automatic angst. Current events haven’t helped this drift towards self-congratulatory recognition of corruption here, there, and everywhere. Having been conditioned to accept it as our native element, we are all too easily and undiscriminatingly immersed in a cinematic environment in which every landmark is subject to change without notice, depending upon the ebb and flow of political and/or ideological expediency. With poleaxed complacency, we watch individuals, relationships, ethics suffer such swift sea-changes that nothing is certain, save the expectation that the ground under one’s feet will be shifting again at any moment.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors

Moments Out of Time 2010

Images, lines, gestures, moods from the year’s films

• The wall that is, and isn’t, there: The Ghost Writer

• In the hills at night, car lights on a distant curve of road—The American and Let Me In

• Gold-brown chicks cupped in Teardrop’s (John Hawkes) palms; memento mori in Winter’s Bone

• The nub of a dark quill growing out of Nina’s (Natalie Portman) shoulder blade: Black Swan

• “You’d do that for me?”—a line spoken to, and later by, Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) in The Social Network; the addressee not getting it in either case…

• Nic (Annette Bening) getting lost in singing Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want” during a dinner party—The Kids Are All Right

• Catherine Keener’s cheekbones, Please Give

Hereafter: Three blocks away, down the street, trees are falling: Marie’s (Cécile De France) first awareness of the tsunami….

• Mattie’s (Hailee Steinfeld) bucket floating away downstream after she sees Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin), True Grit

• Stretching away from his dead arm to dabble his toes in a spill of sunlight … Aron Ralston (James Franco), sometime during 127 Hours

• At the beginning of Sweetgrass, a sheep viewed in profile for a long time suddenly turns, stops chewing its cud, and looks directly and intensely into our eyes….

• Jews in the Warsaw street apprehensively eying the camera, A Film Unfinished

• The Escher-like folding over of Parisian skyline, Inception

• A man the height of a lighthouse, Ondine

Monsters: Lovemaking all over the sky…

Winter’s Bone: The ghastly blue twilight in which Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) and the weird sisters search for Jessup Dolly…

• Pink glow on a ferry dock empty of cars and everyone except The Ghost Writer

• During an assassins’ picnic, a butterfly trembles for a moment on the woman’s sweater—harbinger of hope and death in The American

• The Saudi oil minister, terror-struck yet self-possessed, while Carlos the Jackal (Edgar Ramirez) explains the agenda: “I’m going to kill you. Not yet.”—Carlos

• In The Fighter, Dicky (Christian Bale) enticing Mom (Melissa Leo) into a duet of “I started the joke / That started the whole world / Crying”…

• Street scene in Blue Valentine: Backed by shop-window light and a heart-shaped wreath, the girl (Michelle Williams) in a bright-red sweater soft-shoes while her lover (Ryan Gosling) warbles, “You always break the heart of the one you love”…

Black Swan: Nina, in a moment of especial distraction, freezes backstage as her monstrous dreamtime tormentor appears; he says “Hey…,” and walks on by….

• Bus interior, Let Me In: happy schoolkids on an outing, their bus moving into the countryside, reflections from the snow streaming overhead…

• Dad (Adrien Brody) teaching bird-legged Dren (Delphine Chanéac) to dance, Splice

• Algorithm upon a windowpane, The Social Network

• Shades of The 39 Steps in The Ghost Writer: Ewan McGregor and Tom Wilkinson as avatars of Richard Hannay and Professor Jordan in the study…

• In The King’s Speech, Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) beginning his audition for the role of Richard III, and cheerfully making a sound like “aardvark”…

• “Goodbye, sweet hat”—the Cheshire Cat as read by Stephen Fry, Alice in Wonderland

• In unobtrusive reprise of contact between Black Stallion castaways, Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) averts his eyes and extends a hand to be nosed by an ebony dragon—How to Train Your Dragon“…

• Joni (Mia Wasikowska) says goodbye to her feckless father (Mark Ruffalo) in The Kids Are All Right: “I just wish you had been … better.”…

• Beating a woman (Jessica Alba) in close quarters, for what seems forever and to the death—The Killer Inside Me

• On a makeshift stage, Felix Bush (Robert Duvall) unravels his tale of original sin and lifelong penance, painting the one truly cinematic picture in Get Low; the manic fluttering of fingers and sibilant whispers shooting up like flames….

• A bear rides out of the brush in True Grit: “Do either of you need medical attention?”…

• A ghostly white hart—star of Arthurian myth and Miyazaki’s sublime Princess Mononoke—drifting through a frozen forest, leading Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) to the Sword of Gryffindor; arguably the lone moment of magic in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I
• That improbable white American Colonial box set down like a child’s playhouse in a green, dripping forest; just another trick-the-eye-and-mind stage set haunted by The Ghost Writer

• “You have part of my attention. You have the minimal amount.” Mark Zuckerberg to the chairman (David Selby) at his hearing, The Social Network

• An act of extreme faith in 127 Hours: free-falling down a narrow cleft between walls of rock, to plunge into an enchanted pool…

Sweetgrass: Grainy, dying-light photography of rider, who turns silhouette head to camera as he passes: “Watch your step”…

• Smudged colors and texture of Irish nightfall, rendered as never before, in Ondine, by Christopher Doyle…

• The road to the beach in unrelenting rain, The Ghost Writer

• The tenderness of casting Nathalie Richard as Madame, Never Let Me Go

• Flat-out decency of the Army recruiting officer (nonprofessional actor Russell Schalk) whom Ree (Jennifer Lawrence) visits in Winter’s Bone: “Buckle up … stay home.”…

• In passing, the grace of Richard Jenkins … Let Me In: the aging vampire-lover tries to postpone his replacement—”Please don’t see that boy again”; his death off-screen in Dear John, while his son monologues; another broken father looking for absolution, the only genuine quester in Eat Pray Love

I Love You, Phillip Morris: Oblivious to mayhem around them, two lovers (Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor) slow dance in a prison cell, blissed out by Johnny Mathis’s “Chances Are” (thank you, Cleavon!)…

The Kids Are All Right: Jules (Julianne Moore), having unzipped Paul’s (Mark Ruffalo) trou, sizes up the situation and says, “Oh — well — hell-o!”…

• The uncanny resemblance between Christian Bale’s Dicky Eklund in The Fighter and John Sayles in dumb mode….

A Prophet: the moment when godfather César Luciani (Niels Arestrup) becomes just another schmuck…

• Sign of our times: huge decal of wannabe street artist Thierry Guetta’s face plastered over the side of a building in the City of Angels, a nobody’s “I exist!” writ large, signifying nothing. Exit Through the Gift Shop

A Film Unfinished: Grief and joy of an elderly survivor as she watches footage of the Warsaw Ghetto’s walking dead, indifferent to emaciated bodies lying in the street: “I am happy to be human again!”…

• Early in The Ghost Writer, the contained 3D infinity of airport lights behind the Ghost (Ewan McGregor) as he expresses his first doubts about the job he’s accepted…

• Courtship by blind taste test: Matt Damon and Bryce Dallas Howard, Hereafter

• “I don’t think of them as breasts—just tubes of potential danger”; Rebecca (Rebecca Hall), provider of mammograms in Please Give

• The slow relaxation of Karen’s (Annette Bening) pinched, angry features into maternal love as she gazes at her housekeeper’s sleeping daughter, in Mother and Child; the shock that flash-freezes Nic’s (Bening) face after she finds her wife’s hair where it ought not to be, The Kids Are All Right

• The way Melissa Leo’s devouring mom lips a cigarette in The Fighter

• The tender concavity between Nina’s (Natalie Portman) hips, as one of her projected selves (Mila Kunis) makes love to her racked flesh—Black Swan

• Island hottie or zombie girl, she still rides her horse—George A. Romero’s Survival of the Dead

• Lionel Logue in The King’s Speech, his face a-droop with houndlike hurt, stands transfixed in the park, watching his friend and king walk away….

• “Oo, hermit money. That’s good.” Bill Murray, Get Low

• “Machete don’t text!” Well of course not. Danny Trejo, Machete

• In 44 Inch Chest, the entrance of Ian McShane, resplendent though not at the moment rampant: “What’s clickin’, kittens?”…

Exit Through the Gift Shop: The assessment of a passerby after she’s seen Banksy’s phonebooth installation: “Someone is annoyed with BT Telephone.”…

• The reflection of a Nazi cinematographer in a Warsaw shop window: death’s scavenger, devouring images and stealing souls in A Film Unfinished

• The metallic whine of a windmill turning: the sound life makes in Winter’s Bone

• “I know you,” insists the transplanted Frenchwoman (Isabelle Huppert) in Africa, menaced by gun-brandishing black villagers turned rebels, their gazes as empty as lions surveying prey: the ethnic abyss in White Material

A Prophet: Malik’s (Tahar Rahim) brief conversation with a civilized man—”You must learn to read and write”—cut short by razor blade…

True Grit: The death of Little Blackie on a moonlit plain, under a frame-filling sky full of stars…

Never Let Me Go: The dreadful understanding that suffuses Carey Mulligan’s face, long before the boy she loves (Andrew Garfield) catches on: “There are no deferrals.”…

• The mutual, horrific homicide of Fred and Ginger, the lab-created heaps of gray, eyeless flesh whose extended pink-petal “tongues” once intertwined in lovely and loving dance—Splice

• A woman who may be dead, eyed underwater by a teddybear—Hereafter

Let Me In: Car sitting on country road after train has passed; the red lights stop flashing, the barrier arms rise; the distant mountains abiding…

• In Sweetgrass, an endlessly receding zoom downslope at the herd, till cloud shadows sweep the whole valley; the sound level holding meanwhile as, phoning home from the high country, a sheep wrangler (Pat Connolly) at the end of his tether vents: “I don’t want to learn to hate these mountains.”…

• In A Film Unfinished, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto bemused at the sixty-year-old faked scene she is watching projected: “Who ever had a flower in their apartment? We would have eaten the flower!”…

• As wife (Michelle Williams) and child disappear from the frame, a man (Ryan Gosling) walks slowly out of focus, toward the color and pop of fireworks at the end of the street: Independence Day in Blue Valentine

• In The Kids Are All Right Jules (Julianne Moore), penitent, nails it: “Bottom line, marriage is hard … f**kin’ hard … just two people slogging through the s**t year after year … getting older … changing … it’s a f**kin’ marathon.”…

Winter’s Bone: Framed in his truck’s rearview mirror, gun barrel showing, Teardrop (John Hawkes) stares dead-eyed at the cop (Garret Dillahunt) who’s just pulled him over: “Is this gonna be our time?”…

• “I fired mounted and I fired wide.” LaBoeuf (Matt Damon) wistful about the closest he ever got to Chaney, in True Grit

Please Give: Kate (Catherine Keener) offering boxed leftovers—”Are you hungry?”—to an elderly black man … who’s just waiting in line for a table at his favorite restaurant…

• Dicky, in The Fighter, walking away from the crack house; noticing cake icing on his fingers, he absentmindedly licks it….

Ondine: As the lad (Colin Farrell) who may have fallen for a silkie exits the confessional, his wry priest (Stephen Rea) calls after him: “Keep me informed of developments.”…

Let Me In: The man looking pleadingly as he’s drained, his beseeching hand seemingly to be answered by that of Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee) … which takes the handle of the door and pulls it closed…

• The servant sweeping sand from the patio, surrounded by beach and dunes—The Ghost Writer

Previous Moments Out of Time are collected on Parallax View here.

Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: Mohamed Al Daradji has arrived

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, May 26, 2010]

What are film festivals and film critics good for? Well, for one thing, discovering and boosting new or under-appreciated talent. And don’t discount the power of such visual and verbal exposure: that’s precisely how a little film called The Hurt Locker stole the Oscar out from under the nose of James Cameron’s massively promoted blockbuster Avatar! So by introducing fledgling artists from all around the world to mainstream American audiences, SIFF’s Emerging Masters program can do some real good for cinema while striking a blow in the ongoing battle against this country’s cultural parochialism.

This year’s slate of Emerging Masters includes Mohamed Al Daradji (Iraq-Netherlands), Ana Kokkinos (Australia) and Valery Todorovsky (Russia). In the coming week, two films by Al Daradji will be screened: Ahlaam and Son of Babylon, both powerful testaments to the suffering of ordinary Iraqis, caught between dictators and invaders.

After studying theater direction in Baghdad, in 1995 Al Daradji moved to the Netherlands where he worked as a cameraman. Later he earned a degree in cinematography in England, going on to make many short films and commercials before returning to Iraq in 2003. While the war dragged on, Al Daradji filmed Ahlaam under incredibly difficult circumstances. Lack of equipment and electricity, the near-impossibility of finding a Muslim actress to play a victim of rape, kidnapping by Iraqi insurgents, detention by the American military — everything conspired to block the completion of the shoot. (Al Daradji chronicles the making of Ahlaam in his documentary, War, Love, God and Madness.)

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: Emerging from Down Under: Ana Kokkinos

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, June 2, 2010]

Among the trio of directors crowned as Emerging Masters by the 2010 Seattle International Film Festival, Australian Ana Kokkinos seems a mite premature. On the evidence of the three Kokkinos films I’ve seen—Head On, Blessed and The Book of Revelation (not in SIFF but available at Scarecrow)—this onetime lawyer turned filmmaker is a long way off from joining the masterly company of fellow Aussie directors Jane Campion and Gillian Armstrong.

Kokkinos’ strong suit lies in dramatizing the flesh-and-blood bonds—sustaining or smothering—that tie parents and offspring, and in finding the dynamics of emotion in dance. Drawn to the power of color to code emotional states, she likes to saturate key scenes in hot shades of gold, red and blue. Notably, her command of storytelling falters; narratives feel overlong and aimless, adrift in Melbourne’s mean streets, as though the lady at the helm doesn’t quite know where she’s going or how to stop.

In Head On, her 1998 feature debut, homosexuality works as a metaphor for the unbreachable divide between old-fashioned Greek-Australian immigrants and their feckless kids. Pointlessly interspersing black-and-white archival footage of the older generation’s battles for assimilation, Kokkinos follows Ari, a handsome, halfway closeted 19-year-old, through a long dark night of the soul fueled by sex, drugs, dancing. We watch Ari ping-pong gracelessly between straight and gay worlds, flirting with rough trade, an old girlfriend as lost as he is, a handsome Aussie offering something besides another degrading hook-up.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: SIFFtings III

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, June 2, 2010]

Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy light up the third week of the festival

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (Jessica Oreck, USA, 2009; 91 mins.)

Buried in this all-over-the-map meditation on Japan’s fascination with insects are lovely, nearly mystical moments. Did you know that there’s actually a country where little boys beg their daddies to buy them a handsome horned beetle, and families travel out into the country to enjoy the nocturnal beauty of fireflies? A place where festivals celebrate and aficionados enjoy the “crying” music of crickets and cicadas? The Japanese love their bugs (not just Mothra), which show up all over the place in pop culture, art and philosophy. An animal keeper and docent at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, Jessica Oreck is no filmmaker, but she gives us an often stunning snapshot of a national psyche that’s capable of embracing the poetry of insects, whose brief lives reflect our own transience. —KAM

Ondine (Neil Jordan, Ireland/U.S.A., 2009; 111 mins.)

It would be silly, of course, to build a movie around the question of whether a beautiful woman pulled from the sea in a West Cork fisherman’s net might be a mermaid. But a selkie, now—a creature with the capability of transforming from seal to woman and back again—that’s another matter entirely, and a fine vehicle for writer-director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Mona Lisa, The Miracle) to once more travel the border where fantasy and scuffed-up reality trade valences.

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: SIFFtings IV

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, June 9, 2010]

Notes on the final week by Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy

(Marek Najbrt, Czech Republic/Germany, 2009; 98 mins.)

The World War II years remain an inexhaustible source of dramatic material, and as our culture grows ever more amnesiac, it’s probably salutary that filmmakers keep trying to find ways into the period. Set in the Prague of 1938-42—from Hitler’s bloodless occupation of Czechoslovakia to the assassination of Reichsprotektor Heydrich and the ensuing Nazi reprisals—Protektor eschews the conventional big-picture approach to focus on a married couple whose lives are being transformed. Hana (Jana Plodková), a glamorous movie actress primed for stardom, sees her career aborted because she’s Jewish; the non-Jewish Emil (Marek Daniel), one among a staff of announcers for the state radio station, becomes a star after his chief rival is sidelined for political outspokenness. Effectively under house arrest, Hana contrives ways to recast her life as her own imaginative movie—posing in grab photos flouting the many anti-Semitic prohibitions posted everywhere, and getting back into the cinema literally, by sneaking into the moviehouse next door. Emil, freer to roam, keeps getting seduced personally and professionally, each seduction becoming another kind of trap.

Oh look, I just recast life as imaginative movie, making Protektor seem a more provocative film than it is. In fact of point, the narrative and the chronology hop around to little coherent purpose, and the way the images are optically magicked at every turn is more masturbatory than illuminating. The film’s closest brush with distinction is its suggestion how accidental history and becoming a part of history can be. (Better you should rent the chilling 1943 Lang-Brecht movie Hangmen Also Die!) —RTJ

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: SIFFtings II

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, May 26, 2010]

Richard T. Jameson and Kathleen Murphy scope out the fest’s second week

The Hedgehog (Mona Achache, France, 2009; 98 mins.)

This quietly affecting French fairy tale features one of the most adorable children ever, a grave-faced prodigy whose thick, curly blond hair always gets in her eyes, complicating the removal of her spectacles. Like the hero of Harold and Maude, young Paloma (Garance Le Guillermic, excellent) plans suicide, which she’s scheduled for her upcoming birthday. Her metaphor for life, based on the behavior of her wealthy, empty-headed family, is a fishbowl in which hypocrites and neurotics bang uselessly against the glass until they die. A prepubescent Sartre armed with deadpan wit, this kid films everything and everyone, adding to the documentary that will be her legacy.

Then Paloma comes to know Mme. Michel, her apartment building’s apparently lumpen concierge, and an exotic new tenant named Ozu (Togo Igawa), parental stand-ins who don’t fit her “fishbowl” philosophy. (As Mme. Michel, Josiane Balasko deserves special praise for the way she lets light slowly leak from her character’s armor, and the rictus of her homely face relax into expressiveness.) The tender connection that grows between the prickly yet internally elegant “hedgehog” and the namesake of a director who famously immortalized familial relations is wonderful in and of itself — but it also becomes an unexpected exemplum for our youthful nihilist. A Gallic fable about seizing the day, The Hedgehog weaves gentle magic, but pulls no punches when it comes to life’s dead stops, as cruel and heartbreaking as the image of a bright child pulverizing pills in preparation for her final hour. —KAM

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Posted in: by Kathleen Murphy, Contributors, Film Festivals

SIFF 2010: Something For Everyone!

[Originally published in Queen Anne & Magnolia News, May 19, 2010]

Something familiar, something peculiar
Something appealing, something appalling
Goodness and badness, manifest madness!

Something convulsive, something repulsive
Something aesthetic, something frenetic
Something that’s gaudy, something that’s bawdy
Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight!

That’s the ticket! This year’s Seattle International Film Festival promises to deliver all the goods so enthusiastically ballyhooed by Phil Silvers in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (apologies to Stephen Sondheim for lyrics-tampering!). From May 20 through June 13, the 36th edition of Seattle’s all-inclusive film extravaganza invites us to get lost in the cinematic dark with 256 features and 150 shorts, including documentaries and lots of slots for Northwest helmers, a heavy slate of Contemporary World Cinema, a Grease singalong, family-friendly fare, edgier midnight tripping … something for everyone!

SIFF 2010 sprawls into venues all over Seattle and beyond: Queen Anne (Uptown), University District (Neptune), Capitol Hill (Egyptian), West Seattle (Admiral), Kirkland and Everett (Performing Arts centers). SIFF Cinema at Seattle Center, Pacific Place, the Paramount, and even Pacific Science Center IMAX also will host festival films. (For schedules and locations, check out

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