Posted in: by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: Robin and Marian

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

A lot of things work against Richard Lester’s new film Robin and Marian. In the first place, as two of England’s most treasured heroes, those ur-Communists Robin Hood and Little John, Lester has cast (horrors!) two rowdy Scots, Sean Connery and Nicol Williamson. In the second, he has allowed the film itself to take a back seat to the heavily flacked return to the screen of Audrey Hepburn. Further, he has settled for an always inappropriate and often downright bad film score from John Barry which threatens to sabotage some of the film’s best moments (one keeps wishing period music had been used). And, worst of all, he has accepted from James Goldman a selfconscious and often labored screenplay that, in attempting to capture the conflict between a man’s mortality and the timelessness of myth, is at best adequate, and at worst overwritten with an embarrassing sappiness (Marian’s final profession of love to Robin falls somewhere between Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s counting of the ways and Maria von Trapp’s enumeration of a few of her favorite things). In fact, Goldman’s screenplay bears some uncomfortable similarities to that other Goldman’s script for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: the image of the fair-fighting hero debunked with a kick to the balls; two heroes in a hesitant jump from a high place (cf. “I can’t swim!” with “We might hurt ourselves!”); and the woman eternally fond of them both, but desperate to dissuade them from following the suicidal course of reckless adventurism.

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Posted in: by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Directors, Film Reviews, John Huston

Review: The Man Who Would Be King

[Originally published in Movietone News 48, February 1976]

John Huston said recently he has made only three good films in the past decade: Reflections in a Golden Eye, Fat City, and The Man Who Would Be King. Though I’m still holding out—more or less alone, I think—for The Kremlin Letter to be included among his better works and I have serious doubts about Reflections, there is certainly no argument that The Man is one of the director’s finest achievements of any decade. It’s a pretty neat trick to make a film so completely faithful to the spirit of Kipling’s original story while not violating for even a moment the spirit of John Huston as well.

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Posted in: by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Essays, Film music, Westerns

Morricone Encomium

[Originally published in Movietone News 40, April 1975]

Foreword

I don’t read a note of music, so the language of this article is necessarily interpretive rather than technical. Also, the here-today-gone-tomorrow Duck, You Sucker has thus far eluded my company, so I have recourse only to the first four westerns that Morricone scored for Leone. —RCC

A soundtrack score is rarely significant enough to make or break a film. Generally the least obtrusive music is the most effective in creating mood or building atmosphere—the kind of music the pianists and organists used to improvise to accompany silent movies. If a film score is overly assertive it can do severe damage to a film, as Miklos Rozsa’s did to Hitchcock’s Spellbound, or as most of Maurice Jarre’s post–Lawrence of Arabia scores have done.

With this in mind, it is with the greatest of awe that I express my admiration for the brilliantly assertive yet totally un–self-serving scores that Ennio Morricone has composed for Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti westerns.” The unique, indefinable atmosphere which Leone’s films create is built in large part by the director’s tremendously personal style of mise-en-scène, shot composition, and montage, to be sure. But it is often Morricone’s music that turns the trick in creating that timeless, haunting aura, and lends an otherworldly, almost religious significance to the action it accompanies.

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

Parallax View's Best of 2019

Welcome 2020 with one last look back at the best releases of 2019, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends.

(In reverse alphabetical order by contributor)

Richard T. Jameson 

1. Once upon a Time … in Hollywood
2. The Irishman
3. Marriage Story
4. Little Women
5. Midsommar
6. Richard Jewell
7. A Hidden Life
8. Transit
9. Atlantics
10. Pain and Glory / Parasite

A few steps behind, in alphabetical order:
1917, The Art of Self-Defense, The Dead Don’t Die, Dragged Across Concrete, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, Joker, The Last Black Man in San Francisco, The Lighthouse, The Nightingale, The Souvenir, Uncut Gems

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

Parallax View’s Best of 2018

Welcome 2019 with one last look back at the best releases of 2018, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations.

Sean Axmaker

1. First Reformed
2. The Rider
3. Roma
4. Leave No Trace
5. If Beale Street Could Talk
6. Private Life
7. Burning
8. BlackKkKlansman
9. Hereditary
10. Zama

A second ten (in alphabetical order): Annihilation, Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Cold War, The Favourite, First Man, Happy as Lazzaro, Revenge, Shoplifters, Support the Girls, Suspiria

Cinematic achievement of 2018: the decades-in-the-making completion of Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind, left incomplete at the time of his death.

First Reformed – Photo credit: A24

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Posted in: by Andrew Wright, by Bruce Reid, by David Coursen, by John Hartl, by Kathleen Murphy, by Richard T. Jameson, by Robert C. Cumbow, by Robert Horton, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, lists

Parallax View’s Best of 2017

Welcome 2018 with one last look back at the best releases of 2017, as seen by the Parallax View contributors and friends and a few special invitations. (In reverse alphabetical order, just so you don’t have to see your intrepid managing editor at the top of the list every single year.)

Andrew Wright

1. War for the Planet of the Apes
2. Brawl in Cell Block 99
3. Ex Libris
4. Soul on a String
5. Okja
6. Phantom Thread
7. The Florida Project
8. Lady Bird
9. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
10. The Girl With All the Gifts

Amie Simon

A quick list of my fave 2017 films (in alphabetical order):
Baby Driver
Blade Runner 2049
The Big Sick
Brawl in Cell Block 99
Cult of Chucky
Get Out
It
Jim & Andy
John Wick: Chapter 2
The LEGO Batman Movie
Logan
The Shape of Water
Star Wars: The Last Jedi
War For the Planet of the Apes
Wonder Woman
XX

Bruce Reid

The Florida Project
Detroit
A Quiet Passion
A Ghost Story
Marjorie Prime
Personal Shopper
Nocturama
Wonderstruck
Gerald’s Game
Dunkirk

Kathleen Murphy

1.  Best war films: “Dunkirk” (Christopher Nolan), “Detroit” (Kathryn Bigelow)
2.  Best films about mortality, memory, human connection: “Personal Shopper” (Olivier Assayas), “Marjorie Prime,” elevated by the magnificent Lois Smith (Michael Almereyda), and most especially, “A Ghost Story” (David Lowery)
3. Best Distaff Revenge (and much more) films: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (Martin McDonagh) and “In the Fade” (Fatih Akin). Frances McDormand (“Billboards”) and Diane Kruger (“Fade”) kill.
4. Richest evocation of a poet’s place, time, character, art: “A Quiet Passion” (Terence Davies). Cynthia Nixon shines.
5. Best growing-up film: Greta Gerwig’s “Lady Bird,” a Petri dish—place, time, family dynamics—where a passionate misfit and artist-to-be takes form. Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf rule.
6. Best films about sharing ground with the Other: “Mudbound” (Dee Rees), “The Other Side of Hope” (Aki Kaurismaki)
7. Best Big Movies: Patti Jenkins’s “Wonder Woman” (Gal Gadot!); “War for the Planet of the Apes,” Gotterdammerung demise—well-deserved—of Homo sapiens as master species (Matt Reeves); “Logan,” the genuinely poignant passing of an aging superhero (James Mangold)
8. Best evocation of the eloquent patience of beasts vs. surpassing cruelty of Homo sapiens: “Okja” (Bong Joon-ho)
9. Best down-and-dirty cinematic energy, celebration of genre, Vince Vaughan performance: “Brawl in Cell Block 99” (S. Craig Zahler)
10. Five good, not-great, movies well worth a second viewing: “Split” (M. Night Shyamalan), “Good Time” (Benny and Josh Safdie), “Wind River” (Taylor Sheridan), “The Lost City of Z” (James Gray), “Super Dark Things” (Kevin Phillips)

TV I could not quit, from standouts to guilty pleasures: “Mindhunter,” “Game of Thrones,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Big Little Lies”; “Halt and Catch Fire” and “The Leftovers” (final seasons); “The Deuce,” “I Love Dick,” “Fargo,” “Peaky Blinders,” “Longmire,” “Godless”

Moira Macdonald
(originally published in The Seattle Times)

In alphabetical order:
The Big Sick
Dunkirk
Lady Bird
Lady Macbeth
Mudbound
Phantom Thread
The Post
The Shape of Water
Step
Their Finest

Richard T. Jameson

(Order of 3-10 in alphabetical order)
MINDHUNTER
TWIN PEAKS: THE RETURN
Detroit
Dunkirk
Get Out
A Ghost Story
Lady Bird
The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected)
Mudbound
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Robert Horton
(originally published in Seattle Weekly)

1. Twin Peaks: The Return
2. Phantom Thread
3. Get Out
4. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri
5. A Quiet Passion
6. The Lovers
7. Detroit
8. The Shape of Water
9. Personal Shopper
10. Logan

John Hartl

Five Came Back
Battle of the Sexes
The Other Side of Hope
Call Me by Your Name
Land of Mine
Lady Bird
Frantz
The Crown
Get Out
The Post

Runners-up: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I Am Jane Doe, The Killing Fields of Dr. Hang S. Ngor, Feud: Bette and Joan, Whose Streets?, A Journey Through French Cinema, The Farthest, Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, Nuts!

Jim Emerson

BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo)
A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
Get Out (Jordan Peele)
Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig)
Mudbound (Dee Rees)
A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies)
The Shape of Water (Guillermo Del Toro)
Long Strange Trip (Amir Bar-Lev)
Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan)
I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie)

Robert C. Cumbow

I don’t know from “best” and “worst” but here’s a list, in no particular order, of the ten films of 2017 that I most enjoyed watching, thinking about, and discussing with friends. [NOTE: I have not yet seen The Last Jedi or The Shape Of Water.]

The Lost City Of Z
A Ghost Story
Logan Lucky
I, Tonya
3 Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Dunkirk
Get Out
Lady Bird
Wind River
Atomic Blonde

David Coursen

1. I Am Not Your Negro
2. Get Out
3. Faces Places
4. Neruda
5. The Florida Project
6. Lady Bird
7. Right Now, Wrong Then
8. The Other Side of Hope
9. After the Storm
10. A Quiet Passion

Honorable Mention: Jackie, The Workshop, In the Fade, Paterson

Sean Axmaker

Twin Peaks (David Lynch)
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayass)
A Ghost Story (David Lowery)
Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello)
BPM (Beats Per Minute) (Robin Campillo)
Graduation (Cristian Mungiu)
The Shape of Water (Guillermo Del Toro)
Wonderstruck (Todd Haynes)
Marjorie Prime (Michael Almereyda)
Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villenueve)

10 more films (alphabetical): Brawl in Cell Block 99 (S. Craig Zahler), In the Fade (Fatih Akin), Detroit (Kathryn Bigelow), Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017), Get Out (Jordan Peele), Logan (James Mangold, 2017), Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig), The Lost City of Z (James Gray), The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (Noah Baumbach), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh)

Filmmakers and film programmers

Rick Stevenson (director, Magic in the WaterExpiration DateThe Millennials)

Favorite Ten of 2017 (really favorite 11 since his amp goes to 11), in no particular order:
Wonder
Wonder Woman
Wonderstruck
Call Me by Your Name
Dunkirk
The Shape of Water
Get out
Lady Bird
I Tonya
Coco
The Greatest Showman

Jennifer Roth (executive producer: The Wrestler, Black Swan, Laggies, Mudbound)

1. The Phantom Thread
2. The Square
3. I, Tonya
4. Get Out
5. The Meyerowitz Stories
6. Call Me By Your Name
7. Baby Driver (Because I love a good musical)
8. 3 Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri
9. Good Time
10. Mudbound (shameful plug, I know)

Megan Griffiths (director, Eden, Lucky Them, The Night Stalker)

1. Get Out
2. Sami Blood
3. Call Me By Your Name
4. Beach Rats
5. Detroit
6. Wonder Woman
7. The Shape of Water
8. The Florida Project
9. Lane 1974
10. First They Killed My Father

Beth Barrett (Artistic Director, SIFF)
(originally published on IndieWire)

Top 10 in no particular order:
Call Me By Your Name
I, Tonya
Get Out
Lady Macbeth
The Square
Lady Bird
Jane
Faces Places
Beach Rats
The OA

More Seattle lists:

Scarecrow’s Top Ten

1. Get Out
2. Logan
3. Moonlight
4. Twin Peaks: Season 3
5. Dunkirk
6. Shin Godzilla
7. The Handmaiden
8. Wonder Woman
9. Raw
10. Arrival

The Seattle Film Critics Society gave their 2017 awards; you can find them here.

Polls / Lists

Village Voice (annual film poll comes out later this week)
Time Out London
Slant
Sight and Sound / BFI
Roger Ebert.com (compilation list and individual lists)
Indiewire (critics list and filmmakers list)
Film Comment

Other lists

2017 additions to the Library of Congress National Film Registry
Kristin Thompson and David Bordwell’s Ten Best Films of … 1927
David Hudson Remembers Those We Lost in 2017
Here’s the Parallax View list for 2016

Posted in: by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Essays

MC Squared: David Patrick Lowery’s ‘A Ghost Story’

“I think these things matter.”—David Patrick Lowery, Some Analog Lines, 2006

The first thing that strikes you is the frame.

The classic 4:3 ratio, but with rounded corners, looking for all the world like shape of the old family-vacation slide shows of two generations ago.

In fact, we’ve seen this before. Movies sometimes start with that slide-show effect to evoke a series of memory captures, perhaps filling us in on a past that will become important to us when the movie slips into a more conventional, more contemporary frame to give us the film-proper.

But this is no prologue. This is the film, and the frame ration stays for the full running time, rounded corners and all.

The last film I remember that immediately confronted me with an unexpected frame and then defiantly kept to it—celebrated it—for its entire running time was Meek’s Cutoff, Kelly Reichardt’s overhaul of the western, with which David Lowery’s A Ghost Story shares a relentless sense of being lost rather than destined.

A Ghost Story is, among other things, a meditation on the frame and its possibilities. The frame is an apt metaphor for the condition of Lowery’s ghost, stuck in space but free in time, like, perhaps, a note painted into a crack in the grain of a wooden wall-frame, or a message hidden under a rock to be discovered—or not—by some yet unimagined other.

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Posted in: by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Directors, Film Reviews, George Romero, Horror

Review: The Crazies

[Originally published in Movietone News 50, June 1976]

A hand unscrews a series of lightbulbs. A switch is flicked on and the room stays dark. Shadows and forms dart out of vision before they can be made out. A pretty little girl clutching a stuffed toy protests, “Billy, you’re trying to scare me!” Then there appears on the wall the shadow of a man lifting a tire iron, about to strike, and we are suddenly back in that riveting, unpredictable world of Night of the Living Dead, where make-believe horrors quickly give way to unspeakably real ones. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last. For the first couple reels George A. Romero’s The Crazies builds overwhelming suspense, and teeters its audience breathlessly on the brink of the kind of shock orgy that made Night of the Living Dead so memorable. But what is threatened never actually materializes—at least not in any way that makes The Crazies a successfully affecting horror movie.

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Posted in: Alfred Hitchcock, by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Directors, Essays, Horror

Of Staircases and Potato Trucks: Fear and Fatness and Alfred Hitchcock

[Originally published in Movietone News 25, September 1973]

In film criticism, as in any form of arts criticism, the Biographical Fallacy is to be scrupulously avoided. But in the case of Alfred Hitchcock’s films, the Master of Suspense has himself given us precedence for a biographical interpretation of the themes and images which permeate the body of his work that seems far from fallacious.

In interviews, most notably those conducted by Chabrol, Truffaut, and—much later—Dick Cavett, Hitchcock has repeatedly explained how a shot or a story idea arose from something he himself thought, saw, read or experienced. Already legendary is his fear of the police, manifest in nearly all his films, which began (he frequently explains) when as a boy he was jailed by the police at his father’s request, as a preventive disciplinary measure.

But Hitchcock is probably too close to himself to have recognized another biographical origin of the themes and images which recur throughout his oeuvre: his own physical size and shape. After seeing some twenty Hitchcock films in a comparatively short period of time recently, I found myself asking questions like, Why is there always a staircase? Why the repeated use of heights and falling? Why the frequent and deliberate juxtaposition of food images with the discussion or occurrence of violent death? It finally occurred to me that all these images reflect experiences that are more intense in the lives of fat persons than they are to the person of average build. And Alfred Hitchcock is a fat person.

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Posted in: by Robert C. Cumbow, Contributors, Film Reviews

Review: The Last of Sheila

[Originally published in Movietone News 26, October 1973]

Little can be said of this film’s elusive plot without spoiling the excitement for the viewer. A movie producer invites six friends to spend a week aboard his yacht off the French Riviera, playing a six-day, port-to-port detective game. Each accepts the invitation in hopes of winning some favor from the powerful film magnate. It is a year since his wife Sheila was murdered by a hit-and-run driver; and as the producer’s skillfully devised game begins to reveal hidden secrets about the lives of the players, it becomes evident that one of them is the murderer. Suddenly there is much more at stake than the outcome of a game. Or is there? For as the film twists and turns along increasingly cerebral passageways, each new revelation becomes simply a part of a larger game. Unlike its predecessors in the “game” film genre—Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The Boys in the Band, SleuthThe Last of Sheila is not based on a stageplay, and its plot never reaches a point at which the game-playing stops, gives way to reality. Quite the contrary, as the film ends the next move is left to the audience, filled with the discomforting sense that everything that happened onscreen was merely part of a still larger mystery game that remains for them to unravel.

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