30 Years of Scarecrow!

Scarecrow Video is celebrating 30 years of connecting people with their new favorite films and in honor of this landmark occasion, we’re launching a 30th Anniversary Fundraiser to lay the foundation for our next 30 years.
Proudly non-profit since 2014, your support has allowed us to keep this important collection alive. At 131,000+ titles (three times the number currently available from major streaming services), we give you the power to curate your own viewing experience like no corporation can.
You’ve also helped us develop unique community outreach efforts. Our screening room hosts free movies and lectures nearly every night, we’ve created programs that deliver meaningful content to families and seniors, and we are currently working with high schools and universities to provide educators with media and the expertise of Scarecrow staff to supplement their lessons.
But most importantly you have kept this collection — the largest publicly available collection in the world — growing and thriving. From international blockbusters to local micro-budgets, from anime to Zoetrope, Scarecrow provides unparalleled access to important, diverse voices and you make it happen.
To keep this collection thriving, please support us during our anniversary fund drive by visiting our GoFundMe. To show our appreciation, we’re offering gifts and opportunities to connect with Scarecrow in unique ways. Learn more about those here. Your gift will assure that this important collection remains publicly available, and you will be funding our continued effort to develop new ways to connect people with their next favorite films. Join us as we lead the way for videos in a digital age!

The Seasoned Ticket #19

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

So Michael Moore’s got a new film out this week, Fahrenheit 11/9, a Trump-themed broadside in the direction of one Donald J. Trump. I haven’t seen Moore’s latest, but—while Frederick Wiseman has nothing to worry about—he’s sustained a track record as one of the longest-running and most successful documentary filmmakers ever, an impressive run considering how polarizing a figure he is.

I’ve often struggled with Moore’s hectoring style, and tried to explore some of that in my review of Fahrenheit 9/11, his 2004 film (the highest-grossing documentary in film history), and in my review of Capitalism: A Love Story (https://roberthorton.wordpress.com/2009/10/02/the-invention-of-capitalism-issue-weekly-links/).

Whatever my arguments with Moore’s approach, the final paragraph of this Fahrenheit 9/11 piece still holds true. I haven’t since seen a sustained audience reaction like the one I witnessed at the 2004 screening at the (now shuttered) Guild 45th theater—it was like a collective howl of frustration and fury given permission to be heard (history may already have forgotten that to question the Iraq War at the time was an invitation to be branded anti-American and indeed pro-terrorist). I look forward to seeing whether Fahrenheit 11/9 touches the same nerve.

 

Fahrenheit 9/11

(published in the Daily Herald in 2004)

If Michael Moore had any self-restraint, he might be a really great man.

The activist filmmaker and cultural fuse-lighter, the slinger of Roger & Me and Bowling for Columbine, is back with his wildest project yet. First Fahrenheit 9/11 lost its distributor (Miramax was told a stern ixnay by parent company Disney), then it won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

What is this hot potato? Let us paraphrase Henry Miller, another joking provocateur. This is not a movie. This is a gob of spit in the face of…well, the Bush administration. And Michael Moore’s aim is dead-on.

Moore begins with the disputed 2000 election and does not break stride for 116 roaring, reeling minutes. Fahrenheit 9/11 is roughly arranged in two halves. The first has Moore on his worst behavior—a scattershot attack on Bush, characterized by a scene imagining the thoughts running through Bush’s mind as he is sitting in that Florida classroom, in the minutes after he has been informed that planes have crashed into the World Trade Center. Moore also plays the war against Afghanistan as an episode of Bonanza, and crosscuts tearful relatives of 9/11 victims with Bush’s particular brand of gravity-free glibness.

Sure, you could argue that right-wing radio hosts and conservative news channels use the same unsavory methods. And you would be correct. But Michael, just because the other kids are doing it doesn’t mean you have to descend to their level.

More troubling is that Moore’s cheap-shot tactics will detract from a discomfiting portrait of the coziness that exists between Saudi Arabia (including the bin Laden family) and the Bush family and other key players in the current administration—a case Moore lays out in detail.

The second section of the film covers Iraq. Moore’s digest on why the war is being waged isn’t exactly news, but it is skillfully and passionately rendered. Especially devastating is our acquaintance with Lila Lipscomb, a middle-aged woman from Moore’s hometown of Flint, Michigan. She’s a (literally) flag-waving wife and mom, and fervent supporter of the military, whose daughter served in the Gulf War and oldest son was sent to Iraq. When we see things through her eyes, all of Moore’s sarcasm ebbs away, and something real and raw shines through.

As usual, Moore is lucky in what he gets on camera. He gets a congressman (a Democrat) to blithely admit he didn’t read the Patriot Act before voting for it. (Incidentally, one of Moore’s talking heads is Washington’s Jim McDermott, an ardent Bush critic.) Moore also has the good fortune to be standing across the street from the Saudi Embassy—apparently for the sole reason that it’s amusingly located opposite the Watergate—when members of the Secret Service approach him and ask him what he’s up to.

Will this movie change a presidential election? There is a sequence in Fahrenheit 9/11 in which a mother reads a letter from her son, a soldier, who was killed in Iraq. The letter includes the phrases “thank you for the bible” and “that fool in the White House.”

This movie will not change the minds of many conservatives or liberals, but if enough moderates see just this scene before November…yes, a few votes might change.

Fahrenheit 9/11 is the work of an angry polemicist, albeit one who can’t resist a punch line, no matter how irrelevant. See it with a critical eye, and reject it, or cheer it on. (And I must report that the preview audience with which I saw the film applauded and cheered at the film’s rousing ending longer and more lustily than I have heard an audience do in over twenty years of reviewing films.) Decry Michael Moore’s slippery techniques, or absolve him because he’s the only snarling attack dog the left seems to have. But see the movie.

 

Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

New Releases for September 18!

It’s another glorious New Release Tuesday!

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The Seasoned Ticket #18

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

 

The new Predator movie opens this weekend, and it’s called The Predator, and it isn’t really very good. But we may as well remind you that Scarecrow has the other pieces of the Predator universe on its shelves, should you need to see those. We might also note that director Shane Black’s previous two films, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Nice Guys, are well worth checking out, violent and funny movies that play tricks with the conventions of their genres. If only you could say the same about The Predator. Here’s my review of The Nice Guys.

Meanwhile, Burt Reynolds died on Sep. 6th. The reception of Reynolds’ death felt a little understated compared to recent celebrity passings, and maybe is a measurement of how outliving your heyday will take its toll on your memorialization. But in case it needed saying, it should be remembered that Reynolds was not just a huge movie star in his moment, but a big cultural figure, the kind of household name that seems to be a constant part of the conversation, somehow. He helped that by being such a self-kidding presence on talk shows, a new kind of celebrity for the 1970s. Tongue in cheek. A walking joke on his own image. Maybe so much that the routine didn’t wear well, and audiences drifted away when he went back to being serious.

In any case, Reynolds was a frequently engaging screen personality, and a fair director, too, as Gator and The End suggested. (On the other hand, muffing a great Elmore Leonard novel, Stick, was an indication of his limitations behind the camera.) He had a long run at the top, and just about as long a run no longer at the top.

I looked online for reviews I’d written about Reynolds, and thus far I can find only a 1986 review of Heat, a movie that felt like a misfired attempt at a comeback at the time. And yet it was only four years after Best Friends, a solid hit. Reynolds had a rough patch there in the mid-80s, for reasons I mention in the piece.

There is a poignant “Burt Reynolds movie” that isn’t really one of his films—and yet he haunts the picture, in a memorable and revealing way. That’s Sherman’s March, Ross McElwee’s epic documentary, and a film well worth remembering, not least for its reminder of how omnipresent Burt Reynolds once was.

 

Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Movie Postmortems: THE HAUNTING

by John S.

Movie Postmortems is a series that reviews certain films which showed promise but misfired, critically and/or commercially, upon release. Join us in our attempt to find out what the hell happened.

THE CASUALTY: The Haunting

THE CASE HISTORY: 1998. Two horror projects featuring “evil houses” are announced for release in 1999. The first is a medium-budget remake of Vincent Price’s 1959 cult favorite, House on Haunted Hill. The other: a big-budget re-do of Robert Wise’s 1963 classic, The Haunting. Based on Shirley Jackson’s eerie novel about four paranormal investigators studying a sinister house in rural New England, the latter is the more pedigreed of the two and will be released by DreamWorks Pictures. None other than Steven Spielberg is one of the producers. His involvement bodes well: Spielberg’s last Haunted House flick was 1982’s popular Poltergeist.

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Check out the Conscious Cartoons International Animation Fest!

by William Jarcho, Festival Programmer

The first ever Conscious Cartoons International Animation Festival kicks off on September 14 for a weekend long tour of socially conscious animation shorts from around the globe. The festival is held on Vashon Island, WA, a jewel in the Puget Sound known for its vibrant art culture, progressive attitudes, and stunning natural beauty. Come take a trip with us!

If you can’t make all the destinations, or want to be even more prepared for the journey, here are some other great animation films to add to your itinerary, as chosen by the Conscious Cartoons festival director and animator, William Jarcho. Check out these great pairings of what’s in this year’s festival alongside what you can find in the deep vaults of Scarecrow Video.

Learn more and buy tickets at: www.consciouscartoons.org

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New Releases for September 4!

BLU = Also available to rent on Blu-ray disc

3D BLU = Available for rent on lovely 3D Blu-ray, though you must have a 3D TV to experience the full glory

@ = Available for sale in the store (but we can special order anything, see us for details)

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The Seasoned Ticket #17

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

 

This coming weekend brings Juliet, Naked, a new film with Rose Byrne and Chris O’Dowd and a fellow named Ethan Hawke. It seems Hawke is having a moment, again, as he gets noticed for his scrupulous work in recent films and for his development as a director (on the latter score, his new film Blaze is a couple of weeks away). The attention is deserved; I can’t think of many other actors who have developed as much from a callow early career (he was an actor at 14, to be fair) to such an essential and reliable onscreen presence. He deserves credit for some of those early movies, for sure, such as Before Sunrise and Gattaca, and his ongoing collaborations with Richard Linklater will be remembered for a long time.

Look at his last decade, though, starting with Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead in 2007. The guy’s been working nonstop, and with good people, and he just keeps getting better. As I write this, I’ve just seen Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, which finds Hawke giving a disciplined performance as a traumatized reverend; he even disguises his loose-limbed tendency to strut when he walks. That’s very fine work, to say nothing of Hawke bringing his box-office profile to a little Paul Schrader film, or his willingness to look his age, if not older.

Hawke’s recent much-discussed comments about a good superhero movie like Logan still not being at the level of a Bresson or Bergman film—which I’d heard just before I saw First Reformed—are surprisingly to the point with the new movie. Not only does it explicitly refer to those two directors, it feels like the dying gasp of a certain kind of serious film, with the churches in the movie very nicely standing in for the arthouse and the multiplex. So what Hawke said wasn’t exactly out of left field.

I looked through my files for recent reviews of Hawke’s work, which made me marvel at how busy and ambitious he’s been. I realized I didn’t review Before Midnight, the third movie with Julie Delpy and Linklater, but he’s fully committed in that as well. If I can pick one of these movies from Scarecrow’s shelves to suggest how far Hawke has traveled, it would be Born to Be Blue, in which he plays Chet Baker. The movie is no classic, but Hawke’s performance as a man who almost literally cannot function in the world outside his art shows a deep empathy for complicated humanity and a bones-deep feeling for music. Here are a few more:

Boyhood

The Purge

Maggie’s Plan: http://www.seattleweekly.com/film/the-screwy-screwball-of-maggies-plan/

Born to Be Blue

In a Valley of Violence

Ten Thousand Saints

Getaway

 

Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

New Releases for August 28!

It’s another glorious New Release Tuesday!

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The Seasoned Ticket #16

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.

 

SIFF Cinema Uptown brings a new film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, The Third Murder, for a week-long run. I haven’t seen the new one yet, but if it’s at the level of this Japanese filmmaker’s recent run, it should be seen. It does sound like a departure—a courtroom movie, rather than a close look at family dynamics—but Kore-eda has been so strong in his recent prolific period that it feels like a good bet.

And when we say “prolific,” we mean the guy already has another movie, made since The Third Murder, out in the world. And that one, Shoplifters, merely won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

In fact, Kore-eda’s output since Maborosi in 1995 (I haven’t seen the documentaries he made before that) represents a remarkably high batting average. The somber Maborosi was followed by the equally death-obsessed After Life (1998), but the latter film invariably makes audiences feel good to be alive, so don’t let the d-word put you off. It’s about a kind of way-station for the newly deceased, where a very specific task is taking place: with the help of the staff, each individual must choose a single memory from his or her life. This memory will be re-created and filmed, and it will be the only thing that can be carried into the afterlife. With this simple but gloriously rich premise, Kore-eda investigates the nature of memory, and the peculiar business of trying to sustain that memory in a new way.

This way-station is no sleek vision of the supernatural, but a very human place. It looks as though it is made of stray memories itself, with its leafy plants, old furniture, and Earl Grey tea. Kore-eda achieves a similar feeling in the performances. While much of the movie was scripted, some of it consists of unstaged interviews with real people, who narrate their happiest memories for the camera. This lack of polish is one of the key sources of the movie’s haunting effect.

The amazing Nobody Knows (2004), about a group of abandoned children in Tokyo, is one of his best films; Still Walking (2008) is also strong. In fact, the only flat spot on Kore-eda’s career comes in the middle; I find Air Doll (2009), which really is about a man and his blow-up doll, and I Wish (2011), to be decidedly less-inspired efforts.

But lately? Don’t miss Our Little Sister, a quiet masterpiece. I’ve got links to my reviews of his recent titles below. You know where to find these on DVD, and you know Scarecrow has a Kore-eda section. See you there.

 

Reviews for:

Still Walking

Like Father, Like Son

Our Little Sister

After the Storm

 

Robert Horton, the longtime reviewer for the Daily Herald and Seattle Weekly, is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.

Cinema Jackpots! – CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON

by John S.

Cinema Jackpots is a series that reviews films with uncertain origins which ultimately became popular smash hits. Everyone loves a good success story. Join us as we explore how these movies caught lightning in a bottle and triumphed.

THE CONTESTANT: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon

THE ODDS: The Martial Arts movie genre is referred to as “Wuxia Pian” in China and has a rich, mercurial history. In some ways, you could liken Wuxia films to the Western genre here in North America. Both genres unfold in the Old World, but deal with timeless themes of honor, treachery, and love among heroes, villains, and those caught between them. Like the Western, the Wuxia has evolved through the decades and adapted to the tastes of each successive generation of audiences.

Ang Lee, acclaimed Taiwan-born director of Sense & Sensibility and The Wedding Banquet, is a big fan of Wuxia films. In 1999, he found himself in the position of getting ready to helm one. However, this was not to be  a run-of-the-mill Wuxia Pian. Budgeted at about $15 million with combined funding from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the United States, it was undoubtedly a foreign film – but also tailored somewhat to Western Audiences. Columbia Pictures planned to distribute the film in North America. Its title: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. 

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