The Seasoned Ticket #33

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.

 

M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass opens this weekend, and it sees the writer-director reaching big: Not only wrestling with a cosmic explanation of how the universe works, but also tying together his previous films Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2017).

The strain shows, but this has always been an issue for MNS: He has moviemaking skills that surpass most of the directors of his generation (he actually understands that how you put the frame around an image matters, for instance), but his grander ideas sometimes get the better of him.

After Split came out, the film critics who make up Framing Pictures, filmed at Scarecrow, talked about Shyamalan’s skills in 2017. Check that out here.

I looked through my files and found my Film.com review of Shyamalan’s second feature (the first to receive wide distribution), Wide Awake. Some of his issues were already present in that one, as I discovered. Needless to say, if you want to explore of re-visit the work of this filmmaker, Scarecrow has his work in abundance (but seriously, stay away from The Last Airbender).

 

Wide Awake

The one moment of honest revelation in Wide Awake comes when the movie’s heavy philosophical questions are tossed around by the fifth-grade heroes. Discussions about the existence of God are offered up, but one kid qualifies his ideas by observing, “I drink chocolate milk through my nose. What do I know?”

That’s not good enough for the protagonist, Joshua (Joseph Cross), who can’t seem to wake up in the mornings; his parents have to walk him through washing up and brushing his teeth, because his eyes won’t open. Joshua’s worried about the afterlife of his late grandfather (Robert Loggia), a kindly gent who pops up in flashbacks. Most kids would be terrified to have Robert Loggia as their grandfather, but little Joshua bonded with the old man, and now he wants to make sure that Gramps is truly in heaven.

Therefore he poses metaphysical questions throughout the film’s running time: to his parents (Denis Leary and Dana Delany), the priests at school, his fellow students, and especially to a plain-talking nun (Rosie O’Donnell). She’s the Barry Fitzgerald figure in the movie: twinkling and cute, she teaches class by filtering everything through her love of baseball: “If you were captain of the apostles’ team, who would you pick to bat cleanup?” Even the unflaggingly likable O’Donnell can’t do anything with a role like this.

The writer-director of Wide Awake is M. Night Shyamalan, a 26-year-old NYU grad with a little-seen debut film to his credit, Praying with Anger. Shyamalan’s style consists of ladling on the music, sweet sentiment, and heavenly light, all of which bathes the movie in a thick, sickly goo. Shyamalan is obviously sincere about engaging subjects that many children’s movies don’t tackle, but his innocent approach crosses the border into complete naïveté; or doesn’t he know that the sight of the 11-year-old hero going into the restroom with an elderly priest sets off all kinds of alarm bells these days?

I can’t remember much of the second half of the movie because I zoned out, my system crashing from the sugary sweetness of it all. There’s an irony: The movie’s called Wide Awake, about a kid trying to wake up, and it puts you to sleep. The kid actor, Joseph Cross, is amiable and natural (he also appeared in Desperate Measures). As for Denis Leary and Dana Delany, we can only assume they have the usual talk-show reason for taking such tiny, colorless roles: “I’d really like to make a movie my kids/grandchildren/nieces and nephews could see.” You sit there praying for Denis Leary to launch into some riff on the horrors of Catholic school, but all the adults in the movie are neutered. As for the kids, they speak in phrases and ideas far beyond their years, as screenwriters love to have them do. This movie needs less speculative philosophy and more chocolate milk going up its nose.

 

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

VIP picks for home viewing – from Children’s Film Festival Seattle child jurors!

Almost 30 savvy film critics will soon be empaneled on Capitol Hill for a marathon of movie judging at Northwest Film Forum — all part of the upcoming 14th annual Children’s Film Festival Seattle.

These judges — members of three different juries of the festival — will see more than 50 shorts and feature films selected for the competition, and then award prizes that are highly coveted by international filmmakers. Appropriately and best of all, the jurors are all children themselves, ages 8 to 16.

The festival bows on January 24 and runs through Feb. 9, with a heavy schedule of screenings at Northwest Film Forum. Throughout the duration of the festival, jurors will watch films, engage in spirited discussions, and nibble through a mountain of popcorn before they decide their prizes.

Becoming a juror itself is a competitive process —  new jurors are required to an application process that includes submitting an essay describing one of their favorite films.

So what are these young people watching, and why are they so eager to see a slate of international films at Children’s Film Festival Seattle?

Sylvia Sargent, a 10-year-old who is getting ready for her first stint on the festival’s Catbus Kids Jury, suggested two animated films as among her favorites — Coraline and Song of the Sea, praising the “quirky stop-motion” of the first film and the “emotional storytelling” of the second.

Miriam Gaster, another new 10-year-old juror, wrote her essay about Miyazaki’s Ponyo, saying the film “has a beautiful story and is a work of art.”

Alice Barton, who is almost 11-year-old, cited a more grown-up film, Oceans 8, as her current favorite film, because of its female protagonists.

Another new juror, nine-year-old Norah McManus, included a fun and sassy fact in her essay, bragging that she has “never fallen asleep during a movie and I (unlike my moms) remember all the stories.”

The second-oldest group of jurors, The Fantastic Foxes, are 11 to 14-years old, and some essays submitted by new jurors revealed the sophistication of cinephiles much older in years.

Bianca Sennhauser, age 12, recommended The Hate U Give citing its powerful messages about police brutality and racism.

“It’s nice when films have cool morals, because I like when the film really sticks to you and when you immediately think ‘Wow, I want to watch that again, Right Now’’, Sennhauser wrote.

Another new member of the Fantastic Fox panel, Aryan Kollaram, recounted his experience, while growing up in India, of watching Bollywood movies as a qualification for serving on the jury. But he also made it clear that since moving to the United States, he’s fallen in love with American movies, including independent films.

“Clever writing, original action choreography, and realistic dialogue can greatly impact the success of an independent movie,” he wrote.

Another new juror, Simar Khanuja, said his experience playing different instruments and performing in musical theater was a reason that The Sound of Music was one of his favorite films — and one he had watched over and over.

But one new juror — 14-year-old Milo Bradley, won the heart of Festival director Elizabeth Shepherd, and his place on the jury, by recounting his long childhood experience attending Children’s Film Festival Seattle.

“I have been going to the film festival since I was two and a half years old,” Bradley wrote. “There are many films from around the world and you get to see the kids’ different perspectives. This year, I cannot wait to see Supa Modo!

Audiences of grown ups and kids alike can join the jury kids at this year’s Children’s Film Festival, and get globally aware with almost 150 films from 39 countries. The fun will kick off on opening night, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, with a singalong celebration of the 40th anniversary of The Muppet Movie, at SIFF Cinema Egyptian. For more information and tickets, visit www.childrensfilmfestivalseattle.org.

 

 

New Releases for January 15!

It’s the first glorious New Release Tuesday!

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A Special Section from Mark Borchardt!

On the occasion of his latest film, The Dundee Project, filmmaker Mark Borchardt (Coven) has been kind enough to curate a section highlighting some of his favorites available at Scarecrow.

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The Seasoned Ticket #32

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.

 

Saturday I’ll be introducing Double Indemnity at the Whidbey Island Film Festival’s “Femme Fatales of Film Noir” program, and delivering a few observations about the women of noir.

This has me checking some old notes for a Film Noir course I taught at Seattle University a few years ago. I realized that in jotting down ideas to mention in introducing the assigned films, these notes form a kind of found poetry on the subject of noir. So here are the scribblings for three classic films, offered as noir prosody:

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Scarecrow Academy – 1959: The Best Movie Year

The inaugural edition of the Scarecrow Academy presents a yearlong series devoted to a single idea: That the greatest year in film history was … 1959! That year marked a high point of Hollywood studio filmmaking, the rise of new independent cinema, the great flowering of international movies, and the beginning of the French New Wave. We have the mastery of cinematic masters bred in the silent era, but the stirring of the tumult that would arrive in the 1960s. Join Seattle Weekly film critic Robert Horton for a deep-dive look at the greatest films of a pivotal moment, each session including an introduction, screening, and post-film discussion.

Attendance is free, although RSVP is encouraged, you can do that right here.

The first installment on Saturday, January 26, at 1pm is The 400 Blows. 

Francois Truffaut’s heartbreaking first feature is the classic story of a lost boy (indelibly played by Jean-Pierre Léaud), and the first great herald of the stylistically adventurous French New Wave. 109 minutes.

Here’s the rest of the schedule so far, with more dates to come:

February 9th: North by Northwest, directed by Alfred Hitchcock (USA)

Cary Grant stars in Hitchcock’s wrong-man comedy-suspense masterpiece, which includes thrilling visits to a cornfield and Mount Rushmore—and Bernard Herrmann’s unbeatable music. 136 min.

February 23rd: Nazarin, directed by Luis Buñuel (Mexico)

One of film history’s most important directors, Buñuel spent a decade working in Mexican cinema; this tale of a priest’s tribulations in a subtly ironic account of the price of good intentions. 94 min.

March 9th: Some Like It Hot, directed by Billy Wilder (USA)

Two jazz musicians (Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon) go in drag to join a female band, where Marilyn Monroe is the lead singer. Wilder’s witty classic is a consensus choice for the comedy pantheon. 121 min.

March 23rdFires on the Plain (Nobi), directed by Kon Ichikawa (Japan)

This WWII film depicts the existential madness of war seen from the Japanese side, vividly captured in Ichikawa’s startling widescreen compositions. 108 min.

April 13th: Ride Lonesome, directed by Budd Boetticher (USA)

Part of the cycle of Westerns from Boetticher and craggy star Randolph Scott, Ride Lonesome may be the best of the lot, a beautifully lean examination of moral choices and CinemaScope landscapes. 73 min.

April 27th: Hiroshima Mon Amour, directed by Alain Resnais (France)

In one of the most talked-about films of its era (written by Marguerite Duras), a love affair between a French woman and a Japanese man sparks painful memories of the war. 90 min.

May 11th: A Bucket of Blood, directed by Roger Corman, and Pull My Daisy, directed                                              by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie (USA)

The Beat movement comes to life: Daisy is a whimsical doodle about beatnik friends hanging out, written by Jack Kerouac and starring Allen Ginsburg; Bucket is a low-budget horror-comedy that parodies the Beats yet captures their spirit better than big Hollywood attempts at the subject. 30 min./66 min.

 

Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics and the longtime film critic for the Everett Herald and Seattle Weekly. He is a regular contributor to Film Comment magazine, and the author of Frankenstein (Columbia University Press) and Billy Wilder: Interviews (U. Press of Mississippi). He has been a Fulbright Specialist, an adjunct professor at Seattle University, the curator of the “Magic Lantern” film program at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle, and a speaker with Smithsonian Journeys. His work is linked at the website The Crop Duster.

“X” MARKS THE SPOT: Director’s Section – Ridley Scott

by John S.

“X” Marks The Spot is a series that zooms in on a specific section of the giant treasure map that is the Scarecrow Video floor plan – spotlighting some of the gems (known and unknown) hidden within Scarecrow’s vast collection. Let the treasure hunt begin!

 

British director Ridley Scott cut his teeth on TV commercials before moving on to hit feature films like Alien (1979) and cult classics like Blade Runner (1982). His innate ability to lend striking visuals and atmospheric mood to a movie did not cancel out his skills in telling a good story. In other words: style and substance (rarer than you think). Discover some of his overlooked golden pieces below:

THE DUELLISTS (1977) Scott’s film directing debut is also his most atypical (given the  modern/futuristic entries that would follow). As sleek and pleasing to the eye as the rest of his output, this first entry is a historical drama that is often overlooked unjustly. The story follows two French soldiers (Keith Carradine and Harvey Keitel) in the 1800s whose initial run-in escalates into a feud of epic proportions through the years as they challenge each other to a succession of duels. It’s a compelling look at obsession and the uncanny ability of men to make a bad situation much, much worse. Talk it out already, boneheads!

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (1987) The first romantic thriller from Scott (2001’s Hannibal would sort of be the second one) sees a working-class Manhattan detective (Tom Berenger) having to protect a beautiful heiress (Mimi Rogers) after she witnesses the murder of an acquaintance. Of course, they fall in love – which poses a huge problem since our hero is married to a woman who is a quick study (Lorraine Bracco). Unfortunately, both ladies become imperiled by the persistent killer. This flick came out the same year as Fatal Attraction, but is a warmer, more humane look at that pesky thing called The Love Triangle.

BLACK RAIN (1989) My favorite Ridley Scott film after Alien. Michael Douglas, in full anti-hero mode, plays a morally-ambiguous NYPD detective who reluctantly escorts a Yakuza criminal back to Japan – only to lose his captive at the airport upon arrival. Our hero and his sidekick (Andy Garcia) must now hunt the baddie on his own turf and contend with the dazzling yet also sinister, inscrutable environment around them. A great companion piece to Blade Runner. Kate Capshaw shines as a cool, hard-nosed Chicago transplant who could be friend or foe – she turns the “Ice Princess With A Heart of Gold” trope into something human and relatable.

G.I. JANE (1997) With Alien, Scott gave us an iconic heroine in the form of Lieutenant Ellen Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). This flick gives us an unsung one who deserves icon status in the form of Lieutenant Jordan O’Neill (Demi Moore). Lt. O’Neill becomes a pawn in the agenda of a crafty senator (Anne Bancroft) to make the U.S. Navy gender-neutral by allowing more women into fields normally assigned only to men. Moore’s intensive physical preparation for her role garnered as much publicity as the film itself – and deservedly so. She commites herself 150% to her character and knocks it out of the park.

HANNIBAL (2001) Scott’s follow-up to the immensely popular and influential The Silence of the Lambs (1991) was a big box-office hit – but also sharply divided critics and audiences. Stop comparing it to its more streamlined predecessor and accept it on its own baroque, dream-like, American Giallo terms, then Hannibal is much more fathomable. It’s basically a grisly love story/fairy tale about two people, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) and Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore, this time), who complete it each other in the darkest way but can never be together (thankfully). My third favorite Ridley Scott film after Alien and Black Rain.

A GOOD YEAR (2006) If you ever wondered what a romantic comedy directed by Ridley Scott would be like, this flick answers that quite well. Russell Crowe is a ruthless London corporate shark who inherits a run-down chateau in Provence from his bohemian uncle (Albert Finney). Unfortunately, our hero’s plan to flip the property and sell it quick are waylaid by his love/hate attraction to a fiery local restaurateur (Marion Cotillard). Will he suck it up and sell the place then move back to London? Or will he say Eff-You to city life and start raising grapes in the South of France with a tall, raven-haired beauty by his side? Decisions, decisions.

 

THE NEXT SPOT:  Foreign Section – Italy

 

John S. is a Scarecrow volunteer who loves James Bond, Jason Bourne, Italian Gialli, Argento, Hitchcock, Ridley Scott, Sandra Bullock in The Proposal, Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, Theo James in anything, Steve Zahn in everything, Halloween (movie & holiday), South Park (cartoon & neighborhood), and Scarecrow Video – not necessarily in that order.

New Releases for January 8!

It’s the first glorious New Release Tuesday of 2019!

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The Seasoned Ticket #31

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.

 

That naughty scamp Lars von Trier is back in the game, with his scandalous new film The House That Jack Built prompting a certain amount of hand-wringing at film festivals earlier this year (not easy to do, with a crowded field of provocateurs out there), and occupying the screen at the Grand Illusion for a second weekend just now.

I haven’t seen von Trier’s reportedly bloody account of a serial killer (Matt Dillon) plying his trade, but I hope to soon. I sympathize with anyone who finds the director’s bad-boy persona tiresome, but I continue to think that von Trier’s stage-managed image is separate from the things he actually puts into his films; it’s in his art that his seriousness of purpose comes out, something he doesn’t seem inclined to disclose while acting like a jackass in interviews. We live in a time when people (and too many film critics) find it easier to review the artist than the art, so this complicates the reception of von Trier’s movies. But I’m still interested.

A few years ago, I threw a lot of my writing about von Trier into a blog post; it includes an introduction I wrote for an online site (maybe the old, original Film.com) that looked at LVT’s career up to that point. Here’s that longish post.

And, more recently, a piece from the Herald on the 2011 Melancholia, one of the director’s best:

 

If Melancholia hadn’t turned out to be one of the most arresting and exciting movies of the year, the film’s main claim to fame might’ve been director Lars von Trier’s joking comments at the Cannes Film Festival in May.

Von Trier is a full-time mischief-maker and put-on artist, who blabbed something at the Melancholia press conference about sympathizing with Hitler (the implication being, what movie director doesn’t identify with a tyrannical dictator, at some point?). Of course this comment became an immediate scandal, and von Trier was banned from the festival, and blah blah blah.

So, yes, Lars von Trier can be a jackass at times. He also happens to be a prodigiously talented artist who makes movies nobody else could make, Melancholia being a vivid case in point.

The film is divided into two parts: The first surveys a fancy wedding reception at a country house, where the bride, Justine (Kirsten Dunst), appears to be slowly and surely losing it. This part is a black comedy of manners. The second section also is set at the house, shortly thereafter, when the clinically depressed Justine returns to stay with her sister (Charlotte Gainsbourg, late of von Trier’s Antichrist) and brother-in-law (Kiefer Sutherland).

But we left out something important. The movie begins with a spellbinding set of slow-motion images, which appear to herald a natural catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions. After that, there are references to an asteroid, or possibly a planet, that is on a collision course with Earth. From this setting, von Trier weaves an ominous experience, part psychological study, part science fiction. And it is an “experience,” more than it is a conventional three-act movie: Melancholia moves at its own very odd, elongated stride, like someone trying to walk underwater, and it presents images that vary from the curious (the bride pauses to relieve herself on a golf course at night) to the spectacular (a horse keels over beneath a sky full of northern lights).

Kristen Dunst won the best actress prize at Cannes, and she’s very convincingly haunted. Alexander Skarsgard plays her groom, and Charlotte Rampling and Udo Kier contribute deft humor in the movie’s wickedly funny first section.

The actors are all part of von Trier’s conception, which includes lush samplings of Richard Wagner music. Melancholia is the kind of movie that used to settle into a nice long arthouse run, drawing audiences interested in tripping on its imagery or deciphering its puzzle. I hope that happens here, because this is bold, tightrope-walking movie-making of the most vertiginous kind.

 

 

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 January 1

It’s the first glorious New Release Tuesday of 2019!

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