The Seasoned Ticket #6

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.

 

Cate Blanchett is part of the ensemble of Ocean’s 8, the movie that seeks to place women on an even playing field when it comes to the cultural representation of wisecracking burglars. I haven’t seen the movie, but look forward to it, because heist films present a formula I find almost irresistible, and that cast is a doozy. But let’s pause to consider Blanchett for a moment, and some of the early, lesser-seen entries in the filmography of someone who has quietly established herself as one of the best actors around.

The first time I saw Blanchett was the first time most people outside Australia saw Blanchett: the 1997 WWII drama Paradise Road. I still think this is one of Bruce Beresford’s gutsiest films, despite its wobbly moments, but the movie seems to have no public profile at all (it disappeared quickly in 1997, too). For many years, pop culture had a reluctance to acknowledge wartime Japanese atrocities, so Paradise Road may have been ahead of the curve on that point; it certainly doesn’t skimp on portraying the horrors of a Japanese internment camp. The cast of actresses is even more impressive than Ocean’s 8, with Glenn Close, Frances McDormand, Jennifer Ehle, Pauline Collins, Wendy Hughes, and Julianna Margulies crowding the field. In many ways the standout is Blanchett, whose poignant role mysteriously becomes the heart of the movie. Roger Ebert criticized the film for being an anecdote—about how a group of women form a life-sustaining choir while imprisoned—rather than a full-fledged story. I suspect that might be one of the movie’s strengths.

Another under-seen Blanchett picture is Barry Levinson’s Bandits (2001), a very odd item. Like Ocean’s 8, it’s about thieves, this time a three-hander for Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, and Blanchett, partners in crime and shared affection. When the film is able to ignore the need to keep the story moving, it thrives; the stuff that works is all about behavior and outsider-ness and how actors can create a multiplicity of moods through sheer presence. Willis and Thornton were both in a groove they haven’t often captured since, and up-and-comer Blanchett is right there with them. But then this actress never seemed especially daunted by the stakes.

In this litany of early Blanchetts, I’d love to be more excited about two films directed by Gillian Armstrong, Oscar and Lucinda (with Ralph Fiennes, based on a Peter Carey novel) and Charlotte Gray, but although the latter contains a potent Blanchett turn, I can’t quite see how either movie comes to full, breathing life. Instead I’ll point in the direction of Tom Tykwer’s Heaven (2002). Like Eyes Wide Shut, it’s a project begun by one world-class filmmaker and completed by another—in this case, planned by Krzysztof Kieslowski, but shot by Tykwer after Kieslowski’s death. Blanchett plays an enigmatic woman who appears guilty of a monstrous crime. Giovanni Ribisi—bearable here in a way he rarely is—plays a policeman whose fascination with her leads the film to an unexpected, admittedly arty, but transcendent conclusion. Tykwer seems entranced by the Blanchett’s sharp intelligence and the architecture of her face (her head is shaved for part of the movie), and you can’t blame him. As these early appearances prove, she’s always been that good.

 

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

Shriek Presents: CRUISING

SHRIEK: Women of Horror is back! Since you last saw us, we’ve expanded and moved days and venues, but we’ve always been proudly sponsored by Scarecrow Video.

Continuing our annual Pride screenings, in June SHRIEK becomes SLASH: LGBTQ Horror! Join us June 17th to watch CRUISING at Naked City Brewery (all-day Sunday happy hour!), with special guest host Jeffrey Robert of Gay Uncle Time.

In CRUISING, a young cop (Al Pacino) must go undercover to catch a serial killer—in New York City’s gay leather community. Discomfort ensues; read more below.

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The Seasoned Ticket #5

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 is bringing in Jean Renoir’s superb 1936 film The Crime of Monsieur Lange for a single screening on June 3. You should see it. It’s not terribly well known in Renoir’s filmography, doubtless because JR knocked off a couple of swell pictures called Grand Illusion and The Rules of the Game over the following three years. But it’s a wonderful picture, and reportedly newly restored, although it would look good in 16 mm, frankly.

Scarecrow, of course, has a wealth of Renoir in stock. Too much to cover here, but just to pluck a couple of recommendations from the 1930s: Check out Toni (1935), a tale of provincial crime, a film that has long been applauded for its landmark location shooting and neo-realist approach to storytelling. It’s more than a historical footnote, however. Renoir has already developed a way of seeing, a casual-seeming but precisely observed way of treating people and situations. For Toni, Renoir said that he took an inherently dramatic story and tried to “avoid the dramatic,” which is, in its own way, a radical approach.

And if you’ve never seen La Chienne (1931), do that. Here is a very different tale of murder, taken from the same source novel that birthed the Fritz Lang masterpiece Scarlet Street (1945). And thus we have an opportunity to see how the vision of a great director shapes similar material—in this case, the directing signatures of these two giants are fascinating to trace along parallel lines. (You can also do this—same two directors—with La Bete Humaine and Human Desire, which share the Zola source novel, but those are not among the best films of Renoir and Lang.) La Chienne came early in the sound era, and you can see/hear Renoir pushing the possibilities of what was technically achievable at that time, all of which becomes part of the evocative mood of the film.

Incidentally, when The Crime of Monsieur Lange played in New York in 1964 it was championed by Andrew Sarris at the Village Voice, then in the midst of his push to bring the auteur theory to America. His piece on the film is reprinted here, and is a splendid example of how you do it.

 

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

Movie Postmortems: BLADE RUNNER 2049

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.

(Movie Postmortems will run on an alternating schedule with Cinema Jackpot!)

 

THE CASUALTY: Blade Runner 2049

THE CASE HISTORY: June 1982. A highly-anticipated film titled Blade Runner opens in North America and earns about $6 million at the domestic box-office. Not a bad debut for this buzzed about blend of futuristic sci-fi and film noir starring newly-minted star Harrison Ford, hot off the Star Wars films and Raiders of the Lost Ark. The film’s pedigree also includes director Ridley Scott, whose smash hit two years prior, Alien, redefined the sci-fi horror genre and its heroines. Blade Runner appears to be shaping up as another score for both Ford and Scott.

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The Seasoned Ticket #4

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.

 

In ye olden days a critically-lauded director like Hong Sang-Soo might have gained a public profile beyond the film festival world; his movies are distinctive, recognizably his, and just difficult enough to remind you that you’re seeing something outside the multiplex. I can’t see that Hong’s work is breaking through to the mainstream, despite the undeniable charm of being a recent Film Comment cover boy. That’s a shame, because this prolific filmmaker (three movies released in 2017) is not only doing something cinematically distinctive, he’s also providing a great deal of pleasure.

His 2017 film The Day After plays May 25-27 at the Northwest Film Forum. It’s a typical work, both amusing and sneakily emotional, and rendered in lovely black and white. The story revolves around an extremely weak-willed writer/publisher (Kwon Hae-hyo), whose wife has just intuited that fact that he’s having an affair; the other woman (Kim Sae-byuk) worked in his office, but has apparently been gone for a month. We meet a young woman (Kim Min-hee, whose performance in On the Beach at Night Alone was maybe the best of 2017) who will replace the mistress at the office—and the way the boss treats her during her first day on the job, he may be thinking about replicating the extra-marital adventure. Then things become complicated. The film has its share of glorious moments, especially when extremely serious things happen that nevertheless play as cosmically funny. You could almost believe there’s a system in place that arranges these misadventures around the writer’s life—and “believing” in something is a central concern of the film’s characters. This is a terrific movie, even though it seems slight.

Hong’s films often have a slim premise, and most of them are more tantalizingly surreal than The Day After. They’re akin to the work of Yasujiro Ozu and Eric Rohmer, in a couple of senses anyway: they maintain a very similar tone from film to film, and they are sometimes hard to tell apart. The latter observation is not meant as a knock—Ozu and Rohmer are two of my favorite filmmakers—but as a way of suggesting how the director’s consistent view of the world creates an imaginative cosmos in which ideas and situations are re-visited and re-examined. In fact, Hong’s films re-visit similar situations within the same movie, as he sometimes plays with storylines that seem to be (though without explicit explanation) coming from alternate, or parallel, universes.

For instance, in Right Now, Wrong Then (2015)—one of Hong’s best, methinks—the first half of the film is taken up with the way a movie director kills time while visiting a town for a film event, meeting a young woman and participating in mutual flirting. Inexplicably, the second half of the film shows the same day playing out in a consistently different way, with—I think—a crucial difference: In the first half, the director is dishonest about his life, and in the second he’s more forthcoming. This makes a profound difference in how the scenarios play out. It’s a little like Alain Resnais’ mind-bending pair of 1993 films, Smoking and No Smoking, adapted from Alan Ayckbourn’s plays, which run through a myriad of possible story turns based on whether a character lights up a cigarette at the beginning or not.

If you want to scour Scarecrow’s shelves for more of Hong’s films (they’ve got Smoking/No Smoking too), here are links to a few of my past reviews that have opened in Seattle.

In Another Country

On the Beach At Night Alone

Woman On the Beach

The Day He Arrives

 

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