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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The Seasoned Ticket #15

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 week Seattle’s repertory houses take us back to a different era, as the Northwest Film Forum brings in Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie (1971) and the Grand Illusion hosts Agnes Varda’s One Sings, the Other Doesn’t (1977). By all means, see both (in reportedly dandy new prints).

Some folks argue that The Last Movie is a misunderstood masterpiece, and I can’t really sidle up to that. But it certainly is something. For a long time, it was very hard to see—I’m talking about the era before home video here—and I’ll never forget my excitement when I tuned in to check out the 11 o’clock movie on channel 7 (or channel 4, or whatever) and realized that the movie they had scheduled, Chinchero, looked an awful lot like the way people described The Last Movie. Sure enough, it was—or some version of The Last Movie. Seeing it later in its proper form, the movie still looked like a crazy ego trip, but—for sure—interesting.

For other Hopper items on Scarecrow’s shelves, I strongly advise you to check out Curtis Harrington’s Night Tide (1963), a movie that plays like an American-International drive-in cheapie as directed by Josef von Sternberg. Hopper plays a sailor entranced by a woman who does a mermaid act in a sideshow. You might never forget this strange, special movie.

For Hopper-directed films, there’s Out of the Blue (1980), a hugely interesting project that teams Hopper the actor with Linda Manz, the kid from Days of Heaven (and no, I don’t know what ever happened to Linda Manz beyond what Wikipedia tells me). I have a weird weakness for The Hot Spot (1990), from a Charles Williams novel, a noir fable with a truly dirty undertone. Or maybe overtone. It’s got Jennifer Connelly and Virginia Madsen and it gives Don Johnson a role he somehow deserves.

One Sings, the Other Doesn’t is Agnes Varda’s ode to female friendship, but it’s never in an easy or cuddly mode. It has vestiges of the hippie era but is shot through with Varda’s clear-eyed observations, and it builds to a hauntingly lovely final moment—which will look different 40 years after the film’s release than it did in the 70s.

Varda has come into her own in recent years, one of those rare directors more appreciated now than when she was in her heyday. Although it’s quite possible her heyday is now. When you come to Scarecrow and visit the Varda section, don’t miss Le Bonheur (1965), an astonishing study in ambiguity which I happened to see recently on a big screen, or Vagabond (1985), a flat-out masterpiece.

My review of Vagabond is here.

And something on The Beaches of Agneshttps://www.heraldnet.com/life/agnes-treatise-on-french-filmmaker-unconventional/

 

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

SHRIEK Returns: UNDER THE SHADOW

For the heat of August, SHRIEK: Women of Horror brings you the excellent Persian film UNDER THE SHADOW. A mother and daughter living in Tehran during the Iran-Iraq war must learn to trust one another to survive war, religious fascism, misogyny, and menacing supernatural entities. Part of SHRIEK’s commitment to feature more films with people of color in front of and behind the camera, please join us for this conversation. If you loved THE BABADOOK, we’re betting you’ll love UNDER THE SHADOW!

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New Releases for August 14!

It’s another glorious New Release Tuesday!

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