Sunday, February 9, 2014

Hayao Miyazaki's final film "The Wind Rises" screening subtitled at Seattle Cinerama: Feb 25 & Mar 4 | Landmark Theatres: Feb 21 - Apr 10

The six month wait for the most recent from Studio Ghibli's founding director concludes with two Tuesdays-only subtitled screenings at Seattle Cinerama and a more extensive run of the subtitled print in cities across the nation at Landmark Theatres. "The Wind Rises" is notable for both being Hayao Miyazaki's final film, and it's inclusion of realistic depictions of disaster and societal tragedy, warfare, sex, and other scenes from everyday life. More so than any other previous work, the film marks a surprising break from his previous fantasy and science fiction oriented allegorical approaches to discussing social, political and eco-industrial issues. A lot has been said already on the subject of the film's fantasized telling of the life of aircraft designer Jiro Horikoshi in the setting of 1930's expansionist Japan, as it recovered from the devastating Kanto Earthquake and the rise of Nationalism proceeding Japan's march toward war. The film has received some exceptional reviews from it's western premier at the Venice Film Festival, but of higher profile has been the critical response from both the right and the left, summarized in The Guardian's "Japanese Animator Under Fire for Film Tribute to Warplane Designer" and the New York Times "Hayao Miyazaki’s Swan Song Too Hawkish for Some", with the Boston Film Critic's vote spurring heated debate by a divided jury before awarding the film Best Animated Feature. Lets not forget though, that this is the author of one of the greatest anti-war mangas ever written, "Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind" and director of numerous ecological, socially conscious, complex and nuanced tales that depict morality in all of it's spectrum of grayness, particularly during times of social upheaval. Miyazaki himself recently speaking out against the Japanese right-wing, "Anime Legend Miyazaki Denounces Push to Change Japan's ‘Peace Constitution’", opposing the movement backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to change Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution and more recent developments such as the strong Nationalistic stance taken by Japan's leading LDP party. A considered response to the film and it's relevance offered by Chris Packham in his "The Wind Rises Review: Legendary Animator Hayao Miyazaki Takes a Bow" for LA Weekly: "The war rumbles over a distant horizon the myopic engineer can't see; his schematics and formulas are closer at hand, and within his field of vision. Like most of Miyazaki's films, The Wind Rises has no primary villain or Manichaean struggle between good and evil; though Jiro is bound for loss and sadness, asking a director known for his embrace of ambiguity to make a blunt, declarative political coda seems a little artless."

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Leos Carax's "Mauvais Sang" & Claire Denis' "Trouble Every Day" at Northwest Film Forum: Feb 14 - 20

This month Northwest Film Forum hosts French Films for Valentines Weekend featuring earlier works by two greats of contemporary Francophile cinema! The first, a look into the stylistically formative years of Leos Carax, director of 2012's most phantasmagoric, absurd, postmodernly playful, wondrous thing seen on a screen, an homage of sorts to Jacques Rivette, Cocteau and Bunuel, "Holy Motors" and over a decade previous, his inventive, divisive, controversial, adaptation of Herman Melville in "Pola X". At the young age of 25 he broke onto the French cinema scene with a film that already would hint at the audacity of his play with the narrative tropes and storytelling conventions of French cinema that would be fully realized on the screen in later works like 1991's "Lovers on the Bridge". The not-distant-future tale of "Mauvais Sang" is a more plaintive affair, describing a paranoid, Alphaville-esque future society where a AIDS-like virus is ravaging Parisian youth, seemingly engineered by a shadowy medical industry Megacorp within a maximum security highrise. Our young protagonist unable to free himself from the orbit of his father's criminal past, and the heist his compatriots have planned with him as the surrogate. But that makes explicit a film which is much more oblique than all that, the quirky mystique of it's persevering charm detailed in Dan Sullivan's review for Film Comment. My lasting memory of "Trouble Every Day" from Claire Denis, (director of last year's pitch-perfect neo-Noir, "Bastards") is that it was billed in Seattle International Film Festival 2001, as a erotic 'vampire movie', much to the horror, confusion and significant dismay of those that I saw the screening with. I had done enough reading in advance from it's coverage in the festival circuit to glean that it mapped a kind of psycho-geography to rival something out of a Thomas Pynchon novel, (and coincidentally was devouring "Gravity's Rainbow" at the time). So I was properly primed for the deepest depths of mind, bodies, perception, self, gone awry. The psychological, psychedelic, psychosexual adventures of one Tyrone Slothrop across the European post-War Zone acted as complimentary preparation for this one by Denis. But again, I'm going to leave it to Max Nelson's review of in tha pages of Film Comment to better depict the film's nimbus of bodily horrors and graphic indulgences.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

'Recent Raves' by Claire Denis, Jia Zhang-Ke, Abdellatif Kechiche, Asghar Farhadi, Jem Cohen & Clio Barnard | Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty", Ben Wheatley's "A Field in England" & Alain Guiraudie's "Stranger by the Lake" at SIFF Cinema: Feb 3 - Mar 31

New Monday night encore screenings of notable films which received brief showings upon their release. So far, the first couple months look to be the best thing SIFF has going for it in 2014! This series of Recent Raves beginning with Abdellatif Kechiche's divisive, corporeal, adaptation of "Blue is the Warmest Color", Jia Zhang-ke's blending of his usual documentary aptitude with a newfound flare for bloodletting in "A Touch of Sin" and Jem Cohen's study on art history, the social landscape of the city and the act of observation itself, "Museum Hours". The series also features a personal highlight of last year; the mining of the European economic crisis to perfect effect as the setting for Claire Denis' darker-than-dark Noir thriller, "Bastards". There's also Ralph Fiennes' debunking of Victorian values in "The Invisible Woman", and Asghar Farhadi's return after 2012's much lauded "A Separation" with another dose of familial melodrama set within nuanced social, gender and class commentary, "The Past". Speaking of drama utilizing mechanics derived from neorealist cinema, Clio Barnard’s "The Selfish Giant" is a great new entry from the UK, as much about social class concerns as it is the life of it's wayward young protagonist. Also on the calendar for the coming month, Ben Wheatley returns after the great Occult crime thriller of "Kill List", with a unique and sinister vision of Olde Albion set during the 17th Century Civil War in "A Field in England" and Richard Linklater's 'Jesse and Celine' trilogy of films, "Before Sunrise", "Before Sunset" and "Before Midnight" are being screened as a triple-feature. Romance of a darker, inverted nature can be found in Alain Guiraudie's exploration of desire without limits, his "Stranger by the Lake" is an eerie, troubling, almost Hitchcockian thriller charged with seduction and threat. And just in time for the Oscars, a weeklong run for the highlight of SIFF's Cinema Italian Style series, a film ranked by Sight & Sound as among the best the year had to offer and given Film of the Week treatment by Jonathan Romney in the pages of Film Comment, Paolo Sorrentino's "The Great Beauty" returns thanks to it's current Academy Award Nomination.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Noir City Festival: International Edition at SIFF Cinema: Feb 13 -17

Next week Eddie Muller's annual Film Noir Foundation event goes global at SIFF Cinema with Noir City: International Edition. Opening night begins with the WWII double-hitter of Orson Welles' (ostensibly directed?) "Journey into Fear", and a new restoration of Carol Reed's brilliant realization of Graham Greene's novel set in Allied occupied Vienna. As Europe struggled to get back on it's feet, much of the post-War Zone was a intersection of black market dealings, smuggling, espionage and marshal law, making for a shadowy setting of bombed out buildings and desolate empty city blocks that is the Vienna of "The Third Man". The series also features a ultra-rare screening of the only Hollywood era Noir directed by a woman, Ida Lupino's masterclass on the style, "The Hitchhiker". Another neglected masterpiece of Noir awaiting rediscovery, Byron Haskin's adaptation of Roy Huggins' serial, to which he also wrote the screenplay, "Too Late For Tears". Thought lost for decades this new restoration by The UCLA Film & Television Archive looks to return this film to it's rightful place in the genre-canon. We also get a double-hitter of Henri-Georges Clouzot. Clouzot probably best known for his gripping thriller, considered one of the most suspenseful films ever made, "Wages of Fear" and a earlier crime drama featuring the perfect concoction of a murder, a conniving chanteuse, her jealous husband and the sly police inspector that suspects our culprits in "Quai des Orfèvres". Akira Kurosawa's film that made Toshiro Mifune a star, as much as Kurosawa attempted a cautionary tale for Mifune's anti-hero, his tough but honest cool guy and charismatic swagger made him a sensation with Japanese youth. The alcoholic clinic doctor and tubercular gangster make the unlikeliest couple in one of Kurosawa's great contemporary films, "Drunken Angel". Near the program's conclusion, Jules Dassin pulls off what's considered one of the greatest heist films ever made, containing what might be the most suspenseful robbery sequence of all time (how's that for double-hyperbole?) in his 1950's classic, "Riffifi". Made that much more notable for the film being shot by Dassin while in France after his Hollywood blacklist at the hands of The House Committee on Un-American Activities and The MPAA's Waldorf Statement. From the SIFF press release: "The Czar of Noir, Eddie Muller, returns to Seattle and explodes the long-held belief that noir is an exclusively American phenomenon. Join us as Noir City goes international by presenting unearthed gems from Argentina, Britain, Germany, Norway, Spain, Japan, and (of course) France -- plus two newly restored Hollywood classics. This year's Noir City festival features 16 classic films, most in newly restored or archival 35mm prints! Opening night walk the red carpet for a double shot of WWII intrigue, then spend the next four days on a journey around the globe showcasing how the cinematic movement known as 'Noir' had a style, sexiness, and cynicism that crossed all international borders."