Saturday, July 26, 2014

Richard Linklater's new film "Boyhood" at Landmark Theatres: Jul 25 - Sept 4

After having skipped it in SIFF due to the madding crowds and knowing Richard Linklater's newest, "Boyhood" would be making a return run at Landmark Theatres outside of the festival, I have a good bit of expectation built for what I'm anticipating will be to my mind, his first great film. Much like the work of Paul Thomas Anderson, I've seen many of his past decade and a half of films in the theater, rarely inspired, never satisfied, yet left with a sense that there was some significant substantive cinema voice at the core of the work. P.T. Anderson finally hit the equilibrium with 2012's "The Master", producing a work greater than his previous attempts at replicating the intellectual soul of Altman, Kubrick and Malick. This time I feel it's Linklater's moment to shine. The premise of his newest brings to mind images of young men on the verge of adolescence and maturation crafted by other directors throughout the history of cinema, François Truffaut’s "The 400 Blows" is a parallel as are many of the young protagonists in Gus Van Sant’s cinema, his surprisingly genuine teen skate drama "Paranoid Park" could be considered a counterpoint. Where the theme of Linklater's film isn't anything new under the sun, a intimate portrait of a Texan boy could just as well be artfully crafted by any number of contemporary independent directors, "Boyhood" is less about what it means to be a child developing into a young man, than it is an evocation of another major theme in the director's work; Time. And not just time as a narrative device of overarching philosophical concept, but this time, the present moment, and what it means to be alive right now on the entry into the 21st Century. Holly Willis for Film Comment explores the film's capturing of the now, not only as the environment in which the film's protagonist gestates, but the social, familial, technological and cultural forces that inform the Zeitgeist and shape the nature of how "It’s About Time: Linklater’s 'Boyhood' Spans 12 Years, but it’s Always in the Moment". Time explored through everyday events, often mundane in their particulars, yet these aren't movie children and parents with formulaic arcs and storybook solutions, but characters whose honest, raw hurt and moments of casual grace carry the quiet shock of what it's like to live life in modern America as though "Growing Up in Real Time: Linklater’s ‘Boyhood’ Is a Model of Cinematic Realism".

The incremental stages and events so insignificant and everyday, that it's easy to lapse out of the awareness that you're witnessing them transpire over 12 consecutive years in the life of it's protagonist Mason (quiet and inward-looking as convincingly portrayed by Ellar Coltrane), who’s age 6 at the film's opening and 18 and on his way to the tribulations and adventures of college and adulthood at the film's conclusion. In between, he goes to school; argues with his sister, (again a smart, often precocious character as expressed by Lorelei Linklater, the director’s daughter) and watches his mother, Olivia struggle with work and (largely alcoholic, controlling, loud self-important) men while paying the bills, moving from home to home and ascending toward her teaching career and independence. And every so often, the estranged father Mason Sr. (convincingly a layabout 'cool dad' portrayed by Ethan Hawke), roars into the children’s lives in his GTO. Mason's destination, literally on the road to college life, the last of the children to leave mom's protective nest is seemingly the focal point of this audacious exercise in duration and real-time observation. By the time of the film's closing scene, the weight of all these incremental, small life events accumulates a weight, a little of the substance of life experienced. We've lived alongside Mason and his family not only for the film's duration, but more than a decade of his tribulations, questing, achievements and development, making this the most successful of all of Linklater's endeavors to depict life, "Moment to Moment: Why Richard Linklater Makes Movies". This audacious duration experiment earning Ashley Clark's Film of the Week cover feature on the August Sight & Sound, the issue also containing my personal favorite of the recent interviews with the film's director, "The Long Conversation: Richard Linklater on Cinema and Time".

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cannes Film Festival + Cinema Miscellanea

Reports from Cannes by the esteemed Nick James, Amy Taubin, Gavin Smith, Dennis Lim, Nicholas Rapold and Kent Jones in the pages of Film Comment and Sight & Sound have begun to see print this month, fueling curiosity and stoking anticipation! As with ever year the festival played host to new works by some of the worlds greatest cinematic orchestrators of shock, beauty, subtle entrancement, rapture and genre-transcendence. This year's Cannes Award Winners featuring returns to form and/or subject matter from the last few decade's greats, adventurous new directions from old pros, enfant terrible's return to do their thing stirring up the critics and other directors alike, and surprising genre pics from the fringes of independent cinema. A bounty to be found in doing reading on the festival in the pages of the above institutions. The abundance of curious and atypical works suggests there are some major surprises to be had in the theater stateside in the coming year.

Covering what's being called the stupendous new 3-D "reinvention of cinema itself", Jean-Luc Godard’s "Goodbye to Language" being the foremost in all the critic's picks, each and every one of the overviews above beginning with extended interpretations of it's technique and narrative concerns and without exception it's said "Sunny Cannes Gets Lightning: Godard’s ‘Goodbye to Language’ Enlivens Festival". Godard’s Jury Prize winning experiment may not be quite so epoch-making as the Duchamp work it references, but it situates him firmly, almost 65 years since his first short, within the tradition of artistic provocateur even more than it recalls his beginnings. The Palme d'Or this year went to a director who has been on the rise and rise for a decade now, so no surprise to see Nuri Bilge Ceylan's "Winter Sleep" receiving the world's most prestigious cinema award. His darkness of winter Turkish stove-side epic is full of philosophic musings spun in Chekhovian fashion – especially Haluk Bilginer as the former actor turned hotelier trying to reconcile himself to old age. Awards-wise there was also Alice Rohrwacher's Grand Prix winning tale of an Italian beekeeping family, "The Wonders", (bringing to mind another great piece of familial, beekeeping Spanish cinema of decades past), held it's mysterious charms close to it's intimate core.

The film that many felt Marion Cotillard should have won best actress for, the newest exacting drama from Dardenne Brothers "Two Days, One Night", Cotillard taking on a smaller, more subtle role than her recent string of blockbuster appearances, as a woman recovering from depression conveyed in the most minimal of gestures. The best actress award instead going to Julianne Moore for her role in David Cronenberg's exploration of the hollow spaces of celebrity, ego and feel-good guru-ism, his "Maps to the Stars" a horror show at the borderline of narcissism and psychosis, ie; Hollywood. Another divisive film with a powerful central role, Olivier Assayas’ "Clouds of Sils Maria" features Juliette Binoche offering one of her most nuanced roles in recent years. Binoche, apparently brilliant in her unnerving portrayal of the psyche's refusal to accept the aging of the body. Other contenders for the Jury Prize were Michel Hazanavicius's remake of the 1948 wartime melodrama "The Search" and Naomi Kawase’s melancholic teen drama, "Still the Water". July Jung's "A Girl At My Door" received superior reviews for it's depiction of a adolescence in ruin and withdrawal. Charming all those that saw it for it's non-human protagonist, Kornél Mundruczó's "White God" is decidedly not a "Babe"-style family flick, but instead apocalyptic misadventures of a Jekyll-and-Hyde dog in an allegorical tale of revolt.

An auteur who's work apparently pushed Nuri Bilge Ceylan to the wire, offering serious competition for the Palme' Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Leviathan" took away the best screenplay prize for his weighty and damning fable of contemporary provincial Russia. It's being said that Bennett Miller’s best director prize for "Foxcatcher" was won almost exclusively for the performances he coaxed from his leads, as were the charms of Mathieu Amalric's darkly erotic adaption of a Simenon murder mystery, "The Blue Room". Another feature that was powerfully actor-driven, Mike Leigh’s "Mr. Turner" biopic of the great Romantic painter is a wickedly gruff late-life tragicomedy and class critique. The Argentinian director of the glacial and expansive, Lisandro Alonso's films are predominantly wordless, allowing the physical journeys of his protagonists and the terrain they travel through to hypnotically evolve over lengthy stretches. It seems an ideal confluence of style and theme that his "Jauja" is as much a 19th Century quest for a runaway daughter as it is a mythological land of abundance. Abderrahmane Sissako's elegant refutation of fundamentalist Islam, "Timbuktu" has been described as poetic as it is brutal, and many of the festival's attendees bemoaned it not taking away the festival's major prizes for it's eloquent, complex and even compassionate accusation.

Wem Wenders returns with a new documentary exploring forty years in the life of photographer Sebastião Salgado and his traveling of the continents of the world, depicting an ever-changing humanity, "The Salt of the Earth". Another return for that most disciplined of documentarians, Frederick Wiseman is back with his observational remove focused on "National Gallery", paying tribute to the gallery’s technical prowess and craftsmanship, interestingly, the private preservation scenes yielding as much information as the public lectures that punctuate it. Cannes also offered genre treats in the form of Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata's "The Tale of the Princess Kaguya", Takahata taking on the traditional Japanese folktale of an ethereal offspring born of bamboo, and her waning in the feudal caste environs of her new human home. Rendered in a lush watercolor palette, it's stylistic distinction sets it apart from much of the studio's recent output. There was also quality science fiction to be had in David Michod's Australian outback set, "The Rover". Michod's desolate chase thriller puts a post-apocalyptic spin on his exploration of violent masculinity and is one of the few films of the fest currently playing in US theaters. Horror was also represented by David Robert Mitchell’s tail-chasing nightmare, "It Follows", which proved to be both smarter than you’d think – and a good bit more terrifying than festival-goers expected. Reports from the festival unanimously conveying that Mitchell collectively transported an entire roomful of viewers into a parallel (tension-filled, anxiety-ridden) world of the filmmaker’s imagination. Whether it be Godard in 3-D or American Independent Horror, what greater feat than that could be asked of any work of cinema?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Yasujiro Ozu & Kenji Mizoguchi with live scores by Aono Jikken Ensemble |
Deco Japan: Shaping Art & Culture at Seattle Asian Art Museum: May 10 - Oct 19

Though difficult to quantify the significance of Yasujiro Ozu's contribution to film history as a whole, there are few better starting points than Mark Schilling's "Re-examining Ozu on Film" overview of the director's quietly groundbreaking cinema. What's considered by many to be Ozu's masterpiece, "Tokyo Story" was Rated #1 in the director's poll and #3 in the critic's poll in Sight & Sound's 50 Greatest Films of All Time. It's global status reinforced by Dave Thompson's Best Arthouse Films of All Time column, Peter Bradshaw's "The Quiet Master" and Ian Buruma's "Yasujiro Ozu: An Artist of the Unhurried World" for The Guardian UK. Taken alongside David Bordwell's essay for Criterion, "Tokyo Story: Compassionate Detachment" and reviews of his final films, they all go some way to describe why Ozu's poetic and personal reflections on Japanese society are regarded so highly within the canon of 20th Century cinema. Seattle's foremost meeting of Japanese traditional music and the avant-garde Aono Jikken Ensemble have a long-established relationship with Ozu from their numerous commissions accompanying Northwest Film Forum's astonishing 5 week, 27 film "Sacred Cinema: The Yasujiro Ozu Retrospective" of a decade ago. This month they return after a lengthy hiatus to perform a new musical score with benshi-style narration to Ozu's silent comedy "The Lady and The Beard" which featured some brilliant promotional graphic work at the time in the 1930's. This free live performance under the stars at the Volunteer Park Amphitheater is part of Seattle Asian Art Museum's Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture 1920–1945 exhibit. With another two nights of Japanese to follow, including Kenji Mizoguchi's formative story of a young woman struggling to make it in the modern world amidst familial, generational and gender concerns, "Osaka Elegy". Alongside Ozu's later color adaptation of his own comi-tragic tale of a touring theater troupe and their lives of tradition and craft in a changing world, "Floating Weeds".

Saturday, July 12, 2014

David Lynch and Mark Frost's "Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery" released on Blu-Ray: Jul 29 | 22nd Annual Twin Peaks Festival: Aug 1 - 3 | David Lynch Movie Night with "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" at Seattle Art Museum: Jul 31

For those that read the initial reviews of "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me" at Cannes in 1992, and found that we were to get a significantly truncated cut of the film in theaters stateside, the decades-long wait to has come to a close. Years since David Lynch made clear his intentions to release a significant amount of deleted scenes from the film this past May it was announced that the entire series and 90 minutes of previously unseen footage from the former will be given a hi-definition restoration and transfer packaged together as "Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery". Not only revealing the larger world of Twin Peaks cut from the cinema prequel to the series, it promises to present facets of the series and promotional content never before seen, the contents of which obsessively documented by Nick Newman in his piece for FilmStage, "Twin Peaks’ Reborn With David Lynch-Approved Blu-ray Box Set".

Though 'Booed at Cannes' and the target of frustrated Twin Peaks fans and critics who almost universally were expecting a continuation of the series' quirky balance of small town rural oddity, the film has since gained a reevaluation with hindsight and distance, with pieces like Calum Marsh's "Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me Is David Lynch's Masterpiece", increasingly more common. I for one found it at the time of it's release to be the metaphorical icing on the cake. Though not the theatrical epilogue to the series that many of us hoped for, on the big screen it watched like a more pure condensation of Lynch and Frost's central themes unadulterated by willfully eccentric surrealism and quirky intrusions from awww-shucksville. With the film we got back to the essence of the story's concerns after the series' meandering half-season of guest directors and their poor attempts at aping all things Lynchian. (Tim Hunter of "River's Edge" fame was a nice exception within all of that, his episodes still hit the right notes and dig deeper into the heart of the world Frost/Lynch created). Hunter aside though, it's only the Frost/Lynch episodes that really catch the spirit of the series and it's magic-in-a-bottle concoction of mystery, melodrama, myth, ambiance and tone. It's truncation due to ABC's cancellation and Lynch's hurried reconciliation of the series in two episodes is still as abstract, brutal, emotionally dissociative and heartbreaking to watch as it was over two decades ago. "Fire Walk With Me" acting as a reconciliation of sorts to the abrupt and dramatically tragic series' end.

For it's 20th anniversary, Alex Pappademas of Grantland returned to the prequel with fresh eyes and decades distance and finds it less a departure, and more true to what David's cinematic world and it's concerns are really about, making for an, "Anatomy of a Fascinating Disaster: Fire Walk With Me". The release of these new restorations coinciding with this year's 22nd annual Twin Peaks Festival, held as it is every year since 1993 at the locations featured most in the series itself, the towns of North Bend and Snoqualmie. The three days of the festival consisting of the annual movie night, site tours and celebrity dinner and Q&A with select members of the series' cast and creators. For this year's iteration guests include; Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey Horne), Jennifer Lynch (author of the Secret Diary of Laura Palmer), Chris Mulkey (Hank Jennings), James Marshall (James Hurley), Kimmy Robertson (Lucy Moran), Wendy Robie (Nadine Hurley) and Charlotte Stewart (Betty Briggs), with the annual tradition of surprise guests (past years have included Ray Wise and co-writer Bob Engels). And inaugurating the festival as they do every year the Seattle Art Museum hosts their Lynch-themed night, "Twin Peaks/David Lynch: Coffee, Cherry Pie & The Dark Night of the Soul" with a screening of the new hi-definition print of the feature length film!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Substrata 1.4: Sound & Media Festival: Jul 17 - 20

For the fourth year in a row, Seattle plays host to this literally exceptional, four day mini-festival (three nights of performances, and a unique two day field recording workshop and retreat conducted by Mountains' Koen Holtkamp) of precisely curated sounds by Rafael Anton Irisarri. Sounds spanning the heavier and more substantial end (being the Sub in question) of the ambient, neoclassical, psych, electronic, immersive-avant spectrum. Held in an intimate setting with a explicit audience in attendance (no loud rock bar and hangers-on here) and a dedicated sound engineer. Exactly as a festival of these sounds, with the corresponding audience and venue should be curated, hosted and assembled. Substrata also bringing together in their annual catalog associated aesthetics, visual art, theory and photography. This year's festival playing host to: Mika Vainio - Julia Kent - Koen Holtkamp - Sanso-Xtro - Markus Güntner - Evan Caminiti  - Mamiffer - Carl Hultgren - Anticipating this year's iteration will be as memorable as those that proceeded it!

From the Substrata site: "Substrata 1.4 is the 4th edition of Seattle’s intimate sound and visual art weekend happening July 17 – 20, 2014. "At its nucleus: an all-ages live performance program, workshop, and field recording trip within the beautiful Cascade region of the Pacific Northwest. The idea behind Substrata is to explore varying perspectives of scale though the use of sound, composition and visuals. It features three live performance showcases featuring accomplished and internationally renowned artists working within the cutting edge where structural abstraction meets physical dynamics. The performance program focuses on live electronic music: applying technology to a concert setting while incorporating traditional and non-traditional instruments. The workshop explores dilemmas within the sound arts community; the field trip engages participants and performing artists in deep listening exercises and mobile recording on site. Our goal is to create an immersive weekend experience that engages the audience in a dialog with the artists that goes beyond the constrains of traditional performer/listener interactions. Each showcase is curated to distinctly portrait different takes of the potency of minimalism, varying between weighty combinations of tonalities used to sculpt out atmospheric ambiance, or powerful dynamic structures made up of the subtlest filigree of sonic building materials. By creating compositional spaces dealing with a sense of mass, along with openness of structure, the perspective of scale and the listener’s place in relation is shifted to allow for greater a sense of place beyond the environ of the performance in the interplay of the moment and physics of the larger world. In all, Substrata is an event that fosters appreciation for our natural surroundings and creates meaningful interaction between artists/participants while exploring a new locality."

Saturday, July 5, 2014

'Recent Raves' by Jonathan Glazer, Jim Jarmusch, Errol Morris, Godfrey Reggio & Steven Knight at SIFF Cinema: Jun 30 - Aug 4

Easily the best thing SIFF has going for it outside of the festival, it's previous season featuring much of this year's finest cinema. This Monday night series of encore single-screenings has been reinstated after a brief hiatus! So far, the first month of listings on the new calendar of Recent Raves looks to be starting things off stellarly. Opening the series we have Jonathan Glazer's brilliant, austere sci-fi road movie exploration of human nature as seen through the gaze of the other, "Under the Skin". Which Jonathan Romney in Film Comment's Film of the Week review hailed as; "Glazer’s third feature fuses a cryptic stranger-in-a-strange-land narrative, guerrilla shooting approach, and a tightly contained audiovisual scheme that makes for a claustrophobically seamless and unnerving drama of self-awakening. This frightening, unearthly film is the most striking achievement yet by this British director. "Under the Skin" is not only genuinely experimental but feels authentically alien—almost something that a documentarist from another world might have shot here on a field mission." Further reading in the New York Times (which reveals much, and is recommended only after viewing) would include Nicolas Rapold's invocation of some of the cinematic traditions inaugurated by Stanley Kubrick, Nicolas Roeg and Andrei Tarkovsky as they relate to Glazer's vision.

Another near-unmissable moment from the past year in film, the return of one of Jim Jarmusch's finest works in recent history, "Only Lovers Left Alive" which rather than a prototypical vampire flick is instead an observation on the greatness of human imagination through the aeons. Jarmusch speaks enthusiastically in the in-depth interview with Sight & Sound's Nick Pinkerton on the premise of being an eternal vampire; living a life in which one has all that time to read every book ever written, listen to every great record ever made and seeing all the films we can never hope to squeeze into a human lifetime, while endlessly traveling the world. The conversation also touching on his current obsessions and passions, which include Nicholas Ray, Nikola Tesla, Tangiers, Christopher Marlowe and whether or not a certain William Shakespeare was all he’s been claimed.

On the analytical real-world end of the spectrum, America's great objective documentarist Errol Morris offers a methodical self-revealing portrait of Donald Rumsfeld. The film's title being a nod to our nation's rush to war in the wake of September 11th and the following use of knowingly questionable intelligence to justify the cost to America in lives and resources, "The Unknown Known". Filled with paradoxes, quibbling definitions and semantics, as with much of his work, Morris allows his subject to reveal itself rather than take an accusatory stance. As the camera prowls through seemingly endless library stacks of files and typewritten words and memos coming back to the defining theme of it's title phrase "The Unknown Known": those things that are readily apparent yet not acknowledged. Jennifer Dworkin's review for Film Comment focuses on it's subject's depiction of itself; does Rumsfeld really believe what he says, or as it seems on the screen, does he genuinely lack all reflective ability?. The absence of evidence of any such capacity may not be evidence of its absence. The film leaves the question open while digging into something stranger: Rumsfeld’s extraordinary and profound indifference to his own credibility.

In spaces between the asceticism of pure documentary and more artistic visual essay, Godfrey Reggio's ongoing collaboration with Philip Glass is a black and white meditation comprised of only seventy-four shots of faces, hands and landscapes, suggesting our changing relationship to our environment, one which is increasingly being mediated by technological interface, "Visitors". With no overall narrative arc to imagery that might be described as a very sophisticated Rorschach test with an environmentalist subtext, the poeticism of duration and unfolding that it allows makes this is one of the more successful of Reggio's recent social, ecological, political observations. Stephen Holden describes this "slow parade of faces" as menacing rebuke to our noblest technological aspirations in his review for the New York Times. Lastly, a film that delivers more than it's central structural conceit would suggest, Steven Knight's depiction of a night in one man's life as events unhinge themselves in chain reaction of collapse. Depicted in real-time and almost exclusively shot in the interior of an automobile, the audience is in for the longhaul as "Locke"'s life becomes a 85 minute focused struggle against entropy. Making the viewer play passenger as it's protagonist drives toward a terminus revealed gradually through a succession of phone conversations with various alternately aloof and loquacious relatives, deeply disturbed co-workers and a panicked mysterious woman. All the makings and trappings (in a confined space) of Noir on the road.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema at Northwest Film Forum: Jul 7 - 11

Next week Northwest Film Forum hosts Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema! Rare screenings of what looks to be a stunning series of 21 films representing the experimentation, style, innovation, substance and form of the Polish Film School of the 1950's-60's and the later films they influenced. Curated by Scorsese these new 4K digital restorations, in many cases assembled from multiple prints of the original negatives, involving hundreds of thousands of manually retouched stills, weeks of painstaking work and terabytes of data. The first series of 8 of the 21 presented in collaboration with the Polish Film Festival features Jerzy Kawalerowicz's hypercolorful historic epic, "Pharaoh" and austere religious horror-tragedy, "Mother Joan of Angels", Tadeusz Konwicki's oblique political comedy, "Jump", Aleksander Ford's medieval epic of resistance against the invading Order of the Teutonic Knights, "Black Cross", Andrzej Wajda's suggestively supernatural, pagan 19th Century pageant, "The Wedding", Wojciech J. Has haunting and surrealist meditation on the Holocaust, time and death adapted from Bruno Schulz's themes of magic, dreams and decay, "Hourglass Sanatorium",  Krzysztof Zanussi's scathing satire of cloistered academic conformity and the intelligentsia status-quo, "Camouflage" and Andrzej Munk's highly regarded Neorealist, absurdist depiction of heroism in the failed September Campaign against the invading German army, "Eroica". With a second round of 8 films scheduled for the Fall calendar including the two in the series I'm most anticipating, Andrzej Wadja's stunning allegorical, political Noir, "Ashes and Diamonds" and the Swashbuckling Alchemical Surrealist classic, (there are too few opportunities to use those three words in succession), Wojciech Jerzego's "The Saragossa Manuscript". Digging deeper, NPR hosts an interview discussing Scorsese's time at The Polish National Film, Television, and Theatre School in Łódź, the genesis of the series and restoration project and many of the film's shared themes of tragedy, resilience, comedy, "Martin Scorsese Takes Poland's Communist-Era Art Films On The Road" and Max Nelson's "Rep Diary: Scorsese’s Masterpieces of Polish Cinema" coverage at Film Comment during the series' premier screening at Lincoln Center earlier this year.