Sunday, March 15, 2015

David Robert Mitchell’s new film "It Follows" at SIFF Cinema: Mar 20 - Apr 23

It's extended run indicative of it's success, David Robert Mitchell’s anonymous nightmare in pursuit "It Follows", has been getting just about nothing but exceptional press since it's premier at last year's Cannes Critic's Week. The film's partial period setting, desolate urbanism and slow unspooling mark it as a very different variation on the sub-genre of, "A Shape-Shifting Horror Stalks a Teenager". But Mitchell's film is less concerned with the shock and hysteria of the pursuit, than it is an inexplicable scenario in which the faceless nobody-and-everyone-at-once nature of the pursuer hides it's omnipresence in anonymity, everyday and mundane. Wired's "What Makes the New Horror Film 'It Follows', So Damn Good" describes the 'holy trinity' of director and screenwriter David Robert Mitchell, the teen protagonist as convincingly played Maika Monroe, and composer Rich Vreeland aka Disasterpeace, who supplied the retro game soundchip and synth-centric soundtrack. Pivotal to the film is it's sex-positive set up, one that's rarely explored in this honest a framing with teen films, to which it adds it's own compellingly sinister moral twist. Riffing on contemporary urban legends in the post-Ringu horror climate, the film places it's victims into the additional conflict of conscience and survival; when a victim is killed by the malevolent following presence, it will shift its attention back to the last link in the chain. Making it a question of survival by condemning others in the extension of said chain. Literally placing a human shield of bodies between yourself and the pursuing curse. Jonathan Romney's film of the week review for Film Comment focuses on the tone and milieu as significant aids in giving substance to both the character of the film and the viewer's suspension of disbelief. The cinematic ambiance of it's setting in and around Detroit enhanced by menacing, naturalistic use of steadicam and convincingly gutted, desolate urban locations. It's greatest strength though, is that Mitchell smartly chooses to keep us at a remove from our and the protagonist's knowledge of the pursuers true origin. The titular 'IT' of the curse travels in a straight line -- albeit a reversible one that runs both ways -- theoretically heading back to a single point of origin. But it's an origin that can never be located or pinned down because Mitchell retains that IT is a figure of unknowable, absolute indeterminacy. It's not for nothing that one of the supporting characters is seen absorbed in her reading of Dostoyevsky throughout.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

"Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien" at Northwest Film Forum, Grand Illusion Cinema & Scarecrow Video: Mar 19 - Apr 7

What will likely prove to be the repertory cinema event of the year begins the third week of March with both The Grand Illusion and Northwest Film Forum presenting the touring retrospective of one of the defining voices of the Taiwanese New Wave, "Also Like Life: The Films of Hou Hsiao-Hsien". Named director of the decade in a polls conducted by Film Comment and The Village Voice at the close of the 20th Century, the Museum of the Moving Image, "Hou Hsiao-Hsien: In Search of Lost Time" and their symposium introduction still stands as the most succinct tacking of the paradox of this revered, yet rarely seen director: "It’s worth questioning, however, what Hou Hsiao-Hsien's admittedly rarefied brand of art cinema means to filmmaking and film history—even history itself —if he's not being seen anywhere but on the festival circuit. Just how can we support such grand claims for his importance, when he’s preaching to a ready choir and often empty pews? The answer is easy: wedding political filmmaking with a technique at once naturalistic and highly aestheticized, Hou Hsiao-Hsien has made films that wrestle variously, and either directly or metaphorically, with personal and national histories, the struggles between Taiwan and Chinese nationalism, the encroachment of capital on an ever-evolving way of life, and, most recently, the legacy of cinema itself. 'Essential viewing' couldn’t be more aptly applied to the works of any other living director,".

Kent Jones' chronicling of Hou's ascendency for Film Comment, from cult phenomenon to arthouse favorite and established auteur over the decade of the late 80's to 90's, "Cinema with a Roof Over its Head: Hou Hsiao-Hsien" probes the complex factors involved in how it is that a director as critically lauded as Hou Hsiao-Hsien remains largely unseen to this day. Foremost among them is that Hou's depiction of time and space conveyed through depth, color and hypnotically repeated motifs eschews being quantified through populist criteria. Even those outfitted with an understanding of the past half-Century of Asian film, where western paradigms can occasionally be applied to fill in our gaps in knowledge, in the case of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's filmmography the bridge to meaning still requires intellectual effort. A facilitative resource in bridging that expanse, the Senses of Cinema archives host a in-depth Hou Hsiao-Hsien spotlight featuring lengthy and analytic articles on the active visual minimalism of his cinema, "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Optics of Ephemerality", his homage of sorts to Yasujiro Ozu's love of "Situations Over Stories: Café Lumière & Hou Hsiao-Hsien", the nuanced depiction of different eras through "The Complexity of Minimalism: Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times" and his intimate observations on the tribulations of modern, urban, Taiwanese women, "Hou Hsiou-Hsien’s Urban Female Youth Trilogy". The night before the series' kickoff, Scarecrow Video will be presenting a rare screening of the director's early feature "The Boys from Fengkuei" as part of their concurrently running sidebar of Hou Hsiao-Hsien's lesser known works. The film will be introduced by local critic and Asian cinema scholar Sean Gilman, and as with the rest of Scarecrow's monthly Screening Room calendar, admission is free. Considerately, memberships at both Northwest Film Forum and The Grand Illusion apply to ticket purchases at either venue for the full series.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Paul Grimault & Jacques Prévert's "The King and the Mockingbird" at Northwest Film Forum: March 19 - 22

Later this month a rare screening of Paul Grimault's "The King and the Mockingbird" will have a brief four-day run at Northwest Film Forum. Based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen's "The Shepherdess and the Chimney Sweep", while mixing in a bit of Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels", the urban underbelly of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis", the oppression of the working class in Charlie Chaplin's "Modern Times", a villain straight out of a satirical Stalin-esque cult of personality and the subconscious detours found in the animated Max Fleischer adventures of the 1930s-1940s. Ad to this the design and setting influences of surrealist painters Giorgio de Chirico and Yves Tanguy, who was a collegial friend of the author of the film's screenplay. The complexity of this mid-century animated masterwork's influences is exceeded by it's storied decades-long production. Paul Grimault with the author of the proto-Noir classic, "Port of Shadows" Jacques Prévert on writing duties, began work on the project in 1947, after various disputes that ended production their producer released the film in an unfinished form, without either's permission. At which point it's real epic begins, Grimault spent 10 years in legal battles acquiring the rights to the film and another 20 raising the money to complete it as he and Prévert had envisioned. Decades later, it was finally finished and released in 1979 in France and central Europe with very little to no international distribution. Seen upon it's 1979 release by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata it has been credited as "The Film that Inspired the Founding of Studio Ghibli", with Ghibli returned the favor in 2012 with their own restored Japanese release and distribution of the film under the title, "Ōu to Tori". The North American premier of this new restoration came at last year's New York Film Festival with a run following at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Very favorable press at the time from The Village Voice, Time Out and the New York Times going some way to describe this bold hybrid of social commentary and satirical opulence, sci-fi polish, Swift-ian adventure and a lyrical and poetic tale of liberation at it's core, "Grimault's frames do the opposite of those that imprison film's escaping lovers; the director invites us in, to play and dream."