Our coverage begins today of the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. Over the next week and a half, Sean, Melissa, and I will be posting reviews, recording podcasts, and getting lost in the wilds of British Columbia. We’ll be catching some of the most anticipated films of the year, including new works from Hong Sangsoo, Guy Maddin, and Hou Hsiao-hsien.
For the most up-to-date information, keep your eyeballs affixed to the Seattle Screen Scene Twitter. Elsewhere in the 140charactersorless-verse, Sean can be found at theendofcinema, Melissa at oneaprilday, and Sean agreed to do my laundry if I finally post stuff at geosandersshow. Don’t worry, I plan on getting my clothes really dirty.
It’s stretching the definition of “Seattle-area”, but that’s where most of us are going to be for the next ten days or so. We’re heading across the border to Vancouver for one of the best film festivals in North America, which features a tremendous selection of international art house films, with a special focus on East Asian cinema. We’ll have lots of coverage, with reviews and probably some podcasts too. Where to follow us.
Dark Star (John Carpenter, 1974) Fri Only Wet Hot American Summer (David Wain, 2001) Sat Only Laggies (Lynn Shelton, 2014) Sun Only Chris Marker GroupMon Only Back to School (Alan Metter, 1986) Tues Only Wild Boys of the Road (William Wellman, 1933) Weds Only
Hit 2 Pass is a documentary which takes at its focus not just its subject (a demolition derby race – you have to hit to pass your opponent – and the community surrounding it), but the film grammar required to tell its story. Beginning with a surreal black & white bit with some kind of Jerry Lewis or Professor Pluggy-inspired MC that announces that the film will be presented in 4:3 and then pointing out that the image the viewer is watching is, in fact, a 4:3 image, the film explains its subject and how it will explore it. From the start, we’re conditioned to interrogate every image not just for what it’s showing, but also for what it’s saying about the people doing the shooting.
The world of Office, the latest from director Johnnie To, is a world without walls. Or, rather, a world where walls do nothing to differentiate space. It’s hard to tell where one place begins and another ends. Each scene takes place in a largely artificial environment where geometric figures and shapes suggest the outline of a room; this strategy essentially means that at any given moment there’s tons of action happening on multiple planes of the frame. Whether it’s a hospital room, a character’s apartment, there is no personal space. There’s only a series of transparent chambers where only emotional/financial transactions can take place.
Chow Yun Fat plays Chairman Ho. While his wife is in a coma, he’s been having an affair with CEO Chang for the last 20 years (played by Sylvia Chang, the film is an adaptation of her 2009 play, Design for Living), and his daughter, Kat, is now working at an entry-level position to gain knowledge of the business. One of his underlings tries to get an accountant to cook the books. Meanwhile Lee Xiang, played by Wang Ziyi (Lee for Ang Lee, Xiang for Dream – aspirational!), also starting at the company, just wants to make a good impression, achieve his dreams and ride that direct elevator to the 71st floor. The film uses all of them to explore certain attitudes and ways of living in capitalist society by testing their bonds after the 2008 crash.
The latest from Hong Kong director Johnnie To is a musical based on a play written by Sylvia Chang, who also stars along with Chow Yun-fat. Set in the world of high finance at the time of the economic meltdown, it promises to be a fascinating companion to To’s 2011 duo of Life without Principle and Don’t Go Breaking My Heart. We’ll have full coverage coming this weekend, with reviews and a podcast recorded on-location from the theatre lobby. Our review. Our podcast.
Jimmy’s Hall (Ken Loach) Fri-Thurs Learning to Drive (Isabel Coixet) Fri-Thurs Meru (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs Best of Enemies (Morgan Neville & Robert Gordon) Fri-Thurs The Lives of Hamilton Fish (Rachel Mason) Sun Only Listen to Me Marlon (Stevan Riley) Tues Only Fresh Dressed (Sacha Jenkins) Thurs Only
The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (Stanley Nelson Jr.) Fri-Mon Puget Soundtrack: Tim Held Presents Predator(John McTiernan, 1987) Sat Only Live Performance Recess Monkey Presents “Hot Air!”Sun Only Live Performance
The Element of Crime (Lars von Trier, 1984) Fri Only Song of the Sea (Tomm Moore, 2014) Sun Only Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995) Mon Only The Man Who Knew Too Much (Alfred Hitchcock, 1956) Tues Only Rachel Rachel (Paul Newman, 1968) Weds Only Ruby in Paradise (Victor Nuñez, 1993) Thurs Only
A historical epic with Jackie Chan, John Cusack and Adrian Brody, set along the Silk Road as a fugitive Roman legion encounters a Chinese security force, this was even worse than I imagined it would be. Let’s set aside the complete and utter ahistoricality of it all (despite the “based on real events” title card at the start), (OK, one point: it’s set in 48 BC, but all the Romans refer to themselves as being part of the Roman Empire: Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, and the Empire not really established until 27 BC, and even then it wasn’t called that for quite awhile later) or the simplistic naiveté of Jackie Chan’s vision of interracial harmony, the uplifting and apparently inevitable side effect of manly exercises like play-fighting and building stuff, and just focus on the action, which is ostensibly all one looks for in a Jackie Chan film. It’s pretty boring. Chan looks old and tired, the costuming pads him out (the better to absorb blows he would have taken bare-chested 30 years ago?) and slows him down. The choreography occasionally makes creative use of found objects, but that only reminds one of better scenes in other Chan films. The editing has the same peripatetic rhythm of 21st century wuxia, but with none of the surreal flair that CGI effects can give such films (Chan remains the most committed to actuality of his peers). Most absurdly though, director Daniel Lee continually frames Chan as an angelic figure, beaming beatifically on the men he has lectured and unified, awkward grin on his poorly-coiffed head (some things never change) as he is haloed by the backlighting sun. It makes one long to return to the striking image of a crucified, eyeless, John Cusack, if only out of a longing to take his place.
One of the most heralded home video releases of the year has been the long overdue appearance of director Penelope Spheeris’s underground music trilogy, The Decline of Western Civilization. Spheeris is touring the country in support of the release and will be at SIFF Cinema Uptown on September 18 as part of their “Women in Film” series. SIFF will be screening the first installment of Decline, which features performances from seminal L.A. punk bands Black Flag, X, and The Germs. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with Spheeris moderated by director Lynn Shelton. Afterwards Spheeris will introduce a screening of her mega-hit Wayne’s World.
Penelope Spheeris was kind enough to answer a few questions via email in advance of her Seattle appearance.
Horse Money opens this week at the Grand Illusion. The following is a slightly modified version of my capsule review from the 2014 Vancouver International Film Festival.
Pedro Costa’s Horse Money is possibly the richest and most-baffling film of the entire festival. A trip through the underworld, or purgatory at least, as one man, Ventura, relieves his past through the black and brown industrial landscapes of Lisbon’s Fontainhas district. A haunted, ghostly presence, Ventura slips in and out of memories and hospitals, wandering through impossible black spaces, both above and below the industrial ruins that pass as living spaces for much of the world’s forgotten classes and talking to acquaintances and friends, obliquely recounting crimes committed, mistakes made and losses witnessed. Dominated by shadow, splitting the screen, creating ancient irises, forming a primal void from which yellow apartment lights float like islands of life in a universe of emptiness, with vertical lines relentlessly drawing our eye upwards and out of the archaic 1.33 frame. It’s an astonishing film, unique and yet deeply cinephilic, forging connections across a century of cinema, not just The Man WhoShot Liberty Valance. Here is a partial list of the movies I thought of while watching Horse Money: The Phantom Carriage, Goodbye Dragon Inn, It’s a Wonderful Life, Pedicab Driver, The Thin Man, A Matter of Life and Death, Apocalypse Now, Ikiru, The Phantom of the Opera, Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge and well, just DW Griffith in general. After watching it, I was overwhelmed, but sure that this would be a one-time experience, so draining and difficult was it to watch at times. After a couple of days though, all I really wanted to do was see Horse Money again.
Alex Ross Perry, in his new film, Queen of Earth, trains his camera on faces – and on interior and exterior spaces – in such a way that these faces and spaces take on an alien quality. The women’s faces are beautiful; the outdoor world location – shimmering water, sunlit leaves – is breathtaking; the rooms inside the film’s vacation home setting are spare and pleasing. But in the same way that a horror film might take a very mundane, ordinary space and fill it with inexplicable Otherness and dread, Perry’s efforts accomplish a similar effect. A lovely face, an ordinarily refreshing lake, a tastefully refined home – these all set my teeth on edge, or, at least, disrupt my usual sense of their essence. If horror is often a startling, unsettling defamiliarization of the everyday, then Perry’s film is that – and he uses discordant music, odd camera angles, and lingeringly long takes to achieve a sense of horror. But comedy might be described in a similar way – for it sets something very ordinary in a new, surprising frame – and the thing becomes ridiculous, even hilarious. Queen of Earth straddles that line between horror and comedy delightfully, making it something like black comedy but evading that definition just enough – perhaps because there is a certain poignancy running through it all – to make it one of the most unique film experiences of the year. Continue reading “Queen of Earth (Alex Ross Perry, 2015)”→
Director Alex Ross Perry’s latest is a variation on the female psychological dramas of the late 60s and 1970s, in the vein of Persona or 3 Women, with the ultra-black comic spirit of Roman Polanski’s Apartment Trilogy (Repulsion in particular). But far from a mere pastiche, the film is gorgeously shot (those pale 70s colors!) and edited (those dissolves!) and anchored by two dynamite performances, from Inherent Vice‘s Katherine Waterston and Elizabeth Moss, who is proving that she might well be the best actress working in Hollywood today. (Our Review)
My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) Fri Only Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (Nicholas Meyer, 1982) Fri Only Fight Club (David Fincher, 1999) Fri Only Casablanca (Michael Curtiz, 1942) Sat Only Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986) Sat Only Blade Runner: the Final Cut (Ridley Scott, 1982) Sat Only Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1989) Sat Only Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950) Sun Only Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962) Sun Only Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974) Sun Only Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) Sun Only Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986) Mon Only The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994) Tues Only Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) Tues Only Big Trouble in Little China (John Carpenter, 1986) Tues Only The Sting (George Roy Hill, 1973) Weds Only Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986) Weds Only The Hunt for Red October (John McTiernan, 1990) Weds Only Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988) Thurs Only
Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow, 1987) Fri Only Miss Representation (Jennifer Siebel Newsom, 2011) Sat Only Real Women Have Curves (Patricia Cardoso, 2002) Sat Only Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991) Sun Only Eve’s Bayou (Kasi Lemmons, 1997) Mon Only Il Sorpasso (Dino Risi, 1963) Weds Only