Leave No Trace (2018, Debra Granik)

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One of the more pressing concerns of any narrative film is the representation of the environment – in purely geographic terms – that surrounds the characters and plot. In the hands of a carefully attuned director, the setting can (and almost always should) inflect and influence the mood of the film and the course of the events, drawing upon a landscape in order to reflect upon whatever conflicts or crises the figures are involved in. Such an ideal seems to apply to such a film as Leave No Trace, directed and co-written by Debra Granik.

Granik, whose last narrative feature film was the widely lauded Winter’s Bone back in 2010, seems to have developed this sense of location and place as her professed metier: her previous film derived much of its critical cachet from its hard-nosed portrayal of the Ozarks and the people that inhabited it. In a similar vein, Leave No Trace is defined by its primary (though crucially not sole) location: the forests of Oregon and Washington, especially an unspecified public park outside Portland.

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Friday June 29 – Thursday July 5

Featured Film:

Cold Water at the Grand Illusion

There’s some good stuff out there this week, including a pair of highly anticipated Chinese films at the Pacific Place (Herman Yau’s The Leakers and Han Yan’s Animal World) and Richard Lester’s A Hard Day’s Night at the Ark Lodge, but the restoration of Olivier Assayas’s Cold Water at the Grand Illusion is a film I’ve been looking forward to seeing for a very long time (not even Scarecrow had it, if I remember correctly). The celebrated French dirctor’s first big film, it stars Virginie Ledoyen (a couple of years before she stole Edward Yang’s Mahjong) in a semi-autobiographical teen coming-of-age type story, a story Assayas would continue almost a decade later with 2012’s terrific Something in the Air.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Sanju (Rajkumar Hirani) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, 1964) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Top Gun (Tony Scott, 1986) Fri-Tues
Tank Girl (Rachel Talalay, 1995) Fri-Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

The Last Suit (Pablo Solarz) Fri-Thurs
Andy Irons: Kissed by God (Steve Jones & Todd Jones) Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

The Rider (Chloé Zhao) Fri-Thurs
The Seagull (Michael Mayer) Fri-Thurs
Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs
The FP (Brandon Trost & Jason Trost, 2012) Sat Only
The 12th Man (Harald Zwart) Tues Only
What the Health (Kip Andersen & Keegan Kuhn) Thurs Only Free Screening

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Cold Water (Olivier Assayas) Fri-Tues, Thurs
The Misandrists (Bruce LaBruce) Sat-Tues, Thurs
The Workers Cup (Adam Sobel) Sun-Tues Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi (Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam) Fri-Thurs
Sanju (Rajkumar Hirani) Fri-Thurs
Tik Tik Tik  (Shakti Soundar Rajan) Fri-Thurs

Regal Meridian:

Leave No Trace (Debra Granik) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Sanju (Rajkumar Hirani) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

The Gospel According to André (Kate Novack) Fri-Sun
Everything Else (Natalia Almada) Sat & Sun Only

AMC Pacific Place:

Animal World (Han Yan) Fri-Thurs
Lobster Cop (Li Xinyun) Fri-Thurs
American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs
The Leakers (Herman Yau) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Race 3 (Remo D’Souza) Fri-Thurs
Sanju (Rajkumar Hirani) Fri-Thurs
American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review

SIFF Film Center:

Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis) Fri-Thurs Our Review

SIFF Uptown:

Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs
Whisper of the Heart (Yoshifumi Kondô, 1995) Sat Only Dubbed in English
Seattle Taiwanese American Film Festival Fri-Sun Full Program
Fireworks (Akiyuki Shinbo & Nobuyuki Takeuchi) Weds & Thurs Only

Varsity Theatre:

A Kid Like Jake (Silas Howard) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross) Our Review
Solo (Ron Howard) Our Review
Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony & Joe Russo) Our Review
Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson) Our Review

Friday June 22 – Thursday June 28

Featured Film:

The Rider at the Pacific Place and the Grand Cinema

I haven’t seen it yet, but there isn’t a lot out there of note opening this week (everyone’s clearing the deck for Animal World next week I guess) but if I have a chance to go see anything, it will be Chloé Zhao’s highly-acclaimed film about South Dakota rodeo cowboys. A kind of update of The Lusty Men made by a Chinese woman who has spent years in and around the Badlands and Pine Ridge? Sold. It’s playing at the Pacific Place in Seattle, the Grand in Tacoma, and the Roxy in Bremerton.

Playing This Week:

Admiral Theatre:

West Side Story (Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise, 1961) Weds Only

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Mother of George (Andrew Dosunmu, 2013) Tues Only

Central Cinema:

The Matrix (The Wachowskis, 1999) Fri-Tues
Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart, 1971) Fri-Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

Mountain (Jennifer Peedom) Fri-Thurs
Andy Irons: Kissed by God (Steve Jones & Todd Jones) Weds Only

Century Federal Way:

Asees (Rana Ranbir) Fri-Thurs
West Side Story (Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise, 1961) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

The Rider (Chloé Zhao) Fri-Thurs
First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Mountain (Jennifer Peedom) Fri-Thurs
Revenge (Coralie Fargeat) Sat Only
Films by Masahiro Sugano Mon Only
Final Portrait (Stanley Tucci) Tues Only
What the Health (Kip Andersen & Keegan Kuhn) Thurs Only Free Screening

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Izzy Gets The F*ck Across Town (Christian Papierniak) Fri-Thurs
Best F(r)iends (Justin MacGregor) Fri & Sat Only
The Workers Cup (Adam Sobel) Sun-Tues Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Tik Tik Tik  (Shakti Soundar Rajan) Fri-Thurs
Race 3 (Remo D’Souza) Fri-Thurs
Sammohanam (Mohan Krishna Indraganti) Fri-Thurs
West Side Story (Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise, 1961) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Race 3 (Remo D’Souza) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Here to Be Heard: The Story of The Slits (William E. Badgley) Fri-Sun Director in Attendance
The Gospel According to André (Kate Novack) Fri-Thurs
Joy Ride Screened and Alive: Adventures of Unavoidable Embodiment Weds Only

AMC Pacific Place:

Lobster Cop (Li Xinyun) Fri-Thurs
The Rider (Chloé Zhao) Fri-Thurs
American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs
The Seagull (Michael Mayer) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Race 3 (Remo D’Souza) Fri-Thurs
Sid & Aya: Not a Love Story (Irene Villamor) Fri-Thurs
American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs
American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs
First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review

SIFF Film Center:

Breath (Simon Baker) Fri-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

West Side Story (Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise, 1961) Sun & Weds Only

SIFF Uptown:

Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs
Nancy (Christina Choe) Fri-Thurs

Varsity Theatre:

West Side Story (Jerome Robbins & Robert Wise, 1961) Weds Only

In Wide Release:

Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross) Our Review
Solo (Ron Howard) Our Review
Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony & Joe Russo) Our Review
Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg) Our Review
Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson) Our Review

Friday June 15 – Thursday June 21

Featured Film:

2001: A Space Odyssey at the Pacific Place

Sure the Pacific Place isn’t the ideal spot for watching a classic film, but the Cinerama I guess would rather be one of fifty screens in the area playing the new Pixar movie than be the home of an unmissable film event. Stanley Kubrick’s seminal sci-fi epic is of course no stranger to Seattle Screens, but this is a new restoration and it’s playing on 70mm. With the rest of the city suffering its annual SIFF hangover (with the exception, as usual, of the Grand Illusion, which has a restoration of Melvin Van Peebles’s equally classic Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song), you might as well go to the AMC and see a great movie again, even if Christopher Nolan was somehow involved.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville) Fri-Thurs
Believer (Lee Hae-young) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Manos Returns (Tonjia Atomic) Thurs Only

Central Cinema:

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Steven Spielberg, 1989) Fri-Tues
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, 1994) Fri-Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

Mountain (Jennifer Peedom) Fri-Thurs

Century Federal Way:

Carry on Jatta 2 (Smeep Kang) Fri-Thurs
Pom Poko (Isao Takahata, 1994) Sun, Mon & Weds Only Subtitled Monday

Grand Cinema:

The Rider (Chloé Zhao) Fri-Thurs
First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Mountain (Jennifer Peedom) Fri-Thurs
Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993) Sat Only
Madagascar (Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath, 2005) Sat Only Free Screening
Strangers on the Earth (Tristan Cook) Mon & Tues Only
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951) Weds Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Mary Shelley (Haifaa Al-Mansour) Fri-Thurs
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles, 1971) Fri, Sat & Tues Only
Bijou (Wakefield Poole) Thurs Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville) Fri-Thurs
Kaala (Pa. Ranjith) Fri-Thurs Tamil, Telugu or Hindi, Check Listings
American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs
Naa Nuvve (Jayendra Panchapakesan) Fri-Thurs
Veere Di Wedding (Shashanka Ghosh) Fri-Thurs
Race 3 (Remo D’Souza) Fri-Thurs
Sammohanam (Mohan Krishna Indraganti) Fri-Thurs
Pom Poko (Isao Takahata, 1994) Sun, Mon & Weds Only Subtitled Monday

Regal Meridian:

How Long Will I Love U (Su Lun) Fri-Thurs Our Review
First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville) Fri-Thurs
Race 3 (Remo D’Souza) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Queerama (Daisy Asquith) Fri-Sun
Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf (Thomas Piper) Fri-Thurs
Mama Colonel (Dieudo Hamadi) Thurs Only

AMC Pacific Place:

2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) Fri-Thurs 70mm
The Rider (Chloé Zhao) Fri-Thurs
American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Race 3 (Remo D’Souza) Fri-Thurs
Sid & Aya: Not a Love Story (Irene Villamor) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs
American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs
Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio) Fri-Thurs
On Chesil Beach (Dominic Cooke) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

Summer 1993 (Carla Simón) Fri-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

Pom Poko (Isao Takahata, 1994) Sun, Mon & Weds Only

SIFF Uptown:

Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville) Fri-Thurs
Best of SIFF 2018 Full Program 

Varsity Theatre:

The Year of Spectacular Men (Lea Thompson) Fri-Thurs
The Yellow Birds (Alexandre Moors) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross) Our Review
Solo (Ron Howard) Our Review
Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony & Joe Russo) Our Review
Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg) Our Review
Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson) Our Review
Black Panther (Ryan Coogler) Our Review

SIFF 2018: The Widowed Witch (Cai Chengjie, 2018)

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A woman survives the explosion at the makeshift fireworks factory that kills her third husband. Now homeless, she wanders in and around the wintery Northern Chinese villages she has called home alongside her young, deaf-mute brother-in-law. The villagers decide that she has magical powers, and she might, but whether she does or not, and whether she believes it or not, the results are much the same: everything goes wrong and everyone is out to screw over everyone else.

As a stark black and white journey through the dark side of society, it recalls Dead Man in style, but more cynical and hopeless. Director Cai Chengjie makes sparing but deft use of color, sometimes highlighting objects (usually light) within the black and white image, other times brightening into full color (the opening sequence, for example, which may be a dream or may be the afterlife). The evocation of a persistent (resurgent?) pre-Taoist, animist worldview existing alongside the deprivations and struggles of contemporary China recalls other recent films that fuse mysticism with the documentary realism and social problem focus of the previous, Sixth Generation filmmakers. Chai Chunya’s Four Ways to Die in My Hometown for example, and Yang Chao’s Crosscurrent.

SIFF 2018: Girls Always Happy (Yang Mingming, 2018)

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Yang Mingming edited Yang Chao’s Crosscurrent, but this film is almost nothing like that one. She stars as well as directs, playing a young woman who has a rough relationship with her mother, with whom she lives (off and on) in ramshackle house in a Beijing hutong (an kind of neighborhood built out of narrow alleys). The two women are both aspiring writers, and they alternate between vehement arguments (over things both big and small) which can get devastatingly cruel, and happy times sharing meals and shopping trips. It’s a fascinating relationship, we don’t normally see a family filled with such evident love and hate. The film never really evolves, and in its stasis, both women are stuck both professionally and romantically in addition to being continually forced back together, it finds a unique kind of misery. It might be a dark comedy, and there are moments of delightful whimsy (in the devouring of food, in Yang’s rides around town on her scooter), enough that the suffocating relationship never feels unbearable.

Friday June 8 – Thursday June 14

Featured Film:

Let the Sunshine In at the Grand Cinema

While SIFF comes to its conclusion this weekend, the venerable Grand in Tacoma boasts two of the top titles from this year’s festival. Paul Schrader’s First Reformed is playing on a variety of screens in Seattle, but if you want to catch Claire Denis’s latest, you’re only choice (for now at least) is the Grand, where it begins its second week. Juliette Binoche plays an artist who is looking for but always unlucky in love, entertaining a series of men, none of which are worthy of her. There’s plenty of warmth and humor, but while Denis’s style seems like an odd fit for a romantic comedy, her focus on textures, of people (no one films skin better) and the spaces in-between them, reveals the desperate, longing soul underneath the most venerable genre clichés.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Kaala (Pa. Ranjith) Fri-Thurs Hindi
Believer (Lee Hae-young) Fri-Thurs
Veere Di Wedding (Shashanka Ghosh) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Logan (Noir) (James Mangold) Fri-Thurs
Mo’ Better Blues (Spike Lee, 1990) Tues Only

Central Cinema:

¡Three Amigos! (John Landis, 1986) Fri-Tues
A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964) Fri-Tues
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Fran Rubel Kuzui, 1992) Thurs Only Hecklevision

SIFF Egyptian:

The 2018 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program

Century Federal Way:

Kaala (Pa. Ranjith) Fri-Thurs Tamil
Believer (Lee Hae-young) Fri-Thurs
Carry on Jatta 2 (Smeep Kang) Fri-Thurs
The Producers (Mel Brooks, 1967) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Let the Sunshine In (Claire Denis) Fri-Thurs Our Review
First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
On Chesil Beach (Dominic Cooke) Fri-Thurs
Lives Well Lived (Sky Bergman) Fri-Thurs
Nausiccä of the Valley of the Wind (Hayao Miyazaki, 1984) Sat Only Subtitled Our Podcast
Rubin and Ed (Trent Harris, 1992) Sat Only
Becoming Who I Was (Moon Chang-Yong & Jeon Jin) Tues Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

How To Talk To Girls at Parties (John Cameron Mitchell) Fri-Sun, Tues & Thurs
Sollers Point (Matthew Porterfield) Fri-Thurs
Haikara-San: Here Comes Miss Modern (Kazuhiro Furuhashi) Sat-Mon Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Kaala (Pa. Ranjith) Fri-Thurs Tamil, Telugu or Hindi, Check Listings
American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs
On Chesil Beach (Dominic Cooke) Fri-Thurs
Veere Di Wedding (Shashanka Ghosh) Fri-Thurs
Abhimanyudu (P.S. Mithran) Fri-Tues Telugu with no subtitles
Raazi (Meghna Gulzar) Fri-Thurs

Regal Meridian:

How Long Will I Love U (Su Lun) Fri-Thurs Our Review
First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Beast (Michael Pearce) Fri-Thurs
Scarface (Brian DePalma, 1983) Sun & Weds Only

Northwest Film Forum:

Summer in the Forest (Randall Wright) Fri Only
Roller Dreams (Kate Hickey) Fri-Sun
Joe and Maxi (Maxi Cohen, 1978) Sat Only
The Doctor from India (Jeremy Frindel) Sun Only
In Case of Emergency (Stefanie Sparks) Weds & Thurs Only Director in Attendance
Queerama (Daisy Asquith) Starts Weds

AMC Pacific Place:

American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Kasal (Ruel S. Bayani) Fri-Thurs
Sid & Aya: Not a Love Story (Irene Villamor) Fri-Thurs
Scarface (Brian DePalma, 1983) Sun & Weds Only

AMC Seattle:

First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio) Fri-Thurs
On Chesil Beach (Dominic Cooke) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

The 2018 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program

SIFF Uptown:

The 2018 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program

Varsity Theatre:

Nossa Chape (Jeff Zimbalist & Michael Zimbalist) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross) Our Review
Solo (Ron Howard) Our Review
Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony & Joe Russo) Our Review
Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg) Our Review
Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson) Our Review
Black Panther (Ryan Coogler) Our Review

Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross, 2018)

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Ocean’s 8, the latest film in the celebrity heist movie series, was not directed by my personal boogeyman Steven Soderbergh, and so it was safe for me to watch. And safe is a good word to describe this wholly artificial construct of Hollywood froth: it is entirely what you’d expect it to be and mostly harmless. Like the first Ocean’s (I haven’t seen 12 or 13), the new one gathers an impressive array of movie stars for some glitzy thievery, the primary pleasure of the film residing in watching beautiful people hang out and enjoy the beautiful objects that accompany fame and fortune. As a heist film, and also like Ocean’s 11, it trades suspense for surprise, and thus is a shallower, less interesting film than it could be, and it also avoids the cynical cool that made the original, 1960 Ocean’s 11 such a classic. It’s the very definition of crowd-pleasing, eminently forgettable Hollywood product.

Sandra Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, brother of George Clooney’s apparently deceased Danny. She gets out of jail and immediately puts in motion her plan to steal a diamond necklace worth $150 million from the Met Gala (Cartier surely contributed a hefty sum to the film’s operating budget for its glamorous product placement). To this end she puts together a team of woman (all women, she insists, for reasons): Cate Blanchett, Helena Bonham Carter, Rihanna, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling, Awkwafina. They are to convince a movie star played by Anne Hathaway to wear the necklace to the gala, where they will lift it off her under the eyes of security cameras, hired goons, dozens of fashionably famous folks and the ever-present media. The team-gathering and heist preparations are slickly scored with faux-Mancini beats and accompanied by half-felt split-screen wipes. One gets the impression that director Gary Ross is merely imitating Soderbergh’s stylistic flourishes, a paint-by-numbers facsimile of what was already an empty imitation. But the stars, gorgeous and charming as every one of them is, carry it along with infectious goodwill.

The heist itself plays out with a decent amount of tension, less reliant on surprise twists than in Soderbergh’s film. The best heist movies are built on suspense: they tell you exactly what the plan is going to be, then drag you second-by-second through every step along the way, filling the audience with dread at every misstep or every accident, necessary improvisations taking on a life or death importance. Ocean’s 8 never really explains its plan, though most of it is easy enough to figure out. There are some annoying twists, and half-baked attempts at giving Debbie a revenge motive to make the plot somewhat interesting on a personal level (which in truly pointless Hollywood style Blanchett adamantly opposes in one scene only to beamingly approve of in the next). The insurance investigator played by James Corden is kind of funny, but seems to miss some blindingly obvious evidence. The movie is best when it focuses on the crime and is blessedly free of the kind of non-sequitor improv humor that dominates contemporary comedy (save for a brief scene of Awkwafina explaining to Kaling how Tinder works). But whatever. Ocean’s 8 is a perfectly pleasant way to spend two hours in an air-conditioned room and in a week I will have forgotten everything about it.

SIFF 2018: ★ (Johann Lurf, 2017)

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Science fiction with the boring bits left out. Johann Lurf reconstructs the universe by stripping Hollywood product of the generic narratives that propel mass consumption filmmaking to the heavens in order to focus on the stars themselves. In other words, a montage of voids: only moments of emptiness, of white specks against infinite dark remain. Though an avant-gardist himself, Lurf seems sincere in his desire to engage with popular cinema; he surely could have scrounged up a few more images from the likes of Jordan Belson or Stan Brakhage to include here, but he largely restricts himself to the kinds of movies that draw a crowd—or at least were intended to. He somehow mines wonder from Howard the Duck, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and Guardians of the Galaxy. The trajectory from Man Ray to Marvel suggests a real traversal of aesthetic boundaries, and not just of cinematic time, and the final effect of seeing so much discarded matter bent, almost accidentally, into something beautiful is a little like watching light escape a black hole: the rational mind says it shouldn’t work, but it sure is a sight to behold.