SIFF 2016: Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson, 2016)


Weaving together footage from two dozen films she has shot over fifteen years, cinematographer Kirsten Johnson constructs a unique, impressionistic documentary that does not possess a comprehensive narrative logline but splinters off into many tantalizing tangents. The theme that rises to the top, however, is an examination and celebration of motherhood, both coming and going. We see babies being born and matriarchs disintegrating. A boxer’s mother consoles him after a bitter loss, a daughter curses her mother in the wake of her suicide. From Brooklyn to Bosnia, Johnson captures connections.

SIFF 2016: Alone (Park Hong-min, 2015)


The Korean psychological thriller Alone begins with an enticing update on Rear Window. On a rooftop across the street from his apartment, a photographer named Su-min witnesses a woman being attacked by three masked men. He snaps a few shots of the crime but betrays his presence to the perpetrators, who come rushing off the roof and toward his building. Su-min tries to hide but the men soon find him and just as they are about to bash in his head with a hammer, the camera cuts and he wakes up naked in the alleyways that surround his apartment.

At this point–and all the way to its conclusion an interminable 90 minutes later–these labyrinthine alleyways act as purgatory for Su-min. He bumps into his ex-girlfriend and they get into an argument, he finds a childhood facsimile of himself, who brandishes a kitchen knife which he literally uses to kill his father. Each time a scene reaches a traumatic crescendo, Su-min wakes up again, back at the beginning of the alley, before stumbling off into another dream. Or is it memory?

Continue reading “SIFF 2016: Alone (Park Hong-min, 2015)”

SIFF 2016: Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell (Martin Bell, 2016)

Screenshot 2016-05-27 at 12.58.39 PM

Not quite sure what the purpose is of this 30-year return to one of the subjects from Streetwise, the essential documentary on homeless youth. Turns out life sucks when you have ten kids, some born from prostitution and raised by the state, and are on methadone. Feels like more of a supplement than its own standalone feature, especially since much of it consists of Erin watching and commenting on moments from Streetwise but hey, if it gets Streetwise back into circulation, I’m for it.

SIFF 2016: Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)

chimes pot

Orson Welles was a vain human being but he was not a vain movie star. A character actor at heart, Welles always gravitated to the grotesque. He loved to play fatally flawed individuals, the more makeup the better. Nowhere is this predilection more pronounced than in Welles’s closest analog to a vanity project, the Shakespeare amalgam Chimes at Midnight, which borrows from five different plays to build a portrait of the corpulent, drunken, “sanguine coward” John Falstaff.

Continue reading “SIFF 2016: Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)”

Belladonna of Sadness (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973)

belladonna of sadness

Forty years after its original release in Asia and Europe, four decades after this initial commercial failure bankrupted its production studio, the psycho-sexual phantasmagoria, Belladonna of Sadness, finally arrives on American movie screens. The sexually explicit animated film charts one woman’s erotic journey from hamlet to Hell, as she is abused by her village’s male-dominated power structure until she finds some semblance of solace in the arms of Satan himself. Continue reading Belladonna of Sadness (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1973)”

Everybody Wants Some (Richard Linklater, 2016)

everybody disco

Major League Baseball returns this week. There is nothing like the arrival of a new season, timed to coincide with the inviting sunshine of spring, to fill one’s heart with hope and excitement. The helmets are shiny, not a disgusting buildup of pine tar on a single one. Heroes are about to be made. Arriving on cinema screens at the same time is director Richard Linklater’s new comedy Everybody Wants Some, a raunchy reminiscence of life among college baseball players in pre-AIDS 1980. It’s here to remind us that baseball players are rarely heroes. They’re usually just unfunny jerks, entitled and annoying. Thanks a lot, Dick. Continue reading Everybody Wants Some (Richard Linklater, 2016)”

Kiki’s Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)

This review was originally published in 2014 on the author’s old blog.

kiki tombo flying

A young witch coming of age arrives in a seaside town to master her abilities. To do so she has left behind her family and her home, with nothing but a broom, a bag, and a cat by her side. The girl is a romantic and a bit of a klutz, longing for the ocean whilst crashing into trees. She is taken in by a kind woman on the verge of motherhood, who gives her a job and a home. An enthusiastic and indefatigable boy falls for her and pesters the young woman to be his friend. The witch makes pancakes. It is wonderful. Continue reading Kiki’s Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)”

Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015)

bale party knight

Terrence Malick is incapable of creating an ugly image. But with Knight of Cups he has assembled hundreds of vulgar ones. This is nothing like the brutal poetry found in The Thin Red Line which explored the horrors of combat. Knight of Cups is after an abstract debauchery. Its perverse vulgarity comes from beautiful people, all of them lithe (save Brian Dennehy), several of them nude (thankfully not Brian Dennehy) as they wander through the fucked up orbit of Christian Bale’s screenwriter Rick. These are models, actresses, and strippers frolicking through the sprawling decadence of Los Angeles, a city willed into existence by dreamers in the middle of the desert.  Continue reading Knight of Cups (Terrence Malick, 2015)”

Boy and the World (Alê Abreu, 2013)

This is a revised and expanded review based on a post from the critic’s defunct blog.

boy and the world hanging

Brazilian director Alê Abreu’s charming feature Boy and the World finally gets a regular theatrical run after playing the festival circuit for the last couple of years. The film previously played in Seattle 20 months ago as part of the 2014 Seattle International Film Festival. Over those myriad screenings the film has garnered a windfall of goodwill, including winning numerous audience awards. In a sign of the diversity in this year’s Best Animated Feature field, it is conceivable that if Pixar’s Inside Out was not in the running, Boy and the World would have a legitimate chance at the Oscar.  Continue reading Boy and the World (Alê Abreu, 2013)”