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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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)”

2016 Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films

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We are living in a glorious age of animation. Some of the best programs on television are animated. From the great Gravity Falls to the always awesome Adventure Time and on to the fractured genius of Rick and Morty, animation has been fertile ground for visionary storytellers as of late. Cinema has not been ignored either. Heralded auteurs Wes Anderson and Charlie Kaufman have both made the move to stop-motion features. Kaufman’s Anomalisa is one of five films duking it out in this year’s Best Animated Feature race. For all of the flack the Academy has received for its homogenized choices this year, the Oscars should be commended for their Animated Feature field which sports five idiosyncratic films, only one with talking animals. Three of the five nominees come from foreign countries, two are stop motion and only one is completely computer generated. One! The days of dominance from the big studios like Dreamworks and Disney are over, at least temporarily.

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Then why are most of this year’s five nominees for Best Animated Short so pedestrian? It’s odd that the features are more adventurous in their narratives and visual style than the shorts. There are certainly novel elements to the short films, whether it is the fluid “one-shot” look of the hand-drawn Prologue or the eye-popping color of Sanjay’s Super Team from Pixar. But some of these films feel like half an idea or their mission statement overwhelms the narrative itself. Both are the case with Bear Story from Chilean director Gabriel Osoro. The film is about a toy-making bear who builds a box that cranks out a mechanical version of his imprisonment in the circus and eventual escape back to his family. The animation is solid for the toy sequences but a little too flashy at other spots (Osoro really likes showing off the computer’s ability to generate dust floating in sunbeams) and the whole thing doesn’t quite gel.

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While Osoro’s well-placed abhorrence of the circus can be seen as heavy-handed in Bear Story it’s got nothing on Prologue‘s clunky treatise on the inhumanity of war. Director Richard Williams tells a silent tale with just pencil and paper that begins with a leaf before flying across the page to a centuries-old battle with shields and swords. Naked men thrust at one another, slicing arteries and severing genitalia, all gruesome images seen by a young child who runs back to the safe confines of their mother’s dress. The end. There isn’t anything more to it than that. And while the hand-drawn style is sweeping in its motion, freezing any frame in the battle would just look like something out of that stoner kid in high school’s notebook.

We Can't Live Without Cosmos short film

 

More effective and affecting is the Russian curio We Can’t Live Without Cosmos from Konstantin Bronzit. The film is about two cosmonauts who are inseparable. They share a deep love of space and one another. The film begins with some goofy humor as the duo work their way through their rigorous training regimen before the film turns into an exploration of loss. There are some indelible images contained within, if not any impressive animation. The turn of events from the thrill of exploration to the dull of devastation is interesting but not necessarily better than the deadpan antics that came before it.

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Longtime Pixar animator Sanjay Patel gets his first directing credit on the personal Sanjay’s Super Team. The title character is a restless boy who daydreams that he teams up with Hindu gods to defeat a villain demolishing a temple. It’s no surprise coming from Pixar that the short looks fantastic. The sound design is equally stunning with a great blending of the musical score with the action onscreen. If anything Sanjay’s Super Team should have been longer than its seven minutes, as the film brings up some great possibilities that are left mostly unexplored. If you’re searching for an animated look at the complexity of Hindu culture, stick with Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues.

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Which leaves us with Don Hertzfeldt’s World of Tomorrow. Hertzfeldt’s film, about a young girl being visited by a clone of herself from the future, is the only nominee that can hold its own with the aforementioned animated features. In a mere 16 minutes World of Tomorrow manages to cram in meditations on love, identity, and loss across a distinctively designed digital landscape. There is enough narrative here for a feature. Hertzfeldt’s decision to keep it confined to a short means that it’s bursting at the seams with ideas. The film is heartrendingly sad yet it brims with a resounding sense of wonder. It’s a film of bleak humor that doesn’t much care if we laugh at it, at ourselves, or at the world. World of Tomorrow is not just the best animated short of the year, it’s one of the very best films–animated, short, or otherwise.

(The 2016 Oscar-Nominated Animated Short Films play exclusively at Landmark’s Guild 45th for two weeks beginning January 29. Note that the program includes an additional four shorts non-nominated that were not available for review.)