Love & Mercy: The Atticus Ross Interview

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This week sees the nationwide release of the Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy. As part of the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival, Seattle Screen Scene was lucky enough to sit down with the soundtrack’s composer, Atticus Ross, to talk about the Beach Boys and his own meticulousness in the studio.

Below is an edited version of the twenty minute interview. To hear the complete segment, tune your dial over to Episode 61 of The George Sanders Show podcast.  Continue reading

SIFF 2015: Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock & Roll (John Pirozzi, 2014)

This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival.

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Fans of Seattle’s essential record label Sublime Frequencies may already be familiar with the sound of Cambodia’s music scene from the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. The country’s music during that time was often a unique blend of Western-style rock and traditional Eastern singing styles. Sublime Frequencies gets a shout out in the credits of John Pirozzi’s documentary Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock & Roll, which tracks the country’s wild regime changes over those years and the concurrent development of their music.

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SIFF 2015 Report #3: Overheard 3, Dreams Rewired, The Apu Trilogy, Mistress America, Unexpected, A Matter of Interpretation, Dearest

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Overheard 3 – The third in a series of thrillers from Hong Kong, directed by Alan Mak and Felix Chong and starring the powerhouse trio of Lau Ching-wan, Louis Koo and Daniel Wu. Each film follows a new set of characters in a crime story involving eavesdropping technology of some kind and nefarious financial transactions. Each one is overwritten, the kind of film in which characters speak in long monologues of exposition, explaining things to the audience that all the characters in the scene should already know. Each movie weaves a financial crime  (insider trading, real estate fraud) into traditional cop melodrama (read: problems with the wife/girlfriend), lending well-trod territory the shiny patina of contemporary relevance. Each movie delights in maiming Louis Koo in some horrible way. This is easily the worst entry in the series thus far, the plot overcomplicated (and not, as you’d expect, because Western audiences get confused by the nature of real estate deals in the New Territories, but rather just because the various schemes and revenge plots are far too complex to have ever been enacted by any actual humans), the characters thin and prone to radically irrational behavior. The first two managed to mitigate that with some clever suspense and action sequences, but there is hardly any of that here either. All of these people have done vastly superior work. It looks slick, like a lot of post-Infernal Affairs Hong Kong films (Mak was a co-director on that one as well), but it doesn’t have any depth, any soul.

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SIFF 2015: Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories (Phan Dang Di, 2015)

This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival.

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Vu is a student photographer, a quiet, contemplative young man who feels more comfortable alone in his dark room than out among the pulsing nightlife of Saigon. His lover, Thanh, however, thrives on the city’s rhythm and spends his evenings bartending at a club. He is also sleeping with the club’s chanteuse, Van, who loves drugs in the night and ballet during the day. These three inhabit director Phan Dang Di’s new film Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories. It’s a bit like a bisexual Jules and Jim with a soundtrack of synths and Vietnamese folk songs.

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SIFF 2015 Preview: Week Three

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The 2015 edition of the Seattle International Film Festival concludes this week and we here at Seattle Screen Scene are planning more extensive coverage. We’ll be watching and reviewing as many festival films as we can and highlighting some you may want to check out. As a preview, here’s a list of some of our most-anticipated films from the festival’s third and final week. We’ll add links to the titles here as we review them.

Week of May 29 – June 7:

A Matter of Interpretation – A cyclical investigation of narratives begins as a struggling actress discovers that her dreams are eerily syncing up with reality. From Lee Kwangkuk, longtime associate of Hong Sangsoo, so expect something in that vein.

Dearest – The latest from veteran Hong Kong director Peter Chan (Comrades, Almost a Love Story, Wuxia) is based on a true story about a kidnapping in Shenzhen and a foster mother’s search for her adopted daughter. Star Zhao Wei has already picked up a handful of Best Actress Awards for her performance.

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution – A documentary about the radical activist group that probably is exactly what it sounds like.

The Chinese Mayor – This documentary follows the mayor of Datong as he attempts to navigate the complexities of the Chinese political system while cleaning up his city.

The Royal Road – An experimental essay film from Jenni Olson about California’s landscapes and history, movies and her own relationships.

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Rebel Without a Cause – Nicholas Ray’s movie about an angry young teenager, the girl he loves, the boy who loves him, and the parents he can’t stand. Starring James Dean, Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo and, briefly, Dennis Hopper. Best known as the inspiration for Paula Abdul’s “Rush, Rush” video, co-starring Keanu Reeves.

Chatty Catties – A comedy in which cats can talk and pass judgment on their terrible human overlords.

Phoenix – After the success of 2012’s Barbara, director Christian Petzold and star Nina Hoss reunite for another thriller set in Cold War Germany. This time, she plays a Holocaust survivor trying to find out if it was her husband who betrayed her to the Nazis.

Black Girl – Ousmane Sembène’s 1966 film is a landmark of African cinema. It follows a Senegalese woman who moves to France and works as a maid for an abusive couple.

Revivre – The latest from Korean director Im Kwontaek, his 102nd film, is about a middle-aged executive with a dying wife and a pretty, young co-worker.

The Teacher’s Diary – Thai romantic comedy about a school teacher on a rural island who finds a diary left behind by the previous teacher and falls in love with her.

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Saved from the Flames – Presentation of several restored nitrate films, movies that were lost or unknown. Includes a restored version of Georges Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon. Collected by documentarian Serge Bromberg.

Cave of the Spider Women – 1927 Chinese silent adaptation of an episode from the epic Journey to the West and featuring live accompaniment by Donald Sosin. Presented along with The Cave of the Silken Web, the 1967 Shaw Brothers adaptation of the same story from director Ho Meng-hua.

Experimenter – Biopic about social psychologist Stanley Milgram, famous for his “obedience experiments” at Yale in the 1960s, starring Peter Sarsgaard and Winona Ryder.

It’s So Easy – Documentary adaptation of Guns N’ Roses bassist Duff McKagen’s memoir.

Eden – The latest from director Mia Hanson-Løve is a rock biopic about a pioneering French DJ in the 1990s. Honestly, I’m mostly excited to see this just because Hanson-Løve put Millennium Mambo on her Sight and Sound Top Ten list.

Liza the Fox Fairy – A Hungarian film inspired by Japanese folklore follows a woman who may or may not be a demonic fox.

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Shaun the Sheep – Feature-length adaptation of the Wallace and Gromit spin-off series that my wife thinks is just the most adorable thing ever.

Love Among the Ruins – An Italian film about the recovery of a lost silent movie that I thought looked kind of interesting but Mike did not like it at all.

Big Father, Small Father and Other Stories – Vietnamese film about the adventures of a sexually ambiguous trio in the lush nightlife of Saigon.

The Wolfpack – Documentary about a family who grew up essentially confined to their New York apartment whose only connection to the world was through movies, and what happened when one of them went outside.

Sleeping with Other People – Romantic comedy with Alison Brie and Jason Sudeikis from Leslye Headland, who directed the very mean and very funny 2012 film Bachelorette.

Que Vive Mexico – The 1979 reconstruction of the film Sergei Eisenstein failed to complete in Mexico in 1932.

Eisenstein in Guanajuato – Peter Greenaway’s fictionalized film about Sergei Eisenstein’s attempt to film Que Vive Mexico in Mexico in 1932.

SIFF 2015: Love Among the Ruins (Massimo Ali Mohammad, 2015)

This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival.

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Quello che un uso inutile di cinema. Sounds pretty doesn’t it? But that phrase reads, “What a pointless use of film”. The sentiment and its flowery adornment act as an apt description of Massimo Ali Mohammad’s new movie, Love Among the Ruins. The film begins as a documentary recounting the unlikely discovery of a 90-year-old piece of Italian cinema, found in pristine condition after an earthquake. After fifteen minutes of talking heads and depictions of the restoration process, the documentary cedes the screen to the even more unlikely lost film itself. Unlikely because the whole thing is fake.

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SIFF 2015 Report #2: The Coffin in the Mountain, Haemoo, The Color of Pomegranates, A Hard Day

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The Coffin in the Mountain – This first film from Chinese writer-director Xin Yukun presents an impressive and quite funny narrative tangle that builds slowly through three interconnected stories, sparked by a death in the woods. A young couple on the run, an older couple cheating on their spouses, and the village mayor all think the corpse is their responsibility and act accordingly to cover it up or avoid being discovered, with cosmically winky results.

Before settling down in the later sections, the opening third is shot in what has seemingly become the new international style. In recent years it seems we’ve moved away from the “Asian Minimalist” style of long shots and long takes to a more flowing style. Handheld cameras wandering freely around a space, usually too close to the actors. I’m hereby dubbing it “Dardennean Motion”. The first section effectively uses this style to emphasize the desperation and claustrophobia of the young lovers trapped together and on the run, only two open up as the film goes on as Xin’s whimsical blackness grows to encompass a whole universe.

Haemoo – Impressively bleak thriller construction in which everything that can go wrong with a fishing boat smuggling immigrants does. Like Titanic but the iceberg is the captain. Directed by another first-timer, Shim Sungbo, from a screenplay by Shim and superstar director Bong Joonho (Shim was a writer on Bong’s celebrated 2003 film Memories of Murder), the atmosphere is tense from the beginning, as Captain Kang (Kim Yunseok) finds himself with mounting marital and financial difficulties. He takes on the illegal immigration job, but when  both he, his crew and his boat prove disastrously inadequate to the task, the film’s vague sense of dread turns increasingly violent. What stands out most in its perspective is the matter of fact ruthlessness of the tragedy at the center of the film, and even more so, the ending, which I won’t spoil, but suffice it to say it is one no Hollywood movie would have attempted.

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The Color of Pomegranates – I was a bit concerned as I sat down in the resurrected Harvard Exit for this showing of Sergei Parajanov’s 1968 experimental biopic. The auditorium was packed, essentially sold out, and given the audience reactions to the Bill Morrison and James Benning experiments earlier in the festival, I wondered how many in the audience knew what they were getting themselves into. A mass stampede to the exits would surely prove disruptive. Well, I don’t know if they were especially into it, I can usually tell how much an audience likes a film just by sitting in the auditorium with them, but this crowd was hard to read. There was some scattered laughter, but this is not an unfunny movie. But only a couple of people that I saw walked out, so I’ll take it as a victory.

The restoration, part of the series celebrating Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation, is lovely, putting the old faded DVD to shame, as one would expect. The film is one of those rare great biopics, telling the life of Armenian poet Sayat Nova through a series of iconographic images, oblique and weird but no less meaningful for it. After the disaster that was SIFF’s failed screening of The Red Shoes, I’m glad to see the archival program back on track.

A Hard Day – Somewhere the dominant strain of the crime movie genre morphed from Woovian tales of moral codes in unjust societies to Rube Goldberg narratives driven by slapstick escalations of violence. Suspense and drama comes not from characters or ideals, but from complications in plot, driving the protagonists into ever more desperate and implausible actions and unlikely camera angles. Laurel & Hardy and Infernal Affairs, Where the Sidewalk Ends and The Big Clock are the reference points for Kim Seonghun’s thriller, about a cop who accidentally runs over a man on an empty street at night and goes to great lengths to cover it up. Things get even more audaciously complicated when it turns out, in shades of The Coffin in the Mountain, that he wasn’t alone and maybe the guy was already dead.

As an aside: star Lee Sunkyun is instantly recognizable from many Hong Sangsoo films. His Oki’s Movie co-star Moon Sunkeun is in Haemoo and Hong’s former assistant Lee Kwangkuk has a movie here at SIFF, A Matter of Interpretation. Even when he doesn’t have a movie playing, Hong Sangsoo dominates film festivals.

SIFF 2015: A Matter of Interpretation (Lee Kwangkuk, 2014)

This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival.

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Nothing is more boring than listening to someone else explain their dreams. It’s a wholly selfish act, inflicting a narrative of zero consequence upon a hapless listener who will never, ever connect with it. With this handicap in mind, the success of the delightfully oblique A Matter of Interpretation, which is almost entirely about dreams, is even more astonishing.

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SIFF 2015 Preview: Week Two

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The 2015 edition of the Seattle International Film Festival continues this week and we here at Seattle Screen Scene are planning more extensive coverage. We’ll be watching and reviewing as many festival films as we can over and highlighting some you may want to check out. As a preview, here’s a list of some of our most-anticipated films from the festival’s second week. We’ll add links to the titles here as we review them.

Week of May 22 – May 28:

Unexpected – The second of two films starring Cobie Smulders at this year’s festival. She plays a teacher who becomes pregnant and bonds with a student who is also pregnant. Directed by Kris Swanberg.

Dreams Rewired – An exploration of our technological anxieties and dreams, with archival clips from hundreds of films and newsreels and narration by Tilda Swinton.

Heaven Knows What – A gut-punch of a movie from Joshua and Ben Safdie about homeless junkies featuring a stunning performance from Arielle Holmes, the film is based on her own memoir.

The Golden Era – Hong Kong great Ann Hui’s lovely biopic about 1930s writer Xiao Hong features an excellent lead performance from Tang Wei and a subtly unusual approach to the literary biopic genre.

The Apu Trilogy – Probably the event of the festival, if not the year, as restored versions of Satyajit Ray’s three films play back-to-back at the Pacific Place on Sunday.

Overheard 3 – The third in a series of films about cops using listening devices to track financial misdeeds in contemporary Hong Kong, with Don’t Go Breaking My Heart stars Louis Koo and Daniel Wu. You don’t need to have seen the first two: each film in the series follows completely new characters and stories.

The Dark Mirror – Robert Soidmak’s film noir from 1946 in which Olivia DeHavilland plays twins one or both of whom may have committed a murder.

Caught – Another noir, this one from Max Ophuls and starring Barbara Bel Geddes as a woman trapped in a marriage with James Mason.

Kurmanjan Datka: Queen of the Mountains – Historical epic from Kyrgyzstan about a woman who unites various warring tribes.

Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten – Documentary about pop and rock musicians in Cambodia in the days before, during and after the Khmer Rouge.

Satellite Girl and Milk Cow – This Korean animated film probably has the best title of the festival, and it doesn’t even mention the enchanted toilet paper roll.

Mistress America – A last minute add is the local premiere of the latest collaboration between Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, the creators of Frances Ha.

SIFF 2015 Report #1: Results, Back to the Soil, Beyond Zero 1914-1918, Natural History

This is part of our coverage of the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival.MV5BMjI4MjczMzU4Nl5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMDgwNjQ3NDE@._V1._SX640_SY346_

Quickly recapping the first weekend of the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival, here’s what I managed to catch:

Results – Andrew Bujalski’s follow-up to the highly-acclaimed Computer Chess takes a left-turn into conventionality with a rom-com packed with recognizable Hollywood stars, but one that happily retains the goofy spirit of its more experimental predecessor. Cobie Smulders (“the other woman from The Avengers” as I overheard her defined in the pre-show line-up) plays a personal trainer working for and occasionally sleeping with Guy Pearce, a nice guy who genuinely believes his self-help mantras, even though they’re spoken in Pearce’s always-weird-sounding (to me) natural accent. They’re hired by the recently-divorced and now surprisingly wealthy (an unexpected inheritance) Kevin Corrigan, who, having failed in his own clumsy attempts to woo Smulders, schemes to get the two beautiful people together. Light and ambling, the film has a gentle rhythm that allows ample time for the cast (rounded out by such reliable Hollywood eccentrics as Anthony Michael Hall and Giovanni Ribisi) to have fun as the plot, such as it is, slowly unfurls. Rather than driven by situation as most contemporary Hollywood romantic comedies are, cursed by the conventions of television, Results flows instead out of the weirdness of its characters, the relationships and motivations between them falling into place so gradually that their inevitability goes unnoticed for much of the film. It isn’t as obviously wild as Computer Chess, but it’s just as unusual a creature in the contemporary film world: a classical romantic comedy.

Back to the Soil – In this short film, experimental filmmaker Bill Morrison reedits his grandfather’s filmed account of Jewish settlers in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s. The landscapes look disastrously harsh, though that may just be the grainy black and white making lush fields of wheat look like vast, featureless plains of mud and rock. As it’s the repurposing of another person’s footage, not only are we attempting to figure out what the people in the images are thinking (grim determination, the spirit of bold adventure, hope, desperation?) but also what the filmmaker was thinking: why did he choose to capture these images? On-screen titles denote the locations, the number of settlers and the total acreage of the colony for every space, an actuarial foundation for ghostly images.

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Beyond Zero 1914-1918 – Matched with that is Bill Morrison’s feature, showing harrowing found footage of World War I as it survives in various states of decay. Edited into a kind of narrative order (buildup to war, some fighting, casualties, machinery: tanks and aircraft) at one remove thanks to the dissolution of the celluloid (what we’re seeing are digital images of film frames). The analogy of the disintegrating film and our societal forgetfulness is obvious but no less compelling. Same goes for the score performed by the Kronos Quartet (Morrison apparently (these are the only two of his films I’ve seen) often works with contemporary and avant-garde composers, this score is by Aleksandra Vrebalov). The film begins and ends with its best shots: first, ghostly tanks rumbling in and out of a blue mist; second, an aerial dogfight filmed from the ground, the loser parachuting into the void, floating through the clouds and never reaching the ground, a shot that remained me of no less than the final shot of Ran.

natural history – James Benning’s latest was greeting with a sense of frustration by the SIFF Film Center audience. No less than 14 people walked out of the auditorium, which, given the intimate space’s uncovered wooden floors, added much to the film’s soundtrack. A series of static shots of spaces and things behind the scenes at the Museum of Natural History in Vienna, held for varying lengths of time for no immediately apparent reason (though I suspect there is a precise logic to it), the first walkouts began 10 minutes in and continued in a steady stream for the next half hour or so (I wonder what would happen if you mapped the space between the walkouts to the time-length of the various shots of the film). But what can I say, I thought the movie was really funny. Some of the fun was simply in making alien seemingly simple shapes, the extreme length of the take forcing me to abstract a shot of a room into its constituent visual elements, finding weirdness in the mundane. Some seem like tricks: staring at a shot of stuffed polar bears for five minutes, I began to wonder what size they were: given the context around them (some shelves, a power outlet) they seem much smaller than they should. Some just seem like a kind of playful torture for my desire for order: why isn’t that one butterfly lined up straight? Fix it! Also: Pig-Man! I don’t know about the half the audience that stayed through the whole thing, because I didn’t hear anyone else laughing, but I thought it was delightful.