Thursday, October 27, 2011

THE REAL ROCKY: The Bleeder Gets His Due

Several years ago, the documentary filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig came to PDX to promote The Devil and Daniel Johnston, for which he'd recently won best director at Sundance.  I had asked him what he was working on next during the post-screening Q&A.  Feuerzeig's face lit up as he proudly filled us in on his upcoming project: a documentary about Chuck "The Bayonne Bleeder" Wepner, one of the few men who went toe to toe with Muhammad Ali, knocking the heavyweight champ down during their remarkable 15-round bout.  Now, over five years later, Feuerzeig's project has finally seen the light of day with this past Tuesday night's premiere of The Real Rocky on ESPN.

Like Feuerzeig, Wepner's not exactly a household name to the uninitiated but this tale is a fascinating one, even for non-boxing fans.  In addition to his defining moment in the ring with Ali, he was purportedly the inspiration behind Sylvester Stallone's Academy-award winning Rocky franchise, something which the piece spends a lot of time substantiating via archival footage and much anecdotal evidence.  The reason for all the effort proving that link: Chuck never saw a dime of the billions of dollars raked in by the 1976 classic or its many sequels.  To that end, The Real Rocky chronicles Wepner's many ups and downs, including his lawsuit against Stallone for the use of his life story.

The entire film can be viewed in four parts on YouTube now.  Jump on it, 'cause you never know how long this will last before ESPN asks for its removal.  And this is really must-see stuff, folks...even if you actively dislike boxing.  It's a human story, humanely told by a real talent.

And, yeah, that is André the Giant in that last clip.  Are you curious now?

Those interested in seeing more of Feuerzeig's work should check out The Devil & Daniel Johnston, Half Japanese: The Band That Would Be King and The Dude; a short film about Jeff Dowd, the inspiration for Joel and Ethan Coen's 1998 comedy The Big Lebowski.

The Dude can be streamed HERE.

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Thursday, October 6, 2011

SUBMARINE -- It's sink or swim out there

There's an age at which the fantasies of youth drain away and what we're left with is cold, wet reality.  To a great extent, Richard Ayoade's directorial debut, Submarine is completely wrapped up in one person's struggle to hang onto the fantasy after having caught a glimpse of the dour reality.  That individual is Oliver (Craig Roberts), our protagonist in a film that often comes off like a thematic successor to Wes Anderson's Rushmore cross-pollinated with the love child of Hal Ashby and the French New Wave (imagine Truffaut's characterizations meshed with the editing strategies of Godard's first films).

What this looks like in practice is a film that shifts seamlessly from the whimsy-driven heights of Oliver's fertile imagination to the harsh truth of living with parents (Sally Hawkins and Noah Taylor) on the edge of separation.  Ayoade cleverly uses the parental strife as a comparative device held up against Oliver's own budding relationship with a classmate named Jordana (Yasmin Paige); the latter being the primary focus, while the former provides the context for our young hero's romantic missteps.

And Oliver makes mistakes aplenty...a refreshing amount of them, actually.  As a result, the plot line dodges becoming a completely standard exercise in boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back mechanics, precisely because of how realistic Oliver's missteps appear in a movie that repeatedly darts in and out of the actual.  This is one confused kid and the film's structural looseness ably reflects Oliver's shambolic thought process, both literally via voice over and in the busy flow of the onscreen action.

Given that this is his first feature, it's tempting to label Ayoade a neglected genius who has arrived fully-formed on the scene.  But, as an actor and writer, he's been kicking around the biz for some time now.  Fans of British tv have likely come across his work on The IT Crowd, The Mighty Boosh, Snuff Box, etc.  He's also racked up more than a handful of directing credits for television, including "Critical Film Studies," a strong candidate for the best episode of NBC's Community.

It doesn't take long to discern that Ayoade's been waiting to sink his teeth into something with a bit more scope than sitcoms can offer.  And stretch out, he does.  This is a mature work that still makes plenty of room for non sequiturs and a woozy imbalance, projecting the uncertainty of youth.

That's not to say that Submarine is a perfect film, mind you.  It's a coming of age story and we've seen a lot of these elements played out on screen before.  It's also yet another display of adolescent male psychology, which had me wondering how the film might play out if it were more invested in Jordana's point of view...or if it were her story altogether.  Gender-bias and familiarity aside, it is the spark with which these well-worn bits are assembled that make Submarine fresh and worth recommending.

I thought I'd go ahead and link a couple of clips from Ayoade's other work.   

Here's a bit from The IT Crowd:

Ayoade on The Mighty Boosh:

And, finally, Part 1 of 2 of Ayoade's episode of Community (fans of My Dinner With Andre and Pulp Fiction need to see this):


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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Me & Cinema Project...we go waaaayy back

Okay, it turns out I lied...sorta.  I'd said in my earlier post today that I'd seen my first Cinema Project presentation back in 2008.  Not at all true.  Having mentioned Janie Geiser in that previous entry, I began thinking about a TBA (Portland's annual Time-Based Art festival) presentation of her work that I'd seen not long after returning to Oregon from Berkeley.  Turns out that event was co-curated by Cinema Project & PICA.  So a correction is in order.  Me and Cinema Project...we go waaaayy 2004.

Here's a link to the promotional page for The Emotional Lives of Inanimate Objects, Ms. Geiser's career-long retrospective program from '04.  She was in attendance at the event and what she had to say was greatly inspiring to my own process, even though my work shares little in common with hers.

And here's a couple samples of that work:

Remember, Cinema Project still needs help making their programming and operational budget for this and next season.  Anyone interested in kicking in some much needed funds should head here immediately.  These folks do great work and only have 8 days remaining in their online funding campaign.  With Kickstarter campaigns, it's all or nothing, so help out if you can!

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Cinema Project needs a boost from YOU!

Local non-profit Cinema Project is nearing the final week of a Kickstarter fundraising campaign that will help keep them operational all the way through next season.  As PDX's shining star of experimental and art film exhibition, the organization is absolutely worthy of your support.

My own first encounter with Cinema Project dates back to 2008 when they were able to secure the scarcely seen short films by Apichatpong Weerasethakul for a screening at the Whitsell Auditorium.  Other notable past presentations have included Jonas Mekas' mind-blowingly epic cinematic diary Walden, the most recent work by experimental puppet theater and film director Janie Geiser and far too many other rare gems to recount here.

An excerpt from Walden (1969) by Jonas Mekas:

An excerpt from Worldly Desires (2005) by Apichatpong Weerasethakul:

Even a quick perusal of this season's schedule reveals that Cinema Project's programming is unlike anything else on offer in Portland.  We're extremely fortunate to have these folks kicking around our town, especially when one considers how few organizations like this are available on the national scene.

Here's a link to their Kickstarter page, complete with a budgetary breakdown of what operations the funds will cover.  And as of this writing, they've got about 8 days left to raise just under $2K.  As with most Kickstarter campaigns, there are "prizes" associated with the various levels of support.  Lend them a hand, if you can.  And don't forget to check out one of their upcoming screenings...the next one's on October 11th at 6p.m.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

AMER - A Bitter Pill to Swallow

French film-collaborators Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani's supremely self-assured feature-length debut hits dvd and blu-ray this week.  Channeling the nervous energy and visual-style of the classic giallo, Amer lovingly remixes the elements of that Italian-horror sub-genre in a manner that brings to mind Quentin Tarantino's career-long use of grindhouse schlock to inspire and inform his work.  Cattet and Forzani, like Tarantino, have clearly absorbed their inspiration, even going so far as to construct an aural accompaniment to the film made up of music works from classic giallos.  The end result of their sampling from that very specific toolbox is a film that aesthetically pays tribute while intellectually interrogating the conceptual trappings of that original source.

Whereas, for instance, the films of Dario Argento openly accept and hyper-utilize the nearly standardized leering found within cinema (especially horror cinema) as it displays and thus mediates and broadcasts uniform (and, one should note, almost exclusively sexualized) notions of the female body, Cattet and Forzani adopt the gaze (a quick primer on feminist film theory and the male gaze here) as a means of challenging the presumptions inherent within both the form and the audience itself.

Constructed of vignette-like segments that chronicle the life of a woman named Ana, Amer follows her transformation from a curious child into the particular type of oversexed woman that typically populates trashy, b-grade European cinema.  The filmmakers exploit this (over)familiarity with lurid depictions of gender to steer us towards assuming that this will be just another giallo in the tradition of Argento, Bava, Fulci and their peers.  Yet the biggest surprise about Amer is its dogged resistance to being a by-the-numbers horror film.  If there are aspects of horror contained within this work, it is the horror of being both the unwilling victim and active manipulator of the gaze, constantly held fast within an atmosphere of potential violence predicated upon one's habitation of a gendered body and the expectations that are thrust upon it.

The result is a fairly confounding concoction of psychosexual titillation mixed with a rote ramping up of tension that tricks the viewer into expecting a violent release at the end of each sequence.  Instead, the filmmakers deny the audience the expected relief, extending the anxiety beyond each of the micro-narratives embedded within the larger piece.  To a certain extent, Cattet and Forzani have it both ways with Amer, exploiting the viewer's weakness for this particular flavor of naughty cinema while actively scolding them for being drawn in by its depictions of raw female sexuality.

And it's the straddling of that line that will lead many viewers to call out the film as being merely sexist pap.  More discerning viewers, especially those who have already digested a good deal of 60s and 70s Italian horror, will likely find themselves peering a bit deeper into what Amer has to offer.  Beyond its magnificent combination of visual and montage techniques, the film reaches beyond mere stylistic flair to grapple with some fairly heady and provocative content.  I, for one, cannot wait to see what these directors come up with next.

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Welcome's raining again in PDX

Hey, it's been a while.  This lil' experiment in blogging got put on the back burner for a number of reasons.  My wife and I are having a baby in less than a month.  I've been working on a really exciting non-fiction film project.  And there's the day job, of course.  I'm sure that anyone reading this can identify with how quickly time disappears if you let it.

My love of movies certainly hasn't diminished; just the amount of time I have to go out to see them.  To that end, when I do find the time to blog, the content that is discussed here is likely to include home video and television, as well as the occasional first-run theatrical stuff that had previously been the exclusive subject of this site.  I figured I'd open it up a bit and maybe that would make it easier to post more often.

So, um...welcome back:

This whole notion of "opening up" the style of the blog will likely include shorter, topical postings, as well as a few longer ones here and there.  If I encounter an online article about the decline of 3D cinema, for instance, I might post it, jot down a few thoughts of my own and invite others to comment on the topic.  As soon as this entry goes live, I'll go ahead and enable comments for all posts on the blog (a feature I'd previously kept disabled), so feel free to comment on this or any future (or past) posts.

As for the first regular review in many months, I'll be uploading a look at Amer, which is making its dvd and blu-ray debut this week.  It should be up within the hour, so keep an eye out for it.

And, finally, it'd feel weird to not at least mention a couple of pop culture crumbs that I've run into and enjoyed lately, so--briefly--here we go:

The NW Film Center recently hosted a four-night run of Rainer Werner Fassbinder's "lost" 1973 sci-fi epic, World on a Wire.  I happily rejected the opportunity to see (the seemingly ubiquitous) Drive in favor of the catching the limited run feature...and, MAN, was it worth it!  I'll probably post in more depth about World on a Wire in the future, either soon or when it hits blu-ray and dvd next year.

I also caught a mid-August showing of Andrei Tarkovsky's 1979 Stalker (also at the NWFC).  It's long been my favorite film by the Russian master but I'd never had the chance to see it theatrically.  All those beautiful textures blown up larger than can be sure that I was in heaven.

Last night, I streamed the first episode of Ken Burns and Lynn Novick's latest documentary project for public television, Prohibition.  While I completely get that many people aren't down with the very much defined style that Burns has employed in his decades long career, I was drawn in by Burns usual attention to detail and his ability to unearth lost kernels of our shared national history.  The take away from episode one?  That, as is still the case in modern American life, much of what the temperance movement of the 20s and 30s was about can be linked to entrenched ideologies about how others should conduct themselves in society.  If this doesn't sound familiar, you're probably not keeping up with the news of the day.

I've also been diggin' the hell outta the new Wilco album and this compilation of tunes by Malian singer Sorry Bamba.

A quick reminder:  we're still on Facebook and, every once in a while, an exclusive post will end up on that page, so hit us up there and be sure to "like" the page while you're at it.

And that's pretty much it for now.  Like I said, keep an eye out for that review of Amer.  It should be up within the hour.  And, since those of us living in the Pacific Northwest are currently welcoming the return of old friend "the rain," I'll leave you with this:

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Out to Lunch but We'll Be Back Soon

Anyone who might have popped by the blog in the last month and a half could easily have assumed that we've closed up shop permanently.  I wanted to let everybody know that this is not the case.  I've been busy working on a film project with friends that's kept me fairly distracted from writing.  Between it and my day job, it's been the blog and other writing projects that have fallen to the wayside.

The good news is that we should be up and at it again sometime in early June.  So, don't give up on us quite yet.  We still have plenty of film nerd magic to share with the world.

And, just so this post isn't entirely about our temporary hiatus, here's a nod to a couple of films/items I've enjoyed during the break (and would have loved to write about at greater length):

#1: I saw Rainer Werner Fassbinder's The Merchant of Four Seasons for the first time.  One of those film experiences that becomes more and more rare as you dive further into the deep end of felt like falling in love with movies all over again.

#2: I caught Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3D during its run at Cinema 21.  I'm still not convinced that this current generation of 3D exhibition is anything more than a phase/fad/marketing scam.  But I will admit that Herzog's use of 3D was entirely appropriate and enhancing to the overall experience of his film.  And, y'know, if folks like Herzog, Wim Wenders and Takashi Miike are jumping onto the 3D train, then maybe I am slightly more interested in what the possibilities are for this otherwise gimmicky (and admission-fee inflating) technology.

#3: One of my favorite directors, Terrence Malick, won the Palme D'or at the Cannes Film Festival for his newest (and much anticipated) feature, The Tree of Life.  While another of my favorites, Lars Von Trier, made a complete ass of himself while promoting his newest full-length, Melancholia, getting himself banned from the festival with his juvenile, misguided and just-not-very-successful attempts at improv comedy.

#4: All the excitement of this year's edition of Cannes got me thinking about watching past winners of the Palme D'or, catching up with those films that I've never made time for and revisiting others which I haven't seen in years.  Thus far, I've taken another look at David Lynch's 1990 effort Wild at Heart, an old favorite that, despite taking the top prize at Cannes, was a complete disaster both critically and financially in the U.S. And in a first-time viewing, Luis Buñuel's 1961 film Viridiana flashed across my screen last night.

Who knows, maybe I'll grapple with other winners of Cannes most prestigious prize when the blog heats up again in June.  Only time will tell...

In the meantime, don't forget that you can find us on Facebook here.  While you're at it, you can also check out the Facebook page for the short film that's been keeping me from updating regularly.  It can be found here.

And, lest you think me a tease for posting the cover of Out to Lunch! without explicitly commenting on it, here's a link to the title track from Dolphy's masterpiece:

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

LEAVE HER TO HEAVEN: limited 3-day engagement in PDX

Portland is in for a treat this weekend as The Hollywood Theatre begins a 3-day run of a newly-restored, 35mm print of Leave Her to Heaven.  For those not in the know, the 1945 feature is one of the more treasured weapons in a film noir buff's arsenal, often referenced as an example of a rococo-like decadence that crept into the genre as it matured.

For starters, Leon Shamroy's (The King and I, Cleopatra) Oscar-winning cinematography is captured in a full-blown, 3-strip Technicolor sheen that trades vibrant hues for the high-contrast, black and white polarity that had all but become the standard in noir cinema.  Additionally, Leave Her to Heaven doesn't strictly adhere to noir tropes, blending sizable doses of melodrama and courtroom spectacle into its overall mix, emerging as a distinctive mélange that fits well outside the cinematic norms of its day.

And the film is packed to the gills with more than enough memorable sequences to hang your enthusiasm upon, including one of the most harrowing examples of dramatized filicide ever committed to celluloid.  Ostensibly a vehicle for 1940s starlet Gene Tierney (Laura, Night and the City), Leave Her to Heaven also features a performance by Cornel Wilde that might come off as corny to some when placed against more modern sensibilities but, nonetheless, achieves a perfect balance between the chill that eventually blows into Tierney's characterization and the blustering heights that Vincent Price (The Fly, The Pit and the Pendulum) reaches for in the film.

And since we mentioned Mr. Price, it's worth noting just how much he does with what is essentially a supporting role in this movie.  The Vincent Price who appears in Leave Her to Heaven is an altogether different beast than the one that most contemporary audiences have come to expect.  This is Price before he became typecast as the voice of horror in a thousand and one b-grade productions, resulting in countless cultural references over the past half century that have unfairly painted him a one-trick pony.

Because of the dissimilarity to the most well-known aspects of his on-screen persona, Price's performance here, playing a spurned lover turned prosecuting attorney, is probably the most pleasurable to engage with on a first-time viewing.  To watch his final interrogation of Wilde's character is to witness the less than lawyer-ly techniques of television's "Perry Mason" (if you'll pardon the Spinal Tap reference) turned up to eleven.

Leave Her to Heaven screens at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, April 8th at 7:15pm and Saturday, April 9th and Sunday April 10th at 2:30pm and 7:15pm.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

DE DESTIERROS (UPROOTED): U.S. Premiere tomorrow (3/24) night in PDX

Even though I already posted about this topic last week on the blog's official Facebook page, it's worth mentioning that tomorrow night Portland is playing host to the U.S. premiere of De Destierros (Uprooted).  Directed by NW Film Center student Alvaro Torres, the 30+ minute long film won the documentary award at the 2010 Costa Rican Film Festival, airing on state television since having received that honor.

Thursday's screening will happen in the boardroom of the Multnomah Building at 7:30p.m.  Admission is free.  The Multnomah Building is located at 501 SE Hawthorne Blvd.

More details can be found here.

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A cocksure false prophet leads a band of unfortunates through a dry and desolate wasteland.  A child reads aloud from the Old Testament.  And the one person with the potential to serve as a messianic figure is hogtied and treated to the constant suspicions of his captors.  Welcome to the western as reconceived by Kelly Reichardt, whose previous efforts earned her a seat at the head of A.O. Scott's "neo-neo realists" of American cinema table.

In her latest film, Meek's Cutoff, the director brings her now familiar strategies to bear upon the Oregon trail and the historic failure that was Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood), a trail guide whose bad advice leaves those travelers foolish enough to follow him stranded without water as they move across the desert landscape of eastern Oregon.  Whereas the objectively pitched camerawork in Reichardt's Wendy and Lucy and Old Joy often lent those films a sense that we were intimately accessing the singular consciousness of each film's protagonist, here we're placed at a distance from each member of the group, helplessly watching as the terrible yet oddly muted events transpire.

If there's any one character to hang our sympathies upon, it's Emily (Michelle Williams) who, despite being equally as miserable as her fellow travelers, at least defines herself through a selfless act of humanity, performed at the lowest point in their journey.  Beyond that moment, we're denied insight into these characters, asked instead as an audience to observe and consider our own responses to such circumstances while dwelling upon what behaviors have changed over time and which of those have remained doggedly present in the culture of today.

Whether it's the insanity of groupthink, the tendency to devalue natural resources until they reach the point of scarcity or the assumptions caught up in patriarchal dominance, the problems facing these characters are not unlike the ones we face during our day to day lives.  Which makes total sense, since period pieces are more often than not positioned to speak to contemporary issues, rather than poised purely as a means of reflecting upon the past.  Reichardt has proven herself over the course of just a few films to be a director deeply interested in the undercurrents of her stories, favoring the cultivation of subtext rather than a routine focus on plot points.  Old Joy, for instance, is just as much about the rise of partisanship during the post-9-11 Bush era as it is, on a surface level, about a friendship strained by differing ideologies.

As the characters in Meek's Cutoff move aimlessly through the Oregon wilderness, it's difficult not to view the landscape as a metaphorical space in which a perennial struggle is being reenacted.  And, yes, sometimes a wagon train is just a wagon train.  But, in the case of Meek's Cutoff, I'll hazard a guess that there's something deeper lurking right below the surface of this tale.

Meek's Cutoff opens in mid-April in select cities.  Given it's home-grown heritage, expect it to play locally at that time in PDX.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A day in support of arts funding + MEEK'S CUTOFF

Just a quick run-down of a couple events happening today:

There's a local film community pow-wow going down this afternoon in Salem on the steps of the capitol building.  The Oregon Media Production Association (OMPA) has organized the 4pm event  in support of HB 2167, which, if ratified, would increase film incentives to production companies seeking to make films in Oregon.

Following the afternoon's activities, there's a special pre-release screening of Kelly Reichardt's (Old Joy) newest feature, Meek's Cutoff.  Shot entirely in Oregon, the film reunites Reichardt with Wendy & Lucy star Michelle Williams.  As was the case with Reichardt's last two films, the film was written by Portland author Jon Raymond ("Livability").  The latter event takes place at the Elsinore Theatre in Salem at 7pm and benefit the Oregon Cultural Trust's efforts in statewide arts funding.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

ILLEGAL: Doing Time in Belgium

Having my recent experiences with Belgian films mostly confined to bittersweet comedies like Eldorado, I was somewhat unprepared for the unyielding bleakness of Olivier Masset-Depasse's Illégal, a film more in line with the emotional terrain of Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne's oeuvre than with the absurd humor of a work like Gustave de Kervern and Benoît Delépine's Aaltra.

Winner of the Prix SACD at the 2010 Director's Fortnight at Cannes, Illégal highlights the plight of Tania (Anne Coesens), a woman who has fled Russia with her adolescent son in tow, seeking a better life in Belgium.  Their actual experience in this newly adopted homeland is far from ideal, as an overwhelming paranoia about discovery and deportation by the authorities becomes a part of their daily lives.  Early on, when the plot takes the expected turn and Tania is caught, she's separated from her son and thrown into a detainment center that resembles nothing less than a prison.

Massat-Depasse makes use of the fictional scenario as an opportunity to frankly discuss the real life treatment of illegal immigrants in contemporary Belgian society.  Tania and her fellow inmates undergo extreme physical and mental abuse both within the walls of the holding station and, especially, when forced to participate in repeated "deportation rituals" designed to shake loose a confession from those inmates withholding the basic information required by the government to enact a legal deportation process.

The film's grim story is well supported by the omnipresent gray tones mixed into the color palette of its cinematography.  The overall look of the film is a bit washed out but that, along with the use of hand held cameras throughout, helps forward the notion that we're peering into a reality lived by the dispossessed around the world, since the narrative is easily transposed to multiple nations whose actions surrounding illegal immigration are dubious at best.

As much as this sounds like an intellectual exercise on the part of the filmmakers, Coesens' powerfully nuanced performance as Tania is what keeps the movie from flying off the tracks and devolving into a formulaic message piece.  Watching as Tania agonizingly yearns for a reunion with her son, despite full knowledge of all the obstacles conspiring to keep that from occurring, is to witness a performance so grounded in character and realistic motivation that it actually inspires a belief in the viewer that, if sheer will were enough, Tania just might overcome her circumstances.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Rain Falls Down on Portlandtown: Now More Facebook-y Than Ever

Hey folks, we here at The Rain Falls Down on Portlandtown just figured out that a lot of people are excited about this thing called Facebook.  We're not positive but we think it might be a bar located deep in cyberspace.  At any rate, the blog now has its own Facebook page, located here.  Drop on by anytime for updates on postings, ridiculous conversations, etc.

Here's a quick rundown of some film related events going down this weekend in PDX:
--day four of POWFest is happening right now at the Hollywood Theatre.  Our brief coverage of the Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival can be accessed right here.

 --the NW Film Center continues with its The Films of Charlie Chaplin and Classic French Crime Films series.  This evening's features at the Whitsell Auditorium include Chaplin's City Lights (1931) at 7pm and The Sicilian Clan (1969) with Jean Gabin and Alain Delon.

--PSU's student run 5th Avenue Cinema is featuring the Czech New Wave classic Daisies (1966) for another two days.

--The Clinton Street Theater is hosting Orgasm Inc., a new documentary about the pharmaceutical companies' push to create a female-centric version of Viagra.

Those are but a few of the options available for adventurous cinema geeks in Portland this weekend.  Remember to find us on Facebook and to keep a lookout for future updates.  Bye for now...

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

POWFest kicks off tomorrow!

The 2011 edition of the Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival begins its five-day run on the big screen at the historic Hollywood Theatre tomorrow night (3/9).  At which time, things will get off to a fine start with the Portland debut of Rolla Selbak's new drama Three Veils.  Selbak will be in attendance for the screening, which will be followed by a Q&A.

Thursday night's feature is the documentary Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World by Emiko Omori, best known for her 2007 work, Passion & Power: The Technology of Orgasm.

The biggest event of this year's fest occurs on Friday night when POWFest's "Guest of Honor" Gillian Armstrong rolls into town.  The award-winning Australian director of My Brilliant Career and Oscar and Lucinda brings with her a new documentary, Love, Lust & Lies, the fifth film in a series chronologically observing the lives of three women.  And, yes, Armstrong will be around to participate in a post-screening Q&A.

Saturday is by far the most packed day on the schedule, featuring three separate short film programs, a couple of short-form documentaries and Briar March's documentary about the effects of global warming on the Pacific island of Takuu, There Once Was an Island.

Everything wraps up on Sunday with an afternoon program of shorts, followed by Made in India, Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha's exploration of India's fast emerging surrogacy export market and, finally, another chance to catch Tonje Hessen Schei's locally produced doc, Play Again.

That's an awful lot of content to choose from over a relatively short period of time, so those looking to sort it out further should immediately take a dip into the official POWFest website for info on show times, ticket prices, workshops and more!

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT: Luminously Sifting Through the Past

With his latest film, Nostalgia for the Light, Chilean director Patricio Guzmán (The Battle of Chile) achieves a near-impossible feat in documentary film.  He's produced a philosophically rich work that makes palpable connections between the Earth and sky alongside the historical and the theoretical, spanning both time and emotional space.  

Opening with a focus on the Atacama Desert's uniquely immaculate conditions for astronomical observation, it's not long before Guzmán is able to weave between this scientific discipline's engagement with the past (as in light seen from the Earth long after it's emanated from the cosmos) and the personal and political turmoil that still lingers long after the brutal reign of Augusto Pinochet.

To this end, Guzmán juxtaposes his interviews with astronomers against conversations with women who still comb the desert in search of their disappeared men, lost to the assassinations of the Pinochet era.  The comparison works well since, in addition to the established temporal concerns of these speakers, the complete lack of humidity in the Atacama Desert--preserving the bodies of the dead while simultaneously providing a prime opportunity to gaze upon celestial bodies--is the common thread that enables both quests.



The entire film boils down to a single provocative statement made by one of Guzmán's subjects: there is no present.  And for the people being documented here, it's a truth that hard to deny.  Like all of us, they are wrapped up in an ongoing evaluation of moments that have already drifted past our constantly unfolding futures.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Revolución in Portland

This feature-length collection of shorts by some of the best and emerging talents of the contemporary Mexican film scene is unified in a couple of ways.  One of its directors, Amat Escalante (Los Bastardos), who was on-hand for a Q&A at the Saturday afternoon PIFF screening, divulged that each person invited to make a short was asked by the producers to reflect upon the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revolution via a piece set in modern times.  Beyond that slight imposition, there's also a notable thematic harmony brandished within several of the individual works that questions what lasting progress exists as a result of the revolution, as evidenced through the many nods to globalization and marketing in both public spaces and private lives.

For instance, Escalante's haunting piece, The Hanging Priest, concludes its action in a McDonald's restaurant.  While Rodrigo García's (Mother and Child) 7th and Alvarado places Pancho Villa and his men in downtown Los Angeles, surrounded by a dense modern environment packed with commercial signifiers.  And Mariana Chenillo's (Nora's Will) The Estate Store, inspired by an article she read in a local newspaper, exhibits the abuses visited upon common workers trapped in a type of wage slavery common in pre-revolutionary times.

Other shorts, like Carlos Reygadas' (Silent Light) This is My Kingdom and Gerardo Narango's (I'm Gonna Explode) R-100 go so far as to create revolution respectively via a juxtaposition of class and character situations based in desperation.  (Note: the clip below contains Reygadas' film in its entirety.)

All in all, like many short film collections based in shared concepts, Revolución is somewhat of a mixed bag.  Reygadas', Garcia's and Escalante's contributions come to mind as being the strongest of the ten films.  But even the weakest of the bunch have elements worth recommending.

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