Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Breaking News: Guest Director at POWFest 2012 is...



The good folks at POWFest (Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival) have hosted many a great visiting director in past years; one of my favorite memories of attending the fest is linked to Allison Anders' (Mi Vida Loca, Border Radio) appearance at a screening of Gas Food Lodging.  Other past guests of note have included Gillian Armstrong (My Brilliant Career, Little Women), Kathryn Bigelow (The Hurt Locker, Point Break) and Irene Taylor Brodsky (Here and Now).

Well, this year's guest-of-honor is none other than Amy Heckerling (Clueless, National Lampoon's European Vacation).  Her 1982 comedy classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High had already been announced to play the festival on Friday, March 9th at 9:15 at the Hollywood Theatre, so I'm assuming that more than a few fingers were crossed concerning the possibility of her being present during the weekend.

Better hurry up and grab a ticket, as they're bound to go pretty fast!







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POWFest 2012 is nearly upon us!!!


POWFest (Portland Oregon Women's Film Festival) invades the historic Hollywood Theatre once again this year, showcasing the work of women directors ranging from the local to the global.  Like the attractive graphic above states, the festival's 5th anniversary edition will run from Thursday, March 8th until Sunday, March 11th, packing a remarkable 80+ short and feature length films into the four-day schedule.

Things kick off on Thurs. 8th at 7pm with a series of locally-produced short films, "including Stella's Flight, a 'dramedy' about a woman trapped in a life that even her dog finds boring, written and directed by OPB Livewire host Courtenay Hameister."

From there, it's opening night parties, a two-day financing workshop for filmmakers (co-sponsored by the OMPA),  favorite films from the past (Amy Heckerling's Fast Times at Ridgemont HighNora Ephron's Sleepless in Seattle and Oscar-winner Barbara Kopple's Shut Up & Sing will all screen during the fest) and a large dose of new narrative and non-fiction content from both emerging and seasoned film directors.

The entire schedule is available for access here.  Festival passes can be acquired at this link and tickets for individual shows can be purchased here.

Keep an eye on this blog for upcoming posts highlighting some of the films at POWFest 2012.  In the meantime, here's a handful of trailers from the upcoming festival:

















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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

GRINDHOUSE FILM FESTIVAL presents VIGILANTE (1983) @the Hollywood Theatre tonight only!


Dan Halsted's Grindhouse Film Festival roars to life once again tonight (2/28) at The Hollywood Theatre with a one-night-only screening of William Lustig's 1983 vengeance-themed, genre flick Vigilante, starring Robert Forster (The Black Hole, Jackie Brown) and Fred Williamson (Hell Up in Harlem, Black Caesar).

As for the details, I defer to the experts at the Grindhouse webpage:

Vigilante (1983) Robert Forster stars as a New York everyman, with a blue-collar job and a small family he loves. When his family is violently assaulted by street punks, he is shocked to find the police and court system useless and corrupt. His co-worker (Fred Williamson) is fed up with the gangs and drug dealers who have taken over the city, and starts a vigilante group to take care of what the police are too terrified to do. Forster is hesitant to join, until he's finally pushed over the edge, and starts down a road of vengeance. This is one of the greatest revenge films ever made, directed by William Lustig (Maniac) and inspired by Italian crime films and spaghetti westerns.


 


As a bonus, here's a 2010 AVManiacs/CineFiles interview w/ William Lustig:





Vigilante will screen at the Hollywood Theatre for one night only: tonight (Feb. 28th) at 7:30pm.


Related links:
Grindhouse Film Festival presents Gates of Hell


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Monday, February 27, 2012

1 QUICK FIX #ONE: POWERS OF TEN


Hey all--
Just to mix things up a bit, I thought it'd be fun to start a recurring series of posts highlighting short form films.  Not really looking to analyze or review them...just intending for it to be a low-key curatorial sweep through some of my favorites from the past.  And I'll probably end up finding some new favorites along the way, too.

As for style, format, etc., I'm not really planning on imposing any rules.  Look for the avant-garde to rub shoulders with the strongly narrative or non-fiction to sit side-by-side with popular animation of the past.

Before we begin with the first installment, I wanted to give a quick shout-out to the visual arts blog Fuzzimo, whose free, hi-res 16mm film frame images post is the source material for the 1 Quick Fix image above.  Yup, that's the name of the series: 1 Quick Fix.  Hope you enjoy it.



I wanted to ease into things with a film that many of you have probably encountered before.  Charles and Ray Eames' Powers of Ten.  I first saw the film in an elementary school science class (via a 16mm film-strip version).  The film's pondering of infinite space blew my mind then and it still wows me to this day.  Over time, it's become famous enough to have been paid homage to in an intro segment for The Simpsons, practically the modern equivalent of canonization.

'Nuff said about it.  Why don't we just take a look at the film?  Here it is, from 1977, Charles & Ray Eames' Powers of Ten:




Related links:
1 QUICK FIX #TWO: UNE NUIT SUR LE MONT CHAUVE (A NIGHT ON BALD MOUNTAIN)
1 QUICK FIX #THREE: ORGANISM
1 QUICK FIX #FOUR: THE GREAT ECSTASY OF WOODCARVER STEINER


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Sunday, February 26, 2012

Okay...PIFF's over, so now what?


Anyone else exhausted from seeing (or working) so many of this year's screenings at the Portland International Film Festival?  The festival officially came to a close last night (although you still have time to catch a few of today's encore screenings at the Whitsell Auditorium and Cinema 21) with, of all things, the PIFF After Dark presentation of Invasion of Alien Bikini.




With PDX' biggest fest behind us, now what?  Of course, there's always tonight's Academy Awards telecast, which you could watch in the privacy of your own home or, if you're looking to make it more of a communal thing, catch over at the Hollywood Theater (got my fingers crossed for Mr. Malick and his film, although I'd be just as fine if they give it all to Woody).


 

But, if I were inclined to just ignore the Oscars (as I often do), the number one thing appearing on a local screen that I'd hit up is the Laurelhurst Theater's limited engagement of The African Queen.  Bogie and Hepburn floating down the river under the direction of Humphrey's best drinkin' buddy John Huston (the duo were reportedly soused on gin for much of the production, "to keep the mosquitoes off)...what's not to love?




The African Queen will screen for the public at the Laurelhurst Theater today at 1pm & 6:40pm.  It runs through Thurs. 3/1, all weekday screenings are at 6:40pm.


...and there's absolutely no reason that you can't pull for Demián Bichir as the long-shot for best actor while simultaneously getting your Bogie on, right?


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Friday, February 24, 2012

If you missed BULLHEAD at PIFF...


I already reviewed the Oscar-nominated, Belgian crime film Bullhead when it played at the 35th annual Portland International Film Festival earlier this month.  If you didn't catch it there, you've got another chance, as it begins its regular PDX theatrical run tonight at The Hollywood Theatre.

If there's any justice in this world, Bullhead will take home the trophy for best foreign language film next Sunday (although I suspect a much safer film will do so).  Either way, go see this movie!  Hit the link to see what I had to say about it a couple of weeks ago.



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DOUBLE INDEMNITY & FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED: Free 35mm-centric double feature @Cinema 21


Like it or not, 35mm projection is a dying form. The rumors of its death have been coming for years now as the digital revolution has rapidly gained ground, at first on film and television production sets, then, more recently, as the majority of theaters nationwide have added (or, in many cases, transitioned entirely to) digital projection for exhibition purposes.

Late last year, the most disturbing news of all emerged for lovers of the format; some major studios no longer have an interest in supplying theaters with archival prints, showing preference for digital formats over traditional film.

Care for a more local example of this technological shift? One of the Regal Cinemas locations in Portland is abandoning 35mm exhibition forever this week; the last film (read: 35mm presentation) shown there will be a PIFF 35 screening.




But (with all this context building) I'm kind of spinning away from the event that I wanted to highlight:  next week, local gem Cinema 21 is hosting what they're calling "a celebration of over a hundred years of celluloid bliss, before it disappears."  What this translates to is a double-feature of Billy Wilder's 1944 noir classic Double Indemnity paired with Hammer Productions' 1969 technicolor horror flick Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed



Tom Ranieri and the gang over at Cinema 21 are offering up their 35mm-centric, double-feature for two nights only, Wednesday, February 29th and Thursday, March 1st. What's more, admission is on them! Yeah, that's right, a FREE, classically-minded double billing at one of the best theaters in town. Be sure to thank them at their very reasonably priced concession stand. Maybe I'll see you in line?



The FREE double feature of Double Indemnity (@7pm) and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed (@9:15) runs next Wednesday (2/29) and Thursday (3/1) at Cinema 21.  Don't miss out! 




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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

PDX hung out w/ Wim Wenders @ Cinema 21 last Thursday!!!


It didn't matter how tired I was after so many PIFF screenings.  There was no way I was gonna miss out on Wim Wenders' appearance at Cinema 21 last week.  The man is a personal hero of mine, his fluidity of process continually inspiring my own approach to creative work.

There's a unique flavor of narrative freedom saturated with resigned nostalgia present in the best of Wenders' work (Alice in the Cities, Lightning Over Water, Paris, Texas, and The American Friend, to name just a few).  Even if you've only seen a couple of his movies, his style is unmistakable, though his path to getting there varies from project to project.


One of the New German Cinema pack (a name given by film journalists to a group of post-reconstruction era German auteurs of the time that also included Werner Herzog, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Hans-Jürgen Syberberg, etc.) that sprung into the limelight during the 1970s, Wenders, like Herzog, is one of the few who grew into an international artist, working outside of Germany regularly, spreading his European sensibilities beyond the borders of his homeland.

Presently, he's promoting his most recent film, Pina, the Oscar-nominated, 3D documentary that presents the work of the late choreographer/dance company director Pina Bausch.  It's why he showed up in our small burg, introducing the film, as well as sticking around to answer a few questions from the audience after the 7pm screening. 

Before the film, Wenders asked if anyone had ever been to a small village named Wuppertal, where the film is set.  A couple of hoots from the audience either suggested that, yes, a few people had visited, or that the many beers being sold in the lobby were inspiring an agreeable conviviality bordering on benign deception; either way, it was clear that the audience was already in the palm of Wim's hand.


The film itself is a wonderful use of stereoscopic technology.  Even more than Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams,  I can't imagine how reduced the experience would be by seeing the film in a two-dimensional presentation.  It requires the illusion of defined 3D space to properly convey the dances that Pina and her company conceived together.  Beyond that, it's a beautiful introduction to Pina's work, even to a dance neophyte such as myself.

Post-screening, Wim admitted that if Pina had not passed shortly before shooting on the project began the film would have been an entirely different picture.  He said his original vision was to make a film about Pina's eyes, the way she saw, and how it influenced her work.  After Bausch's death, the dancers convinced Wenders that there was still a film that could be made about Pina; one that still included the four numbers that Pina had wanted in the project.

On their own, those dance pieces were not enough to constitute a film and Wenders found himself in need of an appropriate solution for supplementing the material.  He relied on the dance company's intimate knowledge of Pina's process to inform his own ability to add to the planned material, devising a film that included additional dances prompted by a complex series of (Pina's) questions answered by danced responses.  Those additions, all filmed outside the studio, add a harmonizing playfulness that breathes much life into the film.  Yet again, another example of Wenders' ability to work outside the box to great results.


If you'd like to hear Wenders speak more about the project, why not listen to the most recent edition of the NW Film Center's Adjust Your Tracking podcast, featuring Film Center staffer/journalist Erik McClanahan's phone conversation with him.  Hit the link to tune in.


All photos are courtesy of Viva Las Vegas, who was lucky enough to be in the front row for Wenders' Q&A.  Thanks again, Viva!

Also many thanks to both Cinema 21 and PIFF/NW Film Center for partnering to bring Wenders to PDX!  A great night, folks. 


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Friday, February 17, 2012

PIFF 35 Preview: THE TURIN HORSE



And here I thought I was going to be clever by comparing Béla Tarr's latest masterwork, The Turin Horse, to the 1993 Bill Murray vehicle, Groundhog Day.  All it took was a quick Google search to dispel any notion that mine was an isolated observation.  The comparison does hold quite well, though, as Tarr's picture places its characters, Ohlsdorfer (János Derzsi) and his daughter (Erika Bók) into a framework built upon daily repetition; one bleak, thankless task after the next, lather, rinse and repeat.



Where the two films diverge, however, is in intent; Tarr's story seems focused on the social plight of those made to subsist on little food and only meager shelter, while unnamed others have "acquired everything in a sneaky, underhanded fight."  The unending storm raging outside Ohlsdorfer's cottage, paired with the repetition across the film's documentation of six days, traps the characters in this world, allowing for few options other than those that preserve them in a state barely resembling life.


 

The Turin Horse is some kind of horror show; one where base reality becomes the stuff of nightmares, a slow, creeping apocalyptic vision that indicts the day-to-day, hand-to-mouth existence of the majority.  Tarr's affinities lie with Ohlsdorfer, his daughter and the titular beast, whose own degraded state is reflective of the people in the film.  Those not suffering under such conditions are kept out of view, hidden by the storm and ignored by the film, save a brief mention of having "debased everything."

This is reportedly Tarr's final work as a director.  If this holds true, it's one hell of a way to end his career.  Tarr and his regular crew of collaborators have crafted a slow-moving, elegiac farewell of such depth and substance that one wonders if they ever could have topped it.


The Turin Horse will screen for the public at Cinema 21 on Feb. 18th at 8:15pm and Feb. 21st at 7pm.

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

PIFF 35 Preview: ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA



Darkness enshrouds the landscape in much of Nuri Bilge Ceylan's (Climates, Distant) latest work, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia; the best film I've seen from this year's crop at the Portland International Film Festival.  Whereas some films at the fest have seemed wafer thin (The Silver Cliff being a prime example), Ceylan's is a substantial feast; a visually stunning, 2 1/2 hour-long flick that navigates its extended running time without losing the interest of viewers or relying on cheap spectacle to keep 'em in their seats.  The balance is all in the story and characters, both of which are, like the land traversed, hidden from full view at first.



At the beginning of this tale, all we know is that a caravan of cars are driving at night.  They carry a group that includes a police commissar (Yilmaz Erdogan) and his men, a prosecuting attorney (Taner Birsel), a doctor (Muhammet Uzuner) and some suspects.  One of the suspects, Kenan (Firat Tanis), is leading them to where a body has been buried.  The only problem is that Kenan had been drinking heavily when the suspects disposed of their victim, so he's having a difficult time remembering the exact spot.  Frustration sets in; an emotion that is transferred to the viewer, given the immersive quality lent to the film by its languid pacing and, eventually, the men begin to tell each other stories.




Ceylan pulls off a clever narrative bait-and-switch here: we expect the film to be about the search. But as the characters divulge their secrets one by one, it becomes clear that the film isn't in any hurry to resolve that quest.  So we're left with what the men have to say to each other and the golden-hued spaces in which they speak their truths; a far more fascinating prospect than I could describe here without spoiling the content of those conversations.



I've enjoyed other films by Ceylan, especially Climates, but Once Upon a Time in Anatolia feels to me like the moment in which a good director has transformed into a great one.  This belongs on every cinéaste's queue.  Don't wait for video; the film deserves to be seen on the big screen.




Once Upon a Time in Anatolia will screen for the public at Cinema 21 on Feb. 19th at 7:30pm and Feb. 24th at 3pm.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2012

PIFF 35 Preview: SNOWTOWN



In the overall realm of indie drama, there's the gritty stuff and then there's Snowtown, an Australian feature that makes darkly-themed masterpieces like Michael Cuesta's L.I.E. and Andrea Arnold's Fish Tank seem almost lighthearted in comparison.  First time director Justin Kurzel shows an unflinching resolve to tell his story without compromises; a choice that means that many people will not make it all the way to the end of his debut film.  For what it's worth, it's an incredibly well-crafted but, ultimately, bleak and disturbing picture.




Let's quickly go over the details: Jamie (Lucas Pittaway) lives with his mother, Elizabeth (Louise Harris), and his brothers in a run down hovel.  Not long after Elizabeth unwisely leaves her boys in the care of a neighborhood pedophile, she begins a relationship with John (Daniel Henshall), whose unhealthy obsession with retribution against sex offenders is an early indicator of his own violent dysfunction.  John and Jamie rapidly hit a dynamic that mimics a father-son relationship, promising Jamie a respite from his otherwise bleak existence, that is, until John places a gun in his hand, demanding that he become an accomplice in the first of many unthinkable tasks.




Snowtown is based on the true story of John Bunting, a notorious Australian serial killer, whose extreme hatred for homosexuals and pedophiles led him to perpetrate a series of crimes known as the Snowtown murders.  Although it's focused on Bunting's crimes, the story is relayed almost entirely from Jamie's perspective, which means the viewer is given just the contours of Bunting's malevolence at first, providing a Hitchcockian tension to the film that, once the threat has been fully substantiated, fills the audience with fearful apprehension about what lies ahead.

It's also worth noting the overall aesthetic at play here.  I mentioned Fish Tank at the beginning of the review.  Like that film, Snowtown draws heavily from Ken Loach's strategies for social realist storytelling, handheld camerawork mingles with an undressed sense of poverty-stricken places and the disenfranchised people who occupy them.

Because Kurzel's film is about a serial killer, the overall result of the realist approach couldn't be farther from other movies dealing with the same phenomenon; unlike Hollywood blockbusters about serial killers, this film doesn't romanticize or glorify its monster.  Contrasted with examples of the genre like American Psycho or Natural Born Killers, Snowtown is truly capable of inspiring a horrified recoil in the viewer, especially in those willing to stick with it and ponder the unmitigated evil being depicted here.





It's an incredibly potent and self-assured debut film, exceptionally nihilistic in its worldview and containing hypnotic, career-making performances from both Pittaway and Henshall.  It's also one of the darkest films I've ever seen at a festival, presenting sequences involving incest, pedophilia, torture, murder, animal abuse, etc.  Consider yourself warned.





Snowtown will screen for the public at the Lloyd Mall 6 on Feb. 24th at 6:30pm and at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 25th at 8:30pm. 

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Monday, February 13, 2012

PIFF 35 Preview: FREE MEN


There's a good chance that many people will come to Free Men because Tahar Rahim is its lead actor.  Fair enough, Rahim deservedly got a lot of attention for his electrifying performance in Jacques Audiard's 2009 prison crime film, A Prophet.  I hadn't read anything about Free Men before seeing it, so I wasn't even aware in advance that Rahim is in the film.  To his credit, he disappears so much into the role of Younes, a black market smuggler turned resistance fighter, that I didn't recognize him until the final scene of the film.


The movie that Rahim appears in is only slightly less nuanced than his performance, probably due to a lower budget than what Audiard's film was afforded.  Free Men is set in Paris during the Nazi occupation, focusing on Algerian men who threw their lot in against the occupying forces.  The main thrust of the story lies with Younes burgeoning friendship with Salim (Mahmud Shalaby), an Algerian singer whose true ethnicity is called into question by German forces.  Seeing the danger that is unfolding, Younes is forced to interrogate the ethical code upon which he has always relied, choosing between self-preservation or what he knows to be the right path.


Free Men contains a very good third act, but does take its time getting there.  There's a strong sense of economy at play in the film that, while delaying the thrills early on, saves the majority of the impact for when its best utilized, near the end of the story.



Free Men screens twice more for the public at Cinemagic on Feb. 14th at 6pm and at the Lloyd Mall 6 on Feb. 20th at 2:30pm. 

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

PIFF 35 Preview: PATAGONIA



Patagonia does something that's become quite common in contemporary cinema; it attempts to tell parallel stories based around a single theme.  Like with Robert Altman's Nashville, pretty much the model for how this structure works, director Marc Evans (Snow Cake) chooses to make the setting of his film the lead character; in this case, the South American region referenced in the title.

As an audience, we're allowed to watch as two separate couples travel the land; one a romantic pairing (Nia Roberts and Matthew Gravelle) that drifts apart as the story develops, another a young man, Alejandro (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) tricked into voyaging to Patagonia with his elderly neighbor, Cerys (Marta Lubos).  





The latter tale is the more interesting of the two and I couldn't help wishing that Evans had chosen to focus only on Alejandro and Cerys' journey.  The other story arc comes off as overly soapy in a film where the tone doesn't justify the dramatic excesses of the material, resulting in a film that feels more than a little schizophrenic at times.  Even though you can easily guess how Alejandro and Cerys' story will end, it's lovely to watch as the two meander through Patagonia, searching for the farm where Cerys' mother used to live.



Patagonia will screen for the public at the Lake Twin Cinema today (Feb. 11th) at 8:30pm and at Pioneer Place 5 on Feb. 14th at 8:45pm  A final screening will occur on Feb. 16th at Cinemagic at 6pm.

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PIFF 35 Preview: MONSIUER LAZHAR



Philippe Faladeau's Monsieur Lazhar travels well-trodden cinematic ground; it's easily filed into the inspirational teacher genre, of which there are already some fairly successful models out there (To Sir, with Love and Stand and Deliver come to mind).  So it's nice to see that what could have been yet another by-the-numbers entry is, in fact, an intelligent and humanistic look at a group of students and the adults mentoring them through the healing process in the wake of a tragic event.




Bachir Lazhar (Mohamed Fellag) is a man who has recently immigrated to Quebec from his Algerian homeland.  He shows up at the elementary school where most of the action of the film takes place, seeking to replace a teacher who has recently died.  While the circumstances behind Bachir's move are complicated, they make him the ideal candidate for dealing with a classroom packed full of children who have recently experienced their own loss.



While Fellag is wonderful in the film, exuding both deep sorrow and empathy, often in the same moment, the children's performances are amazingly nuanced as well.  This is especially true of the work of Sophie Nélisse and Émilien Néron, both of whom fearlessly project a complexity beyond their years.

Monsiuer Lazhar is an excellent film with an emotional core that has the potential to resonate for all ages (however, younger children might have difficulty with the themes or the fact that the film is subtitled).  In many ways, it reminded me of Thomas McCarthy's The Visitor, another film that tackles difficult subject matter in an optimistic fashion without attempting to declaw the more troubling emotional aspects at play.




Monsiuer Lazhar will screen for the public at the Lake Twin Cinema today (Feb. 11th) at 3pm and at the Lloyd Mall 6 on Feb. 13th at 6:15pm  A final screening will occur on Feb. 15th at Pioneer Place 5 at 8:45pm.

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PIFF 35 Preview: CAFÉ DE FLORE


When writing during PIFF 34 about Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times), I noted that every year there's at least one film at the festival that seems to come out of nowhere, surprising me to no end and causing me to wonder how it escaped being caught up in the festival-circuit hype machine.  This year, Café de Flore is that film.

Directed by Jean-Marc Vallée (C.R.A.Z.Y., The Young Victoria), this French-Canadian import had me aware that I was watching a truly great film in the first fifteen minutes, something that always makes me nervous, worrying about the path that the rest of film will take, hoping that the delicate balance struck by the filmmakers doesn't dissipate before the end credits crawl across the screen.



Café de Flore did not disappoint.  Vallée is unapologetic in his attempts to wow the audience with the sheer audacity of how he intends to tell the story.  His technique is an invigorating mixture that pulls from familiar scenarios; a man who regrets where his choices have led him, while pushing the tale with a structure that offers unique thrills throughout.

At the beginning of the film, we're introduced to three characters: Antoine (Kevin Parent), Jacqueline (Vanessa Paradis) and Carole (Hélène Florent).  Thanks to the fact that dreams are heavily involved in the story; one of the three characters is a somnambulist, it's initially unclear if all of the characters are real, due to the disruptive nature of the quick shifts between sleeping and waking states and Vallée's clever use of differing color palettes.  This ambiguity, coursing through the whole of the picture, heightens the storytelling beyond the base realities of the lives portrayed.  The result is a film that dares the audience to care; a drama with all the dressings of a tense thriller.






I'll be very surprised if I am still not raving about Café de Flore at the end of the year.  So far, I've seen twenty-four of the features programmed for this year's festival.  Of that number, Café de Flore easily rests in the top three overall.



Café de Flore will screen for the public at the Lake Twin Cinema on Feb. 11th at 5:30pm and at the Lloyd Mall 5 on Feb. 13th at 6pm  A final screening will occur on Feb. 20th at the Cinema 21 at 7:30pm.

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Friday, February 10, 2012

PIFF 35 Preview: BULLHEAD


The organized crime genre is a pretty crowded field but I'm fairly certain that Bullhead is the only film I've ever seen centered on the Flemish mafia.  Directed by Michael R. Roskam, Bullhead doesn't romanticize it's characters or their trade; these mobsters deal in bovine growth hormone, forcing the local ranchers and farmers of the Belgian countryside to produce "their cows."  The film begins just as a police investigator has been killed on the order of a crime boss.


If the crime angle is the wide view of the story, the close-in perspective lies with Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts), a mountain of man whose own daily use of steroids and hormone treatment therapy darkly parallels the business in which he is an enforcer.  Roskam slowly paints the details of Jacky's back story, showing us how a young child of promise was turned into a man who intimidates for a living.  Schoenaerts plays Jackie as a maladjusted child in a giant's body, aching with loss, unable to connect with others, and placed into dire circumstances where he stands to lose everything.


This is a gritty, excellent character piece masquerading as a crime thriller.  The majority of Belgian cinema I've encountered has been inspired either by the Dardenne brothers or the wry comedy of Finland's Aki Kaurismäki (Eldorado or Aaltra are examples of the latter's influence).  In this regard, Bullhead feels fresh and without precedent in the realm of Belgian imports; its nearest comparisons in tone being Steve McQueen's Hunger or David Michôd's Animal Kingdom.  It's a fascinating and disturbing ride, well worth the price of admission.



Bullhead will screen for the public at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 11th at 12:30pm.  A second screening is scheduled on Feb. 14th at the Whitsell Auditorium at 8:45pm.

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PIFF 35 Preview: THE EXTRAORDINARY VOYAGE




A gathering of scientists discuss, design and, eventually, pile into a spacecraft that takes them on a fantastic journey to our nearest satellite.  This simple outline constitutes the majority of the action in Georges Méliès' groundbreaking 1902 fantasy short, Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon).

The Extraordinary Voyage tells the tale of how Méliès came to develop the techniques and audience that would allow him to undertake what was the most ambitious film-making production of its time, described as both the first international blockbuster and the Avatar of the silent era.


Interviews with Jean-Pierre Jeunet (Delicatessen), Michel Gondry (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Costa-Gavras (Z) and, oddly, Tom Hanks (The Da Vinci Code) establish Méliès position in the canon as the first filmmaker to break away from the film as mere document, introducing dramatic devices pulled from the stage.


The crux of The Extraordinary Voyage is of more modern concern, detailing the discovery of a hand-colored version of Le Voyage dans la Lune and the painstaking restoration of that print.  The piece does a good job of detailing the challenges of the process without dwelling too long on the technical aspects of the task.  And its easy as a viewer to root for the restoration team and their small victories as the film is rescued frame by frame.






The real treat of the presentation, however, comes after the documentary reaches its end.  The chance to see the restored, color version of A Trip to the Moon projected on a large screen is not to be missed.  Featuring a new soundtrack by the French musical duo Air, A Trip to the Moon vibrates with an unexpected amount of energy, more than a century after its conception.  

Contemporary audiences may have endless amounts of onscreen fantasies and spectacle to choose from nowadays, but this is a rare opportunity to see one of the earliest examples as it was meant to be experienced, in a theater setting.  Do not pass it up.






The Extraordinary Voyage will screen for the public at the World Trade Center Theater tonight (Feb. 10th) at 8:45pm and at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 12th at 3pm.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

PIFF 35 Preview: WHERE DO WE GO NOW?



The tensions of the Muslim/Christian divide in Lebanon are reproduced in miniature in actor-director Nadine Labaki's (Caramel) Where Do We Go Now?; a film set in a secluded, sleepy village where landmines and the daily news reports are constant reminders of the violent struggle raging elsewhere in the country.  The twist of the piece rests in yet another division in the town, that of gender.  Fearing that their men are being stimulated to mirror national displays of sectarian violence, the women take it upon themselves to manufacture distractions aimed at the men to keep the town from falling into chaos.




This leads to some very hilarious results, including the hiring of a group of seductively-dressed, Russian dancing women and a cooking scene involving the use of "special" ingredients.  There's also a musical sequence, a dance routine, more than a little bit of tragedy and a love story peppered throughout the film.  All this furious activity leaves Where Do We Go Now? feeling a little overstuffed with subplots, making me wish that the story had been more streamlined.  As it stands, the film is a wee-bit schizophrenic in tone, shifting often between scenes infused with manic energy to moments drenched in sorrow.





Having said that, much of the film is quite enjoyable.  It's just ends up feeling at times like a kitchen sink (not this kind of kitchen sink) approach to storytelling.  Overly cluttered in parts, but a worthy diversion, nonetheless.  


 


Where Do We Go Now? will screen for the public at the Whitsell Auditorium on Feb. 11th at 8:30pm and at the Lake Twin Cinema on Feb. 13th at 6pm and 8:30pm.

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