Friday, April 27, 2012

IT CAME FROM DETROIT: THE WILD SOUND OF AN INDUSTRIAL CITY



Chronicling the contemporary garage rock music scene of Detroit, James Petix' It Came from Detroit doesn't stray too far from the standard formula for how these types of documentaries operate.  If you've watched Hype!, High and Dry or the locally-produced Northwest Passage: The Birth of Portland's DIY Culture, you know what to expect but, as with the vast majority of music scene documentaries, the draw is in the scene being profiled.  And, whad'ya know, Detroit's got more than its share of great, loud punk/garage bands that aren't named The Stooges or MC5.





Petix traces the scene from the mid-80s emergence of The Gories up through the rocket-like ascendance of The White Stripes and beyond.  Along the way, he highlights bands within the scene as diverse as The Von Bondies, The Hentchmen, The Electric Six, Blanche, The Detroit Cobras and more.  Fans of any of these bands or gritty rock sounds, in general, should be pleased.  Folks hoping to see interviews with or a lot of footage of The White Stripes in action...well, there's quite a bit of talk about them and at least one clip of them on stage.  But, again, this is a documentary focused on the wild sounds of the entire industrial city, not just their most famous recent export.  And you could certainly take another look at Under Great White Northern Lights after seeing It Came from Detroit, if you'd like; no one's stopping you.






It Came from Detroit plays one-night-only at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, April 27th.  More info available here.

The film opens in Seattle on the 28th at The Grand Illusion Cinema.


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Thursday, April 26, 2012

THE HUNTER: IN SEARCH OF A LOST NATURE



Sometimes a film won't easily cut loose its secrets, demanding that you sign up for the long haul, 'cause, otherwise, maybe you're not worthy of making its acquaintance.  Terence Davies' new film The Deep Blue Sea (reviewed yesterday) works in that mode as does Daniel Nettheim's The Hunter, adapted from the novel by Julia Leigh.  It's a film where motives are made transparent, while meanings remain opaque until nearly the end of the picture.  Those who found Claire Denis' 2009 film White Material impossible to shake from memory will find something to capture their imagination here, while others may simply find their patience dwindling within the first quarter of the film.




Willem Dafoe plays Martin, the hunter referenced in the title, hired by a shadowy firm interested in cloning to track and harvest the genetic material of what's believed to be the last of the long extinct Tasmanian tiger (aka Tasmanian devil).  He arrives in Australia presenting himself as a scientist to the already stirred-up townspeople; there's a struggle being fought in the woods between the local environmentalists and loggers.  Martin sets up lodging in the home of Lucy (Frances O'Connor), a woman whose husband disappeared while on the path of the tiger, leaving her children without a father.  And it's not long before Lucy and the kids (Finn Woodlock and Morgana Davies) begin to look at Martin as a possible proxy for their missing patriarch.






The film resists overdeveloping the human relationships; Sam Neill shows up here and there as a vaguely menacing individual who's been hired to guide Martin to the edge of the wilderness.  Most of the characters conveniently melt away whenever it's time for Martin to get back on the path.  What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a man vs. nature narrative that pivots strongly on the question of whether or not our "opponent" has been or should be reduced to raw materials.  That might sound like a rather preachy tale; I assure you it is not.  The Hunter leans strongly on its wide open passages, sequences where dialogue and explanation take leave in favor of wrestling with the unknown.  And, by doing so, it rises above simple proselytizing.




 




The Hunter begins its run at the Living Room Theaters on Fri.,  April 27th.  More info available here.


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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

THE DEEP BLUE SEA: TERENCE ADAPTS TERENCE, SEDUCTIVELY AND SORROWFULLY



Opening with the voice of Hester (Rachel Weisz) reading a suicide note addressed to her lover, Freddie (Tom Hiddleston), Terence Davies' (Distant Voices, Still Lives) adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play The Deep Blue Sea is saturated with a deep and convincing melancholy from the get-go.  It also begins quite inscrutably at first, favoring a thick atmosphere that steals one's breath, before eventually allowing the viewer to enter into a conscious understanding of what's driving this seductive, trance-inducing well of sorrow.






Set against the backdrop of 1950s London, the story revolves around Hester's decision to kill herself; the present time of the film occurs across a single day, though much of the story is based in events of the past, remembrances of what's brought her to this point.  Her sexless marriage to a much older man, William (Simon Russell Beale), has been compromised by the affair with Freddie.  And, now, the glow of the new relationship has dimmed, leaving her passion somewhat mangled and misdirected due to Freddie's inability to love her with an intensity equal to her affection for him.






Freddie's newly acquired coldness is located in lingering issues surrounding his service in World War II.  Hester sadly comments, "his life stopped in 1940.  He loved 1940.  He's never really been the same since the war."  As for her own situation, she tells William that, "zero minus zero is still zero," roundly rejecting any notion that the happiness of the past can be reclaimed by her or any of the lovers in the story.






This is a gorgeously shot film, nearly every frame is lit from within by a sumptuous orange/yellow glow that perfectly accentuates the mood of the piece.  Each performance hits its mark quite magnificently but Weisz is exceptional, possibly the best she's ever been.  The Deep Blue Sea demands a small amount of patience at first, but, if one invests the effort, the film rewards the viewer with a hypnotic and perfectly pitched glimpse of the not too distant past; a time and place where despair, divorce and pressures of social convention were no less stressful than they are now.







The Deep Blue Sea starts its run at Cinema 21 on Friday, April 27th.  More info here.


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5 BROKEN CAMERAS: FIVE TOOLS OF RESISTANCE




I don't think I've seen a more affecting documentary this year than Emad Burnat and Guy Davidi's 5 Broken Cameras, winner of the directing award in the documentary category at this year's Sundance Film Festival.  Cobbled out of Burnat's footage of his Palestinian hometown of Bi'lin as it protests against an encroaching illegal Israeli settlement, the film is an incredibly layered work of resistance cinema, acknowledging what's been lost while simultaneously turning its head to a future just beyond the horizon.






Burnat, who also narrates the piece, admits early on that he never intended to become a filmmaker.  His first camera was acquired shortly after the birth of his fourth son, Gibreel, with the sole purpose of filming his family's day-to-day lives.  But, coinciding with the arrival of his son, a powerful, non-violent activist movement emerges on the streets and surrounding countryside of Bi'lin.

It inspires Emad to participate through documentation of the town's crusade against the illegal barriers and settlements that threaten and displace the residents of his village.  The film's title acknowledges the series of cameras passing through Burnat's hands, each one in need of replacement after being destroyed during demonstrations ending in violent reaction by the Israeli military.





As the movement grows, so does Gibreel who, like the other children of the village, must come to grips with the chaotic environment in which he has been born.  Emad worries aloud for his son's generation, wondering how long non-violent resistance will last, given all the children have witnessed.  It's a question worth asking, even as Bi'lin's struggle garners support from activists around the globe.  Burnat's cameras watch as the increased numbers continue to yield limited results.  Meanwhile, the losses become more personal by the day.






I've never seen any act of direct journalism as powerful as 5 Broken Cameras.  In creating a visual journal of a protest movement, from their nascent birth as a cluster of the oppressed to a swarming throng motivated by righteous indignation, Burnat has captured the very essence of what it is to push back against the seemingly immovable object, all while highlighting a very specific struggle in a non-didactic manner.  These are the memories that his cameras recorded, truth viewed through the eyepiece of five tools of resistance.








Five Broken Cameras screens as a part of the 20th Jewish Film Festival at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Thursday, April 26th at 7pm.  More info about the festival available here.


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FAKE IT SO REAL: WRESTLING WITH AMBITION IN NORTH CAROLINA




"Jazz is dead," according to one of the men interviewed in Robert Greene's Fake It So RealThus, it's disqualified from being considered the great American art form.  His suggestion as to its successor?  Why, wrestling, of course.

If sincerity and commitment are the markers of success, the subjects of the new documentary Fake It So Real, members of the independently run MWF (Millennium Wrestling Federation, naturally), are about as successful as they come.  But, despite the film culminating in a billing advertised as the MWF World Championship, these men are most certainly at the lower end of the food chain in the wrestling world; the league is based entirely in Lincolnton, North Carolina, where ALL of their wrestling events (including the "world championship") play out in front of tiny hometown crowds.







It's an affectionate look at a particularly American strain of small town ambition, capturing an overzealous adherence to the foggy notion that time and effort in the ring will bear out results.  You could easily label it hoping against hope but most of these men can't even acknowledge how difficult of a path they've chosen.  The majority of the wrestlers featured here still believe in their dreams of big time wrestling circuit success, although a few are content with just doing what they love; one guy, singled out as the most "normal" of the pack by a peer, calls it his "hobby."






All of this is filtered through a series of characters, ranging from a "rookie" paying his dues as he undergoes constant fraternal hazing to the league's manager whose emerging health issues cause him to miss his first match in ten years.  Greene practices a warts and all approach to documenting his subjects; the hazing mentioned above includes a hefty amount of homophobic rhetoric (present elsewhere in the film, too) and his camera bears witness to more than a few misguided racial stereotypes exhibited in and out of the ring.  It'd be easy to react against the film for containing these moments, but I'm inclined to praise Greene for choosing to not filter out the harsher aspects of the southern reality encountered here.

Bottom line, Fake It So Real entertains because hopes and dreams still power most people's conception of the American experience.  Who cares if the ones on display in the film are more than a bit outlandish?  It's almost impossible to resist cheering this band of brothers as they ply their chosen trade, willfully ignoring the odds against them.






Fake It So Real plays one-night-only at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, April 27th.  More info available here.


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Monday, April 23, 2012

THE BUS: SEXIN' UP THAT OLD BOX ON WHEELS



Often times, we cling to things not just for what they can do for us but also what they say about us.  The spirit of director Damon Ristau's light and fun investigation into the culture of the Volkswagen bus is far more swayed by rhetoric of the latter variety, even with numerous testimonials littered throughout The Bus pointing to the vehicle's unrivaled utilitarianism.  The folks interviewed here claim to enjoy, among other things, freedom, solidarity, and self-sufficiency, all due to their fervent love for and ownership of one of the boxiest vehicles this side of a train car.





To Ristau's credit, the love is contagious.  The Bus traces this miracle of German engineering from its factory origins; why yes, that is a photo of Hitler smiling unashamedly at a mockup of a VW bug, to the incredibly effective advertising campaigns of the 1960s (recently referenced in this season's premiere episode of Mad Men), which helped spread the notion that what the vehicles lacked in elegance was more than made up for via a distinctive ownership experience.






Clever graphical inventions throughout The Bus (a vignetted frame to convey the view from the driver's seat, a speedometer that shows the sales per decade, etc.) quickly and playfully relay info, keeping the pacing brisk and allowing it to always return to the backbone of the piece: its subject's love of this car/lifestyle.  Speaking of love, Ristau introduces us to a couple whose very union was founded upon their affinity for the bus; she was enamored with how easily one could learn to repair them, he was drawn in by both her beauty and skills as a bus mechanic. 





The film takes us on VW-powered excursions to Burning Man and other hard-to-reach locales, out on tour with a traveling musician who's been living and working in his bus for over 5 years, and beyond, really hammering home the bus equals freedom concept that so many of its subjects espouse.  In its own modest way, The Bus might very well be the most sexy sales pitch ever for the American association between motor vehicles and rugged individualism.  The perverse twist being that the seductive technique is piled upon inducing adoration for a decades old box on wheels.



 



The Bus plays one-night-only at the Hollywood Theatre on Wednesday, April 25th.  Director Damon Ristau will be in attendance for a post-screening Q&A.  More info available here.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

THE RAIN FALLS DOWN ON PDX: WEEKEND ROUNDUP FOR 4/20



Here's a list of films opening in PDX worth mentioning, although I don't have the time to write at length about them.  Plenty of stuff out there to enjoy over the weekend:

The Laurelhurst Theater is continuing their BAM (Beer and Movie) film festival this week with Sam Peckinpah's 1972 convicts-on-the-run, flick The Getaway, starring Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw.




Cinema 21 is heading into their final week of showing the Indonesian action hit The Raid: Redemption.  On Saturday the 21st, they'll be hosting a single screening of the new documentary about the politics of vaccinations, The Greater Good, at 4pm.






The 20th Portland Jewish Film Festival continues this weekend at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium.  On Friday and Saturday, the NWFC hosts The Rabbi's Cat, an animated feature concerning a feline who gains the power of speech.  My Architect, the quite good documentary from 2003, about Louis Kahn plays on Sunday at 4pm.






Over at PSU's 5th Avenue Cinema, Wong Kar Wai's 1997 film Happy Together will light up the screen over the weekend.



And the Clinton Street Theater's got John Walker's A Drummer's Dream through next Thursday.




Reviews and posts for films that are opening today (or playing somewhere in town this week):
Marley: This One's for the Fans
Grindhouse Film Festival presents King Kong vs. Godzilla
The Trouble with Bliss: Sad & Quirky Observations on a Static Life
The Salt of Life (review from PIFF--it opens at Living Room Theaters today)
The Kid with a Bike: Return of the Dardenne Brothers
Jiro Dreams of Sushi: Wherein the Daily Grind Lasts a Lifetime



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THE TROUBLE WITH BLISS: SAD AND QUIRKY OBSERVATIONS ON A STATIC LIFE



There's no kind way of getting around the fact that, in following the non-adventures of its flat and listless protagonist, The Trouble with Bliss ends up being nothing more than a flat and listless viewing experience, lightly peppered here and there with a few promising moments. 

Morris Bliss (Michael C. Hall) is in his mid-thirties.  He's yet to leave the nest, still living at home with his father (Peter Fonda).  And, as the film opens, he's just begun an affair with a teenager named Stephanie (Brie Larson), who happens to be the daughter of a guy called "Jetski" (Brad William Henke), an old friend from high school.





As lives go, Morris' is a bit of a nonstarter.  He's got a map in his bedroom with push-pins marking all the places he hopes to visit one day.  He prefers taking the handouts his father begrudgingly gives him to looking for work; Fonda's pitch-perfect here and the scenes between him and Hall hint at a complexity that the film fails to deliver in the end. 

There's really nothing that Morris seems all that interested in chasing.   Even the women (yeah, that's Lucy Liu in the mix, as a flirtatious neighbor) he becomes involved with don't motivate him as much as inexplicably fall in his lap.  In the world presented here, the ladies apparently can't resist the downbeat and helpless man-child type.





All of which would be fine if there was at least some urgency or momentum built into the story.  But Michael Knowles and Douglas Light's screenplay, based on Light's novel East Fifth Bliss, seems more interested in painting its characters into corners early in the film, defining them before sealing them forever in amber; these are people incapable of evolution. 

There's an abundance of films out there that deal with issues of arrested development, some are even quite good (Heavy or Trees Lounge, for instance).  The Trouble with Bliss just doesn't know what to do with its sad and quirky observations on a static life.










The Trouble with Bliss starts its run at the Hollywood Theatre on Friday, April 20th.  More info here.



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Thursday, April 19, 2012

GRINDHOUSE FILM FESTIVAL presents KING KONG VS. GODZILLA



This coming Tuesday night, Dan Halsted's Grindhouse Film Festival celebrates the 50th anniversary of Ishirô Honda's King Kong vs. Godzilla in style with the projection of a 35mm print of the film.  This is an example of the kind of peerless programing going on at the Hollywood Theatre nowadays; they've hit upon a wonderful balance between the expected indie/art house fare and more adventurous rep-based events, offering really distinctive bookings on a regular basis. 

Plus, now with the newly renovated seats, screen and sound system in the downstairs theater space, paired with the theater's reputation for digging up exceedingly rare prints in great condition, there's a near guarantee that even the older, more niche-based programming will shine.  January's Grindhouse screening of Dario Argento's 1977 psychedelic, fever dream Suspiria on the Hollywood's 50-foot screen was a revelatory experience.






But enough gushing, let's move on to the details about Tuesday's screening.  Here's what the Grindhouse fest press release has to say about what's going down on 4/24:

King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) Godzilla breaks free from an iceberg and heads straight to Tokyo to start tearing the city apart. Meanwhile, a pharmaceutical company captures King Kong and brings him to Japan. It’s only a matter of time before he breaks free, and we see a colossal collision between the two mightiest monsters of all time!!! 
Directed by the great Ishiro Honda. 35mm daikaiju trailers before the movie!







King Kong vs. Godzilla plays one-night-only at the Hollywood Theatre on Tuesday, April 24th.  More info available here.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

MARLEY: THIS ONE'S FOR THE FANS



I'll have you know there's a massive cult surrounding the legacy of Bob Marley, of which I have yet to be inducted into as a card carrying member.  Chances are, you already were aware of that first fact; the latter tidbit, probably not.  So how does a person who only has a single Bob Marley lp in their collection (this excellent Studio One era compilation) and a limited knowledge of his story accurately judge the new documentary about the man?  Carefully, especially when it only takes about a half an hour to ascertain that this one's for the fans, not the uninitiated.





There's nothing particularly awry about Kevin Macdonald's (Touching the Void,
One Day in September) Marley.  The film houses an abundance of quality archival footage and photographic stills of the musical legend at work and play.  And Macdonald does a fine job of blending these elements with newer interviews with close friends, family and music industry insiders, organizing the material in a coherent and strongly chronological fashion.  It's just that, at nearly 2 1/2 hours in length, there's not a lot of urgency or innovation present in the way that this whale of a feature-length documentary swims.





A little more trimming or, perhaps, a structural device along the lines of what Martin Scorsese fashioned for his Bob Dylan doc, No Direction Home, framing the action around a single important event in Marley's history (like Scorsese did w/ Dylan's confrontational transition from playing acoustically to going electric), might have strengthened what feels like rather anemic pacing at times.

That's not to say that Marley is an uninteresting or unnecessary film; it works rather well as a loving portrait for the long-time fans.  But, here's the rub: if, like me, you're still trying to find your footing in Marley's rather intimidatingly large discography and legacy, there's something to be said for the comforts of brevity and/or dramatic tension, either of which could have greatly improved my experience of the film. 








Marley opens at the Hollywood Theatre and Living Room Theaters on Friday, April 20th.



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THE INTERRUPTERS: STOPPING THE VIOLENCE, ONE CONFLICT AT A TIME



There's little doubt that violence is a disruptive force not unlike cancer; the appearance of one instance rapidly multiplies until much of the social body is overtaken.  If you'll forgive my co-opting of the overused "violence is a cancer" metaphor, the subjects of Steve James' (Hoop Dreams, At the Death House Door) latest documentary, members of Chicago's Cease Fire organization, stand as a type of experimental treatment against the violence plaguing the streets of the windy city.





 James travels the streets of Chicago with representatives of Cease Fire, self-proclaimed "violence interrupters," as they put themselves in the center of conflicts, attempting to defuse them before they reach the boiling point.  What makes the organization unique, beyond their use of direct action, is that these anti-violence advocates are almost entirely made up of former proponents of violence; Cease Fire actively looks to recruit former gang-members and ex-cons to carry out their mission, reasoning that their unique expertise and undeniable street cred is an invaluable resource in stemming the spread of violence that threatens Chicago's neighborhoods.






The film demonstrates how the work being done by these interrupters extends to advocacy and mentoring; James' cameras follow members of the group as they spend time with individuals at high risk for violent action.  And it's within these one-on-one meetings that The Interrupters really finds its feet, allowing for the viewer to witness a far more personal espousal of Cease Fire's philosophy as its relates to each street team member's personal experiences.







Such moments, coupled with the sequences where the advocates divulge the sizable regrets of their past, drive the film forward, offering hope for change in what many might label a hopeless situation.  Their ability to interrupt their own vicious cycles of provocation and retribution speaks loudly to the possibility for others to experience a similar breakthrough.  The Interrupters doesn't assume that outcome but it does offer optimism via the examples of those who have overcome the odds.








The Interrupters plays at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Wed., April 18th at 8pm.  The producer of the film, Alex Kotlowitz, will be in attendance at the screening.


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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

KUNG FU THEATER presents DREADNAUGHT


Dan Halsted's bringing a rare 35mm print of Yuen Woo-Ping's 1981 film Dreadnaught to the large screen at the Hollywood Theatre tonight.  As with most of Halsted's Kung Fu Theater and Grindhouse Film Festival events, this is a one-night-only event, not to be missed by fans of martial arts and Hong Kong cinema.  And what self-respecting fan of genre cinema would want to miss a flick like this one, featuring characters with names like Mousy and White Tiger?

It all goes down this evening at 7:30 .  Here's a brief description of the film via the press release:

On Tuesday April 17th at 7:30 at the Hollywood Theatre, Kung Fu Theater presents the only known 35mm print of Master Yuen Woo Ping's classic DREADNAUGHT. Tickets are $7. 

DREADNAUGHT (1981) Yuen Biao (EASTERN CONDORS) and Leung Kar Yan (THE VICTIM) star as a young men seeking to learn kung fu from a legendary master. Meanwhile, a crazed kung fu killer named White Tiger is randomly putting on spooky makeup and unleashing his martial arts skills on unsuspecting victims. It's up to the two young men to stop White Tiger, but not until they master the Eagle Claw style, and fight a mysterious double-faced villain. Featuring Yuen Biao's acrobatic skills, a jaw-dropping kung fu lion-dance sequence, and some of the most incredible martial arts choreography you'll ever see. 






Kung Fu Theater presents Dreadnaught at the Hollywood Theatre on Tuesday, April 17th at 7:30pm.  More info here.


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Monday, April 16, 2012

TORN: THE SOUL OF A MAN, STRETCHED BETWEEN TWO WORLDS



What happens if, over the course of a lifetime, one suffers something akin to cognitive dissonance in regards to their identity, if all that was accepted as self melts away to reveal bitter truths formed by absence, time and history.  Ronit Kertsner's non-fiction portrait Torn immerses the viewer in the unfortunate case of Romuald Jakub Weksler-Waszkinel, a Polish Catholic priest whose Jewish origins, as well as his biological parent's cruel fate during the Nazi era, was revealed to him in adulthood, long after entering the ministry.




When he was a small child, Weksler-Waszkinel's mother delivered him into the hands of a gentile couple right as the Nazi's began transporting Jewish families out of the ghettos and into the camps; she begged them to take him as their own.  Raised by this adoptive family, he grew up to deeply embrace the Catholic faith, entering the priesthood as a serious proponent of the teachings of Jesus Christ.





Kertsner catches Weksler-Waszkinel just as he's made the decision to leave his church and immigrate to Israel.  The priest cites rampant antisemitism within the Polish Catholic church, often springing from the pulpit, as one reason why he must leave.  His central motivation, though, is the strong pull that he feels to connect to his family's roots in Judaism and, yet, there is still the sizable commitment that he's made to his life-long faith.  Weksler-Waszkinel confesses that, if given the opportunity, he would love to act as an intermediary between the two faith systems.

We watch as he sets up an interview with an entrance committee at a kibbutz in Israel, as a means of gaining eligibility for citizenship under the law of return.  He admits during the meeting that he desires to practice Judaism six days a week on the kibbutz while taking leave on the seventh day to join a Catholic congregation for services.  The idea doesn't fly with committee; one member later tells Kertsner that they're not interested in "building bridges."





It's difficult to watch as Weksler-Waszkinel processes the restrictions handed down by the committee in front of the camera.  One gets the feeling that it's a kind of disappointment that he'll have to continue to endure as he seeks a resolution to his unique situation.  It's also plain to see that there are no easy answers.  Torn is a complex and heartbreaking exploration of identity, personal pain and, as one empathetic interview subject points out, a historical event that led to an unexpected conflict visited upon the soul of a man, stretched between two worlds, while never belonging fully to either one.






Torn will play as a part of the 20th Jewish Film Festival at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Tues., April 17th at 7pm.  More info about the festival available here.


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Sunday, April 15, 2012

CINEMA PROJECT presents ROCK & RELIGION: THE MEDIUM OF WORSHIP


Cinema Project's April presentation pairs together two very different portraits of religious fervor rooted in American culture.  Peter Adair's 1967 documentary, Holy Ghost People, focuses its attention on a small Appalachian church in West Virginia as its Pentecostal congregation communes with the spirit.  Also on the program is Dan Graham's Rock My Religion, an audio and video collage from the early 80s that attempts to align foundational religious movements of the American past with the devotional and spiritual connotations of the rock and roll experience.


A still from Holy Ghost People


Adair's film falls firmly within the cinéma vérité tradition, evoking comparisons to the best work by the Maysles and Frederick Wiseman.  As the piece opens, individual members of the church describe their practices of speaking in voices, snake-handling and drinking strychnine as a means of invoking ecstatic religious experience.  The film quickly moves into a worship situation; the service rapidly shifting from a simmer to a convulsive boil of singing, writhing and improvisational dance as Adair's cameras quietly capture the congregation's fervent acts of devotion.



A still from Holy Ghost People


Holy Ghost People is a hypnotic viewing experience that deserves inclusion in the canon of great American non-fiction cinema.  It's mandatory viewing for anyone interested in religion, subcultures or subjects based in Americana.  Plus, the church music captured in the piece is, believe it or not, exceptionally groovy.



A still from Rock My Religion

Graham's film is a far more experimental work, stitching together its video components with musical and spoken elements in an intentional stop/start pattern, suggesting at first the disorganized ramblings of a wandering consciousness.  It's a potent mix that revels in the sideways proving of Graham's thesis; drawing parallels between Ann Lee's Shakers and the quasi-religious relationship between rock music, its icons, and its fans, via less than conventional means.


A still from Rock My Religion

Rock My Religion is a mysterious object that befuddles as much as it intrigues; there are sequences throughout the work when two messages (one spoken, the other conveyed in text) unfold simultaneously, playfully disallowing full comprehension of what's being forwarded.  The best sequence might very well be when Graham layers the strains of No Wave-based punk over images of "holy rollers" overtaken by the spirit.  It's a heady, sometimes confusing piece that, with its jarring edits and unexpected juxtaposing of material, constantly dares the viewer to extrapolate beyond what's being presented onscreen. 






Cinema Project presents Rock & Religion: The Medium of Worship at the Hollywood Theatre on Tues., April 17th and Wed., April 18th at 7pm.  More info on the program available here.


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Saturday, April 14, 2012

MABUL (THE FLOOD): A CHILD'S AWAKENING TO SELF



Yoni (Yoav Rotman) is like many kids about to turn thirteen.  He's insecure about his physical appearance, unhappy with his home and school life, and bristling against socially mandated rites of passage.  Just when it seems like he's got things under control: ingesting muscle building powders and doing pull-ups, selling completed homework to schoolmates, and buckling down to learn the passages from the Torah he's been assigned for his upcoming Bar Mitzvah, his brother, Torner (Michael Moshonov), long discarded by his parents to an institution for the developmentally disabled, returns home without warning.





Guy Nattiv's (Strangers) Mabul (The Flood) concerns itself with Yoni's journey as he struggles to deal with the changing dynamics of his family.  Although still living together, his mother, Miri (Ronit Elkabetz), and father, Gidi (Tzahi Grad), are estranged, each one deeply disappointed with the other and the roles they've taken on (or abandoned) in life.  Meanwhile, Yoni's black market homework scheme is going south and some of his more menacing customers decide that he needs to be dealt a lesson.




Mabul is a fine slice-of-life/coming-of-age drama that only deepens in scope as it unfolds.  Yoni's progress is metered out in his advances and declines in authority over the Torah reading; the title of the film being a reference to the story of Noah.  The film plays out as a chronicle of Yoni's awakening to self.  And, as with most people, it's not an easy road for him to travel, requiring that he wrestle with himself, his family and the past.







Mabul (The Flood) opens the 20th Jewish Film Festival at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Sun., April 15th at 7pm.  More info about the festival available here.


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Friday, April 13, 2012

FOUR LOVERS: MECHANICAL LOVEMAKING IN AN OH, SO ADULT WORLD



There's nothing more curious than a movie that attempts to be sexy, grabbing a fistful from the ol' bucket of taboos to toss up on the screen, but ends up missing that mark by a wide margin.  Wife-swapping, deceit and supposedly hot sex before the ingestion of muddled cocktails are all on display in Antony Cordier's (Cold Showers) Four Lovers, a by-the-numbers drama about the damage done to the lives of two couples who decide to take a ride on the sexual swing (as in, to swing, darling).




Vincent (Nicolas Duvauchelle) and Rachel (Marina Foïs) find themselves thrust together as a result of a work relationship.  Shortly thereafter, they have a couples dinner with their significant others, Teri (Élodie Bouchez) and Franck (Roschdy Zem).  And, before you can say wham-bam, thank you ma'am, Teri and Franck are off to the races, stealing kisses while Vincent and Rachel are in the other room, setting the stage for the couples to exchange lovers for a season of sexual adventures.





Much of what follows comes off like b-grade Cinemax fare captured on film in a manner that visually exceeds the limp drama at play.  Unfortunately, Cordier doesn't seem all that interested in fleshing out these characters beyond the basic mechanics that lead to their arrangement, most of what we glean about the characters comes from ennui-stricken narration spoken aloud by Rachel.  Because they're underwritten as characters, Vincent, Teri, Rachel and Franck resemble nothing more than an avenue to explore scintillating notions, rather than a group of people who invite risk into their relationships for reasons of personal desire and sexual expansion.

Regrettably, the sheer practicality of their arrangement cuts much of the sizzle out of the onscreen acrobatics.  There's little danger expressed here; even the jealousies and revelations of duplicity that develop in the last half of the film can't fully redeem the picture.  You want a little steam with your cinema?  You'd be better off looking for a film that's a little less stale; the maneuvers being explored in Four Lovers are well past their sell-by-date.








Four Lovers begins its run at the Living Room Theaters on Fri.,  April 13th.  More info available here.



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