Category Archives: Preview

PIFF Previews #2

Here’s a second look at a few films screening at this year’s Portland International Film Festival. Hope you’ve been able to get out to see one of the 100+ feature length and short subject films they are bringing to the city this month.

7C6A4266.tif’71 (screens tonight at Cinema 21 @ 6pm)
Just as The Tribe didn’t offer viewers any translation of the sign language being spoken onscreen, the difficulty with ’71 is trying to decipher the thick Irish accents of many of the actors. Also like the Ukrainian film, you won’t be lost watching this engrossing look at the “The Troubles” that tore apart Northern Ireland. In it, a squadron from the Territorial Army is brought in to support police efforts to root out the IRA and is immediately driven away from the streets of Belfast by an angry mob. One unlucky soldier gets left behind, and we spend the rest of the film following him on a harrowing quest to get back to his barracks. There’s no deep insight into the Catholic and Protestant divide that was at the center of this rift, just an unflinching look at the violence meted out by both sides and a fine lead performance by rising star Jack O’Connell.

lg_3655Timbuktu (screens 2/10 at Moreland Theater @ 6pm)
I was excited to see the NW Film Center pay heed to African filmmakers once again for this year’s PIFF and even more so to see a film by Abderrahmane Sissako in the mix. The director doesn’t disappoint with this potent fable that contrasts the brutal regime that inflicted Sharia law on the people of northern Mali and the contented people living outside the cities. And when the two worlds collide in the guise of a farmer who accidentally kills one of his neighbors, the absurdity and terror that swirl around this ongoing conflict are brought to vivid life. It’s sour-tasting medicine, but necessary to swallow if you have even a passing interest in geopolitics.

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 1.38.56 PMNuoc 2030 (screens tonight at World Trade Center @ 6pm, and on 2/13 @ 8:45pm)
As the effects of climate change start to become more extreme and our prospects of survival on this planet more dire, we’re going to start seeing more films like Nuoc 2030. The film takes place in a flooded region of Vietnam where people are forced to compete for resources against huge conglomerates and their fellow survivors, and centers on one couple that is caught in the swirl of these dual forces. It’s billed as science fiction but feels more like a terrifying glimpse of what might come to pass, especially for those poor countries surrounded by water. Even more heartbreaking is the relationship between Sáo and Giang, the couple whose relationship is torn asunder by an ex-lover and the evils of capitalism.


PIFF Previews #1

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 12.07.24 PMIt’s that most wonderful time of the year when the NW Film Center takes over a smattering of movie theaters around the city to bring you engaging, thoughtful, weird, and heartbreaking cinema from across the globe. Yes, friends, tonight kicks off the first full night of the 38th Annual Portland International Film Festival – and we here at BA headquarters couldn’t be more excited about it. The schedule, as ever, is jam packed with goodness, so that even the most jaded movie lover will have something to get excited about.

We’re going to be spending the next week or two highlighting the films playing the festival that we’ve had a chance to screen in advance, and will give you our thoughts – both good and bad – on what we see. This will hardly be as comprehensive as some local publications will give you, but that’s only because we are a very small operation with other obligations and only have so many hours in the day to watch some of the 97 features and 60 shorts on offer this year.

Still, hopefully we can help guide some of your own scheduling for PIFF as we are doing our best to pay attention to features that might otherwise get ignored in the face of big ticket events like Chuck Workman’s Orson Welles documentary and yesterday’s opening night film Wild Tales. Look for the second installment of this series to drop on Monday.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 12.11.10 PMTHE TRIBE  (screens tonight at Cinema 21 @ 8pm)
I wrote about this a little bit for this week’s Portland Mercury but will expand a bit on here. This feature from Ukraine’s Miroslav Slaboshpitsky puts viewers at a disadvantage from its opening moments. As a title card advises you, this dialogue in this film is all delivered via sign language, but Chyou’ll get no subtitle or in scene translations. Instead, you just get chilling silence and ambient sound. This works to the director’s advantage though as you are forced to pay such close attention to every moment so you can get carried forward through the plot – which follows a young man who falls in with a gang of teens running various criminal operations (drug dealing, prostitution) out of a deaf school – via body language and context clues. It’s absolutely enthralling and chilling in the mode of Harmony Korine’s Kids but free of that movie’s strange moralizing.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 12.10.53 PMTHE BOY AND HIS WORLD (screens 2/7 at Moreland Theater @ 1pm)
If I had to pick one movie that will be the talk of PIFF this year, it would be this charming and indicting animated feature from Brazil. Using simply drawn characters and richly complex backgrounds, director Alé Abreu takes us on a journey into the heart of modernity, following a little boy as he seeks out his father in the unforgiving world beyond his humble hillside home. Almost every action in it is pitched to the beat of music, the sole source of comfort for many of the downtrodden proletariats that the young man encounters along his adventures, giving the film a pulse that helps ease the swallowing of its harsh views on the horrors of capitalism and adds depth to its most heartrendingly touching moments.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 12.11.27 PMMARIE’S STORY (screens tonight at Fox Tower @ 5:45pm; 2/8 at Moreland Theater @ 6:15pm)
Based on the true life of the titular young deaf and blind woman brought out of her self-imposed cocoon by a dedicated nun, this French feature has its controls set right to the heart of crowd pleasing. To that end, if you’ve seen enough of these films following someone as they set out to beat the odds and overcome adversity, you’ll easily be able to predict scenes and plot points unspooling before you. That doesn’t make the film any less affecting, however, especially thanks to some unusually strong work from first time actress Ariana Rivoire as Marie and Isabelle Carré who plays the girl’s protector and teacher Sister Marguerite.

Screen Shot 2015-02-06 at 12.10.33 PMSHORT CUTS 2: OREGON SHORTS (screens 2/8 at Whitsell Auditorium @ 1pm)
As they do every year, the programmers have put together an impressive collection of short subjects, including this bunch all filmed in the state or made by Oregon-based directors. The works run the gamut from deeply felt fiction to short documentaries, and, as you’d expect, vary in quality. I was surprisingly moved by Portland director Jessica Baclesse’s Roughneck, a small portrait of a former rodeo rider struggling to make ends meet and comeback after an injury sidelined his career, just as I was by a simple two minute look at the changing landscape of one small part of Bond Butte as seen through the lens of Pam Minty. I was less moved by Vanessa Renwick’s Layover, which did an amazing job of capturing the swirl of the swifts that take over the chimney at Chapman School ever year, but slathered her images with an unnecessary post-rock soundtrack, and Austin Will’s Long Way Gone, which married some lovely looks at the beautiful Oregon landscape with a formless wanderings of a man on a motorcycle.

Reel Music Review: The Ballad of Shovels and Rope (2014, dir. Jace Freeman)

promo-poster_1024x1024Review by Jay Clarke

There are good music documentaries that act as the summation of a career (see Peter Bogdanovich’s Tom Petty doc Runnin’ Down A Dream), documentaries that shine a light on a lesser known talent (Searching For Sugar Man, The Devil and Daniel Johnston), docs that catch a star at shocking heights (Madonna: Truth or Dare), docs that capture the intricate and fascinating inner workings of a creative unit (Some Kind of Monster). What to make of The Ballad of Shovels and Rope, a movie about a band that has been together for three years?

In the film we follow Shovels and Rope, married couple Michael and Cary Ann, as they traverse the nasty world of the independent musician. There’s the travel, the bad weather, the drunk girls beating on your van as you pull out of a bad show, the label execs who say all the right things but maybe don’t have your best interests at heart, the management that wants to give advice but doesn’t want to make a mistake. We see the band write songs, record, get studio fright, fight (not that much actually for a creative married couple), hug, laugh a lot and generally act like two people who love each other. As a finale, there’s the meteoric rise to network TV, industry awards, bigger stages, bigger hair.

The movie stumbles because there’s simply not enough there there. And that’s not Shovels and Ropes’ fault. The couple is talented, motivated, likeable and easy to watch (especially big-hearted Hearst who comes across like a Bette Midler/Tammy Wynette hybrid). But apart from the terrible odds of “making it,” and because we already know that they in fact do “make it,” there’s very little friction in the movie. Who are these people after they get their heart’s desire? What are they like at their worst? Without some tension the film plays like an entertaining profile, another piece of a puzzle designed to make Shovels and Rope a part of your consciousness.

I’m sure the existing fan will find the movie to be more of what they’ve come to appreciate about the band in the first place. There’s plenty to like about them. For the uninitiated, it’s a whirlwind trip from the woods of South Carolina to the Grand Ole Opry. And that’s about it. In the end, The Ballad of Shovels and Rope is not unlike that song that comes on the radio, the one with the high level of hokum, the references to old dogs, drunk loves, hard work, the sunlight on a can of beer— despite yourself, and maybe you don’t tell your friends, but that damn song makes you tear up every time. You just don’t want to listen to it everyday.

[The Ballad of Shovels and Rope screens tonight at 7pm at Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park Ave.; click here for tickets]

Reel Music Review: The 78 Project Movie (2014, dir. Alex Steyermark)

The-78-Project-presto-Thumbnail2-w-LFF-1024x576Review by William Ham

The 78 Project, the web series kicked off in 2011 by director Alex Steyermark and producer Lavinia Jones Wright and Kickstarted into feature-length form, is a nifty homage to Alan Lomax, the legendary folklorist and ethnomusicologist who sought to preserving the folk tales and folk songs indigenous to every region of America. Steyermark and Wright pay tribute to Lomax’s methods, lugging a set-up identical to what Lomax used to capture his subjects’ songs and stories – an authentic 1930s microphone, a 10-inch black lacquer disk, and a Presto direct-to-disc recorder, a remarkable early piece of purely portable recording equipment.They meet their subject—which include a range of musical luminaries from John Doe to Victoria Williams to John C. Reilly—let them choose the place they’d like to play, and favor us with a song that could have been played by one of Lomax’ artists, with very rigid strictures enforced by the Presto: they have a limit of three minutes (the standard capacity of a 78) and a single take to get the whole thing down—no do-overs possible because the Presto’s stylus is embedding the music directly onto the disc.

The songs are invariably lovely, the performances strong and true, and, in most cases, we get the chance to sit with the artist as they listen to the lacquer they’ve captured. In between songs, we get to see where all this came from with visits to the Library of Congress’ Archive room joined by Todd Harvey, the current curator of the Lomax Collection, who can shine the light on all corners of the original process.

There are times that you wonder whether The 78 Project Movie exists as a sort of stick with which Steyermark and Wright intend to beat down our current age of digital media in the name of “authenticity,” that music-snob canard that the Greenwich Village crowd of the early ’60s offered up as a smug riposte to rock ‘n’ roll. But, of course, this project only exists because of the easy accessibility of web-based media and compact portable cameras – the means by which an entire, beautiful-looking motion picture can be constructed by only two people.

Then you consider that these Prestos were state of the art in Lomax’s day, and you may start peeling away the layers of history at work here, layers that will continue to accrue to undertakings of this sort for as long as they exist. You may also begin to consider the impermanence of the digital media. Compare the scratched up five-year-old CD-R you’ve laid some irreplaceable piece of work onto that skips and sputters in your laptop with those 80-year-old acetates that remain perfectly playable today. Listen to the recordings being played back of the songs we’ve just heard in full, and note how the lower fidelity and the surface noise transforms them, presenting them at a remove that seems so much farther away than the few seconds separating recording and playback.

If you’re struck by the way that medium changes what we’ve experienced, consider if someone stumbles upon one of these discs some record fair with no idea who recorded it or when? What would they hear and what would they assume it tells them? Where does that leave our understanding, and what will happen when an artifact like this film turns up 80 years from now? What would they assume about our lost moment?

[The 78 Project Movie screens at 2:15pm on Oct 12 at Whitsell Auditorium, 1219 SW Park; click here for tickets]

Preview: 32nd Reel Music Festival @ NW Film Center

unnamedBeing as equally obsessive about music as we are about film, the Reel Music Festival is one of the things we look forward to most each year. The NW Film Center does a fantastic job curating a wide array of fiction and non-fiction movies that take on an impressively diverse bunch of genres.

The 32nd edition of this annual celebration of music on film looks to be no exception with some fine looking features on singer-songwriter Elliott Smith, jazz phenom Rashaan Roland Kirk, a revival of the peerless concert documentary Stop Making Sense and more.

Before you run off to snap up your tickets for this year’s Reel Music Fest, we thought we’d offer up our $0.02 about a few of the films being shown during the first week of this event. We’ll do a second roundup next Friday, as well. This post is also the introduction of a new voice to the team here at Biocarbon Amalgamate: Jay Clarke. Happy to have him on board. Check out our work after the jump.

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