WHOSE STREETS?

A riot is the language of the unheard. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On August 9, 2014, at approximately 12:03 p.m. Central Daylight Time, 18-year-old Michael Brown, a black man, was shot and killed by 28-year-old police officer Darren Wilson, a white man, in Ferguson, Missouri. Just minutes before the shooting, Brown was reported in connection with a convenience store, QuikTrip, theft; when Wilson and Brown’s paths crossed, a struggle ensued and Wilson shot Brown 12 times, with the twelfth shot delivering the fatal blow. Brown was unarmed and, according to witnesses, had his hands raised in the position of surrender.

Sadly, the death of Brown, particularly at the hands of a police officer, was far too ordinary. But it was Brown’s posture of surrender that caught fire and became a protest mantra for the citizens of Ferguson. Taking to the streets, they chanted: “Hands up, don’t shoot!” Some rioted, looted stores, and burned cars. Other pleaded for answers and respect. Missouri governor, Jay Nixon, called in the National Guard, tear gas and other suppression tactics were used and America was transfixed.

Whose Streets? documents this moment with ground-level photography from the protestor’s point of view. Director Sabaah Folayan and co-director Damon Davis aren’t interested in telling any other side of the story but their own; following a handful of activists who aren’t afraid of the frontline. Folayan and Davis treat them as friends, identify them by their first names, and follow them home where they try to raise families in the midst of chaos.

This subjectivity is both Whose Streets? greatest asset and its largest handicap. While the memories of Ferguson are still fresh in viewer’s minds, they will wane and future audiences may find gaps in Whose Streets? storytelling. Should that happen, hopefully, Folayan and Davis will return to this material. No doubt there is much more they have to say.

Whose Streets? is in limited release.

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Weekly Round Up (8.31.17 – 9.7.17)

Every Labor Day weekend, the small mountain town of Telluride, Colorado becomes the center of the moviegoing universe, and for four days, I sit in darkened theaters, subsisting on Steamie’s burgers and Russell Kelly Pale Ale.

With the exception of one dud (Downsizing, and I do mean dud) this year’s festival offered movies that ranged from good to masterpiece. In this week’s Boulder Weekly,  I sing the praises of WormwoodFirst ReformedFaces Places, and Lady Bird: Best in show.

As my Boulder Country tour de brew wraps up, my associate and I pay a visit to Broomfield’s C.B. & Potts: Fresh Beer at Flatiron Crossing.

Chasing Coral Courtesy of Netflix

For Out of sight, out of mind no more, I spoke with climate change documentarian Jeff Orlowski. I tend to watch an inordinate amount of these docs for work, but this was the only one I’ve enjoyed enough to watch twice. It is currently streaming on Netflix.

Agnés Varda & JR in Faces Places

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COLUMBUS

“Life’s tragedy begins with the bond between parent and child.” —Ryūnosuke Akutagawa

A father is sick and the son is beckoned to his side. Though the set-up may be familiar, the execution is anything but. This is Columbus, the first movie from writer/director Kogonada, a video essayist of considerable reputation, and little of Kogonada’s acute eye is lost in the leap from three-minute analysis to a feature-length narrative.

Columbus is the story of two wayward souls who come together in the town of Columbus, Indiana. He is Jin (John Cho), the son of an architecture scholar who has fallen into a coma from which he will not wake. Doing what must be done, Jin puts his work in Seoul, South Korea on hold to be by his father’s side — even though dear old dad was rarely by his.

She is Casey (Haley Lu Richardson); a young architecture enthusiast who abandoned her studies when mother needed some parenting of her own. As is the habit in these types of movies, Jin and Casey come together and enjoy each other’s company while biding their time in limbo. He waits for his father to die; she waits for her real life to begin.

Standard stuff, but in the capable hands of Kogonada, Columbus is anything but. Known as a mecca for modernist architecture, Columbus, Indiana sports buildings and structures crafted by I.M. Pei, Eero Saarinen, Richard Meier, and many others. Kogonada and cinematographer Elisha Christian match their deliberate and spare styles by making every shot count. And not just the framing of each shot but also the placement of the characters within the frame and at the foot of these buildings.

Both Jin and Casey lift their heads toward the sky and wonder what secrets these buildings hold. Casey has her ideas and for the most part, they work. But Jin is looking for something a little deeper. He is wondering what his father saw in these buildings. If he can find it, will he understand his father better?

The same can be asked of Kogonada, clearly a student and ardent admired of Japanese filmmaker Yasujirô Ozu. Can a director better understand another director, a father figure of sorts, by cribbing their style? Can they understand the world through their eyes? In a manner of speaking that is what cinema aspires to: communicate an experience by looking through someone else’s eyes.

There is a scene midway through Columbus where Jin asks Casey what a building she loves means to her. She smiles and starts to explain, but Kogonada drops the sound out. We are left in silence with only her smiling face to study as she describes something important to her. Her hands trace an invisible box as if she is illustrating the frame of a building. She might as well be describing the movie frame.

Haley Lu Richardson and John Cho in Columbus Photo credit Elisha Christian Courtesy of Superlative Films/Depth of Field

Written and directed by Kogonada
Produced by Danielle Renfrew Behrens, Aaron Boyd, Giulia Caruso, Ki Jin Kim, Andrew Miano, Chris Weitz
Starring: John Cho, Haley Lu Richardson, Parker Posey, Rory Culkin
Superlative Films, Not Rated, Running time 100 minutes, Opens August 25, 2017
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THE ONLY LIVING BOY IN NEW YORK

As far as the filmmakers behind The Only Living Boy in New York want you to think, Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) is your typical New Yorker. He feels he was born a few decades too late — he would have preferred the gritty, hard-scrabble NYC of the 1970s — is in love with a girl who just wants to be friends (Kiersey Clemons), lives in a Lower East Side walk-up so he doesn’t have the displeasure of running into his Upper West Side parents (Pierce Brosnan and Cynthia Nixon), befriends an hard-drinking novelist (Jeff Bridges) and works at a rare book store named after Vladimir Nabokov’s 999-line poem. Don’t worry if the name of Nabokov’s 999-line poem doesn’t immediately spring to mind, or what significance the temperature Fahrenheit 185 holds, The Only Living Boy is the sort of movie that wants you to know how clever it is and will explain all of its references, no matter how obvious or obscure.

Pale Fire is the name of the Nabokov poem, by the way. And you cook heroin at 185° Fahrenheit.

Written by Allan Loeb and directed by Marc Webb, The Only Living Boy in New York is one disingenuous cliché piled on top of another, right down to Simon and Garfunkel song.

As the title suggests, The Only Living Boy revolves exclusively around Thomas, particularly the sudden rupture that occurs when Thomas discovers his father having an affair with a freelance editor (Kate Beckinsale). With nothing better to do, Thomas follows his father’s new flame and what do you know, he falls for her. And she for him. Never mind that the British bombshell falls for the dopey son for no apparent reason, movies don’t have to make sense. Did I mention that Thomas works part time at a rare bookstore? And can somehow afford rent without the assistance of a roommate?

There are a few twists and turns to Thomas’s story that makes The Only Living Boy more engaging than it ought to be, and it certainly doesn’t hurt to have Bridges and Beckinsale on screen, but none of it adds up. Maybe it all would have worked better as a novel. But, as the characters in the movie constantly remind the audience, nobody reads novels anymore.

The Only Living Boy in New York is in limited release.

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ESCAPES

duŸenŸde \dü-en-(,)dā\ noun: the power to attract through personal magnetism and charm

To make it in Hollywood you got to have duende and Hampton Fancher has duende in spades.

Born July 13, 1938, in East Los Angeles, California, to a merchant marine and a dancer of Mexican/Danish descent, Hampton Lansen Fancher III was a kid bursting to get out. Terrible at school, he voluntarily removed himself and hopped a freighter out of Galveston, Texas and headed off to Spain. He studied flamenco dancing and named himself “Mario Mantejo.” He was 15.

No path to Hollywood is typical and as Fancher recounts his life and relationships in Michael Almereyda’s latest documentary, Escapes, Fancher’s assent to Hollywood — first as a dancer, then as an actor, now as a writer — is both coincidental and inevitable.

Divided into 7 sections, Almereyda presents Fancher’s life as a series of jobs stitched together by relationships. These relationships comprise the bulk of Escapes and though Almereyda gives a comprehensive account of Fancher’s bit roles, Escapes focuses primarily on Fancher’s loves and losses: Terri Garr, Sue Lyons, Barbara Hershey, and his closest friend, Flipper star, Brian Kelly.

But this is burying the lead. While these stories make Fancher a fascinating subject, those unfamiliar with Fancher’s one major contribution to cinema will wonder what the hook is. The hook: Fancher was the unlikely writer and producer of Blade Runner and the last act of Escapes is devoted to the wheeling and dealing behind the making of the iconic film, the trouble with adapting Philip K. Dick’s novel, and what the movie means to Fancher.

Few films elicit the level of obsession Blade Runner has. And with the long-awaited sequel, Blade Runner 2049, also penned by Fancher, due out this October, now is the perfect time to take a look at some of the lesser-known names behind the major movies. Hampton Fancher may not be an Orson Welles or a Martin Scorsese, but he can spin a yarn just as good.

Escapes is in limited release.

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WIND RIVER

The camera swoops over rocky peaks and muddy roads covered in ice and snow. It’s an inhospitable and barren environment, as inviting as the Sahara Desert or the middle of the Pacific Oceans. It’s wintertime in Wyoming and it’s about as forgiving as an Old Testament god.

Wind River, from writer/director Taylor Sheridan, opens in this desolate wasteland with Natalie (Kelsey Asbille) running shoeless through waist-deep snow in the middle of the night. We don’t need anyone to tell us she is running for her life. A day or two later, Cory (Jeremy Renner) finds the remains of her boyfriend (Jon Bernthal) frozen in a snow bank, half of his body devoured by wolves.

Since both deaths occurred on the Wind River Indian Reservation, the F.B.I. sends a lone rookie agent to investigate. All signs point to murder but to find the culprits Agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen) will have to sift through a depressing past and a pessimistic present.

Wind River is the story of the guilt white America brings to the reservation and the resentment the reservation harbors against the Americans who sequestered them. Sheridan uses the Cory character to act as the bridge between the two worlds, and, with the help of Renner, he almost pulls it off. Cory may be the hero of the picture but, in the end, he is just another broken man who has suffered a catastrophic loss.

Wind River paints a bleak picture, at times not bleak enough. Sheridan pulls his punches when he really ought to lay it on. That would make the movie almost unwatchable but, then again, there are aspects of life that are unbearable. A movie is often designed to give the audience catharsis. Wind River doesn’t even come close. Just a reminder that even though we are watching a story, the reality is much worse.

Wind River is in limited release.

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THE MIDWIFE

Even though The Midwife — the latest from writer/director Martin Provost — opens with a live birth, the story revolves around an off-screen death, with Claire (Catherine Frot) at the center of both. She is a midwife, and we come to know the type of woman she is by watching her make her rounds delivering babies all day and all night. Fastidious and capable, its no surprise when we find out she doesn’t drink, smoke, or stray outside the line.

Then a rupture comes: Claire’s father has committed suicide. Claire deals with it, but she feels an obligation to inform Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve), her father’s mistress whom she hasn’t spoken too in 30 years.

Béatrice is Claire’s exact opposite. She smokes, drinks, and gambles easily — probably loves just the same — still the news of her old flame’s death rattles her. Béatrice looks for solace in Claire’s arms, but that only complicates their strained relationship.

Then another rupture comes: Béatrice has a brain tumor. With nowhere else to go and no one to turn to, she lands in Claire’s lap. “I feel like I’ve made a mistake somewhere,” Claire sighs, but only after she learns of a third rupture: she is going to be a grandmother.

The Midwife is a movie of interiors. Only a dozen shots are set outdoors — a handful of them are used to underline specific tangents the narrative doesn’t have space for. Instead, The Midwife places its focus on Claire and Béatrice. And like the babies Claire pulls into the big, cold, scary world, Béatrice will pull Claire out of her shell and into this world; a world of love and pain, life and death, laughter and misery.

It takes sometime for The Midwife to get there, and when it does, it does so quietly. But with Deneuve and Frot as traveling companions, at least you know the destination will be worth it.

The Midwife is in limited release.

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