Word from the Magic Lantern is that — no surprise — the theater is continuing its practice of screening provocative, intriguing cinema. The latest film by "Force Majeure" director Ruben Ostund is on the Lantern's Friday docket.
"The Square": A museum known for supporting challenging works finds a bit of trouble when both its director and the publicity campaign for its latest installation go a bit off script — and off balance. Hey, my kid could draw that!
I'll update the mainstream theaters when they finalize their listings.
Continuing its practice of seeking out films you're not likely to see anywhere else, the Magic Lantern Theater will open the Catholic-minded movie "Novitiate" on Friday.
Capturing an 88 percent positive rating on Rotten Tomatoes (73 percent among regular viewers, the film is described this way: "Led by a gripping performance from Melissa Leo, 'Novitiate' grapples uncompromisingly — and ultimately compellingly — with questions of faith and feminism."
Here are some critical comments:
Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star Tribune: ""Novitiate" is challenging, uncomfortable, violent, simple in its message about transformative mind control imposed on youth, superbly acted and technically flawless"
Andrea Gronvall, Chicago Reader: "Writer-director Maggie Betts balances the naturalistic exchanges of her sympathetic young cast with bravura set pieces for the seasoned actors."
Christy Lemire, RogerEbert.com: " 'Novitiate' finds room for all these viewpoints; appreciating the dedication it takes to live such a life while also questioning its suppression of individuality, emotion. This willingness to embrace such complexity is a bit of a miracle in itself."
I'll update the overall list of Friday's openings when it becomes final.
Among Friday's mainstream openings, the Magic Lantern — as always — will offer its own menu of independent films. In addition to a second-run pickup of "The Battle of the Sexes," the Lantern will open:
"Loving Vincent": The story: A young man tries to help Vincent Van Gogh in his final days. The style: It's animated in a manner that apes Van Gogh's own paintings.
Here are some critical comments:
Matthew Lickona, San Diego Reader: "There's lots of love (and loveliness) on display here: the color paintings are rendered after the manner of the modern master, and there's a stubborn refusal to either glamorize a suffering soul or demonize those who may have helped to seal his fate."
Anna Smith, Time Out: "Part mystery, part visual experiment, 'Loving Vincent' is a reverent ode to the 19th century painter Vincent van Gogh."
Sheri Linden, Los Angeles Times: "Animating Van Gogh's bold impasto, already kinetic on the canvas, could have been merely superfluous. As moving pictures, though, the brushstrokes have an unexpected pull in this uneven but deeply felt homage."
If you were at the Magic Lantern Theater on Monday, you likely were there to watch the documentary film "Bending the Arc." A study of doctors working in Haiti to provide healthcare to the poor, the film is the first in a series titled "Monday Movies" that the Lantern will be screening through Nov. 27.
The series is a partnership between the theater, The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture and the newspaper The Black Lens. Its intent is to show movies that, according to Wendy Levy, executive director of The Alliance for Media Arts + Culture, "are all about transformative experiences we have as human beings, and the larger issues we must address together, as families and communities."
The first eight films in the series are, in the words of a press release, films "focused on dramatic personal stories about people, issues and experiences in the public health care system."
The series will continue Monday, Oct. 9. The schedule will be as follows:
Oct. 9, "Unrest": A Harvard graduate student faces the trial of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Oct. 16, "Motherland": Expectant mothers teams with care-givers in the Philippines' busiest maternity hospital.
Oct. 23, "Swim Team": Autistic children compete on a New Jersey swim team.
Oct. 30, "The Waiting Room": Four patients experience a day in the life of an emergency room in an inner-city hospital.
Nov. 13, "The Genius of Marian": Filmmaker Banker White documents the struggles of his mother, suffering from Alzheimer's, as she tries to preserve the work of her artist mother — who also had Alzheimer's.
Nov. 20, "Private Violence": Two women who survived murder attempts help document the realities of intimate partner violence.
OK, we're trusting that word from the Magic Lantern this week will be correct. Which refers to the news that "Raiders: The Greatest Fan Film Even Made," which was supposed to open last week, is scheduled to open on Friday.
And the other Lantern Friday opening:
"Gurukulam": A documentary exploring the way life was lived, and how the lessons were taught, at the Indian ashram overseen by the late Swami Dayananda Saraswati (who died in 2015). Bring a worldview — and a sense of humor.
And the first adjustment to the movie schedule features a deletion: "Dark Horse" will not open at the Magic Lantern on Friday. Seems Sony Pictures wants to play the movie in Seattle first. At least that's the word from the Lantern itself.
Sorry, racing fans. I'll have other news as it becomes available.
Vancouver, the British Columbia city that sits north of Seattle, offers many treats to the visitor. Not the least of those is a user-friendly film festival that comes in the fall (usually bridging the last week or so of September and on into October).
But, really, don't just take our word that the film is worth seeing. It earned a 99 percent Tomatometer reading. Here are some other critical voices:
Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic: "Wholly original and brand new, director Ciro Guerra's 'Embrace of the Serpent' immediately feels like some kind of lost classic, a movie that has been around for a long time but only talked about in film circles, finally unearthed."
David Edelstein, New York Magazine: "It's another in a long, honorable line of films that chart the poisonous effects of colonialism on indigenous populations and their ecosystems, but with an unusually invigorating perspective, like a reverse-angle 'Heart of Darkness.' "
Stephanie Zacharek, Time Magazine: "The majesty of nature is 'Embrace of the Serpent''s true star, and Guerra captures the glory of every leaf, every inch of sky, in pearlescent black-and-white as luminous as the lining of a clamshell."
Guerra's film didn't win the Oscar (which went to the Hungarian soul-crusher "Son of Saul"), but it — as you can see — is well worth a view.
Why should you see it? For one thing, the film is Chinese. It tells the story of a woman raised in martial-arts training and educated as an assassin. When told to return to her family home and kill the man to whom she was once supposed to marry, she must choose between her life's work — and love.
Two, the film won an award at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival. Taiwanese writer-director Hou Hsaio-Hsien was given the festival's Best Director Award, beating out such notable filmmakers as Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, Denis Villeneuve, and Maïwenn (who directed the 2011 Cannes Jury Prize winner "Polisse").
So mark Oct. 30 on your calendar (I use my iPhone). For those who appreciate both the larger world and the cinema it creates, "The Assassin" is a must-see movie.
Few artists who emerged in the last half of the 20th century have been mythologized, scrutinized and lionized quite like Kurt Cobain. We remember him as a tortured genius, as the godfather of the grunge movement, as a vocal resister of corporate rock, and we tend to forget that he was also just a guy.
Brett Morgen’s “Montage of Heck” isn’t the first documentary to put Cobain’s life and death under a microscope, though it is the first do so with the participation of his family (Cobain’s daughter Frances Bean served as an executive producer, and his wife Courtney Love is interviewed). To say the film humanizes Cobain might suggest that it’s blindly reverential, but it is not: We come to understand him as a man scarred by rejection, terrified of humiliation and undone by addiction, and whose 1994 suicide was probably unavoidable. It’s one of the most unflinching, harrowing portraits of a renowned cultural figure ever made.
This isn’t, however, a standard film biography that sits us down and patiently explains Cobain’s legacy. Sure, we get talking head interviews, concert footage and archival material, but Morgen’s approach is more experimental and cerebral. He’s not too concerned with the whats and whens of Cobain’s life, and a lot of basic expository details are completely glossed over. Anyone with only a passing familiarity of him and his music are likely to be left dazed and confused.
“Montage of Heck” gets its title from a “Revolution 9”-type audio collage Cobain made before he was famous, an eerie patchwork of seemingly random snippets from records and TV shows, and the movie adopts the same approach to both sound and image. This is almost a mixed media art piece, leaning heavily on Cobain’s drawings and journal entries and visualizing certain chapters of his life in animation, including a gripping sequence in which Cobain himself grimly details a failed suicide attempt when he was a teenager.
Many of Cobain’s fans have tried to rationalize his suicide, since it seemed unfathomable that someone so successful and effortlessly talented could have ever been unhappy. “Montage of Heck” does a masterful job of illustrating just how messy and unforgiving Cobain’s world was, and it becomes quite apparent that it wasn’t the fame that killed him but the scrutiny that came with it. Morgen (“The Kid Stays in the Picture”) hasn’t set out to inform in the conventional sense but to capture the turbulence of a life, and in doing so he’s made a film that is, like Cobain’s music, often visceral in its impact.
Below: The trailer for “Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck.”
We've covered the mainstream openings below. Now let's tackle the Magic Lantern, which opens only a single new movie. But that movie is something special. It's titled "Tangerine" and may be like nothing you've ever seen.
And that's not just because it was shot entirely on a pair of iPhone 5s.
Set in Los Angeles on a typical Southern California Christmas Eve, amid the flow of traffic mostly along Sunset Boulevard, "Tangerine" follows a transgender prostitute, just out of jail, as she prowls the night in search of her two-timing pimp. Along the way, writer-director Sean Baker introduces us to a cast of characters whose desires and dreams are no less real than any mainstream American.
Here are some of the critical shout-outs.
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "As one character observes in 'Tangerine,' Los Angeles is 'a beautifully wrapped lie.' Baker has created a fitting homage to artifice and the often tawdry, tender realities that lie beneath."
Christy Lemire: " 'Tangerine' is a great Los Angeles movie and a great indie and a great reminder of the possibilities of creativity during a time when everything is a sequel or a reboot or a comic-book spectacle."
Manohla Dargis, New York Times: "Little is as it seems in 'Tangerine,' a fast, raucously funny comedy about love and other misadventures."
Caution: Click on the embed below only if you aren't easily offended.
I laid out the week's mainstream movie openings below. The Magic Lantern, meanwhile, is opening one of the more intriguing, and better-reviewed, films ever to play the art-house theater. "Amy," Asif Kapadia's documentary about the late British singer Any Winehouse, owns a 97 percent approval rating on the movie-review website Rottentomatoes.com.
If you never heard of Winehouse, well … just know that she had loads of talent, was a critical darling, led a troubled life and — like many tortured talents before her — died young. In 2011 at age 27.
Some of the more impressive comments about the movie follow:
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post: "In Kapadia's assured and careful hands, the film becomes less a portrait of a tragic artist, whose downward spiral was exacerbated by opportunistic family members and colleagues, than a discomfiting mirror held up to her audience."
Jordan Levin, Miami Herald: "You don't need to be a fan of British singer Amy Winehouse to be moved by the documentary 'Amy,' a devastating examination of the deadly effect that celebrity culture, media and drugs can have on artists."
David Edelsein, New York Magazine: "Amy is alternately thrilling and devastating, throwing you back and forth until the devastation takes over and you spend the last hour watching the most supernaturally gifted vocalist of her generation chase and find oblivion.