Monday, December 19, 2011

The Loft's Favorite Films of 2011


1. Melancholia
2. Take Shelter
3. Marwencol
4. Attack the Block
5. The Interrupters
6. Incendies
7. The Last Circus
8. Bill Cunningham New York
9. Meek's Cutoff
10. TIE Drive and The Tree of Life

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hidden Gems: The Ten Films at The Loft Film Fest You Might not Think You Need to See (But You Do)

We're super excited about this year's Loft Film Fest lineup, and while you might know about some of the bigger films in the festival (Melancholia, We Need to Talk About Kevin, the 10th Anniversary screening of Donnie Darko with writer/director Richard Kelly in person), we're hoping you don't overlook some of the other great films that might otherwise fly under the radar.  Here they are in alphabetical order:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

MISSING REEL: The Rambling Guitarist


Cinema’s canon is well known. If I were to say, “We’ll always have Paris,” or, “No, I am your father,” you’d know exactly what films I was talking about. Not every film that deserves to be alongside those makes it up there, though. Some have even been nearly forgotten, passed over, or practically erased from movie history. This is a column about those films, the ones that exist on dubbed-over VHS tapes and pirated PAL laserdiscs. They are the missing reels from cinema’s history, the empty spaces in its canon.

directed by BUICHI SAITO

To many, Japan has only one director, and his name is Akira Kurosawa. It’s not their fault that they think that, though. He is regularly the only Japanese filmmaker mentioned on any “best of” list that has to do with film, the director with the most films released by the Criterion Collection, and has inspired countless films, from Star Wars to A Bug’s Life (that is a theory that is backed up by nothing, by the way. But seriously, watch it again; it’s Seven Samurai with a caterpillar). However, looking at only Kurosawa would be like looking only at Steven Spielberg in the realm of American films: they are the biggest names out there. And, you know, Spielberg doesn’t do much for me and Kurosawa isn’t my favorite Japanese director. He’d crack my top ten, though (Ikiru is a pretty perfect film, so just based on that he makes it).

Friday, October 14, 2011

THE LAST CIRCUS / Staff Review by Dave Paiz

The Last Circus is the best, most brilliantly bizarre psycho clown movie you'll see this year. It's also a quasi-monster movie and brutally tragic love story that left an indelible imprint on this reviewer’s psyche. The tale of an ill-fated love triangle isn’t exactly a new one, but director Alex de la Iglesia executes this one in a wildly over-the-top and unpredictable fashion that boggles the mind and blisters the senses.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

TABLOID / Staff Review by Evan Salazar

There is a point in Errol Morris’ new documentary, TABLOID, when a tabloid journalist is speaking about a sex act perpetrated by the film’s main focus, Joyce McKinney. Straight faced, he says, “She chained him up,” but then he lets loose with a smile and says, “Well, I guess she used ropes, but ‘chained up’ sounds better.” In a film about lies, scandal, and the delusions people carry with them, it’s a surprisingly honest moment about myth-creating and fact-skewing. With this brief, candid aside, the journalist displays that he is willing to embellish the truth with the most provocative word-choice the facts allow. His ability to be honest about that doesn’t seem surprising – he writes for tabloids, after all, which even its journalists must be aware aren’t the most prestigious of news sources – but in a film all about fantasy and insular world-building, it is a very telling, funny, and finally, wise moment of self-awareness. Joyce McKinney could learn a thing or two.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

THE LAST MOUNTAIN / Staff Review by Dave Paiz

"The epicenter of the climate change battle in the United States is Appalachian coal, and the epicenter of the battle around Appalachian coal is Coal River Mountain."

- Dr. Allen Hershkowitz, Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council

In the opening moments of Bill Haney's new documentary, "The Last Mountain," the president of the West Virginia Coal Association makes the snide and vaguely contemptuous assertion that most Americans don't know where their electricity comes from, and that they even see it as some kind of entitlement.

While there may be a kernel of truth embedded in that statement, that hardly justifies the ongoing destruction of the Appalachians by those who value profits more than people. Once you blow off the top of a mountain, it ceases to be a mountain. And once you blow the top off an entire mountain range, all that's left is a desolate field of rubble and a variety of health and environmental woes that didn't exist before. And situated in the center of a field of toxic rubble that used to be mountains lies West Virginia’s Coal River Mountain, the titular focus of the film.

"The Last Mountain" is easily one of the most compelling environmental documentaries I've ever seen, and makes a strong case that the war between Big Coal and average citizens struggling to preserve their environment, their health, and a sustainable future for their children, has implications that concern us all.

The key to making a really good documentary is to present the subject from as many different angles as possible, and Haney manages to present the fundamental views of all parties that have a stake in this fiercely heated conflict.

Currently, nearly half of America's electricity is generated by coal-fired power plants, and roughly 1/3 of the coal needed to keep those plants running comes from the Appalachian mountains.

The coal industry has determined that the fastest, cheapest way to extract the coal is by literally blowing the tops off the mountains, using enough explosives each week to equal the bomb that leveled Hiroshima. Unfortunately, in their relentless pursuit of short-term profits, they've largely ignored the long-term damage done to the environment by way of flooding and pollution of area waterways, as well as numerous accounts of cancer and other insults to human health many believe are directly associated with the coal industry's practices.

What began as a local struggle has grown into something much bigger, and become a major focus of longtime environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who features prominently in the film.

As the debates surrounding climate change and corporate control of our democracy grow louder with each passing day, "The Last Mountain" couldn't be more timely. It's a classic David vs. Goliath story that pits ordinary citizens from all walks of life against a monolithic and seemingly implacable foe with the power to buy off politicians at the highest levels, break the law, shape the scope of public debate and manufacture consent as it deems fit.

If you’re not already dead inside, the film will shock, sadden and enrage you, before finally showing an inspirational glimmer of hope offered by sustained, non-violent civil disobedience and the transformational long-range potential of renewable energy sources.

The Last Mountain plays Wednesday, August 24th at 7:30PM only, as part of our ongoing One Hit Wonders series.  This screening is co-presented by The Southern Arizona Green Chamber of Commerce.  A post-film panel discussion will take place with the following local environmental experts:
ARDETH BARNHART, Program Director of Renewable Energy at UA, formerly with AzRISE
PABLO GARCIA-CHEVESICH, researcher/consultant in watershed management specializing in land reclamation & erosion control
VINCENT PAWLOWSKI, 27 years in engineering, holder of a new degree in Sustainable Community Development from Prescott College
DAVID SCHALLER, President of his energy & climate consultancy after a lengthy career with EPA, specializing in Sustainable Development & Climate Change
KATHERINE KENT, owner of the Solar Store, will moderate the panel.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

POETRY / Staff Review by Evan Salazar

The reason Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING is so scary is because the Overlook Hotel is perpetually saturated in light, never allowing the Torrance family to escape the terrors that haunt its walls. The twins don’t hide in dark shadows – they are fully visible. Even when Danny does his best to shut his eyes and wish them away, they stay in full light, their terror un-obscured and completely unhinged. When what scares one the most is partially hidden, the full picture never materializes and one is allowed to not face all of its cruel characteristics; but when one’s fears are in the open, dosed in bright light, the terror is inescapable.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Reflections on Kids' Fest / By Peggy Springer

The 2011 Tucson International Children’s Film Festival, or Kids Fest for short, began Saturday, July 23 with the Annie Sing-A-Long and ended Sunday, July 31 with Babe.  During those nine days of fun, movies, prizes, popcorn, kids, babies, grown-ups who came as parents, and grown-ups who came just to see the films, we saw many of the same faces just about each day, and some faces we saw everyday.  Thank you for coming to the movies with us.  See you next year!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

THE TRIP / Staff Review by Evan Salazar

Michael Winterbottom is one of the few directors who deserves the title of “eclectic” or “quirky.” You’d be hard-pressed to find one of his films that is much like the others, as he jumps freely from the quasi-documentary to the full-on documentary to thrillers and then to, at its core, artful pornography (lets be honest, 9 SONGS is not much more than porn intercut with some live music and strained attempts at plot – which is by no means a bad thing, you know, it just is what it is). In the vein of continuing to do what absolutely no one expected him to do next, Winterbottom directed a six episode British miniseries called THE TRIP, which brought back Steve Coogan (TROPIC THUNDER, 24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE, HAMLET 2) and Rob Brydon’s fictionalized portrayals of themselves from an earlier Winterbottom film, A COCK AND BULL STORY. The miniseries was then edited into a feature-length film and brought over here to the States, and that is what we are presented with here.

Friday, July 22, 2011


Of all the genres, one could argue that Fantasy is the most open to interpretation.  Typical Fantasy plots tend to involve either children or the mentally unsound (or both), and feature supporting characters like goblins, faeries, and the like.  But beyond such limited conventionalities, Fantasy is what film is all about; when we walk into a theater and watch frozen images moving at 24 frames per second, watch actors reading lines from a script in manufactured rain or sunlight, we pretend for a little while that it's "real."  In honor of the new film THE TROLL HUNTER, which opens today at The Loft, here are our favorite films that we deem Fantasy.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011




Thursday, June 2, 2011

AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY - Staff review by Dave Paiz

In 1994 the savagely funny bundle of energy and awareness known as Bill Hicks left this mortal coil to rejoin the cosmos in the Arms of the One True God That Is Love and await the moment when All will again become One. I was going to open by stating the obvious - in this case, the fact that Bill Hicks was a truly gifted standup comic that died way before his time - but opted for something more or less in line with what Hicks himself might have penned for himself, had he been given the chance.

If you're like me, then you totally missed out on Hicks' all-too-brief rise and fall and continue to mine the depths of your skull trying to figure out what freaking planet you were on back then. I don't know about you, but for me, the window of time between the late '80's and early '90's was a bit of a fugue state, and many of the details of that era have mercifully been lost to the ravages of time and good, old-fashioned American hedonism. So on second thought, it's probably a good thing you're not like me, because I did a great many irretrievably stupid things back then, not the least of which was never getting into Bill Hicks when he was in his raging, stomping the mf'ing terra prime.

More than just a comic, Bill Hicks was arguably the sharpest satirist and social critic of his generation and a fiery intellectual who made gelatinous potted meat product out of many of America's most cherished sacred cows. As it turned out, I was first introduced to his ideas by way of the industrial/psychedelic art-metal band Tool, whose epic 1996 release "AEnima" was dedicated to the late comic genius. Those who'd like to know more about Hicks without braving Tool's darkly beautiful, brain-melting musical stylings would do well to check out American: The Bill Hicks Story, a solid new documentary from directors Matt Hartlock and Paul Thomas.

Inspired early on by the likes of Woody Allen and Richard Pryor, Hicks' dreams of comic stardom initially took root in Houston, where he quickly made his mark on the local comedy scene while still in high school.  Drawing initially from his strict Southern Baptist upbringing, Hicks poked fun at his family life and the various absurdities he observed during his weekly comic adventures in the so-called adult world.  His act soon became wildly popular, but Hicks, perhaps sensing on some level that he didn't have much time on this earth, set his sights much higher, and he soon left the stagnant confines of Houston for Los Angeles and the all-encompassing nexus for standup comedy in the known Universe - The Comedy Store.

It's always seemed to me that once comics establish their voice, their shtick, they tend to stick with it throughout their career and never change. That was never the case with Hicks, who always felt that he was destined to shake up the status quo and constantly pushed himself to break new ground. This is where Hicks' story takes a familiar turn. Feeling like he'd hit a mental wall, and with his competing dreams of rock versus comic stardom stalled on both fronts, Hicks began to experiment with alcohol and psychedelic mushrooms with mixed results that forever changed his outlook on Reality.

And as anyone who's spent a fair amount of time jabbing their Third Eye with a cattle prod will attest to, once you hop on the Magic Bus, your ideas start getting, shall we say, more and more out there.  Predictably, Hicks' material started veering off the beaten path, and mutated from observations about his family, to commenting on America and the nature of Reality itself.  Largely relying on a dynamic visual style that combines still and moving images, the film also brings Hicks' story to life via interview footage from friends and family and a lot of great standup footage from Hicks himself. Rather than a distraction, the animation really enhances the film, most vividly during the hallucinogenic sequences.

Bill Hicks broke a lot of boundaries in a painfully short period of time, and we're left to wonder about what he'd be like today had he not succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 34. The time since he's been gone has seen the birth of the Internet and Facebook, the Bush v. Gore debacle, and cultural excreta like Reality TV and Fox News. Every day seems to bring with it some new conspiracy theory or brain-jarringly weird belief. Politicians on both sides routinely embellish reality to suit their own ends. In the midst of endless war and economic stagnation, we appear to be at a crossroads and enmeshed in fierce debate over what kind of nation we want to be moving forward in a post-911/post-Osama world.  While he'll live on through his recorded material and this lovingly crafted documentary, it's a damn shame Bill Hicks didn't live long enough to lend his voice to the chorus of those now challenging us to throw off our assumptions, truly think for ourselves, and find a better way to live on this earth.

Review by Dave Paiz, Loft Cinema Facilities Manager and host of "Bat Country Radio" Saturdays from 2-4 a.m. on 91.3 FM KXCI.

AMERICAN: THE BILL HICKS STORY starts Friday, June 3rd at The Loft Cinema.  ONE WEEK ONLY!

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Loft's Favorite Westerns

In anticipation of Kelly Reichardt's new award-winning new Western re-vision, Meek's Cutoff, here is a list of The Loft staff's favorite westerns, new and old, good and bad.  Mostly old and good.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Kelly Reichardt: All Disquiet On The Northwestern Front - Matt Wavrin

"I was scouting for Wendy and Lucy in Tucson on Highway 10 in the middle of nowhere and this van blew a tire right in front of me and went into the ditch. So I pulled over. It was this Mexican woman, she was mid-forties, maybe my age. She had no shoes on, just socks. I asked if she had AA or a spare tire. No. Well, do you have a cellphone? Yeah, but they just turned it off. She said, “Before I bought this Pepsi, I had $20.” That’s where she was at. So I gave her a ride to the next exit which was about half an hour away and we borrowed a jack from a trucker and circled back around. So now I’m like an hour out of my day and trying to figure out how deep I’m going to get into this. But she was so unpanicked by her situation. She was going to visit her husband and she was very accustomed, clearly, to shit going down like this and having to scramble. She was on her knees on the side of the road getting this tire off when a cop stopped. The cop never made an effort to help her but he kept telling me to be careful. What she was doing was way more dangerous but he stood there and watched her and kept telling me to be safe and get out of the way. She just took the whole thing in stride, which really made an impression on me."

-Kelly Reichardt

A little over 2 years ago, I went to see something called "Wendy And Lucy" at The Loft Cinema in Tucson. Having heard good things about Kelly Reichardt's previous film, "Old Joy," I was anxious to watch it, but was not expecting to be as affected as I was. Truth be told, I didn't see a movie as uniquely powerful the remainder of the year. It announced a new filmmaking voice, but because of Reichardt's complete confidence as a director, it didn't need be loud, brash, gratuitous, violent, ugly, shocking, or controversial to burst onto the map. Its emphasis on character, dialogue, and human (as well as human-animal) relationships was so refreshing to see, it almost made you forget that most movies these days don't focus on these basic elements.

Based on a story by Jon Raymond (with whom Reichardt is again collaborating on her new film, "Meek's Cutoff") the sad predicament that Michelle Williams' Wendy gets herself in makes you feel for her, especially in this day and age. Reichardt described her film thusly: "If you don't have a net and you've had a shitty education and you don't have the benefit of family that's in any better situation than you're in, how does one improve their lot? Not even reaching the middle class, but how do you just get a toehold in the next level?" Wendy is a lost soul looking to find work in Alaska, when her hopes get derailed by a case of car trouble and a run-in with the law. "Old Joy," too, is concerned with a similar character, Kurt (musician and sometimes-actor Will Oldham) who has a wandering spirit in contrast to his old friend (Daniel London), a man content with family life. Kurt only wants to relive the connection the two friends once had, but it appears his friend has moved on.
Reichardt's new film, "Meek's Cutoff," can be considered a Lost Trilogy of sorts. Set in 1845 on the Oregon Trail, it concerns three families that are led, rather misled, by Stephen Meek (Bruce Greenwood) through the Cascade Mountains, enduring what you might expect if you ever played the classic computer game. Reichardt focuses on the plight of the families, particularly their need to find water as they become more skeptical of Meek's guiding abilities. Reichardt carries over actors from previous films, including Michelle Williams and Will Patton, but there are also new faces in the cast, such as Paul Dano ("Little Miss Sunshine," "There Will Be Blood"), Zoe Kazan (yes, granddaughter of Elia Kazan), Shirley Henderson ("Marie Antoinette," "Trainspotting") and Neal Huff  ("Michael Clayton," TV show "The Wire").

 Although Reichardt made her debut with 1994's "River of Grass" (a little-seen independent set in her home state of Florida), she has only three shorts to credit, in addition to the aforementioned features. In the meantime, she teaches film at Bard College in New York. According to Reichardt, the gap between feature films (12 years passed between "Grass" and "Old Joy") had much to do with her financing frustrations, most certainly the thorn in the side for most independent filmmakers wishing to tell more personal stories.

"Meek's Cutoff" opens at The Loft on May 20.

-Matt Wavrin is a former Loft volunteer and devoted audience member (2001-2010).  A graduate of The University of Arizona's Media Arts B.A. program, he now resides in North Carolina and is waiting for a miracle. Please send him one.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


As one of the last of the psychedelic movers and shakers that helped shape the 1960's and beyond, it's a bit strange that Wavy Gravy has never had his own full-length documentary before now. Saint Misbehavin': The Wavy Gravy Story ends the long wait for fans of the '60's icon and is an inspiring tribute to one of the most colorful, witty and deeply spiritual characters of his generation.

Ten years in the making, the film, directed by Michelle Esrick, traces the arc of Wavy Gravy's life, from his humble beginnings as beat poet/spoken word performance artist Hugh Romney, to his eventual emergence as a countercultural icon and tireless force for good in the world.

Some people take acid and make great art, others take acid and go certifiably insane. After falling in with Ken Kesey and his band of Merry Pranksters, Hugh Romney took acid and soon discovered he could get even higher by helping those who need it the most. And for the last four decades he's done exactly that.

From sharing a room with Bob Dylan, to helping feed the masses at Woodstock, to crossing the Khyber Pass on the roof of a bus on the way to feed flood-ravaged people in Bangladesh, to his current status as countercultural elder statesman and hippie Dumbledore at his own performing arts camp for kids, Wavy Gravy's story is a rambling psychedelic epic like no other.

And after being at the crossroads of some of the most pivotal events of his generation, the man himself remains quite humble and down to earth, with a seemingly unassailable optimism that's increasingly rare in this cynical age.

Esrick does a great job in maintaining just the right distance from her subject and sketching her portrait from many different sources. Featuring lots of archival footage and interviews with family and friends ranging from Jackson Browne, Ram Dass and Buffy Sainte-Marie, as well as Wavy Gravy himself, the film is fascinating viewing for all students of the Sixties, and those devoted to putting their good where it does the most.

Review by Dave Paiz, Loft Cinema Facilities Manager and host of "Bat Country Radio" Saturdays from 2-4 a.m. on 91.3 FM KXCI.

SAINT MISBEHAVIN': THE WAVY GRAVY MOVIE plays Tuesday, May 17th at 7:30PM at The Loft Cinema.

Friday, May 13, 2011

STAFF SPOTLIGHT: Christian Ramirez

Christian Ramirez has been a staple at The Loft for almost five years now.  In order to pursue her lifelong passion for art, she'll be leaving our employ.  We wish her only the best, and her departure is only bearable because we know we'll see her around soon and often as a customer and a friend.  Here are her parting words:

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Loft's Favorite Movie Aliens

Aside from being a radical feminist text, James Cameron's Aliens is also a badass movie about the titular subject--acid-bleeding, Ringwraith-shrieking beings from outer space.  Since we'll be playing the film this Friday and Saturday as part of our Cult Classics series presented by Bookmans, we got to thinking about our favorite on-screen extra terrestrials.  Here we go:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Loft's Favorite South Korean Films

Tonight marks the beginning of a very unofficial, ad hoc, miniature South Korean film festival at The Loft.  We'll be playing three recent South Korean films in the span of a week and a half--Secret Sunshine tonight at 7:30, The Housemaid, starting Friday, March 25th, and I Saw the Devil, starting Friday, April 1st.  The three films are about as different as three films could be, but they reflect the recent trend of excellent films coming out of South Korea, whether they be the arty, austere films of Kim Ki-Duk (Breath, Spring, Summer, Winter, Fall... and Spring), the polished exploitation of Park Chan-wook (Oldboy, Thirst), or the wrenching dramas of Lee Chang-dong (Peppermint Candy, Secret Sunshine).  We got to thinking about all of the great films that have come out of this one country over the past decade, and came up with a list of our top five favorites.  Here it is:

5. The Good, the Bad, the Weird

A seriously fun movie, Kim Jee-woon (A Tale of Two Sisters, I Saw the Devil) tackles yet another genre: the adventure Western.  Hollywood could learn a lesson or two from this great-looking, slick, fun film.

4. Mother

The Loft's 5th-favorite film of 2010, Mother is basically a Korean Hitchcock film.  Unspoken tensions, suspense, and mystery are all there, along with a dark sense of humor that constantly catches you off-guard.

3. Oldboy

Winner of the Jury Prize under Quentin Tarantino's Cannes Jury, this is the prototypical Korean revenge film (of which there are many).  What puts this one above the rest is the intense, relentless performance by Choi Min-Sik (I Saw the Devil) as the beleaguered Oh Dae-Su, and some truly remarkable set pieces.

2. The Host

The best monster movie in years is also a great film about family, the influence of media, and flatulence.  Kong Hang-So (Secret Sunshine, Thirst), the South Korean everyman, stars as the incompetent Park Gang-Du. Worth seeing if only to prove that great CGI should always be secondary to story.

1. Memories of Murder

A flat-out masterpiece of modern cinema, this film sucks you in from the very first moment and won't let you go until the end, by which point the tragedy and humor of a country cop and a city cop trying to catch a serial killer together have overtaken your thought processes.  A true must-watch, it's also the third film on this list from Bong Joon-Ho (Mother, The Host), and the third starring Kang Hang-So (The Good, the Bad, the Weird, The Host).  They are the Scorsese-DeNiro of South Korea.  Here's hoping they never stop making films together.

Secret Sunshine plays Wednesday, March 23rd at 7:30. 

The Housemaid opens Friday, March 25th.

I Saw the Devil opens Friday, April 1. 

Oldboy screens as part of the Cult Classics series Friday, April 22nd and Saturday, April 23rd at 10:00 pm.

Monday, February 28, 2011

PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE - Staff review by Dave Paiz

By now it's safe to say that there are probably tribes in the Amazon who know who Bob Dylan is, but you'd be hard-pressed to find many people here in the states who've even heard of Phil Ochs. I thought I'd seen just about everything there was to see about the music and sociopolitical upheavals of the '60's, but Kenneth Bowser's new documentary Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune revealed that I was woefully oblivious to a fairly substantial chunk of what went down at the time.

The world can often be a bitterly cruel and maddening place for idealists.  And like many of his generation, Phil Ochs was an idealist who believed that music had the power to change the world. After emerging from the turbulence of the 1960's as one of America's most passionate voices for social change, Ochs spent his all-too-brief life writing and performing music that challenged the injustices and foundational myths of the day.

Maligned by Dylan as more of a reporter than a folk singer, Ochs wrote songs about segregation, racism and war in stark, unflinchingly confrontational terms that differed sharply from Dylan's metaphorical ramblings about watchtowers and answers blowing in the wind. From the anti-war anthem "I Ain't Marchin' Anymore" to his cynical ode to Left-wing hypocrisy "Love Me, I'm A Liberal" - Ochs was fearless in confronting absurdity, regardless of which end of the political spectrum it came from.

Through interviews with family, friends and contemporaries ranging from Tom Hayden, Joan Baez, Christopher Hitchens and Jello Biafra, as well as interview and performance footage from Ochs himself, the tragic arc of Och's life is traced against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the Kennedy and King assassinations, and the Chicago riots of 1968. The picture that emerges is that of a man torn between his desire for fame, and his desire to bring about social change.

Eschewing commercialism in favor of charity and benefit work, Ochs was a tireless advocate for unions, the working class and others who were confronting social injustice, and organized countless charity concerts in support of various causes. Along the way he continued to expand his musical horizons and inadvertently planted the seeds for what would eventually become the world music genre. Through protests, demonstrations, absurdist political theater, and the formation of a new political party, Ochs repeatedly threw himself headlong into the teeth of the establishment and was gradually ground down in the process. Over time, the horrors of a seemingly endless war, and the violent deaths of his generation's most inspiring leaders sent him into an emotional tailspin that he never fully recovered from.

An identity primarily defined in opposition to something eventually devours itself when there is nothing left to oppose. Once the Vietnam War was over, Och's focus turned inward, and he soon buckled under the combined weight of his steadily worsening manic depression, and the guilt and regret he carried regarding his wife and child. By the time he took his own life at the age of 35, Och's passionate idealism had tragically given way to bitterness, alcoholism and madness. A deeply moving and lovingly rendered portrait of a true rebel voice whose influence still resonates today, Phil Ochs: There But For Fortune is both a cautionary tale and an inspiring call to arms for those who continue to confront injustice wherever it rears its ugly head.

Review by Dave Paiz, Loft Cinema Facilities Manager and host of "Bat Country Radio" Saturdays from 2-4 a.m. on 91.3 FM KXCI.

PHIL OCHS: THERE BUT FOR FORTUNE plays Wednesday, March 2nd at 7:30PM at The Loft Cinema.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The One Film We Could Watch Every Day for a Year

81 days ago, a guy named Lawrence decided to start a blog about a singular cinematic project:  he is watching the film Julie and Julia every day for a year.  We floated this idea around The Loft and came up with the following films that we could, if forced, conceivably watch for 365 consecutive days.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

THE ILLUSIONIST / Staff review by Evan Salazar

Melancholy and poignancy are never more potent than when found in animation; in fact, the presentation of those ideas in an animated feature is almost a subversion of the art form. We are trained to believe animation is child’s fare: simple, routine, loud, and without a dash of subtly. Bugs Bunny isn’t the most restrained of creations. Although the rules of animation don’t say that melancholy can’t exist in two dimensions, their inclusion is perhaps disquieting, or odd. Those are the precise reasons that poignancy is that much more palpable and resolute when presented in animation: it feels as if it shouldn’t be there, and its addition is disarming and emotionally penetrative. Look at Pixar’s UP for instance: what do most people talk about when they mention the movie? The first ten minutes of it.

And if ever there were an award for a film that breaks hearts in the most tender of ways, Sylvain Chomet’s THE ILLUSIONIST would win, hands down. It is the new quintessential example of emotional animation: its elegantly somber and beautiful score, its understated and lovingly-crafted mannerisms it assigns to each character, and its solemn, muted color palette that physically awakens forlorn sighs – they all culminate in an almost Stendhalian daze of pure emotion. The film invites you to reflect along with it, and it asks you with gentleness and care. By the film’s end you feel as if you are the eponymous Illusionist, wondering how the world started turning so fast when you were just getting the hang of its rotation.

The story is simple and delicate, based upon an unproduced screenplay by French cinema legend Jacques Tati (best known for his films M. HULOT’S HOLIDAY, MON ONCLE, and PLAYTIME) and concerns an illusionist based upon Tati himself who even goes by Tati’s original surname, Tatischeff. Tatischeff is an old-school magician, pulling rabbits out of his hat and revealing coins from behind little boys’ ears.  He goes from club to party to pub performing for anyone willing to look, and even for those who don’t. While staying in a small Scottish village, Tatischeff meets a young woman who truly believes that magic is real and that Tatischeff can make things materialize from thin air. She follows him to Edinburgh where they live in a hotel populated by eccentrics and strike up a loving, father-and-daughter relationship. The original screenplay by Tati is allegedly an apology to his daughter Sofia whom he spent much of his life away from (although this is a debated issue since Tati was also father to an illegitimate daughter who claims the film is meant to be an apology to her) and this invites a sad, desperate reading of the relationship between the illusionist and the girl he befriends: Tatischeff finds in the girl someone who still believes in him and someone he can look after, someone to give him meaning and purpose. But as I mentioned before, this film has something less life affirming and more melancholic in mind.

I don’t mean to paint this film as completely sorrowful and bleak – it’s not. The film had me laughing throughout, whether it was from the Scottish drunk’s incoherent mumblings or the acrobatics’ flamboyant jumping to and fro or Tatischeff’s look of pure befuddlement throughout. The film’s humor is subtle, quiet, and sweet-hearted (although there are some darkly hilarious parts I wouldn’t dare spoil). The film is mostly dialogue free, and its humor comes from the silent interactions between each character – fans of silent cinema like Chaplin, Keaton, and Arbuckle will be in for a modern treat. Its silence also adds to its depth: as anyone who has seen Chaplin’s classic film CITY LIGHTS knows, emotion that is gained so deftly from silent cinema is the most rewarding emotion of all. Its heart surpasses the need for words and connects with you on the most human and immediate of levels. THE ILLUSIONIST’s humor and feeling are skillfully reached through almost-complete silence – it makes you embarrassed for modern films that so badly want to go for your heart with a barrage of words when just a facial expression will do. It doesn’t hurt that the score, written by Chomet, is wonderfully tranquil and sincere. At times it echoes Vince Guaraldi’s score for A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, and no, I promise that is not hyperbole. It’s that good.

THE ILLUSIONIST has massive heart, but be warned: it is intent on breaking yours. However, you’ll be glad you experienced the film – a film which is unlike so much of what we get today in movie theaters. It is quiet, kind, funny, unassuming, and painfully honest. It’s an achievement in itself that it even got made, and made with such panache for that matter. And lastly, as a huge fan and supporter of all things animated, I feel obligated to tell you that you will be doing yourself a huge favor by seeing this film’s beautiful animation projected on the big screen in 35mm. Nothing beats seeing hand drawn animation on the big screen, and nothing beats the melancholy of a fantastically realized animated film. Absolutely nothing. 

By Evan Salazar, full-time student, part-time Floor Staffer, all-around cineaste extraordinaire. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

STRANGE POWERS: Staff review by Dave Paiz

Those with a willingness to defy convention and elevate substance over style are rarely rewarded in American society. This is especially true as it pertains to music. How Stephin Merritt has managed to find success in the face of such depressingly bleak realities is the subject of Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields - a new documentary from Kerthy Fix and Gail O'Hara.

The Magnetic Fields first emerged in the late '80's, during the seismic shift that marked the end of the hair metal era, and the musical renaissance that produced bands like Jane's Addiction, Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Unlike the distortion-drenched, guitar-heavy grunge that dominated the airwaves at the time, The Magnetic Fields' minimalist synth-pop failed to garner much attention outside the realm of college radio. Despite such daunting odds, Merritt and The Magnetic Fields have quietly persevered, and, over the past two decades, become something of a minor cult phenomenon who now include the likes of Peter Gabriel, Neil Gaiman and Sarah Silverman among their biggest fans.

The film focuses on Merritt, longtime collaborator/bandmate/manager Claudia Gonson, and the symbiotic, if not codependent dynamic that lies at the heart of The Magnetic Fields' distinctive sound. Together with cellist Sam Davos and guitarist John Woo, Merritt and Gonson weave a meticulously crafted and constantly evolving web of sound around Merritt's deeply poetic and often cynical odes to love, heartbreak, and loss.

Unlike most music documentaries that reveal their subjects in great detail, and perhaps due to Merritt's guarded, reclusive nature, Strange Powers takes a more scattered, indirect approach in delineating what makes Merritt tick. Through scenes ranging from his cramped apartment in New York City where the Magnetic Fields have recorded much of their music, to the neighborhood gay bar where Merritt channels his lyrical muse, it's quite clear that he is a very private man who prefers to let his music do the talking, rather than engage in cheerfully pithy discussions about his creative process.

In an age increasingly defined by an endless array of plastic pop stars devoid of much substance or depth, Stephin Merritt is one of the few who has chosen the narrow path less traveled by. Strange Powers should appeal not only to longtime fans of The Magnetic Fields, but to music fans in general, and creative spirits everywhere who dream of marching to the beat of their own inner drum.

Review by Dave Paiz, Loft Cinema Facilities Manager and host of "Bat Country Radio" Saturdays from 2-4 a.m. on 91.3 FM KXCI.

STRANGE POWERS: STEPHIN MERRITT AND THE MAGNETIC FIELDS plays Friday, February 11th and Saturday, February 12th at 10:00PM at The Loft Cinema.

Friday, February 4, 2011

MESRINE: PUBLIC ENEMY #1 (PART TWO) / Staff review by Evan Salazar

A recent trend in foreign films is to allow those who are historically usually considered “the bad guys” to tell their side of the story. THE BAADER-MEINHOF COMPLEX, CARLOS, and CHE have all been critically-acclaimed films about revolutionaries, terrorists, and depending on who you ask, just plain ol’ thugs. The films sometimes walk the fence between giving any definite opinion on their subjects, but the films do not deny that these people had strong ideas and statements. Maybe the idea got away from them, or maybe it was fully realized. Regardless, it’s hard to deny that the groups or people these films focus on stood for something.

Enter Jacques Mesrine (played by the fiery Vincent Cassel), the titular subject of PUBLIC ENEMY #1, a continuation of the MESRINE saga from KILLER INSTINCT. Jacques Mesrine was not a revolutionary, but he certainly wanted to be one. His crimes were not backed by any sort of ideology and the film suggests this was his one insecurity. Mesrine kidnaps a French billionaire and claims that the Palestinian Liberation Front is holding him hostage. “I’m not even Jewish!” the hostage yells back. Frustrated, Mesrine barks ransom orders at the man and storms out. His bluff has been called. Yes, Mesrine was a master of escaping prison and robbing banks, but an intellectual and a radical he was not.

Mesrine was not an anarchist nor a nihilist, but his actions were anarchic and nihilistic. Coming off the high from escaping back to France, Mesrine trolls its streets, firing haphazardly and making up the plan as he goes. The film explores Mesrine’s insatiable need for destruction and respect; “Who is this Pinochet?” Mesrine, reading a newspaper, yells at a prison guard. “Why is he on the front page and I’m not?” So angered by this, Mesrine decides to write a book about his criminal life -- whatever he can do to be relevant and acknowledged.

Meatier than the one before it, PUBLIC ENEMY #1 shines the light more intensely on Mesrine the person as opposed to Mesrine the criminal. He doesn’t have the smarts of fellow thug Francois (played by French cinema mainstay Mathieu Amalric, who has been popping up in practically every French film brought over to America, from THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY to A CHRISTMAS TALE), or the radical idealism of friend Charlie (played by Gerard Lanvin). Mesrine is a criminal in a rapidly progressing world, where idealism is winning out over gratuitous cruelty.

But don’t mistake these philosophical musings for being all the film is about. At 133 minutes, the film spends just as much time in the midst of car chases, gunshots, and jailbreaks. One would most likely call this an action film before they’d call it a drama. Mesrine, now a bit plumper and sporting a mullet, is still a menace; the film opens with a spectacular botched robbery that sets the bar high for the action sequences to come. Action junkies will not be disappointed. The photography is also immaculate: the camera swoops cleanly and coherently through the madness, capturing it all in bloody detail. The film is visually rich, playing with multiple styles and locations that all cohere to create a visceral, gritty mise-en-scene. It is razor sharp and exact.

Looked at as a four-and-a-half-hour epic, MESRINE is a story of dreams that are, inevitably, bigger than the man – no matter how big the man is. Mesrine’s shadow loomed large: he had beautiful women, charisma, and the fear of France in the palm of his hand. But as man is wont to do, he squandered it. The filmmakers, however, did not squander the rich material mined from Jacques Mesrine’s life. They have created a pair of films that are assured, tenacious, and exciting as all hell. Mesrine would have been happy to be paid the honor.

By Evan Salazar, full-time student, part-time Floor Staffer, all-around cineaste extraordinaire.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

MESRINE: KILLER INSTINCT (PART ONE) / Staff review by Evan Salazar

Paced like a freight train, MESRINE PART 1: KILLER INSTINCT (based on the book by the eponymous criminal) is proof that not all French films are existential navel-gazing or romantic strolls down the Champs-Elysees. From its Brian De Palma-esque split-screen opening credits to its sex-and-guns fixation to its boorish, arrogant lead in famed French criminal Jacques Mesrine (played by Vincent Cassel), KILLER INSTINCT is ostensibly the most “American” French movie you are likely to see this year – and that is no way a bad thing. Director Jean-Francois Richet has crafted a rich, engrossing, and exceptionally well-constructed gangster film, and he has made it better than any American has in a long, long time. He hasn’t done this through some sort of subversion of the genre, however: it’s just that KILLER INSTINCT soaks the screen with blood with such ferocity, paints its title character so lovingly, and relishes in its wonderful source material so giddily that calling it a “gangster film” almost feels like one is delegitimizing it. And while the argument of “art vs. genre” films is one that opens up too many cans of worms, KILLER INSTINCT finds itself nestled just fine between both worlds.

KILLER INSTINCT tells the story of infamous French criminal Jacques Mesrine, a former French soldier who didn’t know where to put the aggression he learned in the armed forces after the Algerian War. So, after meeting up with an old friend, Mesrine starts to live a life of crime – prostitutes, gambling, bank robbery, and even murder. He falls in and out of love, goes in and out of prison, and his reign of crime spans continents. KILLER INSTINCT follows our anti-hero along the first half of his odyssey through crime, and the film is quick, sharp, and doesn’t waste a second telling the story. So much happens in the almost two hour running time that the film is kinetically hypnotic.

And despite being spread over two movies, it is expected that some details are skipped over or completely dismissed. This does not hurt the film, however: the story we are presented with is fleshed out and has a bite sharper than most 90 minute films. That is saying a lot considering even a few minutes of un-needed material can bog a movie down. KILLER INSTRICT, on the other hand, is bursting at the seams – but it doesn’t completely break the seal. There’s just enough there.

The film is clearly working in broad strokes; this is not a character study. That’s not to say that Cassel’s performance as Mesrine isn’t bombastic or charismatic or whatever other word you’d like to use to say how simply fantastic he is, though. Cassel makes Mesrine into a larger-than-life character: he explodes with rage, whether he is sticking a gun into his wife’s mouth or crippling a man who talked to a bartender with the wrong tone. With these sorts of films, as well, one has to be careful when portraying a real-life character as nefarious as Mesrine. Does the film condone his actions? Condemn them? Does it matter? I believe KILLER INSTINCT finds a nice grey for it, portraying Mesrine as a troubled man, uncouth and vile… and yet also appearing decidedly human. His charisma is undeniable; his anger is ugly and childlike. Cassel didn’t win Best Actor at the Cesar Awards (The French equivalent of the Oscars) for nothing.

With his moustache, greased back hair, and penchant for wanton violence, Mesrine owns the screen in every frame of this high-octane, full-fledged crime epic. Let it be known, though: KILLER INSTINCT only works okay as a stand-alone film. The story’s conclusion, found in the film PUBLIC ENEMY #1, is needed to give KILLER INSTINCT its proper weight. Sure, KILLER INSTINCT works fine as a stand-alone action film, but the depth the material so deserves is truly found in PUBLIC ENEMY #1. This is not to say that PUBLIC ENEMY #1 is a more nuanced film, but rather that the first film is only half the story. PUBLIC ENEMY #1 is not a sequel: it is a continuation. All that aside, KILLER INSTINCT is a punch in the gut that is so self-assured, it knows you’ll be sticking around for part two, anyhow.

And you thought French films were all just Audrey Tautou and je t’aime this and je t’aime that.

By Evan Salazar, full-time student, part-time Floor Staffer, all-around cineaste extraordinaire.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

LEMMY / Staff review by Dave Paiz

You know I'm born to lose
And gambling's for fools
But that's the way I like it baby
I don't wanna live forever

- Motorhead, "Ace Of Spades"

If Charles Darwin were alive today, it's a safe bet that he'd be wracking his brain over how to fit iconic British rocker Lemmy Kilmister into his theory of evolution. For if you threw Johnny Cash, Hunter S. Thompson, Keith Richards and Sonny Barger into one of Seth Brundle's nifty teleporters from The Fly along with a thimbleful of dinosaur DNA, the end result would still be a pale shade of a man who casts a very long shadow indeed.

Greg Olliver and Wes Orshoski's new documentary Lemmy explores the life and legacy of the 65-year old legend, who has survived nearly 4 decades of rock 'n' roll excess on a diet of little more than speed, cigarettes, Jack Daniels and sheer, take-no-prisoners reptilian attitude.

From his less-than-humble beginnings as a roadie for Jimi Hendrix, through his tenure with '60's Kinks contemporaries The Rockin' Vickers, the '70's space-rock outfit Hawkwind, and the formation of the hugely influential 36-year-old metal juggernaut that is Motorhead, the film is an affectionate and unflinchingly honest portrait of a man who staunchly refuses to go calmly or quietly into that endless winter night.

Having been a Motorhead fan since the early '80's, I was immediately struck by Lemmy's casual, soft-spoken demeanor and seeming absence of ego. Authenticity and humility have always been rare commodities in the music industry, but the grizzled veteran genuinely seems to possess immense reserves of both. In an increasingly hollow, plastic age that seems to fall away faster with each passing day, Lemmy is a walking anachronism and a testament to the power of sticking to your guns no matter what.

While some will likely be put off by his embrace of certain vices, he makes it clear that his choices are his alone, and that he doesn't want to advocate a lifestyle that has claimed the lives of many of his contemporaries. More troubling perhaps is his penchant for Nazi war memorabilia, which some have taken as evidence that he is some sort of a closet Nazi. Lemmy dismisses such concerns with an unapologetic shrug, and leaves the question for the viewer to decide.

Whereas many bands and artists are punch-drunk on ego and image, Lemmy comes across as one who talks the talk and walks the walk without a single shred of pretension. Whether on stage or off, with Lemmy, what you see is what you get. No fakery. No phoniness. Just pure Lemmy. Take it or leave it. Rather than a lavish country estate, Lemmy chooses to live in a tiny, cluttered apartment just off the Sunset Strip that's probably smaller than Mick Jagger's laundry room. And while most in his position choose to wall themselves off from their fans, when he's not on the road, Lemmy can often be found sipping a Jack and Coke, playing video trivia and signing autographs at the Rainbow Bar & Grill.

The film blends current and archival video footage with interviews from a veritable who's who of rock royalty including Alice Cooper, Slash, Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne. Watching these music giants gush over Lemmy's influence really underscores the fact that, rather than just another rock star, Lemmy is the missing link that bridges the gap between early rockers like Buddy Holly, Elvis and Little Richard, and bands like Metallica, Megadeth and Anthrax.

To those who might roll their eyes at the thought of yet another decadent rock star baring all for the camera, this isn't the story of just another rock 'n' roll badass, it is the story of THE original rock 'n' roll badass - a lurching Tyrannosaurus Rex of a man who has chunks of guys like Slash and Keith Richards in his stool, and who will likely be gnawing on all our skulls long after the human race is swept into the dustbin of history.

Review by Dave Paiz, Loft Cinema Facilities Manager and host of "Bat Country Radio" Saturdays from 2-4 a.m. on 91.3 FM KXCI.

LEMMY plays Wednesday, February 2nd at 7:30PM at The Loft Cinema.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

FELA! / A brief staff review by a non-believer

As someone who by rule does not enjoy musicals, I was blown away by the fierce, frenetic power of FELA! That title pretty much says it all; it’s in all caps, with an exclamation point afterward, and it’s the first name of Fela Anikulapo Kuti, the revolutionary Nigerian originator of Afrobeat, so the production has some work to do to live up to its name. It’s a great testament to the power of Fela’s music that the show has moved from off-Broadway to Broadway to London, and from there transmitted to movie theaters across the country.

The music behind the show is powered by Anitibalas, Brooklyn’s answer to The Africa ‘70. And the music holds it all together, acting as the connective tissue and taking us on a journey through Fela’s discovery of the power of music, then the radical wisdom of Black Power in 1969 Los Angeles, and finally the fusion of both, as he returns to Nigeria a conquering, 27 wife-taking, pot-smoking, freedom-inspiring hero.

But through all of that traveling, we never leave the Shrine, Fela’s home base for his epic shows in Lagos, Nigeria. Sahr Ngaujah as Fela flies with the audience through his past, future, and demons, as a cast of incredible, multi-talented performers swirls around him. The costumes, choreography, and set design during all of this transition almost give the music a run for its money.

Although the story takes us to some incredibly unpleasant places (things were not all roses after Nigeria threw off the bonds of British colonialism, as much of Fela’s music and life attest to), it’s impossible to not be uplifted at the end of it all. Like the man himself, FELA! is nearly a force of nature, and although it did not convince me to seek out more musicals, I cannot now say I hate them all.

Review by Zach Breneman, Loft Cinema Business Manager and amateur musical hater.

FELA! plays Sunday, January 30th at Noon and Tuesday, February 1st at 7:00PM at The Loft Cinema.