FilmWatch Weekly: Escape from reality with anime ‘Belle’ and nature documentary ‘The Velvet Queen’

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A scene from the Japanese animated feature “Belle”.

Movies have always been about escapism, but these days the predominance of comic book characters and cartoon crooners on movie screens, and the dearth of recognizable human beings, speaks to the urgency with which we seek to avoid the realities of today. And who can blame us?

Getting away from everyday life is a theme that two otherwise very different films, each opening this week in Portland, have in common. One depicts a dazzling, hyperkinetic metaverse as a way out of its monotonous existence. The other sees paradise in seclusion and quiet observation of nature. Everyone has moments that hint at transcendence.

Beautiful is about a schoolgirl, Suzu, who is still mourning the death of her mother, who drowned trying to save a child from a flooded river. She hasn’t been able to sing since that day. Luckily for Suzu, there’s this vast virtual reality app called “U,” and after creating her anonymous avatar (soon to be dubbed “Belle”) in it, Suzu quickly becomes the cyberspace version of Taylor Swift, drawing huge crowds to her concerts. .

There’s a fly in the silicon ointment – an unruly avatar known as The Dragon, who creates violent mayhem wherever he goes and is felt by the rest of U’s population. Except for Belle, of course. Curious about this outcast, she sneaks into his secluded castle, where – hey, wait a minute, it’s kind of The beauty and the Beast business, right? In fact, the middle section of Beautiful follows his inspiration a little too closely.

Most of the time, however, director Mamuro Hosoda (a former Studio Ghibli animator who founded his own company, Studio Chizu) does two things extremely well. First, it presents a kaleidoscopic, hyper-detailed view of U’s digital landscape, one that should be especially striking on the big screen. Second, it explores the psychological and social impacts of living online and changing identity in a thoughtful and ringing way.

In U, Belle tries to uncover the truth of the Dragon while keeping her own carnal identity a secret. In the physical world, Suzu and her best friend Hiro do typical teenage stuff. Eventually, the two worlds converge as the source of Dragon’s angst becomes more apparent, leading to a surprisingly tense climax. Few anime feature films have been theatrically released in the United States recently, but this one deserves an audience beyond anime lovers. (Opens Friday, January 14 at Cinema 21)

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IF SENSORY OVERLOAD and pervasive technology is what you wish to give up, however, you will identify more about The Velvet Queen, French wildlife photographer Vincent Munier. To be clear, he’s not the title queen – that would be the infamous reclusive snow leopard, which Munier, along with his companion, writer Sylvain Tesson, searches for in the wilds of eastern Tibet.

Watch attentively. The star of “The Velvet Queen” makes an appearance.

Director Marie Amiguet quietly follows the two men as they venture into icy peaks and valleys, spending much of their time in glorious silence, observing and existing in totally unspoiled terrain. The movie is about the quest to spot the elusive, perfectly camouflaged feline (spoiler alert – they do!), but it’s just as much about what drives these guys to tolerate such physical deprivation in order to do so. Munier (who is credited as co-director) speaks eloquently, albeit calmly, about his resentment of the seemingly civilized world, and as you’re drawn to share his serene respect for the world around him, it’s hard to disagree.

At first, the idea of ​​following someone like Munier on an expedition feels like it should be relegated to the kind of “making-of” documentaries that accompany National Geographic productions. Corn The Velvet Queen is not just about the logistical challenges and special personalities that characterize these efforts. It is a way of perceiving and being in the world, a way that emphasizes stillness, patience and humility. The film is strongest when it leans into these moments, letting us get a little taste of what it’s like to crouch in a blind 15 below, waiting for hours to spot a truly wild animal. It’s a reminder that even without terabytes of data at its disposal, it’s still possible to visit new and different worlds. (Opens Friday, January 14 at Living Room Theatres)

ALSO SHOWING:

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the fight for racial and economic equality continues, highlighted as every year by the observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This year, to commemorate the life of the martyred civil rights icon, the World Arts Foundation and the Albina Music Trust present Keep the dream alive, a documentary showing how African-American communities in Oregon honored King’s legacy. The film screens for free at 3 p.m. on Monday, January 17 at the Hollywood Theater. The program will also include live music and a Q&A involving members of the community. That same day, at 6:30 p.m., the Clinton Street Theater presents its annual screening of King: a disc filmed from Montgomery to Memphis, the 1970 compilation that remains among the most impactful depictions of Reverend King’s power and impact.

If none of the new movies hitting theater screens appeal to you, but you still want to experience the version of common movie watching we’re stuck with these days, there are several options available. The Clinton Street, for example, continues its Jim Jarmusch series with a screening of perhaps his magnum opus, By the law, on Friday January 14, directly followed by a screening of the magnificent first feature film by the Coen brothers, single blood. This might be the best double bill of the whole month.

Meanwhile, Hollywood is screening films from 1936 My man Godfrey, a Depression-era story about the inanity of the 1% that surely has no relevance in 2022, like its weekend matinee, plus cult classics The Little Shop of Horrors (hello, Jack Nicholson!) on Tuesday evenings and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (hello, Large Marge!) Thursday.

And if, nonetheless, you still yearn for a perceptual detour from the relentless rational, the tireless Church of Film has concocted The shadow and its shadow: nightmares of French surrealism, a collection of short excursions into the dreamlike realm of cinema that just might be the trick. It is screened on Clinton Street on Wednesday, if concrete notions of time and space can still be trusted.


Marc Mohan moved to Portland from Wisconsin in 1991, and has been exploring and contributing to the city’s film culture almost ever since. As the former manager of the famous independent video store Trilogy, and later owner of Portland’s first DVD rental-only spot, Video Vérité, he immersed himself in the film education that led him to his position. independent film critic for The Oregonian for nearly twenty years. Once it became clear that “newspaper film review” was no longer a sustainable career option, Mohan pursued a new path by enrolling in the Northwestern School of Law at Lewis & Clark College at the fall 2017. used, however, to love and write about movies.

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