Wes Studi and Dale Dickey sing “A Love Song”

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A LOVE SONG

****Historically chosen for their hardened gravity, Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans, Hostile) and Dale Dickey (winter bone, Leave no trace) have well over 200 screen credits between them. But freshman director Max Walker-Silverman is the first filmmaker to find romantic vulnerability in the grooves of Dickey and Studi’s unforgettable faces. A love song finds Faye (Dickey) idling in a southwestern Colorado campground, waiting for a letter from high school friend Lito (Studi). With a certain Moonrise Kingdom– Influenced by camera work, the film is a playful exercise in simplicity, as Faye catches crawfish, cracks Busch Lights and turns the dial of her slightly magical radio, which always plays the perfect solitary country tune. When Studi arrives, the film becomes a sublime two-part harmony – both actors wear their age like armor, delicately juxtaposing late-stage puppy love with their characters’ very real fear of starting over after 60. Closer to a short story than a novel, the film is just 81 minutes long, but in every dusty frame it features some of the best actors of 2022. PG. CHANCE-SOLEM-PFEIFER. Living room.

FREE CHOL SOO LEE

*** The title of Chol Soo Lee’s prison memoir is freedom without justice. The war between these two concepts has defined the life of the prisoner-turned-militant and made him a tragic emblem, a gripping evolution captured by this documentary from directors Julie Ha and Eugene Yi. Lee’s wrongful imprisonment for murder in San Francisco in 1973 (and its decades of fallout) epitomizes the dehumanization of Asian Americans in its most blatant form. Channel the spirit of Sacramento bee Reporter KW Lee, who first led the charge to exonerate Chol Soo, Ha, and Yi embrace detailed reporting, exposing the racist bungling of the police and court process. As an Asian American movement builds to free him, we hear incarcerated Chol Soo Lee observe carefully how prison is designed to keep him away from even those who gave their lives in his case. The film could benefit from a slightly broader focus or a deeper final act – Lee himself says the real heroes are the other activists, but the focus is almost entirely on him, showing how freedom without justice torments even a man who has become iconic. This approach can be transformative, but it cannot restore what was stolen. PG-13. CHANCE-SOLEM PFEIFER. Wednesday, August 17, at Clackamas, Lloyd Center, Pioneer Place.

ANONYMOUS CLUB

** Since bursting onto the indie rock scene nearly 10 years ago, Courtney Barnett has portrayed herself as a smart, taciturn, down-to-earth performer prodigious at channeling mental health issues into the lyrics while shredding with his left hand. All of those terrific qualities are confirmed—gently and needlessly—in this documentary from music video director Danny Cohen. Over three years of 16mm touring footage and confessional dictaphone recording, we see Barnett probing the existential value of his writing, battling writer’s block, and embarking on his first solo tour, but none of these decidedly non-cinematic ideas only require a documentary. With Barnett, what you see is what you get. He’s not someone whose mythos need to be constructed or deconstructed, and Cohen doesn’t have a distinct vision for the film beyond creating an upbeat tour diary with a pleasing analog aesthetic. While it’s slightly amusing to spot the closest thing to a modern rock ‘n’ roll star sensibly watering his plants and stretching before shows, anonymous clubThe self-mandate to draw the curtain just seems poorly designed. “Why can’t you just be a strong, powerful communicator? Barnett wonders at a moment of scathing doubt about his ability to publicly unpack his music. Does she need it? She is one of the best communicators in songwriting. It’s more than enough. NR. LUCKY SOLEM PFEIFER. Friday, August 19 at Cinéma 21 with Courtney Barnett in person.

CLAY DREAM

** “Interesting characters often have a simple purpose…but it’s in great conflict with the world around them,” says the late and legendary Portland animator Will Vinton in ClayDream, a documentary about his life. Thematically, it’s a perfectly chosen quote, but it also highlights the limits of the film. ClayDream portrays a trailblazing designer primarily as a fighter – against Phil Knight (to whom he lost his business), against Bob Gardiner (his former collaborator-turned-tormentor), against his own business acumen, and even against the soul-searching needed to making this documentary really resonates. Seen here, Vinton’s self-analyzes are so obvious that they are almost explanatory (like his 1985 film The Adventures of Mark Twain represented a “high bar” or that the California Raisins were a “truly successful project”). He is portrayed more as a being in perpetual motion than someone whose imagination can be unleashed. Admittedly, that seems accurate, based on numerous interviews with director Marq Evans (who also directed Glamor and misery about another Pacific Northwest institution, Seattle DJ Marco Collins), but it leaves frustration behind. The film’s most compelling narrative is that of the rise and fall of a business, set to dramatic, ominous courtroom music. ClayDream is a melancholic Vinton primer that deftly recounts what they did at Will Vinton Studios, but not why. NR. CHANCE SOLEM-PFEIFER. Cinema 21.


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