Friday October 11 – Thursday October 17

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Featured Film:

All that Heaven Allows at the Beacon

Sure there’s a couple of cool local film festivals opening this week, with the Seattle Queer Film Festival at the Northwest Film Forum (mostly) and the Seattle Polish Film Festival at SIFF, and the Grand Illusion has a couple of 35mm prints of Black Death and Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising (which I really dug ten years ago and have no idea how it plays now), and the Egyptian has a pair of Bong Joonho movies (The Host and Snowpiercer) to get you hyped for Parasite (which is very good, I imagine we’ll be talking about it on our upcoming VIFF wrap-up podcast), but I’m going with the Beacon’s slyly perfect seasonal pick of All that Heaven Allows as our Featured Film this week. It’s arguably Douglas Sirk’s greatest movie, an essential autumn film, and a horror movie about how awful children are once they’ve grown up.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Battle of Jangsari (Kwak Kyungtaek & Kim Taehoon) Fri-Thurs  
The Sky is Pink (Shonali Bose) Fri-Thurs  
War (Siddharth Anand) Fri-Thurs  

The Beacon Cinema:

The Thing from Another World (Christian Nyby, 1951) Fri-Thurs 
Spirit of the Beehive (Victor Erice, 1973) Fri, Sat, Mon, Weds & Thurs 
Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992) Fri & Sat Only 
Morgiana (Juraj Herz, 1972) Sat, Tues & Weds Only 
Flying Phantom Ship (Hiroshi Ikeda, 1969) Sun Only 
The Beacon Guide to Unsolved Mysteries Sun Only 
All that Heaven Allows (Douglas Sirk, 1955) Sun, Tues & Thurs Only 
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (Dominique Otherin-Gerard, 1989) Mon Only 

Central Cinema:

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989) Fri-Weds Our Podcast 
Night of the Creeps (Fred Dekker, 1986) Fri-Weds  

SIFF Egyptian:

Army of Darkness (Sam Raimi, 1992) Fri Only 
The Host (Bong Joonho, 2006) Sat, Mon & Tues Only 
Snowpiercer (Bong Joonho, 2013) Sat, Mon & Tues Only Our Podcast & Interview 
The NY Dog Film Festival Sat Only 
Seattle Queer Film Festival 2019 Sun Only Full Program 

Century Federal Way:

Tara Mira (Rajiv Dhingra) Fri-Thurs  
Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) Sun & Weds Only 
3 from Hell (Rob Zombie) Mon Only 
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (Kevin Smith) Tues Only 

Grand Cinema:

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 
Official Secrets (Gavin Hood) Fri-Thurs 
Bliss (Joe Begos) Sat Only 
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Stanley Nelson) Tues Only Our Review 
WarGames (John Badham, 1983) Weds Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Dead Center (Billy Senese) Fri-Thurs  
Valhalla Rising (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2009) Fri-Tues 35mm
Black Death (Christoper Smith, 2011) Sat, Sun  & Thurs 35mm
Nekromantik (Jörg Buttgereit, 1987) Sat & Weds Only 

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Lucy in the Sky (Noah Hawley) Fri-Thurs 
The Sky is Pink (Shonali Bose) Fri-Thurs  
Asuran (Vetrimaaran) Fri-Thurs 
My People, My Country (Various) Fri-Thurs 
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Surender Reddy) Fri-Thurs In Telugu, Tamil or Hindi, Check Listings
War (Siddharth Anand) Fri-Thurs  
Adhyaksha In America (Yoganandh Muddhan) Fri-Sun 
Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) Sun & Weds Only 
3 from Hell (Rob Zombie) Mon Only 
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (Kevin Smith) Tues Only 

Regal Meridian:

The Sky is Pink (Shonali Bose) Fri-Thurs  
Lucy in the Sky (Noah Hawley) Fri-Thurs 
War (Siddharth Anand) Fri-Thurs  
My People, My Country (Various) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

Seattle Queer Film Festival 2019 Fri-Thurs Full Program 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Climbers (Daniel Lee) Fri-Thurs  
My People, My Country (Various) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

The Sky is Pink (Shonali Bose) Fri-Thurs  
Lucy in the Sky (Noah Hawley) Fri-Thurs 
War (Siddharth Anand) Fri-Thurs  

AMC Seattle:

Lucy in the Sky (Noah Hawley) Fri-Thurs 
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Film Center:

Seattle Polish Film Festival Sat & Sun Only Full Program 

Regal Thornton Place:

Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) Sun, Tues & Weds Only 
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot (Kevin Smith) Tues Only 

SIFF Uptown:

First Love (Takashi Miike) Fri-Weds Our Review 
Loro (Paolo Sorrentino) Fri-Thurs 
Where’s My Roy Cohn? (Matt Tyrnauer) Fri-Thurs 
Pilchuck, A Dance with Fire (John Forsen) Thurs Only 

Varsity Theatre:

Lucky Day (Roger Avary) Fri-Thurs 
Mary (Michael Goi) Fri-Thurs 
Alien (Ridley Scott, 1979) Weds Only 

The Captain (Andrew Lau, 2019)

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Andrew Lau Wai-keung is perhaps the most representative Hong Kong director in the post-Handover era. An accomplished cinematographer dating back to the late 80s (most famously he shot Wong Kar-wai’s debut As Tears Go By and half of Chungking Express, and his first ever DP credit was for Ringo Lam’s City on Fire), he’s been directing for almost as long. His breakthrough hit was the Young & Dangerous series, which debuted right around the time of the Handover and almost single-handedly kept the Hong Kong industry afloat during the recession of the late 1990s (a time when many of the colony’s biggest stars had fled to Hollywood). A comic book and teen soap-inspired version of the Heroic Bloodshed sagas of John Woo and Ringo Lam, the Young & Dangerous movies featured young actors with elaborate hair going through the motions of generic plots scored with contemporary music and audiences ate them up (there are a dozen or so films and spin-offs in the series, which is excessive even by Hong Kong franchise standards). Then, in 2002, Lau teamed with Alan Mak and Felix Chong to make Infernal Affairs, the first Hong Kong movie to hit really big internationally since the Handover (depending on how you count In the Mood for Love, I guess), and the inspiration for a whole host of 21st century crime dramas, as well as the Best Picture winning Martin Scorsese movie The Departed.

Lau’s post-Infernal Affairs work has been somewhat spotty, however, with the highlight probably being the 2010 Donnie Yen vehicle Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen, which, ghastly title aside, is a pretty good fusion of comic book movie-making with the traditional kung fu epic (it’s a remake of the Bruce Lee classic Fist of Fury, itself remade with Jet Li in 1994 as Fist of Legend). The move to digital filmmaking suits Lau’s predilection for glossy, brightly colored surfaces and Shu Qi and Donnie Yen have never looked better. But he’s found diminishing returns with this approach, even has he’s moved beyond Hong Kong to America (the barely noticed gangster film Revenge of the Green Dragons) and Mainland China (the all-star propaganda flop The Founding of an Army).

The Captain is another propaganda film, albeit a more or less tolerable one given that it’s also a very good disaster film. Based on actual events from May of 2018, when a Sichuan Airlines flight from Chongqing to Lhasa had its windshield break away high over the Tibetan Plateau. remarkably, the pilot and crew were able to navigate the plane back to safety with no loss of life and minimal injuries. Lau takes a procedural approach to the story, joining the captain (played by The Taking of Tiger Mountain‘s Zhang Hanyu) from the time he wakes up in the morning through the crew’s various pre-flight rituals and inspections, to the incident itself, with their responses chronicled in detail. There are a few nods to melodramatic convention (an obnoxious first-class passenger harasses a flight attendant, the captain must return home for his daughter’s sixth birthday party, etc), but Lau is as great as ever at action and suspense, and the disaster sequences are gripping.

The obvious comparison is with Clint Eastwood’s Sully, and in comparison to that film, The Captain fails in just about every way. Where Eastwood took the disaster as an opportunity to explore the psychology of a man who behaved extraordinarily well in an extreme situation, along with side-long glances at the bureaucracy that can’t just immediately accept his heroism, Lau isn’t interested in examining anything too deeply. Sully is a movie full of contradictions, one that is uneasy about all its conclusions, including the very idea of heroism. The Captain isn’t the least bit complicated. It’s an ode to the wonders of bureaucracy, to the apparatuses of the state that we can be sure will always ensure our safety.

Because of the cabin depressurization and howling winds, for the entire course of the disaster we are unable to hear the pilots communicate among themselves or with various control towers (why they don’t have headsets is a conundrum for which I have no answer). As such, we spend most of the crisis in the cabin with the passengers and flight attendants, who find themselves at the mercy of a cockpit full of men who they simply have to trust know what they’re doing (the flight attendants, all women (Yuan Quan gives the best performance in the film as the flight attendant in charge), and the passengers, don’t get a vote in what the plane will do). We also visit various control towers, civilian and military, who track what the plane is doing and provide helpful bits of exposition (the plane needs to descend to a certain altitude for the pilots to breathe, but it can’t because there are a bunch of mountains in the way, for example). They cheer and congratulate themselves at the end (and we see lots of glossy and important seeming military technology), but they literally do nothing to help the plane but get out of the way. Taken as an exercise in pop disaster filmmaking, The Captain is pretty good. As long as you just don’t think too much about what the PRC is trying to tell you about itself.

Minding the Gaps: An Interview with Dan Sallitt

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There’s no figure in American cinephilia quite like Dan Sallitt. He occupies a number of familiar roles (critic; filmmaker; and critic-filmmaker, though there are fewer of those running around), but as a working theorist of cinema, he’s without peer in the United States. Yes, the academy offers shelter to more than a few self-styled theoreticians, but Sallitt makes a practice of, you know, actually watching movies. He consumes them voraciously, in fact, most often in community with others—he’s a fixture at New York’s rep houses—and, perhaps more importantly, he does so with an obvious, infectious pleasure. His ideas (about the still-expanding horizons of Bazinian realism, about the limitations—and the corresponding possibilities—of cinematic psychology, and about the productive lacunae that the camera creates when it records the world) begin with his peculiar tastes, and the evident delight that he takes in interrogating them. The Sallitt model merges a mastery of certain historical-theoretical concepts (old André and his “Ontology” loom large) with a clear-eyed assessment of one’s personal preferences. It’s the second half of this equation that most distinguishes Sallitt: it’s easy enough cobble together some top-down ideas about cinema and apply them, stencil-like, to any movie that comes across the transom; it’s a far more difficult thing to plumb the depths of your own idiosyncrasies and resurface not only with an articulable set of principles, but with your aesthetic enthusiasms sturdy and intact. Would that we all so thoroughly enjoyed our predilections.

At least we can savor Sallitt’s. For a particular kind of cinephile, encountering sallittfavorites.wordpress.com is a crucial point of departure: Sallitt’s color-coded lists, which order movies along two axes (numbers rank films for a given year; colors communicate enthusiasm relative to the wider cinematic corpus), offer novel cartographies for the young movie obsessive, who is often enthralled by the enumerative power of lists, but who typically begins charting his cinematic course with musty consensus canons that venerate—and falsely proclaim—objectivity. As you scroll through these rainbow catalogs, which award high honors to both Rosa la rose, fille publique (Paul Vecchiali’s criminally underseen masterwork) and Michael Clayton (the George Clooney Oscar vehicle), it becomes apparent that this preference-set belongs specifically to Sallitt, and to Sallitt alone. That might suggest that his taste, if not his model, is resistant to replication. But what’s most exceptional about Sallitt is the fact that he’s amassed so many disciples; the ranks of the Sallittists have, over time, swollen to a veritable cinephile brigade. Now, I ought to admit that on some level I remain skeptical that anyone could, ex nihilo, develop cinematic proclivities perfectly contiguous with Sallitt’s, and his most devoted followers do, on occasion, champion films in a manner that seems more prescribed than personal. But devotion inevitably—and perhaps rightly—attaches to mentor figures who encourage new ways of seeing, particularly if they do so with unusual magnanimity, as does Sallitt. And although I’m increasingly less young, you should count me among those cinephiles for whom the discovery of Sallittism was an invitation to cross-examine my own interests, an exercise which proved (and continues to prove) clarifying. So even if, for me, Sallittism is not—as it is for others—an absolute lodestar, it has become an important, perhaps indispensable, quadrant of my taste.

That made it an especial pleasure to sit down with the man himself at VIFF, where his fifth feature, Fourteen, had its North American premiere. As we discuss, Sallitt’s movies are coterminous with his passions as a viewer and as a thinker—though he is quick to point out that he’s not alone in that regard, at least not anymore: a growing number of “film intellectuals” moonlight as filmmakers, and vice versa. In the context of an American cinema that elsewhere looks moribund, dimwitted, and ever more impersonal, that might augur better times ahead. And I suspect that if those times do come to pass, Dan Sallitt—in his self-professedly quiet way—will be partly responsible for bringing them about.

Fourteen

Evan Morgan: The first thing that struck me while watching Fourteen was the unusual cadence of your actors’ line deliveries. As in The Unspeakable Act, Tallie Medel speaks with a rhythm that sounds slightly askew from the conventions of American realism, noticeably mannered. Do you hear your scripts in a clear way while you’re writing them, and then instruct your performers to follow specific rhythms?

Dan Sallitt: No I don’t, actually. This question is interesting because you’re not the first person to feel this way. In fact, many people have. But it’s not something that I think about when I’m writing the script. I just try to make them sound like people, and when I’m directing, I also try to make them sound like people. I think it’s possible that because the classical American cinema was my first love, I have a certain sense that the writing need not be concealed.

Actually, with Fourteen, more often than with any of my other films, I’ve had people tell me that it seemed naturalistic. Norma [Kuhling] especially has a way of turning strange dialogue into something that sounds natural. Very often, on set, I would say to her, “This line sounds a little arch to me, should we change it?” and she would say no. She had figured out how she was going to say it, how to make it real.

For this film, for the first time, I felt a little bit less of the “abstraction” that people commonly feel in my movies. I’m definitely not trying for anything that sounds as consciously written as, say, a Hal Hartley film, or something like that.

EM: Do you give the actors free rein, then, in terms of the line readings?

DS: I care a lot about the line readings, so I don’t give people free rein. My goal is the emotional tenor. When I write the script, I have in mind the way that the emotions play through the dialogue, and if the actors do something else, I’m there to correct it. Though sometimes I’m too wedded to a concept: things will go in a different direction, I end up forcing them to do it my way, but when I get to the editing room, I realize that what I wanted was not in fact the best way. On the set, I’m not as loose as I would like to be. But when you’re in the editing room, your state of mind is completely different. Nobody’s around, you have all the time in the world to relax, to put your antennae out, and then sometimes things change course.

There’s a scene in the film where two couples go on a double date and have a conversation about lingerie. That was a scene that I wrote with more of a clear concept, that the shyer couple would be discomfited, less comfortable in the situation. But neither of the actors felt good about it, and they kept adding things to the scene. I went home unsure of whether or not what they did worked. But that was a case where it played fine. Their changes didn’t violate anything about the script. And yet I was unable to see, in the moment, that what they were doing would serve my purposes just as well as what I originally had in mind.

EM: Both Fourteen and The Unspeakable Act are centered on young people, and I believe much of the crew that worked on Fourteen was comprised of younger cinephiles interested in your work as a critic and a filmmaker. How do you understand your relationship to youth culture, specifically young cinephile culture?

DS: I feel strongly connected to young cinephile culture. The thing about filmmaking—and cinephilia—is that you can’t keep hanging out with your own age group as you get older. They drop off, move somewhere. You can’t put together a crew of sixty-somethings. It’s the same for cinephilia: my original set of cinephile friends are watching DVDs at home or delving into 1958 episodes of Gunsmoke, something like that. The people who are out there tend to be young, and I happen to be doing the same thing still, so it’s natural that I move in their circles.

In terms of the filmmaking, there was a gear shift: my first movies focused on people around my age, and I followed them for three films. Until The Unspeakable Act, I was using the same actors, not because of an affinity for people at a specific age, but because of my affinity for the actors. I like to work with actors a second time, especially if I don’t feel confident casting a new film. But The Unspeakable Act was a different script, and I had to cast all new people. Even for the older roles, I couldn’t get the people I’d worked with before. But when it was over, the same thing happened: I wanted to work with Tallie again in the worst way, and I started the process all over again.

I think Rohmer did something similar around the time of Perceval and Catherine de Heilbronn. He developed new groups of people that he liked to work with. These gear shifts are natural. Even if you want to follow certain actors to the end of their life (which I kind of do) the variety of ideas that you generate makes it necessary to change. And once you’ve made the change, you’ve got all these new people around.

EM: That sentiment dovetails nicely with the text of Fourteen: people float in and out of one’s life. The natural course of things takes us away from one another. And in filmmaking, just as in life, I imagine that you find different groups of people as you discover new interests.

DS: Yes, it’s like that. And it goes both ways: my first movie featured Strawn Bovee, and she has a small role in Fourteen. My second film had Edith Meeks and Dylan McCormick. Dylan is also in Fourteen. My third film was written specifically for Strawn and Edith; I was tracking their lives. Tallie probably wasn’t even born then, and yet now it’s Tallie who I can’t get out of my life. She became extremely important to me as a filmmaker.

EM: Do you think focusing on younger characters, played by younger performers, with younger people around on set, has changed your approach?

DS: I don’t think so. In my relatively quiet way, I’m stubbornly holding on to something. When I’m around people on set, they might not see it, but there’s a stubborn continuity. I might even reverse the gear shifts: Strawn and I are talking about working together again. We’re now at the age where it would be a movie about older people, for sure.

But I enjoyed the idea of writing for younger people. It was a voice that was fun for me, especially the character in The Unspeakable Act. She just came out of me and right onto the paper. But when I’m in the middle of it all, I keep a little of myself to myself, and I’m always vaguely aware that my aims might differ from the aims of everyone else on the set. I want everyone to benefit from the movie, but my agenda was set somewhere around the time that Truffaut started writing [laughs].

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EM: Can we talk a little bit about the way that time works in Fourteen? The movie has significant gaps in the chronology, and I’m curious how you conceived of the space between the scenes that we see. Did you start with a fleshed out story, and then pare away? Or did each scene emerge for you as a discrete unit?

DS: The gaps are part of the film. And that’s really important to me. What the audience sees is what I see. We’re outside of the people on screen when we watch a movie, and I try to preserve that “outsideness.” If I make up a backstory about one of the characters, it’s only to help the actors, not because the backstory is important. If I didn’t put it on screen, it’s because I didn’t want it to be there. The things that fall into those gaps, I don’t even know what they are.

When I write a phone call, and you only hear one side of it, I don’t know what’s being said on the other said. Later on, you inevitably have to write the other side for the actors. It’s like a test: Can I make this fit together for the actor? But I only want to think about what we see on screen.

That principle extends to Jo’s mental disorder. I didn’t want a mental diagnosis for her. The way we experience her is the way that we experience people in life: she’s a collection of external signs. The gaps have nothing in them.

EM: The film certainly plays that way. Which, for me, brings to mind Paul Vecchiali, who is a personal favorite of mine, and a filmmaker that I know you like as well. One thing I really admire about the Vecchialian approach is this prioritization of emotion over psychology. Or put another way, Vecchiali believes that psychology is downstream from emotion. In his films, we understand the emotions of his people before we recognize the psychological forces that propel them, if we recognize them at all. I sense something similar in your approach to character.

DS:  I wouldn’t have put it in terms of Vecchiali, but I do want the effect to rule the movie. What’s behind it, which includes psychology (and a million other things, actually) is fungible.

EM: There’s a shot in the film I wanted to ask you about. About 40 mins into the movie Mara goes to visit Jo at her paternal home in the suburbs, where she’s recovering from a suicide attempt. The sequence begins with a long shot (both in terms of duration and camera position) of a train station, where people are coming and going. The image registered to me as a formal break in the film. Elsewhere, we’re mostly confined to interiors, with people paired into couples and quartets. But this shot suggests countless arrivals and partings, as if the wider world has suddenly intruded on the film. Did you find the image on location? Or did you conceive of it early on?

DS: I very much conceived of it in advance. In fact, I was bragging to everybody on set that I was going to stop the film dead for four minutes. I loved the way that the camera picked out Tallie among the crowd. It brought a little tear to my eye. But in the editing room, I became aware that though I loved it, it would be a problem for some people. Some of the audience would be irrevocably lost at this point. I thought about removing it, but I realized that I could never live with myself if I did. I’d rather take the chance of alienating the audience than live the rest of my life knowing that I’d cut that shot.

Personally, I find it a compelling image. I like trains. There’s always something happening: you see how the commuter town works, people’s spouses picking them up. But what’s really going on there, as you said, is that Jo has almost died. And I knew she was going to die, so I felt a need for gravity, that the film needed to be stopped dead, because the whole film is an attempt not to take Jo’s loss lightly. I’ve never killed a character before, and I did not want to do so with a light hand. I wanted the whole film to be dedicated to this life that was lost.

EM: I think that’s there in the shot. As I was watching it, I felt a mounting sense of, if not dread, a kind of gravity, as you say. There’s a monumentality to the image. It was the moment where I felt most on edge, unsure of what was going to happen. The formal break suddenly forces a different emotion into the film.

DS: That’s exactly the kind of feeling I wanted at that moment. Of course I know that Jo is in trouble. The audience might start to sense it there.

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EM: You’re one of the few American film critics that has a fairly complete—and articulable—aesthetic framework for watching and writing about movies. I think this model, of the critic who possesses an established set of interests as a viewer, and who then re-purposes those interests as a filmmaker, is more well known in Europe, but maybe less well known in America. How much does your practice as a critic inform your approach as a filmmaker? And if it does, do you feel that that sets you apart from your peers in the States?

DS: Let me take the second part first. Right now, there’s more fluidity in the American independent community. A lot of people who write, or are film intellectuals, are making films, and the films reflect something about them. Everyone seems to be making movies that they want to make. It’s not the era of the “calling card” film that I recall from 20 years ago. Mumblecore may have changed that. Now, the more personal, the better. I don’t think what you’re describing is an unprecedented thing in the United States anymore.

In a certain sense, I see my love of cinema as being one with the feelings that I want to create in my own movies. I locate them in film history, even. The idea of my movies standing next to the great films matters to me. And I don’t feel like I’m switching hats when I move between thinking about movies and making them.

The biggest difference comes in generating the idea. It’s a weird process. Coming up with the ideas that you need to make a movie is a kind of pre-artistic process, in my opinion. There’s fantasy, there’s infantilism. Whatever gives you energy on some deep childish level is what’s needed to drive you through the process. You’re gratifying yourself in all kinds of weird ways. Once some things have emerged from wherever they’ve been hiding, the critic gets involved. And the internal critic, who shapes your own effluvia, is very similar to the person who writes a review of someone else’s movie. So there is a lot of common ground. But this one thing, criticism does not prepare you for it. That’s the gap. If someone can’t bridge that gap, it’s probably because they haven’t got a handle on how to generate the stuff.

EM: Is that something that’s gotten easier for you with each new film, or is it truly a spontaneous process?

DS: I think it just comes to you. It doesn’t get easier, but I also don’t find it particularly hard. If you think of yourself as an artist, you have to have this weird process going on. I’ve had it running in my own head for a long time, though it’s changed over the years.

Various circumstances gave rise to Fourteen: one of them was that I had a day job that I didn’t want to quit, but I also couldn’t get enough contiguous vacation time to shoot something all at once. But I had ideas that I could shoot over time, in pieces, so I could satisfy the requirements of my living situation and make the movie work. That was instrumental in finding the ideas that became Fourteen.

EM: Did the film ultimately come together over a significant period of time?

DS: It was pretty fast. I finished The Unspeakable Act in early 2012. Fourteen was on paper by mid-2012. I wanted to work again with Tallie, and I wanted to work with Kate Lyn Sheil, who had a small role in The Unspeakable Act. I wanted to see what would happen with the two of them. The script was called “Tallie/Kate” for a long time.

I had a vague role for each of them and a vague agenda: I told Kate once that I thought one of her directors should remake The Mother and the Whore with her in the Françoise Lebrun role. And after a while I thought, maybe I should try that. So there was something in my mind about that scene that became Jo’s breakdown.

But it didn’t solidify until I had this almost fantasy idea of the little girl and the bedtime story of Jo’s life, the funeral, and the little girl’s reaction triggering the mother’s reaction. I didn’t have the rest of the movie at that point, I just had a vague structure. But that scene made me feel like the movie could be done.

EM: I wanted to ask you about the ending of the film, because the sequence you describe, where Mara narrates Jo’s story to her daughter, initially seemed like a logical endpoint for the film. But you keep pushing it further to the funeral scene, where Mara is granted a real moment of grief. I’m curious to hear you articulate why the film had to end where it does, with a level of emotionality that’s unlike what’s expressed throughout the rest of the movie.

DS: For me, I couldn’t have ended it without that. The film is trying to strike a balance between the romanticized feeling of this great love that Mara has for Jo, which will never go away, and the reality of life carrying you away—life with a child carrying you away. Fourteen is about all the stuff that happens while the nice, clean narrative line progresses. And the other stuff has to have weight. The ending is supposed to crystallize the idea that all this other stuff is in balance with a powerful emotion. The ending fights it back, and then loses the battle against the eruption of the emotion.

[Film critic] Mike D’Angelo told me that he really wanted the movie to end after the story. I see it, but I couldn’t end it there. I owed Jo more than that, somehow. All my films have, beneath the surface, a kind of capital-R romanticism, which I then try to disguise with a million manifestations of the mundane.

EM: That reminds me of something you said in your piece on À Nos Amours, where you describe Pialat’s formal choices as “fiction dodging stratagems.” I’ve seen other commentators compare Fourteen’s approach to time to Pialat, but I also think what you’re describing, this romanticism that the film resists, but which it ultimately cannot hold back, is very Pialatian. He’s someone who possesses an almost repressed, or even self-loathing, romanticism, but he can’t clamp it down.

DS:  He tries so damn hard to keep it down. I was thinking about Pialat a lot during this movie. I’d arrived at a time in my life where I felt like I really understood Pialat, and I was thinking a lot about what I felt were the lessons of Pialat, which I didn’t really get when I first tried to use those rhythms. One thing that’s important about Pialat, which I tried to do, even though I couldn’t go as far as him, is how he throws things together that don’t fit, things that aren’t meant to fit together, that come from different places. He might throw together a piece from his life, a piece from Arlette Langmann’s life, or something the actors did when they didn’t realize they were being filmed, or something he provoked them into doing by breaking character. He’ll take all these things, put them together, and it makes you feel like the person is real in a way that you don’t feel when the character is conceived of in thematic terms.

I think that the discontinuity of people is far greater than fiction suggests. Fiction doesn’t give us easy tools to deal with how discontinuous we are. And Pialat realizes that. He recognizes that there’s a great danger in simplifying things away from reality. He’s scared to death of it, actually.

EM: What you’re saying brings to mind my favorite film of his, La Maison de bois

DS: That was Pialat’s favorite too…

EM: Oh was it? I didn’t know that. I’ve always sensed that it’s a movie that Pialat had to purge from himself, because it’s the most flowing and Renoirian, the least discontinuous. There, more than anywhere else, you see him unable to resist his own romantic impulses.

DS: Pialat said that the only two good films made since the liberation were Jacques Demy’s short film about the shoemakers of the Loire and La Maison de bois, his own movie [laughs]. But Pialat is usually brutal towards his own movies. In interviews, he does himself no favors. He doesn’t think his films work, and he says so.

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EM: I’m also curious about the financing of your films. You mentioned that you made Fourteen while working your day job, which financed the movie. Do you anticipate self-financing your films going forward? Is doing so important to you?

DS: I self-finance completely, and I anticipate that I will continue to do so. But whether or not it’s important to me, I don’t know. I’ve never done anything else. I can imagine some fantasy situation where a patron comes along, offers money, and says, “Do whatever you want.” What I have trouble imagining is fitting myself into a system that requires compromise. Perhaps I could, on some level, but I think I’d sabotage the project before it even got off the ground. But I’ll try if someone wants to!

And there are certain good things about my style for a producer. I storyboard everything. I do cutting continuity. I don’t change my scripts very much. So if the financier is adept enough at reading the tea leaves, they can see exactly the movie that I’m going to make. It’s an opportunity for someone who doesn’t want any surprises.

EM: I find it surprising that you storyboard your films in advance, especially after just talking about this Pialatian discontinuity. Fourteen doesn’t read to me as a film that was storyboarded in advance. It has an off-handed quality that works in the film’s favor. How do you capture that while also storyboarding?

DS: A lot of that has to do with the actors. But the reason to storyboard is not so much a creative one as it is an emotional one. It’s a way of controlling anxiety, to tell you the truth, very much the way that I think Hitchcock needed to feel that he was done with a movie before it was filmed, that all he had to do was execute his plans. Really, the movie isn’t done, but I understand why it’s useful to think that way. I understand the anxiety that forces you to pretend that the film is entirely finished before you start. At every stage of the way, I’m trying to pretend that I’ve already done the work, and that all I have to do is flesh it out a bit.

Perhaps because of that, I’ve developed a kind of minimalist style. I was a math major, and mathematicians like the idea of an elegant proof. Minimalism implies not thinking about yourself in a way, which you can do when you follow a rigorous plan. So, it fits with my personality in some way.

EM: And minimalism suits the milieu. Fourteen understands the environments that young women like Mara and Jo would occupy. Their lives lack accoutrements. They’re simple. They move through life with baggage of the emotional variety, but very little of the tangible kind.

DS: You know, I saw Young Ahmed recently, which I liked a lot, and I saw the Dardennes doing the same thing in responding to the film’s situation that they were doing as far back as La Promesse. They don’t think twice about doing the same thing. They don’t obsess over doing things differently or striking out into new territory. Their style is pure response to something, to a situation. Not to a script, not to a theme. And I think I try to be like that myself. I never go in thinking, what can I do to make this interesting? I try to obey, to do justice to something when I choose shots and when I construct decoupage.

Friday October 4 – Thursday October 10

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Featured Film:

First Love at the Egyptian

We’re still in Vancouver through the weekend, looking forward to The Whistlers, Fourteen, Vitalina Varela, Oh Mercy, and much more. But for those of you in Seattle, don’t miss Takashi Miike’s latest, playing exclusively at the Egyptian. It’s a gangster movie and a romance and a comedy and a one crazy night movie and a crazy caper movie and a whole lot more. Miike continues to be one of the freest filmmakers in the world, and First Love is maybe his best film in years and one of the best movies to hit Seattle Screens in 2019.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

War (Siddharth Anand) Fri-Thurs  
The Climbers (Daniel Lee) Fri-Thurs  

The Beacon Cinema:

Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) Fri, Mon-Thurs 
Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975) Fri, Sun, Tues & Thurs 
The Town that Dreaded Sundown (Charles B. Pierce, 1976) Fri & Sat Only 
The Peanut Butter Solution (Michael Rubbo, 1985) Sat Only 
The Wind Will Carry Us (Abbas Kiarostami, 1999) Sat & Sun Only 
Vampire Hunter D (Toyoo Ashida, 1985) Sun Only 
Problems with Many Solutions: Abbas Kiraostami Short Films Sun Only 
The Midnight Hour (Jack Bender, 1985) Sun Only 
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1982) Mon Only 
Io Island (Kim Ki-young, 1977) Tues & Weds Only 
Mister America (Eric Notarnicola) Weds Only 

Central Cinema:

Legally Blonde (Robert Luketic, 2001) Fri-Weds 
Re-Animator (Stuart Gordon, 1985) Fri-Weds  
Killer Klowns from Outer Space (Stephen Chiodo, 1988) Thurs Only  

SIFF Egyptian:

First Love (Takashi Miike) Fri-Weds Our Review 

Century Federal Way:

Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Surender Reddy) Fri-Thurs  
Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) Sun & Weds Only  

Grand Cinema:

Tacoma Film Festival  Fri-Thurs Full Program 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Memory: The Origins of Alien (Alexandre O. Philippe) Fri-Thurs  
Witchfinder General (Michael Reeves, 1968) Fri-Tues 35mm
A Field in England (Ben Wheatley, 2014) Sat, Sun, Weds & Thurs 

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Surender Reddy) Fri-Thurs In Telugu, Tamil or Hindi, Check Listings
War (Siddharth Anand) Fri-Thurs  
Dream Girl (Raaj Shaandilyaa) Fri-Thurs 
The Climbers (Daniel Lee) Fri-Thurs  
Asuran (Vetrimaaran) Fri-Thurs 
Chanakya
(Thiru) Fri-Thurs 
Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) Sun & Weds Only  

Regal Meridian:

War (Siddharth Anand) Fri-Thurs  
My People, My Country (Various) Fri-Thurs 
The Matrix (Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 1999) Fri-Thurs 
Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi) Fri-Thurs Subtitled
Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) Sun & Thurs Only  

Northwest Film Forum:

Desolation Center (Stuart Swezey) Fri, Weds & Thurs 
Brainiac: Transmissions After Zero (Eric Mahoney) Fri Only 
Swarm Season (Sarah Christman) Sun & Mon Only 
Gaza Fights for Freedom (Abby Martin) Weds Only 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Climbers (Daniel Lee) Fri-Thurs  
Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi) Fri-Thurs 
My People, My Country (Various) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Chhichhore (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs 
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Surender Reddy) Fri-Thurs  
War (Siddharth Anand) Fri-Thurs  

AMC Seattle:

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

The Breaking Point (Michael Curtiz, 1950) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

Chained for Life (Aaron Schimberg) Fri-Sun 
Frank Gehry: Building Justice (Ultan Guilfoyle) Weds Only 

Regal Thornton Place:

The Climbers (Daniel Lee) Fri-Thurs  
Monty Python & the Holy Grail (Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam, 1975) Sat Only 
Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) Sun & Thurs Only  
Mister America (Eric Notarnicola) Weds Only 

SIFF Uptown:

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Stanley Nelson) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Ms. Purple (Justin Chon) Fri-Thurs 
Monos (Alejandro Landes) Fri-Weds  
Wrinkles the Clown (Michael Beach Nichols) Fri-Thurs 
Don’t Talk About the Baby (Ann Zamudio) Thurs Only 

Varsity Theatre:

Latin Shorts Program #1 Fri-Thurs 
Latin Shorts Program #2 Fri-Sun, Tues-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino) Our Review Our Other Review

VIFF 2019: The Shadow Play (Lou Ye, 2018)

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At this point the best advice I can give you, the prospective viewer of a Lou Ye movie, is this: don’t see it in a theatre, and if you must, sit as far away from the screen as possible. Possibly contemporary cinema’s most extreme abuser of the close-up, shallow-focus, quick-cutting shaky cam, Lou’s movies are nigh unwatchable under what should be ideal viewing conditions (that is, about a half dozen or so rows back from the screen, depending on auditorium shape and size). The incoherent swirl of blurs and occasional images are nauseating and headache-inducing at that distance. Never have I so longed for the ability to speak Chinese as I did watching The Shadow Play here at VIFF, wishing desperately to be able to just close my eyes and simply listen to the movie.

It’s a shame, because in most other respects, Lou is a fine filmmaker, deftly smuggling social critique within otherwise popular genre plots. The Shadow Play is a terrific example of this, with an outstanding opening sequence chronicling the street-by-street buildup of a riot in protest of developers who plan to bulldoze a dilapidated, but occupied, neighborhood, culminating in a brutal police crackdown. That it’s set in 2012 makes it no less resonant to events in Hong Kong (and beyond) that are occurring as I type. But The Shadow Play isn’t really a film about resistance to urban “renewal” (an evil anywhere in the world, as omnipresent as capitalism itself), so much as it uses the fact of corruption (illicit links between government and business and law enforcement and the family) as set dressing for a lurid and not especially interesting noir story about a cop (Jing Boran, star of Monster Hunt and Us and Them) having a very hard time trying to solve a not-very-difficult case.

Hyperactively cutting back and forth across twenty years of history in the life of a developer, a government official (who will be killed in the aftermath of the riot) and the woman they love, along with their daughter (whose daughter? it’s a mystery!) and a bar girl from Taiwan who became the developer’s top assistant several years before the 2012 riot/murder (where’d she go? another mystery!), Lou distracts from the weakness of his scenario by jumbling continuity, not exactly following any kind of logical or emotional through line, but rather simply trying to extend the suspense, such as it is, for as long as he can. Set piece follows set piece, with what looks like could be some fine acting (especially by the three women, Ma Sichun (from Soul Mate, playing the daughter, Song Jia (Shock Wave) as the mother, and Michelle Chen (Badges of Fury) as the assistant), except we can’t actually see any of it because most of every frame is blurred out and cut to pieces. Ultimately the mysteries prove to have solutions both obvious and not especially sensical, but that would all matter a lot less if the rest of the movie held up. But there’s a big difference between acknowledging the existence of corruption in a society and actually making a movie about it. It’s undeniable that Lou has been a leading figure of resistance against the PRC’s various censorship systems, suffering a filmmaking ban after Suzhou River (his best film), a five year distribution ban after Summer Palace, and waiting two years after shooting wrapped in 2016 to see The Shadow Play get released. But, in the same way Lou used Tiananmen Square as a backdrop for an uninteresting and poorly shot romantic melodrama in Summer Palace, so the politics of The Shadow Play, admirable though they are, can’t obscure the film’s deficiencies as cinema.

It’s not as if we haven’t seen plenty of recent films pull this same trick, of sneaking anti-PRC themes into a generic story. Ash is Purest White and Mountains May Depart track the same things: the corrosive effects of corruption and capitalism and their effects on the family over time. Mountains especially, with its love triangle and estranged child, especially seems relevant, but how much more human is Jia’s movie than Lou’s? Xin Yukun’s Wrath of Silence is a rock solid genre film that attacks corruption with all the subtlety of a mute coal miner bashing in the face of a corporate crook. Just here at VIFF, we have Diao Yinan’s The Wild Goose Lake, a not-so-subtle jab at the parallels and interconnections between criminals, law enforcement, and capital, told within a mostly generic noir plot, but with a visual acuity and precision that seems anathema to Lou. I guess here’s where I should say that of course Lou has adopted his style for reasons, he’s been doing it for years and years and show’s no signs of stopping. I’m sure his reasons are sound, and that compelling arguments can be made in favor of his cutting and camera work. He isn’t incompetent, he’s just made an aesthetic choice that I find, and perhaps the fault merely lies with my middle aged physiology, fucking unwatchable.

VIFF 2019: And Then We Danced (Dir. Levan Akin, 2019)

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Levan Akin’s gorgeous coming-of-age tale And Then We Danced fairly glows with beauty, pain, hope, and joy. It is a thoroughly transporting film, one that makes you wish that you were part of its hero’s world instead of being a mere observer.

And Then We Danced is set in the nation of Georgia and features the hauntingly beautiful dance and music of traditional Georgian culture. The film follows Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani), a college-aged member-in-training of the National Georgian Ensemble, a troupe specializing in traditional dance. Merab has been chastely dating his dance partner, Mary (Ana Javakishvili), with whom he was first paired when they were just children, and the two have an easy, playful rapport that comes from many years of knowing each other and dancing together. If Mary suspects that her partner is gay, she keeps that suspicion under wraps until the truth becomes too obvious to ignore—which it does when a new dancer, Irakli (Bachi Valishvili), suddenly arrives from out of town and begins to claim more and more of Merab’s attention. Irakli is dashing and mysterious, and Merab is soon utterly fascinated by him. A relationship that should proceed apace, however, is complicated by the fact that both young men live in a sternly judgmental culture where being gay is a criminal offense. Further complexities arise when auditions are announced for a single, prestigious position in an ensemble piece, a position for which Merab and Irakli find themselves competitors.

Continue reading “VIFF 2019: And Then We Danced (Dir. Levan Akin, 2019)”

VIFF 2019: The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019)

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Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed
The light-house top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?

Is this mine own countree?

We drifted o’er the harbour-bar,
And I with sobs did pray—
O let me be awake, my God!
Or let me sleep alway.

Robert Eggers is a maker of myths. Not in the interconnected serialized myth-making of Disney’s corporate franchises, the Marvels and Star Warses and other princesses. Rather in that with The Lighthouse, as with his last film, The Witch (The VVitch if you’re nasty), he exploits cinema’s love for grotesque ambiguity in tapping into the oldest, weirdest currents of New England culture, digging into the primal fears that lurked underneath the Puritan world. Quite literally with The Witch, set as it was in the 17th century among a family of too fundamentalist for the Puritans farmers. The Lighthouse is set some two hundred years later, give or take, but the fears and repressions of New England culture are still deeply felt. With allusions to everything from Moby-Dick to Coleridge to the story of Prometheus, Eggers weaves an allegory of guilt and rebellion, of a man (Robert Pattinson) under the yoke of a tyrannical and loving God (Willem Dafoe) that he cannot hope to understand, and how that lack of understanding costs him his soul.

But just as importantly, The Lighthouse is a movie about a pair of our greatest actors trapped together for 110 minutes in a square, black and white frame, covered in beards and torrential rain, railing away at each other in impossibly ornate old-timey monologues of fire and damnation. As a pure horror film, it’s more successful than something like Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, which conversely has it beat in terms of religious allegory. The hamminess of the two stars’ performances is deeply pleasurable, especially Dafoe, who in a just world would finally win an Oscar for a role that might have just been talking like a pirate and acting drunk, but instead oscillates brilliantly between power and weakness, between an imposing, all-powerful god of the sea, and a frail, lost old mariner.

The comparison to Mother! is especially apt (thanks to my colleague Melissa for bringing it to my attention), as Eggers and Aronofsky appear to be on a similar track. Both Mother! and Aronofsky’s Noah dig into biblical stories in search of the more primal human fears and desires that gave birth to them. But while Aronofsky tells the stories relatively straight, following the familiar plot points more or less closely and using the tropes of horror cinema to flesh out the emotions, Eggers is treading newer ground, still after those same basic emotions, but building newish plots around them. He also, at least with The Lighthouse, finds pre-Christian parallels for his myths, as in the story of Prometheus (who stole the secret of fire from the gods and as punishment had his liver eaten by an eagle every day for eternity). The result is an even more elemental kind of fear and guilt, as old as the weather itself, but one that doesn’t parse nearly as coherently. The Lighthouse could be “about” a lot of things, which is a weakness as much as it is a strength, depending on your point of view. They aren’t fables, defined in the end by a clear moral statement–myths are necessarily more ambiguous, and more entertaining. At its best, The Lighthouse recalls the primal mythologies of great films like Conan the Barbarian (the closest we’ve ever come to a Gilgamesh movie) or Excalibur (which similarly freely mixes Christian and pre-Christian myth in the service of cinematic weirdness). 19th century New England had a nightmare, and it dreamt of Willem Dafoe.

Friday September 27 – Thursday October 3

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Featured Film:

The Vancouver International Film Festival

Most of us here at Seattle Screen Scene are making our way north to cover VIFF once again, but you can be sure that if we were in town, we’d be hanging out at the Grand Illusion this week. Not only do they have two of Abbas Kiarostami’s best films in Close-Up and Through the Olive Trees, they’re playing all three of Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy (Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog, Ley Lines; it’s a thematic trilogy, unconnected by plot or character). But we’ll be in Vancouver, and this week we’re planning to catch: Young Ahmed (the Dardennes), Parasite (Bong Joonho), The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers), Joan of Arc (Bruno Dumont), Anne at 13,000 Ft. (Kazik Radwanski), Varda by Agnès (Agnès Varda), A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick), The Shadow Play (Lou Ye), MS Slavic 7 (Sofia Bohdanowicz), Synonyms (Nadav Lapid), Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho), and much more. Should be a good week.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Judy (Rupert Goold) Fri-Thurs 

The Beacon Cinema:

Cranes are Flying (Mikhail Kalatazov, 1957) Fri-Thurs 
The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1982) Fri Only 
John Wick Chapters 1-3 (Chad Stahelski, 2014, 2017, 2019) Sat Only 
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (Hiroyuki Yamaga, 1987) Sun Only 
Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin, 1947) Sun Only Our Podcast 
Flooding with Love for the Kid (Zachary Oberzan, 2010) Sun Only 
House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977) Mon Only 
The Peanut Butter Solution (Michael Rubbo, 1985) Tues & Weds Only 
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) Starts Thurs 

Central Cinema:

When Harry Met Sally… (Rob Reiner, 1989) Fri-Tues 
Slither (James Gunn, 2006) Fri-Tues 

Cinerama:

70mm Film Series Fri-Weds  

SIFF Egyptian:

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Stanley Nelson) Fri-Thurs Our Review 

Century Federal Way:

Doorbeen (Ishan Chopra) Fri-Thurs 
Nikka Zaildar 3 (Simerjit Singh) Fri-Mon  
The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010) Sun & Mon Only Subtitled Mon
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Surender Reddy) Starts Tues  
Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl (Sôichi Masui) Weds & Thurs Only  

Grand Cinema:

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 
Judy (Rupert Goold) Fri-Thurs 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Fran Rubel Kuzui, 1992) Sat Only 
The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent) Tues Only 
The Infiltrators (Cristina Ibarra & Alex Rivera) Thurs Only Tacoma Film Festival Premiere

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990) Fri-Sun 
Through the Olive Trees (Abbas Kiarostami, 1994) Sat & Sun Only  
Blood Orgy of the Leather Girls (Meredith Lucas, 1988) Fri Only VHS
Shinjuku Triad Society (Takashi Miike, 1995) Sat, Tues & Thurs  
Rainy Dog (Takashi Miike, 1997) Sun, Mon & Weds  
Ley Lines (Takashi Miike, 1999) Mon, Weds & Thurs 

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Judy (Rupert Goold) Fri-Thurs 
Namma Veetu Pillai (Pandiraj) Fri-Thurs 
Oththa Seruppu Size 7 (R. Parthiepan) Fri-Thurs 
Dream Girl (Raaj Shaandilyaa) Fri-Thurs 
Chhichhore (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs 
Ne Zha (Jiaozi) Fri-Thurs 
The Zoya Factor (Abhishek Sharma) Fri-Thurs 
Valmiki (Harish Shankar) Fri-Thurs 
Ganagandharvan (Ramesh Pisharody) Sat & Sun Only 
The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010) Sun & Mon Only Subtitled Mon
Snoopy Come Home (Bill Melendez, 1972) Sun Only 
The Climbers (Daniel Lee) Starts Mon  
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Surender Reddy) Starts Tues  
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Arrow of the Orion (Katsushi Sakurabi) Tues & Thurs Only Subtitled Thurs
War (Siddharth Anand) Starts Weds  

Regal Meridian:

The Matrix (Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 1999) Fri-Thurs 
Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi) Fri-Thurs Subtitled
Villains (Robert Olsen, Dan Berk) Fri-Thurs 
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 
The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010) Sun & Mon Only Subtitled Mon
My People, My Country (Various) Tues & Weds Only 
Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl (Sôichi Masui) Weds & Thurs Only  

Northwest Film Forum:

Local Sightings Film Festival Fri-Sun Full Program 
Becoming Nobody (Jamie Catto) Sat-Thurs 

AMC Pacific Place:

Judy (Rupert Goold) Fri-Thurs 
Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi) Fri-Thurs 
Ne Zha (Jiaozi) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Chhichhore (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs 
Tod@s Caen (Ariel Winograd) Fri-Thurs 
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Surender Reddy) Starts Tues  
War (Siddharth Anand) Starts Weds  

AMC Seattle:

Judy (Rupert Goold) Fri-Thurs 
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983) Weds Only Our Podcast 

Regal Thornton Place:

Judy (Rupert Goold) Fri-Thurs 
Official Secrets (Gavin Hood) Fri-Thurs 
Villains (Robert Olsen, Dan Berk) Fri-Thurs 
The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010) Sun & Mon Only Subtitled Mon
The Climbers (Daniel Lee) Mon-Weds  
Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl (Sôichi Masui) Weds & Thurs Only  

SIFF Uptown:

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins (Janice Engel) Fri, Mon-Thurs 
Monos (Alejandro Landes) Fri-Thurs 
French Cinema Now Festival Fri-Thurs Full Program 

Varsity Theatre:

Manhattan Short Film Festival Fri & Sun Only
Prey (Franck Khalfoun) Fri-Thurs 
The Day Shall Come (Chris Morris) Fri-Thurs
The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010) Sun & Mon Only Subtitled Mon

In Wide Release:

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino) Our Review Our Other Review

First Love (Takashi Miike, 2019)

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Every time I watch a Takashi Miike movie, I end up asking myself why I ever watch movies that aren’t Takashi Miike movies. That’s certainly the case with First Love, his latest, which premiered at Cannes earlier this year and opens next week (October 4) at the Uptown. It’s a familiar story, a one crazy night gangster movie mixed with just enough romance and humor to confound the tonal consistency police. But while the plot evokes faint memories of Johnnie To’s The Odd One Dies or Derek Yee’s One Night in Mongkok or Soi Cheang’s Love Battlefield, really it’s all Miike, suffused with his inimitable blend of pitch-black humor, razor-sharp filmmaking, and a surprising undercurrent of hope amid all the absurdist bloodshed and horror of a world that has almost completely lost its mooring.

A young boxer who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor stumbles into a scheme wherein a low-level yakuza and a crooked cop are conspiring to steal a bag of drugs from the yakuza, while framing a prostitute and a Chinese Triad syndicate for the crime. The hope is to incite a gang war and have all the bad guys kill each other off, while the schemers get away with the drugs and can then take over. But the prostitute, a young drug addict who suffers from hallucinations, caused by years of abuse by her father and her handlers, runs away from the cop at a pivotal moment, and thinking she needs rescuing, the boxer clocks the cop. The young people run away and the scheme falls apart, thanks as well to a pair of nigh-indestructible women, one the girlfriend of the guy who the drugs are stolen from, the other a Chinese gangster lamenting the sad state of honor among today’s yakuza men. A host of other memorable baddies abound, including an old school yakuza who is fresh out of prison and terribly annoyed by everyone around him, and a one-armed Chinese gangster who has no lines but follows along the whole way, waiting for his opportunity to take revenge on the man who maimed him.

Miike unfolds the convoluted plot with expert precision, such that it’s pretty much always clear exactly who is double-crossing who, and why. And those double-crosses play out in and escalating series of violent encounters, as funny as they are original. I wouldn’t dare spoil any of the surprises the movie has in store, but I want to single out Miike’s editing in particular, cutting on motion with as much attention to the flow of action as, say, Steven Spielberg, but with a sublime sense of humor, as when a punch in the boxing ring becomes a beheading stroke of a katana in a dark alley. First Love is filled with these little touches. One imagines Miike chuckling away as he finds ever more demented ways to depict violence on-screen. I’ve said before that no one in contemporary cinema has as much fun making movies as Takashi Miike, and First Love is him working with complete freedom within otherwise well-worn genre terrain.

Even the romance is unusual. Given the circumstances, and their various medical and mental conditions, it’d be absurd, something that only happens in the movies, for our two innocents to fall madly in love right away (even with the help of a pop song, as they do in Wong Kar-wai’s As Tears Go By). Instead, the First Love of the title can only grow after the trials of the one crazy night have been put behind them. Not just a lunatic cascade of gangster movie violence, the night instead becomes a stand-in for all the horrible things that have happened to them in their pasts, and only after they survive them and move on to a new day, is a first love even possible. The final shot doesn’t need a pop song, or even a close-up, to be the most hopeful, most romantic image of the movie year.

I should watch more Takashi Miike movies. The Grand Illusion this week is playing three of them, none of which I have seen, Shinjuku Triad SocietyRainy Dog, and Ley Lines. Like First Love, they all involve rivalries between Chinese Triads and Japanese yakuza, such that their grouped together as his “Black Society Trilogy”, though they are apparently unrelated in plot or character. If I was in town next week, that’s where I would be.

VIFF 2019: The Wild Goose Lake (Diao Yinan, 2019)

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One of the most anticipated Chinese titles of this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival is Diao Yinan’s follow-up to his Berlin winning 2014 film Black Coal, Thin Ice. Like that film, The Wild Goose Lake is a moody Chinese noir, full of morose characters trapped in a world of violence they cannot understand. It’s also significantly more interesting to look at than the majority of Chinese noirs that have afflicted the festival circuit in the wake of Black Coal‘s triumph. Sure, it has more than its share of torrential downpours and black nights of the soul, but Diao mixes the morose setting with yellows, greens, and reds (along with some delightfully sickly neon pinks) more reminiscent of Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night and the first third of Jia Zhangke’s Ash is Purest White than the dull grayness of movies like The Looming Storm or Savage or Lush Reeds. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his characters, who are nowhere near as vibrant as the film’s images.

Hu Ge, who had a small role in Shunji Iwai’s Last Letter, stars as an ex-con and gangster who finds himself the target of a manhunt after he accidentally shoots a cop. The setup to this is extremely promising, with Diao melding the highbrow style of Bi and Jia with a classic Triad-type story, involving gang rivalries and a motorcycle-stealing contest that ends in a shocking bit of violence. But it quickly shifts into a different kind of film entirely, with Liao Fan as the cop in charge of hunting him down and Gwei Lun-mei as the prostitute with a heart of gold who tries to help him escape (both Gwei and Liao starred as well in Black Coal).

Liao and the cops come off much better, as the blankness of their personalities matches the just-the-facts proceduralism of their pursuit, Liao himself bringing a necessary weight and professional authority to the role. But Gwei and Hu are blank slates, almost entirely affectless, with nary a hint of personality to mitigate their mopey sadness. Gwei is usually an actress of considerable charm, but there’s nary a hint here of the performer who stole scenes left and right in Tsui Hark’s Seven Swords and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate a decade ago. Instead she walks determinedly, if directionlessly, around the frame, face pinched in a perpetual scowl, while Hu (hobbled as his character is by multiple gunshot wounds) merely looks depressed. The motivations and actions mostly make sense, but it’s hard to care anything about them when they aren’t the least bit interesting. Compare them to the wit and will Zhao Tao showed in Ash, or Liao Fan’s weaselly over-confidence in that same film, or the mystery and passion of Tang Wei and Sylvia Chang in Long Day’s Journey, and you’ll see what Wild Goose Lake is missing most.

But for all that, at moments the film is wonderful. There are at least three expert showdowns, built slowly and without dialogue, actors carefully arranging themselves in a well-defined space, communicating only with looks (or just as much: by not looking at all). Diao heightens one by having one group wearing shoes that have neon lights around their soles, such that our hero (such as he is) is seemingly hunted by circles of eerie pale green light, stark against the blackness of night. Another is set in a dilapidated concrete apartment complex, reminiscent of so many such structures in Hong Kong films, with their tangled hallways and noisy neighbors. In scenes like this, The Wild Goose Lake approaches the best of Johnnie To (the showdowns are nothing if not a nod to The Mission). If only the rest of the movie were so free.