Friday April 19 – Thursday April 25

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Featured Film:

True Stories at the Northwest Film Forum

The highlights for this week on Seattle Screens are mostly movies I haven’t seen yet. Claire Denis’s High Life expands throughout the area, as does the Aretha Franklin doc Amazing Grace. The Pacific Place has the new Emily Dickinson film Wild Nights with Emily, while the new Mike Leigh joint plays at the Meridian and the Theatre Formerly Known as the Metro. The Cinerama has a whole series of anime, I’d recommend Mamoru Hosada’s Wolf Children as the one that doesn’t get revived all that often but is nonetheless as great as the best of the oft-screened Ghibli classics. SAM’s playing Kind Hearts and Coronets, if you’re in the mood to see Alec Guinness get killed as like a dozen different characters. And the Grand Illusion has an actual Jean Grémillon movie, can’t remember the last time we’ve had a chance to see one of those around here. But while I haven’t seen it yet, I have seen the video for “Wild Wild Life” and I’m gonna be super jealous of all of you who get to go see True Stories at the NWFF on Saturday night. It’s on 35mm!

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (Terry Jones & Terry Gilliam, 1975) Fri-Weds
Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968) Fri-Weds 

Cinerama:

Anime Film Series Fri-Thurs Full Program

SIFF Egyptian:

SPLIFF Film Fest Fri & Sat Only 
Hail Satan? (Penny Lane) Sun-Thurs 

Century Federal Way:

Manje Bistre 2 (Baljit Singh Deo) Fri-Thurs 

Grand Cinema:

High Life (Claire Denis) Fri-Thurs 
Woman at War (Benedikt Erlingsson) Fri-Thurs 
Buddy (Heddy Honigmann) Fri-Thurs 
Cat Video Fest 2019 Fri-Thurs 
Kid Flicks Two Sat Only 
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Terry Gilliam, 1998) Sat Only 
Anote’s Ark (Matthieu Rytz) Tues Only 
The New Frontier (Kanani Koster) Thurs Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Penguin Highway (Hiroyasu Ishida) Fri–Thurs Dubbed Mon & Weds
Hagazussa (Lukas Feigelfeld) Fri, Sun, Mon, Weds & Thurs 
Little Woods (Nia DaCosta) Fri & Next Sat-Mon Only
Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan) Sat & Sun Only Our Review In 2D
Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (Danny Leiner, 2004) Sat Only 
Drone Cinema Film Festival – Selected Works Sat Only 
Pattes blanches (White Paws) (Jean Grémillon, 1949) Tues Only 

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

High Life (Claire Denis) Fri-Thurs 
Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack) Fri-Thurs 
Finding Julia (Igor Sunara) Fri-Thurs 
Chitralahari (Kishore Tirumala) Fri-Sun
Vellaipookal (Vivek Elangovan) Fri-Sun
Jersey (Gowtam Tinnanuri) Fri-Thurs 
Kalank (Abhishek Verman) Fri-Thurs 
Kanchana 3 (Raghava Lawrence) Fri & Sat Only
Athiran (Vivek) Sat & Sun Only 
Kavaludaari (Hemanth Rao) Sat & Sun Only 
Okko’s Inn (Kitarō Kōsaka) Mon & Tues Only Subtitled Tuesday

Regal Meridian:

Peterloo (Mike Leigh) Fri-Thurs 
Kalank (Abhishek Verman) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

Ramen Shop (Eric Khoo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
The Venerable W. (Barbet Schroeder) Fri & Sun Only 
Mosquita y Mari (Aurora Guerrero, 2011) Sat Only Director Q&A 
True Stories (David Byrne, 1986)  Sat Only 35mm
The Eyes of Orson Welles (Mark Cousins) Sun & Next Sat & Sun Only 
Tomorrow Never Knows (Adam Sekular) Weds Only Director Q&A
Cadence Video Poetry Festival Thurs Only 

AMC Pacific Place:

Wild Nights with Emily (Madeleine Olnek) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Kalank (Abhishek Verman) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

Peterloo (Mike Leigh) Fri-Thurs 
High Life (Claire Denis) Fri-Thurs 
Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack) Fri-Thurs 
The Brink (Alison Klayman) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Kind Hearts and Coronets (Robert Hamer, 1949) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

Babylon (Franco Rosso, 1980) Fri-Sun 

AMC Southcenter:

Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack) Fri-Thurs 
Finding Julia (Igor Sunara) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Thornton Place:

High Life (Claire Denis) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Uptown:

Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack) Fri-Thurs 
Diane (Kent Jones) Fri-Thurs 
High Life (Claire Denis) Fri-Thurs 

Varsity Theatre:

Mary Magdalene (Garth Davis) Fri-Thurs 
Breaking Habits (Rob Ryan) Fri-Thurs 

In Wide Release:

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) Our Review Our Other Review 
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Ramen Shop (Eric Khoo, 2018)

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Opening this weekend at the Northwest Film Forum is this perfectly fine food drama by one of Singapore’s leading directors. After his father, a successful ramen chef, dies, a young man heads to Singapore in search of his mother’s family. Gauzy flashbacks fill in his parents’ back story in-between meetings with his estranged uncle and grandmother. His father, Japanese, and his mother, Chinese, married against her mother’s wishes, her hostility a result of lingering hatred of the Japanese following their occupation of the city-state during World War II. But as resentments and hatred are passed down through the generations, so too are recipes, taught from parent to child, adding personal touches learned from their own life experience. The cuisine of Singapore, with its influences from throughout East and South Asia as well as Europe is the blunt instrument of metaphor in Eric Khoo’s quiet, yet maudlin melodrama. The young man’s journey is as much about learning the recipes of his mother’s family as it is reconciling himself to the past atrocities of his father’s homeland. English serves as the lingua franca, bridging the gap between ancient hatreds, facilitating the fusion of Japanese ramen (itself a combination of Japanese flavors with Chinese noodles) with Singaporean pork rib soup (a combination of Chinese soup with Southeast Asian flavors).

As a vision of transnational solidarity dramatized by a Japanese person’s trip to Singapore, it’s vastly more conventional and less interesting than Daisuke Miyazaki’s Tourism, which also played at last year’s Japan Cuts festival but which is not getting, as far as I know, even a very limited North American release. Probably because the food, at least, looks much better. Though even that pales in comparison to the food in the quiet Korean drama Little Forest (a second adaptation of a manga, the first of which, a Japanese version, played in two parts at SIFF a few years ago), which likewise won’t see American theatres, but you can stream it on Amazon.

Regardless, I too hope to one day pass down to my grandchildren my own ramen recipe, which I’ll also share with you here:

1. In a small pot, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Add noodles, breaking up if desired. Cook 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Remove from heat. Stir in seasoning from soup base packet.
3. Try adding an egg, vegetables, or meat as desired.

Friday April 12 – Thursday April 18

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Featured Film:

Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the SIFF Uptown

It’s another very strong week on Seattle Screens, with runs of An Elephant Sitting Still and The Fate of Lee Khan continuing at the Northwest Film Forum, Yuen Woo-ping’s solid fight film Master Z: Ip Man Legacy opening at the Meridian and a couple of suburban theatres, and Mark Cousins’s very good doc The Eyes of Orson Welles beginning its sporadic run at the NWFF. There are also a bunch of solid rep options: Clue and Clueless at the Central Cinema, The Matrix and The General at the Grand, Life of Brian at the Uptown, and a whole bunch of films from 1999 at the Cinerama. But the must-see films of the week are Claire Denis’s Robert Pattinson-starring sci-fi movie High Life, opening at the Lincoln Square and the Uptown, and Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, playing exclusively at the Uptown. I’m giving the edge here to Bi Gan, because I’ve actually seen his movie and it’s terrific. The hour-long continuous 3D take will get the headlines, but it’s the movie’s mood that will stick with you: film noir mystery and Wong Kar-wai romanticism condensed into a meandering labyrinth of memory and loss.

Playing This Week:

Central Cinema:

Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995) Fri-Tues
Clue (Jonathan Lynn, 1985) Fri-Weds 
Candyman (Bernard Rose, 1992) Weds Only 

Cinerama:

1999 Film Series Fri-Thurs Full Program

SIFF Egyptian:

Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack) Fri-Thurs 

Century Federal Way:

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (Yuen Woo-ping) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Manje Bistre 2 (Baljit Singh Deo) Fri-Thurs 
Penguin Highway (Hiroyasu Ishida) Sun Only English Dubbed
Ben-Hur (William Wyler, 1959) Sun & Weds Only 

Grand Cinema:

The Aftermath (James Kent) Fri-Thurs 
Woman at War (Benedikt Erlingsson) Fri-Thurs 
The Matrix (Lilly and Lana Wachowski, 1999) Sat Only 
Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World (Catherine Bainbridge & Alfonso Maiorana) Sun Only 
Sharkwater Extinction (Rob Stewart) Tues Only 
The General (Buster Keaton, 1926) Weds Only 
Colour Me (Sherien Barsoum) Weds Only 
The Way He Looks (Daniel Ribeiro) Thurs Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Ruben Brandt, The Collector (Milorad Krstic) Fri–Thurs 
Vampire Raiders Ninja Queen (Godfrey Ho, 1988) Sat Only VHS

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

High Life (Claire Denis) Fri-Thurs 
Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack) Fri-Thurs 
Majili (Shiva Nirvana) Fri-Thurs 
Manje Bistre 2 (Baljit Singh Deo) Fri-Thurs 
Chitralahari (Kishore Tirumala) Fri-Thurs 
The Tashkent Files (Vivek Agnihotri) Fri-Thurs 
Vellaipookal (Vivek Elangovan) Fri-Thurs 
Wedding Cha Shinema (Saleel Kulkarni) Sat & Sun Only 

Regal Meridian:

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (Yuen Woo-ping) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Northwest Film Forum:

The Fate of Lee Khan (King Hu, 1973) Fri Only Our Review 
The Competition (Claire Simon) Fri-Sun 
Race (RAZA): A Cuban Documentary (Eric Corvalán, 2009) Sat Only 
An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo)  Sun & Weds Only 
The Eyes of Orson Welles (Mark Cousins) Weds Only 
Slumber Party Massacre II (Deborah Brock, 1987) Thurs Only 
Cadence Video Poetry Festival Thurs Only 

AMC Seattle:

The Brink (Alison Klayman) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

The Man in the White Suit (Alexander Mackendrick, 1951) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

In Search of Greatness (Gabe Polsky) Fri-Sun 

AMC Southcenter:

Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (Yuen Woo-ping) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Storm Boy (Shawn Seet) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Uptown:

Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Bi Gan) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
High Life (Claire Denis) Fri-Thurs 
BoneBat “Comedy of Horrors” Film Fest 2019 Sat Only 
Life of Brian (Terry Jones, 1979) Thurs Only 

Varsity Theatre:

Mary Magdalene (Garth Davis) Fri-Thurs 
Ben-Hur (William Wyler, 1959) Weds Only 

In Wide Release:

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) Our Review Our Other Review 

Black Mother (Khalik Allah, 2018)

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In Khalik Allah’s debut documentary, Field Niggas, the focus was precise. He returned again and again to a single street corner – the power of the film derived from his commitment to capturing this environment, the specific light, and the people who roamed about. His camera was up close to his subjects, his gaze meeting them head-on. His follow-up, Black Mother, is in every sense a much more expansive, diffuse experience. Instead of a single street corner, he aims to capture an entire country.

The approach is the same – the images and sound are not synchronized, allowing for a certain abstraction, where the viewer can make associations and connections for themselves. But Black Mother is a much more challenging project, and this is because of a crucial difference. In his first film, Allah was able to focus on his gifts for portraiture and his background in photography. His subjects became his organizing principle, and their presence sustained the film’s logic and atmosphere for over its running time. It never felt forced. Its scope felt right. Faced with the whole of Jamaica to try and make sense of, Allah strains in organizing his material. The film is divided into four sections – three trimesters and a birth. Searching, he forces poetic motifs and associations in order to guide him. His subjects hold books to point to the island’s colonized past. School girls are juxtaposed with prostitutes. Water imagery abounds. There is death, and there is birth. Essentially, the design feels less intuitive, a solution to a problem.

But Black Mother does not feel programmatic or calculated, even if Allah’s structure is somewhat labored. This is because his approach remains open, allowing for dissonance. Think of the Chinese store-owners brought up early on in the film. The voiceover speaks to Chinese people buying up hotels and taking over Jamaica, a new colonization. To illustrate this Allah shows us some Chinese store-owners at work, frustrated, tired, reacting to his camera, and finally giving him the peace sign. The montage is conflicted, and it reminds one of his previous film and its treatment of the police. In that film, Allah voiced his opinion of the police, filming them with as much as respect as his other subjects, but his voice became one of many, and all throughout the film his subjects violently disagreed and said so. With the Chinese store-owners, he strives to complicate and elucidate this subjects’ voiceover through the imagery, finally arriving at a point where it simply remains inconclusive – how should one feel about this? There is contradiction and the note is left unresolved.

In Field Niggas, Allah was frequently on the soundtrack, asking questions, his reflection was seen on bodega storefronts; he became a part of the night, a member of the cast, his voice a part of the film’s choral patchwork. While his latest film incorporates footage from his own family, and part of the impetus for filming Jamaica is his own connection to it, aside from a few stray bits of dialogue and an image here or there, he has more or less removed himself from the film’s universe. This allows for an analytical distance toward his subject, submerging the images of his family in a grand design, just another people of the island, allowing him to develop the thematic framework he feels is necessary to do justice to what he feels is important. He no longer needs to be seen or heard for his presence to be felt, letting his camera distance carry the moral weight of his gaze. The montage becomes his tool – the structure allows him to search and understand, maybe even flail about a little bit.

We return to the structure, the trimesters and the birth. In the first three trimesters, he has given us a societal and spiritual context, returning again and again to Jamaican Woman. His metaphor is undoubtedly a male one, he frames himself as Son to Mother, his return to Jamaica an attempt to understand his roots, but it registers as respectful and his gaze is never compromised. Finally, Allah films the mother give birth to a son, images of running water flowing everlasting, while the mother cries in pain, making literal the struggles of all the women he has filmed so far, the prayers heard on the soundtrack earlier signaling a spiritual rebirth, not only for himself but for all of those on the island. It’s in moments like this where the structure pays off and Allah’s desire to capture it all almost feel possible.

Black Mother is currently playing at the Northwest Film Forum

Love in the Time of Upheaval [ASH IS PUREST WHITE and TRANSIT]

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The release year of 2019 has already been a bountiful one for Seattle theaters, with such important films as The Image Book, Us, and a long-awaited run of Police Story arriving in the first three months. And by one of the quirks that comes with rolling limited releases, two of the best films of the year — and of the last three years — by two of the preeminent directors in world cinema are making their debut this week at SIFF Uptown: Jia Zhangke’s Ash Is Purest White and Christian Petzold’s Transit.

The two auteurs make for a fascinating comparison in terms of their relative profile in the arthouse film realm. Jia has created for himself a deserved reputation as the foremost chronicler of the unprecedented change — economically, socially, topographically — that has taken place in 21st-century China, and received consistent play in festivals and U.S. distribution. Petzold, by contrast, is an almost unknown quantity in America; though his films have had distribution from around 2008 and gotten some festival play, they have been little seen…except for his previous film Phoenix (2014), which upon its release in 2015 became the art-house version of a box-office smash, receiving more American viewers than probably any German film this side of The Lives of Others, and, significantly, possibly more than any of Jia’s films.

I should note here that I am far more familiar with Jia’s work than Petzold’s — I’ve seen all of the former’s features and only the latter’s two most recent films — but from my general understanding of their careers, the two share a particular thematic interest that links the two, and proves to be a essential asset to both films (in sometimes oblique ways): that of genre filmmaking. Since A Touch of Sin (2013), Jia has taken a sharp turn towards films explicitly emphasized and built around specific genres, from wuxia and action (Touch) to melodrama (Mountains May Depart, 2015) to the gangster genre that forms the base of Ash Is Purest White. Petzold has had this preoccupation from the beginning of his career: his second feature Cuba Libre (1996) was a remake of the great film noir Detour, and his explorations of genre have only developed since then.

What binds these two directors together even more is their particular methods of deploying these generic conventions; both are heavily invested in exploring their respective national societies, dissecting — in mostly pleasurable and sometimes sensual ways — the various means of oppression, resistance, and living within and outside systems impacts flesh-and-blood people. This is not to say that more traditional genre fare does not accomplish this, but Jia and Petzold are even more direct and acute in these respects. Certain other similarities can be drawn — continuous collaborations with muses (Jia with his wife Zhao Tao, Petzold until this latest film with Nina Hoss), a command of composition and editing stronger than almost any living filmmaker — but what makes them so vital is the particularities of their films.

Continue reading “Love in the Time of Upheaval [ASH IS PUREST WHITE and TRANSIT]”

Friday April 5 – Thursday April 11

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Featured Film:

Ash is Purest White at the SIFF Uptown

My favorite film of 2018 opens this week at the Uptown. I’ve been writing and talking about Ash is Purest White director Jia Zhangke a lot this year, with a career overview at Mubi and a lecture about him in Vancouver along with an essay at VIFF’s blog about his use of music. And there should be even more coming in the near future. But this week is packed with other great films if, like me, you’ve seen Zhao Tao uphold the jianghu code four times already. The Uptown also has Christian Petzold’s tremendous Transit, a kind of variation on Casablanca starring Franz Rogowski, who is a kind of variation on Joaquin Phoenix. We talked about it on our VIFF podcast last fall. If opening two of the best movies of 2018 wasn’t enough, the Grand Illusion has one of the best movies ever, with The Godfather on 35mm. And just to make things super crazy, the Northwest Film Forum has both Khalik Allah’s acclaimed Black Mother and Hu Bo’s monumental An Elephant Sitting Still, and then late in the week they open the new restoration of King Hu’s classic The Fate of Lee Khan (review at Mubi). It’s a good week on Seattle Screens.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Romeo Akbar Walter (Robby Grewal) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

The Fifth Element (Luc Besson, 1997) Fri-Weds Our Review
Super Troopers (Jay Chandrasekhar, 2001) Fri-Tues 

Century Federal Way:

Rabb Da Radio 2 (Sharan Art) Fri-Thurs 

Grand Cinema:

The Aftermath (James Kent) Fri-Thurs 
Keanu (Peter Atencio, 2016) Sat Only 
Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) Tues Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) Fri-Sun, Tues-Thurs 35mm
Starfish (A.T. White) Sat & Mon Only 
Terror Nullius (Soda_Jerk) Sat Only 
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm
The Future is Female (Various) Sun Only  

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

The Aftermath (James Kent) Fri-Thurs 
Romeo Akbar Walter (Robby Grewal) Fri-Thurs 
Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
Lakshmi’s NTR (Ram Gopal Varma & Agasthya Manju) Fri-Thurs 
Lucifer (Prithviraj Sukumaran) Fri-Thurs 
Super Deluxe (Thiagarajan Kumararaja) Fri-Thurs 
Majili (Shiva Nirvana) Fri-Thurs 
Mera Naam Shaji (Nadirsha) Fri-Thurs 
Panchatantra (Yogaraj Bhat) Sat & Sun Only 

Regal Meridian:

The Aftermath (James Kent) Fri-Thurs 
The Public (Emilio Estevez) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

Black Mother (Khalik Allah) Fri-Tues 
Best of the 45th Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival 2019 Fri Only 
An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo) Sat & Sun Only 
The Fate of Lee Khan (King Hu, 1973) Weds, Thurs & Next Fri Only Our Review 
Cadence Video Poetry Festival Thurs Only 

AMC Oak Tree:

The Aftermath (James Kent) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Pacific Place:

P Storm (David Lam) Fri-Thurs 
More than Blue (Gavin Lin) Fri-Thurs 
Division 19 (Suzie Halewood) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Ulan (Irene Villamor) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

The Aftermath (James Kent) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

The Lavender Hill Mob (Charles Crichton, 1951) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

Loving Vincent: The Impossible Dream (Miki Wecel) Fri-Sun 

AMC Southcenter:

The Public (Emilio Estevez) Fri-Thurs 
Storm Boy (Shawn Seet) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Uptown:

Ash is Purest White (Jia Zhangke) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Transit (Christian Petzold) Fri-Thurs Our Podcast 
Woman at War (Benedikt Erlingsson) Fri-Thurs 

Varsity Theatre:

Giant Little Ones (Keith Behrman) Fri-Thurs 

In Wide Release:

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) Our Review Our Other Review
Triple Threat (Jesse V. Johnson) Our Review

Friday March 29 – Thursday April 4

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Featured Film:

War and Peace at the SIFF Uptown

It’s a great week for long movies, as the Northwest Film Forum has the acclaimed two-part A Bread Factory, which looks pretty good, though I haven’t had a chance to see it, and SIFF has the new restoration of Sergei Bondarchuk’s legendary adaptation of War and Peace, which at just over seven hours, is almost four Bread Factories long. It’s a big movie in every sense of the word, not just running time: the cast of extras runs into the quintuple digits, the sets and costumes are spectacular, and it has more diversity of film technique than anything this side of Arnaud Desplechin. In terms of film epics, it ranks with the works of DW Griffith, Abel Gance, Sergei Eisenstein (Alexander Nevsky in particular) in ambition, while also basically inventing everything Terrence Malick did in The Thin Red Line and The New World. SIFF’s playing it in four parts, so you can stretch it out over a few days, or all at once on Sunday. 

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
Money (Park Noo-ri) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

Logan’s Run (Michael Anderson, 1976) Fri-Weds Our Podcast
O Brother Where Art Thou? (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2000) Fri-Tues Subtitled Sat, Sun & Tues
The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, 2003) Weds Only 

Century Federal Way:

Rabb Da Radio 2 (Sharan Art) Fri-Thurs 
The Karate Kid (John G. Avildsen, 1984) Sun & Weds Only 

Grand Cinema:

The Mustang (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) Fri-Thurs 
Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) Sat Only 
The Invisibles (Claus Rafle) Tues Only 
Cat Video Fest 2019 Weds Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Relaxer (Joel Petroykus) Fri-Thurs 
Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra) Sun, Mon & Weds Only 
Blood Lake (Tim Boggs, 1987) Fri, Sat & Tues Only 
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm
The Future is Female (Various) Sun Only  

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

The Aftermath (James Kent) Fri-Thurs 
The Mustang (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) Fri-Thurs 
Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 
Junglee (Chuck Russell) Fri-Thurs 
Lakshmi’s NTR (Ram Gopal Varma & Agasthya Manju) Fri-Thurs 
Lucifer (Prithviraj Sukumaran) Fri-Thurs 
Notebook (Nitin Kakkar) Fri-Thurs 
Super Deluxe (Thiagarajan Kumararaja) Fri-Thurs 
Suryakantam (Pranith Bramandapally) Fri-Thurs 
Airaa (KM Sarjun) Sat-Thurs 
The Karate Kid (John G. Avildsen, 1984) Sun & Weds Only 

Regal Meridian:

Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
The Aftermath (James Kent) Fri-Thurs 
The Mustang (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

The Trial (Sergei Loznitsa) Fri Only 
A Bread Factory (Patrick Wang) Sat & Sun Only Two Parts
The Juniper Tree (Nietzchka Keene, 1990) Fri-Sun, Weds 
The Hours and Times (Christopher Munch, 1992) Weds & Thurs Only 

AMC Oak Tree:

The Aftermath (James Kent) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
More than Blue (Gavin Lin) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Ulan (Irene Villamor) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

Making Babies (Josh F. Huber) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Passport to Pimlico (Henry Cornelius, 1949) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

Mobile Homes (Vladimir de Fontenay) Fri-Sun 

AMC Southcenter:

No manches Frida 2 (Nacho Garcia Velilla) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Uptown:

War and Peace (Sergei Bondarchuk, 1966) Fri-Thurs Four Parts Our Review
Woman at War (Benedikt Erlingsson) Fri-Thurs 
Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming (Ann Marie Fleming) Sat Only 

Varsity Theatre:

Dragged Across Concrete (S. Craig Zahler) Fri-Thurs 
Screwball (Billy Corben) Fri-Thurs 
A Vigilante (Sarah Daggar-Nickson) Fri-Thurs 

In Wide Release:

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) Our Review Our Other Review
Triple Threat (Jesse V. Johnson) Our Review

War and Peace (Sergei Bondarchuk, 1966)

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Sure to be among the longest, if not the best, movies to play on Seattle Screens this year is Sergei Bondarchuk’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s longest novel. Running just over seven hours, and split conveniently into four parts, the film captures something of the essence of the book, while leaving out just enough to infuriate partisans of literature in its war against cinema. Being that this is the rare adaptation of a book I have actually read, I can happily carp on the minimization of some of the best characters, the wholesale elimination of favorite scenes, and the rejection of Tolstoy’s more bizarre musings on the movements of history. But I won’t, because taken as it is, War and Peace is majestic, the missing link between the silent epics of Griffith, Ganceand Eisenstein and the historical films of Terrence Malick.

Of the four parts, three are named after the film’s three primary characters, the fourth reserved for that monumental year 1812. It begins with Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, an earnest and reserved man who heads off to war only to lose both his delusions about martial honor in the battle of Austerlitz and his sickly young wife in childbirth. His story forms the spine of Part One, the longest of the sections, with the rest of the time taken up with stage-setting and character introductions, especially the two other main characters: Natasha Rostova, namesake of Part Two, and Pierre Bezhukov (Part Four). Key episodes from the book are rushed through (Pierre’s drunken revelry and disastrous marriage, Natasha’s brother Nikolai’s experience at Austerlitz, etc) but the focus remains primarily on Andrei and his view of the world. Multiple voice-overs compete for our attention, internal monologues for many, many characters, along with a narrator who at times might be Pierre but at others matches more closely Tolstoy’s own voice. These voices, with their philosophical musings, mixed with gorgeous images of the Russian countryside, make it obvious that this is a film Malick certainly saw before making The Thin Red Line or The New World. Bondarchuk goes just about as far in the direction of romantic transcendentalism as one could expect from a Soviet-era production.

The second part, Natasha’s story, is probably the best. Lyudmila Savelyeva has something of the charm Audrey Hepburn brought to the role in King Vidor’s fine 1956 version of the book, growing believably from effervescent pixie to hollowed-out saint through the course of the the story’s seven years. Her debut ball is a magnificent bit of filmmaking, dare I say Minnellian in the shear joy of her first dance with Andrei. Her fall from grace is filmed just as impressionistically, as Bondarchuk abandons the tedious recounting of dialogue and plot in favor of the mad rush of excitement and temptation that leads the poor girl into an deliriously ill-considered romance with Pierre’s dastardly brother-in-law.

The third part is mostly concerned with the Battle of Borodino, where the Russian army fought the French to a standstill on the outskirts of Moscow before ultimately retreating, setting the stage for the Bonaparte’s disastrous winter withdrawal. The battle scenes are as spectacular as everything else in the movie, with reportedly more than ten thousand extras populating vast scenes of movement and death, which Bondarchuk films in every way imaginable: split screens and wipes, helicopters and cranes and tracks and handheld cameras, POV shots and long arcing movements. It’s as glorious as it is horrific.

The final section, after these spectacular middle parts, is a bit of a let down. The focus centers on Pierre, the brains of the film (such as he is with all his deluded ideas, barely hinted at in the film), where Andrei is its heart and Natasha its soul. Various plot threads are rushed to their conclusion, new characters sent on their tragic ways almost as soon as they are introduced. Rather than building in cumulative power over the course of its massive run time (as Hu Bo’s upcoming An Elephant Sitting Still does), or capping the proceedings with an unexpected change in tone and direction (as does Satantango, that other great behemoth of Eastern European cinema), War and Peace just kind of fizzles out. It’s been more than a decade since I read the book, but if I remember correctly it kind of does the same thing. A novel that big, in length and scope and ambition, can’t ever really end though, it goes on long after you’ve put it down. Despite its length, the film doesn’t approach the all-embracing nature of the book and its failure to do so is a good argument for the claim that no film can really express the totality of a great massive novel. The movie is at its worst when it tries to stick to the novel’s plot. But at its best, it captures the same great heights of Tolstoy’s most stirring sequences.

Triple Threat (Jesse V. Johnson, 2019)

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The second very fine action flick released by WellGo in two weeks, alongside the Vietnamese film FurieTriple Threat for some reason played but one night only in theatres before making its way to VOD. That’s somewhat understandable, given its straight-to-video pedigree, with both director Jesse V. Johnson and star Scott Adkins being major SVOD stars. But one would hope the ridiculous stack of martial arts movie talent would have earned the film a broader release, or at least the chance not to get buried in the hype around Netflix’s similarly-titled Triple Frontier. As it is, Triple Threat is a major event for afficianados of filmic fisticuffs, featuring several of the greatest screen fighters of our time. Joining Adkins are Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais and Tiger Chen, along with Michael Jai White, Celina Jade and, just for kicks, none other than Michael Wong. It’s a blunt instrument of a movie, eschewing anything approaching character or theme in favor of simply throwing its stars into a generic plot and sitting back to watch them do their thing. The best thing you can say about Johnson’s direction is that he doesn’t get in the way.

Uwais, the Indonesian star of the Raid movies who had his talent memorably wasted in The Force Awakens, is the victim of a terrorist jailbreak in the Burmese jungle, where White and his band of mercenaries free Adkins from imprisonment. He tracks down Jaa and Chen, who had unwittingly aided the bad guys in navigating the jungle (their laughable but earnest excuse is that they thought they were on a humanitarian mission, apparently the most heavily-armed one in history), and the three join forces to take revenge. Meanwhile the bad guys try to kidnap Celina Jade (the woman in distress in Wolf Warrior 2), but Jaa and Chen rescue her. The dividing line between Asian good guys and Euro-American bad guys is obvious but thoroughly unexplored.

The fights are in keeping with the dominant 21st Century style, pioneered by Jaa in his Ong-Bak movies and in Donnie Yen’s MMA-influenced films like SPL and Flash Point, fast and hard, with lots of flying elbows and knees. Adkins and White and the other beefy white guys are much bigger and stronger than their Asian foes, making every fight essentially about the little guy out-thinking the bigger one. This is where the choreography shines: it’s honestly the only creative thing in the entire movie. Chen comes off particularly well in this respect, as you’d expect from a protegé of Yuen Woo-ping. Uwais seems somewhat underused in the fights, though his character is nursing an injured arm through the whole movie, but he does get the coolest outfit. Adkins seems a natural fight as the bad guy, though he isn’t nearly as much fun as White is, or Frank Grillo was in Wolf Warrior 2 for that matter. As is usually the case, Tony Jaa outclasses everyone around him, not just in the fight scenes, but with his ever improving acting, briefly even showing a flair for comedy that was too-often absent in his Thai films.

In many ways, Triple Threat hearkens back to Wheels on Meals, that mid-80s highpoint of martial arts cinema, starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. That film too featured a trio of Asian stars uniting to defend a pretty girl from gangs of evil Europeans. But Johnson doesn’t have Sammo’s interest in film form or in comic set-piece construction, and his film has no emotional or intellectual resonance outside the visceral thrill of its fights (this is the reason why Furie, though just as generic in plot and filled with lesser stars, is more affecting). I suppose every generation gets the Wheels on Meals it deserves, and Triple Threat as such is a fine match for our dumb, brutal, meaninglessly efficient age.

What is Democracy? (Astra Taylor, 2018)

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I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
That Time cannot decay
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
This little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the USA

Astra Taylor’s new documentary, What is Democracy? is significantly more conventional that her last one, Examined Life, made a decade ago. It’s still made up of long interviews with fascinating thinkers, but where that film featured a number of philosophers expounding on their beliefs for about ten minutes each, captured with a cheap handheld camera while walking (or riding, or rowing) through typical urban settings, What is Democracy? features a wider range of speakers and locations, captured in crisp digital images. But the fundamental emphasis on ideas remains, with scholars and thinkers joining with activists and regular people to toss around the eponymous question. Some of them are more compelling than others: Cornel West, one of the highlights of Examined Life, makes a welcome return; Silvia Federici, discussing a massive mural in Sienna called “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government”, is delightful; and Eleni Perdikouri takes us on a fascinating tour of Athenian ruins and political practices.

Taylor links the more theoretical discussions with practical realities of the failures of democracy to be realized in the United States and Greece, with heart-breaking interviews with public school students and Syrian refugees, with an ex-con barber, with infuriatingly ignorant white kids at a Florida beach, and more. The whole thing seems hopeless, the disconnect between the theory and practice of democracy, of the corruption of the ideal by systems of oppression (economic, racial, patriarchal). And Taylor doesn’t flinch from that hopelessness, nor does she offer easy solutions to the enormity of the problems that beset those people striving for justice and freedom. Too many social problem documentaries would be content to touch on all these issues, financial crises and civil wars and apartheid states, and then offer an example or two of a worker co-op or a volunteer worker as a balm for our outraged consciences. But the co-op Taylor gives us is full of people tearfully terrified of America’s racist immigration policies, and the volunteers trying to teach English to refugee kids are instead begged by their students to tell them their own stories of trauma. There’s no easy route to democracy, the powers that stand against it are too vast and mighty. The struggle has been on-going for 2,500 years and it can only continue.