Two Romantic Comedies: Trainwreck (Judd Apatow, 2015) and The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941)

trainwreck-judd-apatow-amy-schumer

The latest release from the Judd Apatow empire opens tomorrow here in Seattle, written by and starring comedian Amy Schumer and directed by Apatow himself. Schumer plays a magazine writer with commitment issues and a fondness for wine and weed. Much to her surprise, she falls for a dweeby sports surgeon (Bill Hader) and must choose between growing up and reforming her ways or losing a swell guy. The film thus deftly flips the gender roles of a typical Hollywood romantic comedy, as it’s been practiced in film and television of the past 30 years or so. That reversal is the motor of the funniest parts of the film: Schumer’s assertiveness with her boyfriends (an agonizing attempt at dirty talk from John Cena) and Hader’s heartfelt exchanges with his athlete friends (LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire). Filled with the surreal-improv style comedy from the supporting players that defines the Apatow brand (it’s no surprise that the clear winner this time is Tilda Swinton), the film is dragged down by the shambolic, disjunctive approach to narrative that has also come to define Apatow’s work.

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Baahubali (SS Rajamouli, 2015)

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One of the biggest movie events of the year happened this past weekend, but you wouldn’t know about it if you read any of the biggest English language film publications around. Baahubali: The Beginning, the latest film from SS Rajamouli, was just released. The New York Times didn’t deem it worthy of a review. Variety publishes stories of its box office success and gigantic marketing push, but can’t throw a freelancer at it. A cursory search reveals a couple of reviews from English-language publications at best. It’s a rather sad state of affairs for one of the modern cinema’s best mainstream filmmakers.

SS Rajamouli has, over the last few years, steadily upped his scope and ambition. No longer content to tuck his most lavish and improbable images into narrative side trips or flashbacks (Yamadonga‘s trip to hell, Magadheera‘s flashback structure), Rajamouli in his last two films has focused his attention on utilizing his considerable gifts to giving shape to impossible images. His preferred tool is the CGI image, and he’s possibly one of the only filmmakers currently working not bound to traditional ideas of realism – for Rajamouli, each image is fantastic. So Eega, his fly revenge film, becomes not just about its technological advances (Rajamouli is proud of his special effects and wants to show them off – his Zemeckis or Cameron side, if you will), but about how the technology can enhance the film’s devilish sense of humor (the film shares DNA with Tex Avery and Joe Dante all while successfully invoking and playing around with the idea of the Telugu film hero). Baahubali successfully creates a world and aims for a sense of realism in its battle scenes, but will often drop an image of such iconic and mythic stature that any thought that realism is the end game here is quickly dispelled. Rajamouli demands more.

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Gemma Bovery (Anne Fontaine, 2014)

Martin and Bovary

The premise of the newest film from director Anne Fontaine, Gemma Bovery, holds a good deal of promise for lovers of both the cinematic and the literary, particularly for those who welcome witty or playful re-tellings of classic works of literature. Adapted from Posy Simmonds’s graphic novel of the same name (a novel originally conceived as a serial in The Guardian), the film’s story centers around perceived parallels between the literary characters in Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary – particularly Emma Bovary, her husband, Charles Bovary, and Emma’s lovers –  and the film’s characters. When Gemma Bovery (Gemma Arterton) and her husband, Charles ( Jason Flemyng), move from London to a small town in Normandy, the town’s excitable, bourgeois baker, Martin Joubert (Fabrice Luchini), is certain Gemma is the real life equivalent of the fictional Emma, and he makes it his mission to discover her in love affairs and prevent the tragic suicide that plays out in the novel.

Such a set up has all the ear marks of wonderfully droll farce or of a sly satire, a satire that could work on any number of levels – critiquing, perhaps, the often fraught French-English relationship; or the middle class, provincial prejudices; or literary pretensions; or male-female relationships.  The premise also suggests the story might hold some genuine pathos, a tender examination of love, heartbreak, and misunderstandings, perhaps.  And by many accounts (here’s one, for example), Simmonds’s original work does function on all those levels. (After watching the movie, I immediate ordered the graphic novel.) Continue reading

Rebels of the Neon God (Tsai Ming-Liang, 1992)

TV screen red dress on bed TV screens, arcade game screens, mirrors, windows – all of these offer reflective surfaces, some more and some less reflective, some promising immersion into another sort of state, some seeming to immerse but offering very little in the way of escape from lonely self and quotidian present. These surfaces are everywhere in Tsai Ming-Liang’s newly restored and re-released feature debut of 1992, Rebels of the Neon God, a quietly absorbing film that suggests a set of startlingly germane meditations on the modern self, a thing that is simultaneously isolated and connected, revealed and covert.

The story centers around the lives of two people: one, a 20-something young man, Ah Tze, living by petty theft and residing in a lonely, constantly flooded apartment, and one, a teenaged boy, Hsiao-Kang, chafing at his bondage in cram school and living at home in uncommunicative silence with his anxiously watchful parents.  Both Ah Tze and Hsiao-Kang, though they have companions who surround them – a parent or a brother, a friend or a girlfriend – and though they pass through the teeming city of Taipei, stand as alienated figures, whose selves ricochet in the mirroring surfaces surrounding them.

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Friday July 10th – Thursday July 16th

Featured Film:

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure at the Central Cinema

One of Mike’s All-Time favorite movies returns to Seattle Screens this week with a run at the Central Cinema. The enduring story of two dopey teens gifted with a time machine to help finish their history project, the successful completion of which is the lynchpin guaranteeing an idyllic future for all humanity stars Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter and George Carlin. We discussed it awhile back on The George Sanders Show, and along with that is Our Preview.
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Playing This Week:

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Chicken Run (Nick Park & Peter Lord, 2000) Weds Only

Central Cinema:

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989) Fri-Weds Our Review
Zoolander (Ben Stiller, 2001) Fri-Weds Quote-along
The Godfather Part II (Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) Thurs Only

Cinerama:

Jaws (Steven Spielberg, 1975) Weds Only Laser Projection

Crest Cinema Center:

The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle) Fri-Thurs Our Review

SIFF Cinema Egyptian:

When Marnie was There (Hiromasa Yonebayashi) Fri-Thurs Early shows dubbed, evening shows subtitled – check showtimes Our Preview 
We are Still Here (Ted Geoghegan) Sat & Sun Midnight Only

Century Federal Way:

Spaceballs (Mel Brooks, 1987) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

A Little Chaos (Alan Rickman) Fri-Thurs
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Gemma Bovery (Anne Fontaine) Fri-Thurs
The Circle (Stefan Haupt) Tues Only
Tangerine (Sean Baker) Weds Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Felt (Jason Banker) Fri-Thurs

Landmark Guild 45th:

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Testament of Youth (James Kent) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Baahubali (S.S.Rajamouli) Fri-Thurs
Spaceballs (Mel Brooks, 1987) Sun & Weds Only

Northwest Film Forum:

The Tribe (Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy) Fri-Thurs
Table Read: “Idaho ’73” Mon Only
Videoasis Weds Only

AMC Loews Oak Tree:

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Regal Meridian:

Testament of Youth (James Kent) Fri-Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

Forever Young (He Jiong) Fri-Thurs
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Breakup Playlist (Dan Villegas) Fri-Thurs
Far from the Madding Crowd (Thomas Vinterberg) Fri-Thurs

Scarecrow Video Screening Lounge:

Yes or No (Sarasawadee Wongsompetch, 2010) Fri Only
Seconds (John Frankenheimer, 1966) Sat Only
The Big Sleep (Howard Hawks, 1946) Sun Only
An American in Paris (Vincente Minnelli, 1951) Mon Only At the Seattle Public Library
A Day in the Country (Jean Renoir, 1936) Mon Only
Rebecca (Alfred Hitchcock, 1940) Tues Only
Kiss Me Deadly (Robert Aldrich, 1955) Weds Only
Cohen & Tate (Eric Red, 1989) Thurs Only

Seattle Art Museum:

The Lady Eve (Preston Sturges, 1941) Thurs Only 35mm

SIFF Film Center:

Fair Play (Andrea Sedláčková) Fri Only 
Václav Havel – A Life in Freedom (Andrea Sedláčková) Fri Only 
Grey Gardens (Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer & the Maysles) Sat Only
Krasno (Ondřej Sokol) Sat Only 
The Icing (Jan Hrebejk) Sat Only 
Clownwise (Viktor Tauš) Sun Only
To See the Sea (Jiří Mádl) Sun Only

AMC Southcenter:

Breakup Playlist (Dan Villegas) Fri-Thurs

Sundance Cinemas Seattle:

Strangerland (Kim Farrant) Fri-Thurs
The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) Fri-Thurs
Batkid Begins (Dana Nachman) Fri-Thurs
The Suicide Theory (Dru Brown) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Cinema Uptown:

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Grey Gardens (Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer & the Maysles) Fri, Sun-Thurs
A Story of Floating Weeds (Yasujiro Ozu, 1934) Sat Only Live Accompaniment

Varsity Theatre:

When a Woman Ascends the Stairs (Mikio Naruse, 1960) Tues Only

Christmas in July (Preston Sturges, 1940)

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Tonight the Seattle Art Museum kicks off its latest series of 35mm film presentations, this one devoted to writer-director Preston Sturges, who with a handful of masterpieces in the early and mid-1940s brought the screwball comedy era to its magnificent conclusion. The museum is presenting six of his films, playing every Thursday night through August 13. We’ll be covering them all here at Seattle Screen Scene, along with recording an episode of the They Shot Pictures podcast devoted to Sturges, which we should have up in two weeks or so.

First up is the least well-known, unfairly I think, Christmas in July, in which Dick Powell plays a wannabe adman who is tricked by some fellow workers into believing his submission in a coffee company’s slogan contest has won the $25,000 grand prize. A series of misunderstandings gets him the big check, a promotion and an engagement, and before the truth can come out he’s showered his whole neighborhood with gifts and toys. Deftly sketching the generational layers of the mid-century immigrant class system, Sturges gives as subtle a portrait of the disasters and fantasies provoked by capitalism as you’ll find in Hollywood, a far cry from the sentimentality and privileged condescension of his future avatar John L. Sullivan. The tone is delicately balanced between screwball and melancholy, the warm loneliness of Powell and his girl (Ellen Drew) dreaming on a rooftop leavened by the ten minutes it takes him to explain his slogan to her (“It’s a pun” is his hopeless refrain). Sturges would never again be this relaxed.

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Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989)

bill and ted circle k

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure is a hilarious and hopeful tale of friendship, full of great dialogue and memorable scenes. It is also a terrible history lesson. Well, depending on what angle you choose to view history. The film certainly doesn’t pause to get all the details right as Bill and Ted traverse the Circuits of History in their time machine, “bagging” influential human beings for help on their high school final project. There are those in any given audience that will always shake their head at an Abraham Lincoln who speaks in an inaccurate baritone (shh, don’t tell anyone but he also yells, “Party on, dudes!”) but in its way, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure does accurately capture history.

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Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, 2015)

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

I am suspicious of my enjoyment of Me and Earl and the Dying Girl in spite of the fact that the film, premiering at Sundance in 2015, received the U.S. Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award for U.S. Drama, and I am not alone in such enjoyment. Directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, a director until now primarily known for his TV work (Glee, American Horror Story) and based on a YA novel by Jesse Andrews, the film follows Greg (Thomas Mann), the titular “Me,” who, under non-negotiable orders from his mother, befriends a high school classmate, Rachel (Olivia Cooke), who is diagnosed with leukemia; Greg is to be a companion to her through the ordeals of her illness and treatment. And so Greg, with his childhood friend and fellow film-buff, Earl (RJ Cyler), entertain Rachel in large part with the films the two boys make together, short films that cleverly pun around with titles of classic and foreign cinema: The 400 Blows becomes a film about “The 400 Bros”; 8 ½ becomes “Ate ½ (of my Lunch)”; A Clockwork Orange becomes “A Sockwork Orange.”

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The Wolfpack (Crystal Moselle, 2015)

Reservoir dogs

Premiering at Sundance in 2015, where it won the U.S. Documentary Grand Jury Prize, The Wolfpack is a maddening documentary for opposite, simultaneous reasons: chaotic story framing and contrived framing. The film, from first time director Crystal Moselle, records scenes in the life of the Angulo family, a life confined – under the demands of a dictatorial father – to a small New York apartment. The mother and the 7 homeschooled children, 6 boys and 1 girl, are essential prisoners in their own home, where the boys’ only relief and only window to an outside world lies in the access they are granted to recorded movies, which they constantly watch and then elaborately reconstruct, acting out scenes from the likes of Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Goodfellas.

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Friday July 3rd – Thursday July 9th

Featured Film:

When Marnie Was There at the SIFF Egyptian

In what is quite possibly to be the last film produced by the legendary Studio Ghibli, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty) adapts the lush hand-drawn animation style of founder Hayao Miyazaki to the world of English Gothic literature. Half ghost story, half romance, half coming of age tale, it’s as close as Ghibli has ever come to capturing the spirit of Val Lewton. Curse of the Cat People is I think its closest analogue, though Mike suggests Joseph L. Mankiewicz in Our Preview.
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Playing This Week:

Central Cinema:

The Goonies (Richard Donner, 1985) Fri, Sun-Weds 
Airplane! (Zucker-Abrams-Zucker, 1980) Fri, Sun-Weds

SIFF Cinema Egyptian:

When Marnie was There (Hiromasa Yonebayashi) Fri-Thurs Early shows dubbed, evening shows subtitled – check showtimes Our Preview

Century Federal Way:

Sardaar Ji (Rohit Jugraj) Fri-Thurs

Grand Cinema:

A Little Chaos (Alan Rickman) Fri-Thurs
Felix and Meira (Maxime Giroux) Tues Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

One Cut, One Life (Lucia Small and Ed Pincus) Fri, Sun-Thurs Director Q & A Fri, Sun, Weds and Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Girls of Summer: Opening Party Tues Only
Art Walk: National Citizenship Test Thurs Only
Puget Soundtrack: Cock & Swan presents Only God Forgives (Nicolas Winding Refn, 2013) Thurs Only Live Music

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Dil Dhadakne Do (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs
Just the Way You Are (Theodore Boborol) Fri-Thurs

Scarecrow Video Screening Lounge:

Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996) Fri Only
Yes, Madam! (Corey Yuen, 1985) Sun Only Our Preview
Roman Holiday (William Wyler, 1953) Mon Only At the Seattle Public Library
The 3 Ages (Buster Keaton & Edward Cline, 1923) Mon Only Our Podcast
Godzilla vs, the Sea Monster (Jun Fukuda, 1966) Tues Only
Lady with a Sword (Kao Pao-shu, 1971) Weds Only
Mean Johnny Barrows (Fred Williamson, 1976) Thurs Only

Seattle Art Museum:

Christmas in July (Preston Sturges, 1940) Thurs Only 35mm

Landmark Seven Gables:

Eden (Mia Hansen-Løve) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

To See the Sea (Jiří Mádl) Tues Only

Sundance Cinemas Seattle:

A Little Chaos (Alan Rickman) Fri-Thurs
The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Cinema Uptown:

Grey Gardens (Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer & the Maysles) Sat Only