Digging for Fire (Joe Swanberg, 2015)

maxresdefaultIf there’s an equivalent to Hong Sangsoo in contemporary American cinema, I guess it may as well be Joe Swanberg. Both directors are wildly prolific, churning out tales of middle class ennui and relationship anxiety with frightening regularity. Both work with extremely low-budgets and high-quality actors, the result of the curious mix of critical acclaim and lack of box office their films achieve. Their films have a relaxed, naturalistic vibe in pace and performance, with lengthy scenes of actors seemingly just hanging out (and, more often than not, drinking). Of course, Hong is know for his structural experimentation, each film taking the form of a new exercise in narrative unreliability, where dreams and waking life, the past and the present, and multiple versions of reality all coexist in an unstable, purely cinematic universe. Swanberg, on the other hand, seems allergic to structure, shying away from anything that could be construed as plot, what can charitably be called an experiential vision of narrative. Hong always knows precisely where to place his camera, and once there, rarely moves but for an occasional ostentatious quick-zoom that serves to reframe the image and functions  as a stand-in for the emotional impact of editing. Swanberg apparently is aware that a camera is essential for the making of a motion picture.

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Memories of the Sword (Park Heung-shik, 2015)

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Opening this week at the Century Cinemas in Federal Way is this Korean wuxia film, a revenge tale bearing more than a little resemblance to a certain sic-fi trilogy and filled with striking sunsets, lovely fields, elaborate sets and digitally-enhanced swordfighting. Directed by Park Heung-shik, the man behind such award-winning films as 2001’s I Wish I Had a Wife and 2004’s My Mother, the MermaidMemories of the Sword follows in the footsteps of Zhang Yimou’s martial arts films Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower in that it is a highly melodramatic tale told in sumptuous, gorgeously photographed settings. Beginning with a young woman walking through a field of sunflowers, she puts down her basket and takes a flying leap over a giant stalk, soaring weightlessly through the air. Her joy as she lands safely, accomplishing what must have been a task she’d set herself for weeks if not years, is palpable. Unfortunately it’s the last bit of happiness in what becomes an unremittingly grim tragedy. Like Zhang’s films, the tastefulness of the enterprise undermines any life the genre film within might have possessed.

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The Iron Ministry (J.P. Sniadecki, 2014)

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The Iron Ministry is the first film in many years to begin with an overture. Particularly popular with the opulent studio productions of the 1950s and ’60s, the practice of including an orchestral score as prelude to the narrative was intended to provide gravitas to the proceedings as well as act as a transition from the real world to the cinematic. The overture in The Iron Ministry definitely provides the latter, but unlike films such as Ben-Hur, the music is not grasping at majesty. In fact, it’s not really music. As the droning sound plays out we discover that it is not a string section but the straining sound of metal on metal of a train moving along its tracks.

Filmed between 2011 and 2013, The Iron Ministry takes place entirely on trains traversing through China on the world’s largest railway network. The film is another project released under the Sensory Ethnography Lab, whose ascendence among cinephiles has been astronomical in recent years, thanks to a string of well-received releases such as Leviathan and Sweetgrass. The Ethnography Lab’s immersive documentaries have provided some of the most unexpected thrills in cinema as of late and The Iron Ministry is no exception. The film does not possess the formal rigor of something like the glorious gondola ride of Manakamana but that is not what this subject calls for. In fact, it needs the opposite, an embracement of movement and messiness.

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Friday August 28 – Thursday September 03

Featured Film:

Mistress America at the Egyptian, Guild 45th and Lincoln Square Theatres

With his second Seattle release of the year, director Noah Baumbach continues his collaboration with star/co-writer Greta Gerwig. An inversion of this spring’s While We’re Young, wherein an older couple became enamored with an younger, hipper pair, Mistress America follows a college freshman (Lola Kirke) as she idolizes an older, more adventurous woman (played by Gerwig) along her various New York adventures. It’s Baumbach’s lightest film, and the best of what is turning out to be a great year for screwball comedies. Our Review.
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Playing This Week:

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Jimmy’s Hall (Ken Loach) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Valley Girl (Martha Coolidge, 1983) Fri-Weds
Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990) Fri-Tues

Crest Cinema Center:

Love and Mercy (Bill Pohlad) Fri-Thurs Our Interview 
The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Cinema Egyptian:

Mistress America (Noah Baumbach) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Turbo Kid (François Simard, Anouk Whissell & Yoann-Karl Whissell) Fri-Sat 11:30pm Only

Century Federal Way:

Memories of the Sword (Park Heung-shik) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Airplane! (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams & Jerry Zucker, 1980) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Phoenix (Christian Petzold) Fri-Thurs Our Review
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Felix Herngren, 2013) Fri-Thurs
Meru (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs
When Marnie Was There (Hiromasa Yonebayashi) Tues Only Our Review

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Iron Ministry (JP Sniadecki) Fri-Thurs Our Review
VHS Uber Alles presents Angel of Fury (Ackyl Anwari, 1992) Sat Only VHS
EXcinema presents Basement Media Festival Tues Only Video

Landmark Guild 45th:

Mistress America (Noah Baumbach) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Meru (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Mistress America (Noah Baumbach) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Phantom (Kabir Khan) Fri-Thurs
Airplane! (David Zucker, Jim Abrahams & Jerry Zucker, 1980) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Irrational Man (Woody Allen) Fri-Thurs
Go Away Mr. Tumor (Han Yan) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Digging for Fire (Joe Swanberg) Fri-Thurs
Counting (Jem Cohen) Sat-Tues
New Vacation: Artist Talk Tues Only

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Angrej (Simerjit Singh) Fri-Thurs

Scarecrow Video Screening Lounge:

Westworld (Michael Crichton, 1973) Fri Only
Futureworld (Richard T. Heffron, 1976) Sat Only
It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014) Sun Only
Chris Marker Group Mon Only
Run Hide Die (Collin Joseph Neal) Tues Only Release Party
The Hitch-Hiker (Ida Lupino, 1953) Weds Only

Landmark Seven Gables:

Best of Enemies (Morgan Neville & Robert Gordon) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

Listen to Me Marlon (Stevan Riley) Fri-Tues, Thurs
Turbo Kid (François Simard, Anouk Whissell & Yoann-Karl Whissell) Fri-Tues, Thurs
Call Me Lucky (Bobcat Goldthwait) Fri-Thurs

Sundance Cinemas Seattle:

Ten Thousand Saints (Shari Springer Berman & Robert Pulcini) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Cinema Uptown:

Phoenix (Christian Petzold) Fri-Thurs Our Review
7 Chinese Brothers (Bob Byington) Fri-Thurs
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2013) Fri-Thurs

Varsity Theatre:

She’s Funny That Way (Peter Bogdanovich) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Two Screwball Comedies: Mistress America (Noah Baumbach, 2015) and She’s Funny That Way (Peter Bogdanovich, 2014)

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The third of Noah Baumbach’s collaborations with actress/writer Greta Gerwig, following 2010’s Greenberg and 2012’s Frances Ha, Mistress America is their best film yet, and possibly the best work Baumbach has ever done, with or without her. For the first time in his career, he’s made a film that feels loose, free from the strained serious grasps at artistry that have plagued his career from the beginning, ranging from endearingly awkward in his debut, 1995’s Kicking and Screaming to really kind of irritating in what nonetheless remains his most critically successful film, The Squid and the Whale. A pure screwball companion to While We’re Young, the 2014 film that graced Seattle Screens just a few months ago, the two films form a hilarious portrait of our culture’s obsession with a certain kind of youth, a Manhattanite companion to Sylvia Chang’s brilliant exploration of Hong Kong womanhood, 20 30 40, in which the idiosyncrasies of three women of the eponymous ages are compared and contrasted. Where While We’re Young followed an older couple’s attempts to match coolness with a much younger pair while also somewhat clunkily exploring the interplay between authenticity in life and authenticity in art, this one focuses on a college freshman’s infatuation with her older future stepsister, a free spirit who makes New York seem as magical as it should be, while much more deftly exploring the oft-contentious relationship between an artist and the people who inspire their work. In both cases, the idyllic figure is a creative powerhouses in their early 30s, stable enough to enjoy a certain standard of living, but not so rooted as to avoid taking risks. It’s the age of sitcom heroes. Gerwig is a powerhouse as always (she’s already a three-time Endy Award winner, for her work in the Baumbach films and Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress) dogged in pursuit of her ideals and not nearly as ridiculous as she might first appear, her effervescence contains unfathomable depths and Lola Kirke is excellent as the younger woman, wide-eyed but with a steely determination that’s more than a little unnerving, the coldness of youth. There’s no fat in the film, it’s Baumbach’s tightest, most-focused work, for the first time he demonstrates the ease, the lack of apparent effort that marks a truly virtuosic film. The lengthy set piece at a Connecticut mansion is a classic of screwball escalation, as Baumbach ably piles a Sturgesian array of characters and relationships into a few crowded rooms.

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More consciously seeking to recreate an old Hollywood vibe is the latest from Peter Bogdanovich, the refugee from the first golden age of cinephile directors who has found film work increasingly hard to find in recent years (this is his first theatrical fiction feature since 2001’s The Cat’s Meow). In fact, his new film is pretty hard to find as well, with an under-the-radar nationwide release (it opened on Seattle Screens with little fanfare last week at the Varsity, we’re it continues on a reduced schedule this week), a far cry from his generation-defining 70s masterpieces like The Last Picture Show, What’s Up Doc? or Paper Moon. Combing a theatrical farce reminiscent of his 1992 film Noises Off with the cosmic screwball romanticism of his 1981 masterpiece They All Laughed, She’s Funny That Way is a story told by a young woman (Imogen Poots) to a reporter (Illeana Douglas), the story of how she was discovered and her life changed from that of a hooker (with a heart of gold, naturally) to star of stage and screen. The story is wildly improbable, its reality questioned every step of the way by the reporter, but so seductive in its interconnections and coincidences as to be irresistible. The conflation of cinema as real life is charmingly seductive (print the legend), and the myth-making power of star cameos only adds to the glowing unreality. Familiar faces abound: contemporary icons like Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, older relics Austen Pendleton, Richard Lewis and Cybil Shepard, and up-and-comers like Poots, Will Forte and the always marvelous and perpetually under-utilized Kathryn Hahn and Rhys Ifans. Douglas herself provides a link to the old world the film idealizes: her grandfather Melvyn, in a different Lubitsch film, told Greta Garbo an even better joke than the one from Cluny Brown that serves as a key line for Owen Wilson’s character. While the film isn’t as existentially radical as They All Laughed, in a weird kind of way it’s Bogdanovich’s Hong Sangsoo film. Like with the greatest modern director of romantic comedies, She’s Funny That Way questions the very nature of the cinema’s relation to reality, reveling in the idealized illusions while simultaneously undermining their spell by pointing out their unreality. But where Hong relentlessly deconstructs his narratives, laying bare their artifices and exposing the lonely needs that drive us to invent them, Bogdanovich the classicist is content to faithfully recreate the form of the old (his zooms are subtle and patient, not Hong’s wild, drunken lurches), with nothing but a sly wink to the audience to remind us of the precariousness of our ideals. We know it’s all a lie, but we happily dream away nonetheless.

Mistress America is now playing at the Guild 45th, SIFF Uptown and Cinemark Lincoln Square.

She’s Funny That Way is now playing at the Varsity Theatre.

Friday August 21 – Thursday August 27

Featured Film:

Phoenix at the SIFF Uptown Cinemas

Our featured film for the second week in a row (thus are the dog days of summer), German director Christian Petzold’s latest stars Nina Hoss as a disfigured Holocaust survivor who undergoes reconstructive plastic surgery. Returning home but presumed dead, she seeks out her husband, who may have informed on her to the Nazis during the war. When he meets but does not recognize her, she pretends to be another woman to go along with his scheme to pose her as his wife in order to collect an inheritance. In playing this patently absurd premise with a detailed and patient realism, Petzold captures the essence of the 1950s melodrama, from Douglas Sirk to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, driving relentlessly toward an instant-classic ending. Our Review.
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Playing This Week:

Central Cinema:

Sunset Blvd. (Billy Wilder, 1950) Fri-Tues
Almost Famous (Cameron Crowe, 2001) Fri-Tues

Crest Cinema Center:

Love and Mercy (Bill Pohlad) Fri-Thurs Our Interview

SIFF Cinema Egyptian:

Star Leaf (Richard Cranor) Sat Midnight Only
Mistress America (Noah Baumbach) Opens Thurs

Century Federal Way:

Assassination (Choi Donghoon) Fri-Thurs
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (John Hughes, 1987) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Irrational Man (Woody Allen) Fri-Thurs
The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (Felix Herngren, 2013) Fri-Thurs
Meru (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs
I am Big Bird (Dave LaMattina & Chad N. Walker) Tues Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Jellyfish Eyes (Takashi Murakami, 2013) Fri-Thurs

Landmark Guild 45th:

Irrational Man (Woody Allen) Fri-Thurs
Meru (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller) Fri-Thurs
Planes, Trains & Automobiles (John Hughes, 1987) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Irrational Man (Woody Allen) Fri-Thurs
Go Away Mr. Tumor (Han Yan) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Bike-in at Naked City Brewery Sat Only
Project Metalbeast: DNA Overload (Alessandro De Gaetano, 1995) Weds Only

AMC Pacific Place:

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Angrej (Simerjit Singh) Fri-Thurs

Scarecrow Video Screening Lounge:

Contamination (Luigi Cozzi, 1980) Fri Only
Lady Terminator (H. Tjut Djalil, 1989) Sat Only
The Bedroom Window (Curtis Hanson, 1987) Mon Only
To Catch a Thief (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955) Tues Only
Dudes (Penelope Spheeris, 1987) Weds Only
Princess Chang Ping (John Woo, 1976) Thurs Only Our Review

Seattle Art Museum:

Anima State (Hammad Khan) Thurs Only

Landmark Seven Gables:

Best of Enemies (Morgan Neville & Robert Gordon) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

Listen to Me Marlon (Stevan Riley) Fri-Thurs
On the Waterfront (Elia Kazan, 1954) Sat Only
The Wild One (László Benedek, 1953) Sat Only
The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola) Sun Only

Sundance Cinemas Seattle:

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller) Fri-Thurs
Being Evel (Daniel Junge) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Cinema Uptown:

Phoenix (Christian Petzold) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Guidance (Pat Mills) Fri-Thurs
The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2013) Fri-Thurs

Varsity Theatre:

She’s Funny That Way (Peter Bogdanovich) Fri-Thurs

Princess Chang Ping (John Woo, 1976)

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Before he hit it big with 1986’s A Better Tomorrow, John Woo was a journeyman director for hire on the margins of the Hong Kong film industry. He worked mostly in slapstick comedies such as the Chaplin homage Laughing Times with Dean Shek, or the hit Ricky Hui film From Riches to Rags, along with a handful of action films in the established kung fu and wuxia genres, most notably his 1973 debut The Young Dragons and 1979’s Last Hurrah for Chivalry, which is in many respects The Killer with swords instead of guns. One of his oddest films during this period was a musical made for the Golden Harvest studio in 1976, Princess Chang Ping, which plays this week in Scarecrow Video’s Screening Lounge.

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Based on a 1957 Cantonese opera that was itself based on historical events from the late Ming Dynasty (the mid-1600s) and starring actors from an actual opera troupe, in performance it is wildly theatrical, translating the gestural and recitative stage tradition to the big screen. The structure is theatrical as well, made up of long scenes set in a single location, with the actors coming and going developing the plot in song. The first twenty minutes takes place entirely in one throne room location, establishing the romance between the eponymous Princess, daughter of the Ming Emperor, and a young courtier named Chow Shih-hsien. In full view of the court, he woos her with wit and wordplay, a Shakespearean exchange that marks them both as outsiders in the restrictive court world and demonstrates their shared aesthetics and belief system. Things are going well, when Woo, in a shocking cut, throws us outside the palace as cannons roar and the rebels are closing in: the Manchus are about to bring the dynasty to an end. The break in location is more than just a jolt of explosion: it’s a blast of reality into the highly ritualized world of court culture, an intrusion of violence into the ultra-civilized.

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This sets up the first of several Woovian dilemmas, conflicts between moral codes that drive so many of his later films. The Emperor, rather than let them be taken alive, orders his wives and children to kill themselves before he does the same. The older women do so, with much wailing, but Chang Ping herself doesn’t want to die (she’s just found a guy that really understands her!). In a rush, her father resolves to do it himself (for her own good) and draws his sword (here the play differs from history: according to tradition, the Emperor severed her arm. In one version of the tale, she becomes a martial artist and leader of the anti-Manchu resistance, known as the One-Armed Divine Nun). Merely scratched, the princess survives and goes into hiding. One day, the prince (he survived too, being haplessly knocked unconscious in a manner befitting a young scholar caught up in a battle), having assumed she had died, runs into her at a monastery. They rekindle their love affair, but soon more people discover her secret and she becomes a pawn in the remaining Ming elites’ attempts to ingratiate themselves with the new Qing Dynasty. Chang Ping and Shih-hsien confront the new Emperor (played by the same actor as the old Emperor), resolved to do the honorable thing regardless of what they must sacrifice to accomplish it.

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This is the progression of most of Woo’s best heroes. First an instantaneous connection with someone who shares their understanding of the moral universe (think of Chow Yun-fat with Danny Lee in The Killer and with Tony Leung in Hard-Boiled). In the gangster films its a shared Code, based on ideas of honor that go back centuries throughout martial arts literature. Such sparks dominant Woo’s career from his debut to his latest film The Crossing, where the connection is explicitly romantic. Eventually, in most cases, the connected pair will find themselves in a stand-off against the forces of the world at large, opportunistic villains motivated by greed or ambition some other base motive. Usually the result is a sacrifice of some kind, as one hero (or both) trade their life for the survival of innocents or simply to prove a point. Thus it’s easy to see why Woo would have been drawn to this story, as opposed to other popular opera films, say something like Li Han-hsiang’s Beyond the Great Wall, in which a Princess is used as a dynastic pawn in a Mizoguchian tale of the historical oppression of women. In Woo’s films, of course, the heroes are almost always men. Princess Chang Ping is a notable exception, especially when you consider that the prince Shih-hsien is also, in following Chinese operatic convention, played by a woman.

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The film isn’t as glossy or elaborate as the huangmei films the Shaw brothers specialized in before they shifted into martial arts movies (Li Han-hsiang films like The Love Eterne or The Enchanting Shadow) but as mid-70s Golden Harvest productions go, it’s pretty ornate (helped no doubt by the fact that it only has three or four sets). Woo’s camera moves fluidly, emphasizing the theatricality of the world and performances rather than reinforcing it to an alienating degree. He’s said it was one of his favorite of his early films, the one he had the most fun making and the joy is evident on the screen. Woo’s musicality is an underrated aspect of his film style, not just in the oft-stated relation between his balletic action choreography and the dance film, but simply in the way his best films use music to convey emotion, connecting events and people across space and time. This is the case here, as an opera film the music is inescapable, but also in the synth-pop soundtracks of his late 80s masterpieces and the lush Taro Iwashiro scores of his 21st Century epics. One of the weird things I’ve found in watching a rewatching a ton of Woo films in preparation for an upcoming episode of the They Shot Pictures podcast (should be out early next week) is that my enjoyment of his films is almost directly proportional to my enjoyment of their scores. There might be a chicken and egg relation there, but who knows.

Princess Chang Ping plays Thursday, August 27 Only in the Scarecrow Video Screening Lounge.

Friday August 14 – Thursday August 20

Featured Film:

Phoenix at the SIFF Uptown Cinemas

German director Christian Petzold’s latest stars Nina Hoss as a disfigured Holocaust survivor who undergoes reconstructive plastic surgery. Returning home but presumed dead, she seeks out her husband, who may have informed on her to the Nazis during the war. When he meets but does not recognize her, she pretends to be another woman to go along with his scheme to pose her as his wife in order to collect an inheritance. In playing this patently absurd premise with a detailed and patient realism, Petzold captures the essence of the 1950s melodrama, from Douglas Sirk to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, driving relentlessly toward an instant-classic ending. Our Review.
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Playing This Week:

Central Cinema:

Sixteen Candles (John Hughes, 1984) Fri-Weds
Barbarella (Roger Vadim, 1968) Fri-Weds

Crest Cinema Center:

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

SIFF Cinema Egyptian:

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (Jim Sharman) Sat Midnight Only

Century Federal Way:

Assassination (Choi Donghoon) Fri-Thurs
Grease (Randal Kleiser, 1978) Sun & Weds Sing-along

Grand Cinema:

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (Brett Morgan) Fri- Thurs
The Stanford Prison Experiment (Kyle Patrick Alvarez) Fri-Thurs
Irrational Man (Woody Allen) Fri-Thurs
The Karate Kid (John G. Avildsen, 1984) Sat Only
The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965) Weds Only Our Podcast

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Tom at the Farm (Xavier Dolan, 2013) Fri-Thurs
8th Annual Druid Underground Film Fest Mon Only
New Rijkmuseum (Oeke Hoogendijk) Tues-Thurs

Landmark Guild 45th:

Irrational Man (Woody Allen) Fri-Thurs
Meru (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Brothers … Blood Against Blood (Karan Malhotra) Fri-Thurs
Meru (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs
Grease (Randal Kleiser, 1978) Sun & Weds Sing-along

Regal Meridian:

Irrational Man (Woody Allen) Fri-Thurs
Go Away Mr. Tumor (Han Yan) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

The Damned: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead (Wes Orshoski) Fri-Sun
Advantageous (Jennifer Phang) Fri Only Filmmakers in Attendance
Best of Couch Fest Mon Only

AMC Pacific Place:

Jian Bing Man (Dong Chengpeng) Fri-Thurs
Grease (Randal Kleiser, 1978) Sun & Weds Sing-along

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Bajrangi Bhaijaan (Kabir Khan) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Angrej (Simerjit Singh) Fri-Thurs

Scarecrow Video Screening Lounge:

Mutant Hunt (Tim Kincaid, 1987) Fri Only
The New Kids (Sean S. Cunningham, 1985) Sat Only
Party Girl (Daisy von Scherler Meyer, 1995) Sun Only
The Cannonball Run (Hal Needham, 1981) Mon Only
Thunder Road (Arthur Ripley, 1958) Tues Only
The President’s Analyst (Theodore J. Flicker, 1967) Weds Only
Voyage to the End of the Universe (Jindrich Polák, 1963) Thurs Only

Landmark Seven Gables:

Best of Enemies (Morgan Neville & Robert Gordon) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

People Places Things (James C. Strouse) Fri-Thurs
Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck (Brett Morgan) Fri-Mon, Weds-Thurs

Sundance Cinemas Seattle:

Cop Car (Jon Watts) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Cinema Uptown:

Phoenix (Christian Petzold) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Cop Car (Jon Watts) Fri-Thurs

Varsity Theatre:

Dark Places (Gilles Paquet-Brenner) Fri-Tues
Jenny’s Wedding (Mary Agnes Donoghue) Fri-Tues Our Review
Grease (Randal Kleiser, 1978) Sun & Weds Sing-along

Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2014)

Nelly and rubble

Ash, ash–
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling. 

. . .

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

~Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus”

I confess, I found myself a bit disappointed when I learned Christian Petzold’s new film, Phoenix, would be “about the Holocaust.” There is a certain weariness that arises out of the fact that so many use or have used the events of the Holocaust as a reference point, whether artistically, for a film’s central story (see Sophie’s Choice, Schindler’s List, The Pianist, among others) or socially, for a cheap point in a debate gone awry (see my Facebook feed). I wondered whether I was up for seeing yet another movie centering around the much-documented tragedy.

But great artists work familiar things in such unfamiliar ways that even the cliché can take on unexpected, fresh resonance, and I see the familiar thing as I had not seen it before. It is both old and wholly new.  Continue reading