In Praise of and Disapproval Towards the 89th Oscars: Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan, 2016) and The Handmaiden (Park Chan-wook, 2016)

manchester

There is nothing quite like the Oscars in the cinephile community, or even the public consciousness. True, the viewing audience has declined steadily over the past few years, and the small but significant foothold of movies as entertainment has waned more and more in the light of prestige and not-so-prestige television, but the Academy Awards remain a sort of galvanizing force for the film community. To invoke an often touted if shallow comparison, they are the Super Bowl of film, a chance to celebrate the best that the world of cinema has to offer.

Of course, the Oscars rarely if ever feature the best of even Hollywood film, let alone American or world cinema. However, there is always value in seeing what Hollywood chooses to reward and what it chooses (on purpose or accidentally) to ignore. Two of my favorite films of the past year, Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester by the Sea and Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden, happen to typify these two extremes in strange and fairly wonderful ways.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Friday February 24 – Thursday March 2

Featured Film:

Akira at the Central Cinema

If you’re my age, the first anime you ever saw was probably Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 epic Akira. Based on Otomo’s own 1982 manga, it’s the story of a biker kid named Tetsuo who has supernatural powers and rampages around a post-apocalyptic Neo-Tokyo as a variety of forces (his gang leader, the military, a resistance group) try to corral him and stop him from releasing the eponymous psychic who destroyed old Tokyo. Ground-breaking and breath-taking in its animation, it’s also one of the best examples of sci-fi anime’s tendency toward nigh-incomprehensible philosophical abstraction, it’s one of the essential films of the 1980s. The Central Cinema is playing it all week, but you should go on Saturday or Tuesday, when they’re playing it with its original Japanese soundtrack.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Red Turtle (Michaël Dudok de Wit) Fri-Thurs
I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Central Cinema:

Akira (Katsuhiro Otomo, 1988) Dubbed: Fri, Mon, Weds; Subtitled: Sat & Tues
Tron (Steven Lisberger, 1982) Fri-Weds

Century Federal Way:

Beautiful Manasugalu (Jayatheertha) Fri-Thurs

Grand Cinema:

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Thurs Our Review
The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska) Fri & Sat Only Our Review
Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (Various) Tues Only
I, Claude Monet (Phil Grabsky) Thurs Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Dark Night (Tim Sutton) Fri-Thurs
The Zodiac Killer (Tom Hanson, 1971) Fri Only 35mm
Saturday Secret Matinees: Presented by the Sprocket Society (Various directors & years) Sat Only 16mm
Death Warmed Up (David Blyth) Sat Only VHS
Trailer Apocalypse Redux Sun Only 35mm
Alex MacKenzie’s Apparitions Tues Only 16mm + Live Performance

Landmark Guild 45th:

A United Kingdom (Amma Asante) Fri-Thurs
Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Mon, Weds-Thurs
20th Century Women (Mike Mills) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

A United Kingdom (Amma Asante) Fri-Thurs
Oscar Nominated Animated and Live-Action Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs
Rangoon (Vishal Bhardwaj) Fri-Thurs
The Ghazi Attack (Sankalp Reddy) Fri-Thurs
Jolly LLB 2 (Subhash Kapoor) Fri-Thurs

Regal Meridian:

Rangoon (Vishal Bhardwaj) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Seattle Asian American Film Festival Fri-Sun Full Program
Better Luck Tomorrow (Justin Lin, 2002) Sat Only
The Dazzling Light of Sunset (Salomé Jashi) Starts Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

A United Kingdom (Amma Asante) Fri-Thurs

Paramount Theatre:

Carmen (Cecil B. DeMille, 1915) Mon Only Live Wurlitzer

Regal Parkway Plaza:

I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Thurs Our Review
My Ex and Whys (Cathy Garcia-Molina) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

Padre padrone (The Taviani Brothers, 1977) Thurs Only

SIFF Film Center:

Deconstructing the Beatles: Sgt. Pepper (Scott Freiman) Fri-Sun Only

AMC Southcenter:

The Red Turtle (Michaël Dudok de Wit) Fri-Thurs
The Girl with All the Gifts (Colm McCarthy) Fri-Thurs
Everybody Loves Somebody (Catalina Aguilar Mastretta) Fri-Thurs

Sundance Cinemas:

The Red Turtle (Michaël Dudok de Wit) Fri-Thurs
I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Thurs Our Review

SIFF Uptown:

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Weds Our Review
Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts (Various) Fri-Tues, Thurs
Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Tues, Thurs

In Wide Release:

The Great Wall (Zhang Yimou) Our Review
John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski) Our Review
Split (M. Night Shyamalan) Our Review
Hidden Figures 
(Theodore Melfi) Our Review
Fences (Denzel Washington) Our Review
La La Land (Damien Chazelle) Our Review
Moonlight 
(Barry Jenkins)  Our Review
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) Our Review

The Lure (Agnieszka Smoczynska, 2015)

the-lure-club

“What is that fishy smell?”

Agnieszka Smoczynska’s debut feature film functions as a pastiche of “The Little Mermaid,” but it comes to us by way of smoky cabaret clubs of a Warsaw in the 80’s, New Wave synthpop music videos, and the queasy glamour of capitalistic excess. It’s a gritty fairy tale of slyly telepathic sister-mermaids whose siren calls satisfy carnivorous tastes – until one sister falls in love with her prey, and their world and their sisterly bond begins to disintegrate.

It’s more grim Grimm than gentle Hans Christian Andersen: no swift and bloodless magic here, just buzzing grinding surgeon’s tools, human legs and mermaid tails on beds of ice. But the surgeon drunkenly dances and the mermaid sings until her voice wheezes dry, and I remember I always did prefer the intoxicating horror of Grimm to Andersen anyway.

Does it all add up to a fairy tale moral or even a thematically cohesive whole? I’m not sure it does, but it does fully commit to its individual scenes: carnal, sordid, crunchy, or sexy, and like the immersive quality of a vivid dream, its overall sensations linger, far into the waking hours.

 mermaid-on-ice

The Lure plays at Grand Cinema on February 24 and 25. 

(Note: This review is adapted from my notes on 5/25/16 on Letterboxd.) 

Friday February 17 – Thursday February 23

Featured Film:

Noir City at the SIFF Egyptian

Eddie Muller’s annual festival of 35mm film noir returns to the Egyptian this week. This year’s theme is heist movies, and the titles range from John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle to 2015’s Victoria. Muller always puts on a great show, a mix of recognized classics, under-known gems and genuine oddities. Among this year’s lineup, I’ve seen and recommend the following: The Killing, The Ladykillers, The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3,  and Rififi. The ones I haven’t seen that I’d line up for include: Charley Varrick, Cruel Gun Story, Violent Saturday, Straight Time and Blue Collar.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Confidential Assigmment (Kim Sung-hoon) Fri-Thurs
I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Central Cinema:

Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) Fri-Weds Our Review
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (Michel Gondry, 2004) Fri-Weds

SIFF Egyptian:

Noir City Film Festival Fri-Weds Full Program

Grand Cinema:

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (Various) Sat Only
Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (Mel Stuart, 1971) Sat Only Free
Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts (Various) Tues Only
I, Claude Monet (Phil Grabsky) Thurs Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Fire at Sea (Gianfranco Rosi) Fri-Thurs
The Love Witch (Anna Biller) Sat Only Our Review 35mm
Saturday Secret Matinees: Presented by the Sprocket Society (Various directors & years) Sat Only 16mm
Antarctica: Ice & Sky (Luc Jacquet) Sat, Mon & Tues Only
Deep Inside Annie Sprinkle (Annie Sprinkle, 1981) Weds Only
Confessions from the War (Leon Shahabian) Thurs Only Work-in-Progress

Landmark Guild 45th:

Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs
Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs
20th Century Women (Mike Mills) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

The Ghazi Attack (Sankalp Reddy) Fri-Thurs
Irada (Aparnaa Singh & Nishant Tripathi) Fri-Thurs
Running Shaadi (Amit Roy) Fri-Thurs
Jolly LLB 2 (Subhash Kapoor) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

The Son of Joseph (Eugène Green) Fri-Sun Only
The 2017 South Asian International Documentary Festival Sat & Sun Only Full Program
Trends in Latin American Experimental Animation Mon Only Curators in Attendance
Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991) Weds & Thurs Only Our Review
UNCODE at the Forum Thurs Only
Seattle Asian American Film Festival Starts Thurs Full Program

AMC Pacific Place:

Cook Up a Storm (Raymond Yip) Fri-Thurs
Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back (Tsui Hark) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Duckweed (Han Han) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs
Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs
My Ex and Whys (Cathy Garcia-Molina) Fri-Thurs
Singam 3 (Hari) Fri-Thurs
Dangal (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

The Conformist (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1970) Thurs Only

AMC Southcenter:

Everybody Loves Somebody (Catalina Aguilar Mastretta) Fri-Thurs

Sundance Cinemas:

The Red Turtle (Michaël Dudok de Wit) Fri-Thurs
I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Neruda (Pablo Larraín) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Uptown:

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Weds Our Review
Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs
Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs
Titanic (James Cameron, 1997) Sun Only

In Wide Release:

The Great Wall (Zhang Yimou) Our Review
John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski) Our Review
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Paul WS Anderson) Our Review
Split (M. Night Shyamalan) Our Review
Hidden Figures 
(Theodore Melfi) Our Review
Fences (Denzel Washington) Our Review
La La Land (Damien Chazelle) Our Review
Moonlight 
(Barry Jenkins)  Our Review
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) Our Review

The Great Wall (Zhang Yimou, 2016)

screen_shot_2016-07-28_at_2-00-40_pm-0

The Great Wall, an experiment in co-production between Hollywood and China, opens with the spinning globe of the Universal Studios logo, its computer-generated image rotating slowly as it zooms in on the eponymous defensive fortification, helpfully orienting the hoped-for American audience by showing them where exactly the nation of China is located. Matt Damon is our audience surrogate, a white man on the road to China to trade for (that is, steal) gunpowder, heretofore undiscovered in Christendom. He encounters The Wall and learns that it is designed not to defend against the horse archers of the Mongolian steppes, but rather vicious alien lizards that hatch every 60 years and attempt to eat everything in sight: half giant iguana, half locust, half cicada. The well-organized and color-coordinated Chinese soldiers manning The Wall are initially suspicious of Damon and his friend, played by Pedro Pascal, but eventually they join the fight in a series of entertaining spectacles leavened by a few moments of such beauty that you remember that this is a Zhang Yimou film after all.

Continue reading

John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski, 2017)

When John Wick burst into theaters in 2014, it was immediately hailed as one of the best, most tightly made action films of the decade, and for good reason. Its combination of standard genre elements with an unusually sleek and confident stylization made it an irresistible gem, especially when factoring in a surprisingly strong element of world-building in its construction of a world filled with assassins and a perfectly attuned Keanu Reeves as the eponymous master assassin. John Wick: Chapter 2 adopts at once a similar and entirely different approach, expanding the first film’s relatively narrow scope and dialing the violence up to an even more absurd degree, without sacrificing much the original’s sense of weight and yes, bliss.

John Wick: Chapter 2 picks up almost immediately after the first, complete with a directly connected prologue, featuring an amusingly louche gangster played by Peter Stormare and full of escalating car crashes and fistfights (the trademark gun fu of the series is purposely delayed for maximal effect until the end of the scene). After this vehicular mayhem, the film mostly settles down for its first act, as John Wick attempts to retire again, only to be thrust back into the world by a blood oath he had previously made. Said oath requires him to go to Rome to carry out a contract on a high-ranking crime lord, which leads John down a rabbit hole full of conspiracy and betrayal.

Continue reading

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade, 2016)

Few foreign films from the international festival circuit have generated nearly as much buzz in the past few years as Toni Erdmann has. Debuting to raucous applause at the Cannes Film Festival and garnering the widest critical consensus at said festival in a long while, only to be completely ignored by the jury at awards time, Maren Ade’s film seemed destined to become legendary eight whole months before it was released in the United States. Of course, the nature of film discourse today inflates the reputations, for good or ill, of movies immediately after they show to any audience, but Toni Erdmann presents a particularly strange and more than valid case.

There are understandably equal amounts of truth and falsehood in what Toni Erdmann has essentially been distilled down to: a three-hour German comedy. This simple description goes some way in describing what the film is like and a long way in describing its appeal to critics and arthouse audiences. As many have noted, the premise—a father trying to cheer up and reconnect with his workaholic daughter—has a sort of broad appeal that belies the movie’s length and subtly rigorous construction. Indeed, the film is frequently bawdy and ribald, unafraid to go for the obvious or crass joke. But, at least for this reviewer, the film is much more on the dramatic side, teasing out the complexities of the central relationship in the modern world in ways both heartbreaking and hilarious.

Continue reading

Friday February 10 – Thursday February 16

Featured Film:

Toni Erdmann at the SIFF Uptown

Maren Ade’s three-hour bittersweet German screwball comedy was the sensation of the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, and unlike many an opinion formed at that most prestigious of gatherings, this one actually holds up months later. Sandra Hüller plays a consultant working in Romania who is visited by her goofy but well-meaning father (Peter Simonischek). The two of them fail to properly connect, so after pretending to leave, he returns in disguise as a bewigged life coach improbably named Toni Erdmann. He insinuates himself among her friends and coworkers, creating chaos and joy wherever he goes. Not since Yasujiro Ozu died has there been a film that so beautifully captured the absurdity and pain of both being a parent and having a parent.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Confidential Assigmment (Kim Sung-hoon) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001) Fri-Tues
Amélie (Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2001) Fri-Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Weds Our Review
Noir City Film Festival Starts Thurs Full Program

Century Federal Way:

Singam 3 (Hari) Fri-Thurs Telugu with No Subtitles
The King (Han Jae-Rim) Fri-Thurs
An Affair to Remember (Leo McCarey, 1957) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Paterson (Jim Jarmusch) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
20th Century Women (Mike Mills) Fri-Thurs
Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts (Various) Tues Only
Blood Simple (Joel & Ethan Coen, 1984) Weds Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Accidental Courtesy (Matthew Ornstein) Fri-Thurs
Saturday Secret Matinees: Presented by the Sprocket Society (Various directors & years) Sat Only 16mm
54th Ann Arbor Film Fest Tour: 16mm Program Sat Only
Sailor Moon R: The Movie (Kunihiko Ikuhara, 1993) Sun (Subtitled) & Mon (Dubbed) Only
The Love Witch (Anna Biller) Tues Only Our Review 35mm

Landmark Guild 45th:

Oscar Nominated Live-Action Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs
Oscar Nominated Animated Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs
20th Century Women (Mike Mills) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Singam 3 (Hari) Fri-Thurs Telugu with Subtitles
Nenu Local (Trinadha Rao Nakkina) Fri-Thurs
Om Namo Venkateshaya (Kovelamudi Raghavendra Rao) Fri-Thurs
Jolly LLB 2 (Subhash Kapoor) Fri-Thurs
An Affair to Remember (Leo McCarey, 1957) Sun & Weds Only

Northwest Film Forum:

Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991) Fri, Sun & Weds Only Our Review
Children’s Film Festival Seattle Fri-Sat Full Program
This Is the Way I Like It 2 (Ignacio Agüero) Fri & Sat Only
I Think You Are Totally Wrong: A Quarrel (James Franco) Weds Only
MA (Celia Rowlson-Hall) Sat & Sun Only Filmmaker in Attendance
Documenting J20: Protest and Resistance in the streets of DC (Georg Koszulinski) Fri Only Filmmaker in Attendance
Veracity Shorts Program (Various) Thurs Only
Torrey Pines (Clyde Petersen) Thurs Only Live Score

AMC Pacific Place:

Journey to the West: The Demons Strike Back (Tsui Hark) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Duckweed (Han Han) Fri-Thurs
I Am Jane Doe (Mary Mazzio) Fri-Thurs

Paramount Theatre:

Daughter of Dawn (Norbert Myles, 1920) Mon Only Live Wurlitzer

Regal Parkway Plaza:

I Am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Singam 3 (Hari) Fri-Thurs Telugu with Subtitles
Raees (Rahul Dholakia) Fri-Thurs
Kaabil (Sanjay Gupta) Fri-Thurs
Dangal (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

I Knew Her Well (Antonio Pietrangeli, 1965) Thurs Only

SIFF Film Center:

The Well-Digger’s Daughter (Daniel Auteuil) Weds Only

Sundance Cinemas:

Neruda (Pablo Larraín) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Oscar Nominated Documentary Shorts (Various) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Uptown:

Toni Erdmann (Maren Ade) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
20th Century Women (Mike Mills) Fri-Weds
Titanic (James Cameron, 1997) Tues Only

Varsity Theatre:

Alone in Berlin (Vincent Perez) Fri-Thurs
An Affair to Remember (Leo McCarey, 1957) Weds Only

In Wide Release:

John Wick: Chapter 2 (Chad Stahelski) Our Review
Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (Paul WS Anderson) Our Review
Split (M. Night Shyamalan) Our Review
Hidden Figures 
(Theodore Melfi) Our Review
Fences (Denzel Washington) Our Review
La La Land (Damien Chazelle) Our Review
Moonlight 
(Barry Jenkins)  Our Review
Arrival (Denis Villeneuve) Our Review

Neruda (Pablo Larraín, 2016)

neruda

The adjective “artificial” might seem like a strange one to apply to a film based on actual historical events. But Neruda is a wholly artificial film for the better, fabricating not only its settings and scenes, but whole characters and plotlines. What emerges is something like a meditation on the artistic process and not, as might be expected, on the life and legacy of the famed and controversial Chilean figure Pablo Neruda.

It should be noted that Neruda is one of two Pablo Larraín films that premiered in 2016. The other is Jackie, the widely touted and fiercely debated biopic focusing on the week-long period following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy through the lens of the First Lady. Starring Natalie Portman, that film is almost the polar opposite of Neruda, even though both are recognizably the work of the Chilean director. In contrast to the performance-driven ferocity of Jackie, Neruda opts for a much stranger and contemplative approach that utilizes all aspects in close cooperation to produce an equally strange (and arguably much more convincing) effect.

Continue reading

Daughters of the Dust (Julie Dash, 1991)

Before Ava DuVernay, before Dee Rees, before Gina Prince-Bythewood, before Kasi Lemmons, there was Julie Dash. Dash’s Daughters of the Dust earned its place in the history of film by becoming the first feature film directed by an African-American woman to gain general theatrical release and distribution—and it earned that place in the shockingly recent year of 1991. It is a remarkable piece of work not only for its place in cultural history but also for its distinctive aesthetics and for the story it tells: a story of hope, grief, and transition set among the Gullah people, a group of African Americans living on the islands off the South Carolina and Georgia coast. Somewhat isolated from the continental United States, as the film’s prologue tells us, the Gullah retained elements of their original African languages, values, and ways of life long after African culture was violently suppressed in the lives of mainland African Americans. Dash tells a graceful, dreamlike story of one Gullah family reuniting in 1902 before departing for life on the mainland—and for a nation on the brink of modernity.

Continue reading