The Frances Farmer Show #12: SIFF 2017 Part One

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Halfway through the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival, Sean, Melissa, Evan and Ryan get together to talk about what they’ve seen, what they liked, didn’t like and are looking forward to as the festival moves into its final two weeks. Film discussed include: Yourself and Yours, Person to Person, Sami Blood, Searchers, Dawson City: Frozen Time, Knife in the Clear Water, Beach Rats, Maurice, Vampire Cleanup department, Cook Up a Storm, God of War, By the Time it Gets Dark, The Unknown Girl, Finding Kukan, and Bad Black.

You can listen to the show by downloading it directly, or by subscribing on iTunes or the podcast player of your choice.

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SIFF 2017: Person to Person (Dustin Guy Defa, 2017)

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Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.

A self-consciously NYC network movie, Person to Person follows five loosely tied plot strands over the course of a single day in the Big Apple. Whether it be a crime investigation, a moment of self-discovery, or the chase for a rare vinyl, Defa manages to find the sweet and lovely in every close-up and every little character moment, precisely jumping around in a characteristically lived-in city. It’s clear-eyed and wonderfully executed with gentle precision.

SIFF 2017: God of War (Gordon Chan, 2017)

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Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.

It’s the King Hu film I can never quite remember, The Valiant Ones, remade as PRC propaganda, all national, class and gender unity in the face of foreign aggressors (in this case: samurai masquerading as pirates in Ming China). The action is mostly very good, but there isn’t nearly enough Sammo Hung and Vincent Zhao (The Blade) weirdly looks like Jimmy Fallon now. Veteran kung fu/ninja star Yasuaki Kurata is exceptional as the samurai leader.

SIFF 2017: Vampire Cleanup Department (Yan Pak-wing & Chiu Sin-hang, 2017)

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In loving homage to classic 1980s Hong Kong vampire films like Sammo Hung’s Encounters of the Spooky Kind, The Dead and the Deadly and the Mr. Vampire series, first-time directors Yan and Chiu have built an effects heavy update of the old lore: the vampires still hop and are still immobilized by Taoist amulets (pieces of yellow paper with magic characters written on them) but they also vaporize when stabbed by wooden swords. Babyjohn Choi plays a young man who joins the eponymous department led by none other than comedy legend Richard Ng, Chin Siu-ho (one of the students in the original Mr. Vampire) and Yeun Cheung-yan (one of Yuen Woo-ping’s younger brothers). But rather than merely update the old formula with new effects, along the lines of last year’s Ghostbusters remake, the film instead becomes a cute romance, as Babyjohn accidentally turns a pretty vampire girl almost human. Lin Min-chen, a Malaysian actress whose previous credits amount to eleven episodes of the Taiwanese TV series Prince of Wolf and being a “Instagram sensation. . . known for her angelic face and killer body”, plays the vampire girl in a performance that owes at least a little bit to Bae Doona’s work in Kore-eda Hirokazu’s Air Doll. She can’t talk, or walk, or go out in the sunlight, but she’s got big eyes. The romance such as it is, is the nicest thing in the film, and there are some other funny moments, but despite the local pedigree in genre and in the veteran talent on-screen feels weirdly unrooted, like so many Hong Kong films trying to appeal to audiences outside the (former) colony. There’s a training montage joke, but rather than reference local films, it calls back to Rocky and The Karate Kid. There’s a subplot about a rival government organization, but it’s totally undeveloped, perhaps because of the political implications of a local group being forced to submit to the rigid amoral hierarchy of a bureaucratic power. So rather than make something specific, Yan and Chiu opt for the blandly general. Those 80s films, especially Sammo Hung’s, had a real misanthropic bleakness to them, a sense of horror as much existential as violent. There’s none of that here, only cuteness.

SIFF 2017: Week Two Preview

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Eight days into the festival and the SIFF is beginning to pick up steam, ready to plow through unheard of 80 degree weather this Memorial Day weekend and on into June. Here are some of the movies we’re looking forward to this week, May 26-June 1.

God of War – Sammo Hung and Vincent Zhao vs. Pirates. I should not need to say more.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World – Documentary on the contributions of Native Ameircans like Link Wray, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Robbie Robertson to popular music.

Chronicles of Hari – Indian film about an actor who specializes in female roles on stage. Jhon reviewed it for us here.

Girl without Hands – French animated adaptation of a Grimm Brothers tale about a girl who, well, loses her hands, trying to escape from the Devil.

Finding Kukan – Doc about the search for the woman who may have been the primary creative force behind, a documentary on World War II China that won an Academy Award in 1941. Melissa reviewed it for us here.

The Little Hours – Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and Kate Micucci as a gang of foul-mouthed nuns. I should not need to say more.

The Marseille Trilogy – As they did two years ago with Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, SIFF presents new restorations of three classic films on three consecutive days. This time it’s Marcel Pagnol’s early 1930s French series following the complicated lives of Marius and Fanny, two shopkeepers in love who can’t seem to end up together.

Godspeed – Taiwanese direct Chung Mong-hong’s blackly comic thriller about a taxi driver and a drug courier stars Hong Kong legend Michael Hui, in a performance that earned him several Best Actor nominations throughout Asia.

By the Time it Gets Dark – Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong’s mysterious exploration of the fracturing effects of the 1976 Thammasat University massacre. Evan reviewed it for us here.

The Ornithologist – Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues’s oddball quest film starts as the story of a man lost in the woods and somehow becomes an adaptation of the story of St. Anthony. Along the way he’s tricked by Chinese backpackers, falls in love with a young man named Jesus and stumbles across a primitive tribe of demons.

SIFF 2017: Beach Rats (Eliza Hittman, 2017)

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Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.

Abstracted images of abs and biceps open Beach Rats, appearing to the flashbulb rhythm of iPhone selfies. The body is Frankie’s, a closeted teenager whose father dies outside his bedroom while his attraction to virile middle-aged men awakens. Director Eliza Hittman mingles thanatos and eros, ethnography and moralism unproductively, aiming for balance but arriving at regressive parallelism. Beach Rats instructs Frankie about the dangers of living in the middle. Hittman should take her own advice.

Friday, May 26 – Thursday, June 1

Featured Film:

The Seattle International Film Festival, Part Two

SIFF continues rolling along this week. Last week we had reviews of Bad Black, Finding KukanChronicles of HariSami BloodKnife in the Clear Water, and Cook Up a Storm, and capsules on Dawson City: Frozen TimeMy Journey through French CinemaThe Unknown GirlBy the Time it Gets Dark, and Manifesto. Films we’re looking forward to in the next week include: God of War, Girl Without Hands, The Little Hours, Godspeed, Pendular, Person to Person, Napping Princess, and two films I saw and liked at Vancouver last fall: Ken Loach’s I, Daniel Blake, and João Pedro Rodrigues’s The Ornithologist, 

Playing This Week:

Central Cinema:

Back to the Future (Robert Zemeckis, 1985) Fri-Sun, Tues
The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher, 1987) Fri-Sun, Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Century Federal Way:

Saab Bahadar (Amrit Raj Chadha) Fri-Thurs
Lahoriye (Amberdeep Singh) Fri-Thurs
Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Citizen Jane (Matt Tyrnauer) Fri-Thurs
Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs
Neither Wolf nor Dog (Steven Lewis Simpson) Fri-Thurs
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs
Blue Velvet (David Lynch, 1986) Sat Only
Le Chef (Daniel Cohen, 2012) Mon Only
The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi) Tues Only
Deconstructing the Beatles: Rubber Soul (Scott Freiman) Weds Only
Vincent van Gogh: A New Way of Seeing (David Bickerstaff) Thurs Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Commune (Thomas Vinterberg) Fri-Thurs
Harold & Lillian: A Hollywood Love Story (Daniel Raim) Sat & Sun Only

Landmark Guild 45th:

Your Name. (Makoto Shinkai) Fri-Thurs Our Review Subtitled
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Baahubali: The Conclusion (SS Rajamouli) Fri-Thurs Tamil & Telgu, Check Listings Our Review
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs
Sachin: A Billion Dreams (James Erskine) Fri-Thurs
Rarandoi Veduka Chudham (Kalyan Krishna) Fri-Thurs
Keshava (Sudheer Varma) Fri-Thurs
Hindi Medium (Saket Chaudhary) Fri-Thurs
The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Regal Meridian:

Baahubali: The Conclusion (SS Rajamouli) Fri-Thurs Hindi Our Review
Sachin: A Billion Dreams (James Erskine) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Obit. (Vanessa Gould) Fri-Sun
Thollem’s Hot Pursuit of Happiness Fri Only Live Music & Video
Sarah Jacobson: Queen of the Underground (Sarah Jacobson, 1992-97) Sat Only
Solaris (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1971) Sun Only Our Podcast 
Disasters of Peace vol. 3 Sun Only Filmmakers in Attendance
The Earth is a Hollow Shell: Films + Videos by Georg Koszulinski Weds Only Filmmaker in Attendance
Stalker (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1979) Thurs-Sun

AMC Oak Tree:

Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs
Chuck (Philippe Falardeau) Fri-Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

29+1 (Kearen Pang) Fri-Thurs
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs
Battle of Memories (Leste Chen) Fri-Thurs
The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Lowriders (Ricardo de Montreuil) Fri-Thurs
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs
Hindi Medium (Saket Chaudhary) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Buena Vista Social Club: Adios (Lucy Walker) Fri-Thurs
Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs

Landmark Seven Gables:

Angkor Awakens (Robert H. Lieberman) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

SIFF Uptown:

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Varsity Theatre:

A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Podcast

In Wide Release:

Alien Covenant (Ridley Scott) Our Review
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (James Gunn) Our Review
The Lost City of Z (James Gray) Our Review
The Fate of the Furious 
(F. Gary Gray) Our Review

SIFF 2017: Bad Black (Nabwana IGG, 2016)

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It is perhaps not incorrect to say that the goal of any film festival should be to highlight the most interesting and fascinating works of world cinema, especially those which are unfairly underseen. Such is the case with Bad Black, one of the newest films from the immensely prolific Nabwana IGG, the auteur of the Ugandan film unit lovingly referred to as Wakaliwood. Nabwana IGG first came to prominence in 2010, when the trailer for his film Who Killed Captain Alex? went viral on YouTube for its insane and seemingly amateurish action and special effects. Bad Black, as far I can tell, is the only Wakaliwood film that has actually shown in theaters in the United States, premiering at Fantastic Fest last year.

The aim of Wakaliwood films hews closely to the action comedy, as does the overall arc of the narrative, but the means of achieving this are entirely different. Nabwana IGG’s aesthetic is proudly low-grade, immersing the viewer the slums of Kampala, Uganda as seen through blurry digital video and overflowing with quick cuts and rapid-fire action scenes interspersed with the most archetypal, blatant narratives.

Continue reading “SIFF 2017: Bad Black (Nabwana IGG, 2016)”

SIFF 2017: Finding Kukan (Robin Lung, 2016)

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Finding Kukan, a feature film debut from Robin Lung, is a documentary that tells the story of one of the first documentaries to win an Academy Award, Kukan: The Battle Cry of China (1941). Positioned in China and operating from a Chinese perspective, a perspective unknown to most white Americans at the time, Kukan aimed at documenting the Chinese experience of World War II and was noted on its initial release for its stunning ground level footage of the devastating bombing of Chungking (now Chongqing). Photojournalist Rey Scott received the Oscar for the film -“For his extraordinary achievement in producing Kukan, the film record of China’s struggle, including its photography with a 16mm camera under the most difficult and dangerous conditions” – but Lung, as she tells us in her documentary, discovered another person central to the creation of Kukan, a person who had gone essentially overlooked: a Chinese-American woman named Li Ling-Ai.

Li Ling-Ai is credited only as “technical advisor” to Kukan, but, as Lung discovers from a 1993 TV interview, Li Ling-Ai seemed to regard the film as her own, a story she herself, not Rey Scott, needed to tell: “I wanted to tell the story of China, the battle cry of the people of China, heroic under suffering.” It’s a curious way to speak about a film for which one is only “technical advisor.” Was she, in fact, more than the technical advisor?

For Lung, the mystery of Li Ling-Ai’s involvement demanded solving, and it set her on what would be a seven year journey. The content of Kukan, Lung quickly found, too, promised to be, in itself, extraordinary, and its print history made the content all the more tantalizing, for, as documentary curator Ed Carter notes, it is the only academy award winning documentary without an extant print. Consequently, Lung’s film and the search her film documents is guided by two questions: 1) who is Li Ling-Ai and why is she so little known, and 2) is there, in fact, some surviving print of Kukan yet to be discovered that might be restored and shown to the world?   Continue reading “SIFF 2017: Finding Kukan (Robin Lung, 2016)”

SIFF 2017: Manifesto (Julian Rosefeldt, 2015)

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Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.

Cate Blanchett plays 13 characters reciting dozens of artistic manifestos, from Marx to Dogma ’95 and everything in-between. It isn’t literally watching a favorite actor read the phone book, but the spliced-together manifestos are too many, too jumbled and too contextless to pull any kind of coherent meaning from the project. Instead, it’s at its best when Blanchett plumbs humor from the (necessarily) self-important and incandescent material, as with her Dada funeral oration and diction-perfect Conceptualist/Minimalist newscasters.