Friday January 26 – Thursday February 1

Featured Film:

Hitchcock at the Ark Lodge Cinemas

With the Oscar nominations out, the theatres are packed with contenders, many of which have already been playing for several weeks, some of which are back on Seattle Screens (like The Florida Project, also at the Ark Lodge). That means pickings are slim for repertory this week. There’s the Children’s Film Festival at the Northwest Film Forum, or a nice double feature of The Fits and Polina at the SIFF Film Center, or even Wild Strawberries at SAM, if you’re a fan (I am not). But it’s hard to top the pair of Psycho and The Birds at the Ark Lodge, part of the series of Hitchcock masterpieces they’ve been playing all month long. And as a special treat, Thursday night only they’re showing his (literally) atmospheric and creepy silent The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Padmaavat (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

The Florida Project (Sean Baker) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) Fri-Thurs
The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock, 1963) Fri-Thurs
The Lodger (Alfred Hitchcock, 1927) Thurs Only Our Review

Central Cinema:

Coraline (Henry Selick, 2009) Fri-Mon
Leon: The Professional (Luc Besson, 1994) Fri-Mon

Century Federal Way:

1987: When the Day Comes (Jang Joonhwan) Fri-Thurs

Grand Cinema:

The Thing (John Carpenter, 1982) Sat Only
Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story (Mick McIntyre & Kate McIntyre Clere) Sun Only Filmmaker Q&A
Wait for Your Laugh (Jason Wise) Tues Only
Our Little Sister (Koreeda Hirokazu, 2015) Thurs Only Our Review

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Freak Show (Trudie Styler) Fri-Thurs
The Final Year (Greg Barker) Sat-Mon Only
Saturday Secret Matinee: Swashbuckling Heroes! Sat Only 16mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Bhaagamathie (G. Ashok) Fri-Thurs In Tamil or Telugu, Check Listings
Padmaavat (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) Fri-Thurs
Yere Yere Paisa (JSanjay Jadhav) Sun Only

Regal Meridian:

Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Hiromasa Yonebayashi) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Padmaavat (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Tom of Finland (Dome Karukoski) Fri & Weds Only
The Road Movie (Dmitrii Kalashnikov) Start Weds
Children’s Film Festival Seattle 2018 Fri-Sun & Weds
As Far As the Eye Can See (David Franklin) Thurs Only Director in Attendance

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Padmaavat (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) Fri-Thurs
Ang Dalawang Mrs. Reyes (Jun Lana) Fri-Thurs
The Disaster Artist (James Franco) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Seattle Art Museum:

Wild Strawberries (Ingmar Bergman, 1957) Thurs Only Our Review

SIFF Film Center:

Dirtbag: The Legend of Fred Beckey (Dave O’Leske) Fri-Weds
Song of the Sea (Tomm Moore) Sat Only
The Fits and Polina (Anna Rose Holmer, 2015 and Angelin Preljocaj & Valérie Müller, 2016) Thurs Only Double Feature

Varsity Theatre:

American Folk (David Heinz) Fri-Thurs
The Clapper (Dito Montiel) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson) Our Review
Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Our Review
The Commuter (Jaume Collet-Serra) Our Review
The Post (Steven Spielberg) Our Review
The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson) Our Review Our Podcast
The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro) Our Review
Pitch Perfect 3 (Trish Sie) Our Review
Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig) Our Review
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh) Our Review

 

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The Paris Opera (Jean-Stéphane Bron, 2017)

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It’s apparently impossible to make a film about an institution and not fall into comparison with Frederick Wiseman. Especially if that institution is a creative one and doubly so if Wiseman already made a film about it, one of the best documentaries of the last ten years, La danse: The Paris Opera Ballet. Yet Jean-Stéphane Bron has done it, with this film about The Paris Opera, and while it isn’t Wiseman, lacking both his exact sense of rhythm and his patience, it’s not bad. Skipping along among the massive company over a season as it puts on nine operas and eight ballets, from high level meetings with the company director involving everything from fundraising to the size of the programs to where Natalie Portman should sit during a performance (she is married to Benjamin Millipied, who was director of the ballet during filming: we’ll catch a glimpse of the fallout from his resignation in 2016). There are interstitial shots, as in Wiseman, of the craftspeople at work: preparing costumes and wigs, wrangling an enormous bull for the opera Moses und Aron, cleaning up the stage and the auditorium after the show. And of course we see the performers in rehearsal: opera singers, dancers, and a young group of violinists in an outreach program. It packs so much into less than two hours, you begin to understand why Wiseman needs four or more for his films: there’s not enough of any one thing, just as you begin to understand a performers struggle with a line, or a step, we’ve moved on to something else.

Jody Lee Lipes’s documentary Ballet 422 solved the Wiseman problem by focusing intently on a single artist, a choreographer prepping his first ballet. We follow him throughout the process and see it begin to take shape, while learning about the backstage aspects of the company in breaks between rehearsals and other dramatic high points. Bron attempts something like that with the story of a mop-haired young Russian opera singer, who joins the company with evident talent, yet has to learn both how to speak French (he already manages pretty well in English and German) and sing to the company’s lofty standards at the same time. But he largely disappears through the second half of the film, which is true to life (not everyone’s life is always dramatically interesting) but makes for a disjointed through-line for a feature film. The film suffers from a lack of performance footage as well: we catch only peeks from the wings of the final productions, it’s almost like they didn’t have permission to properly film the shows and so had to content themselves with stolen sidelong glances. What performances we do see are very good, though heavily weighted toward the opera side (perhaps because Wiseman covered the ballet already). The film is at its best in small, intimate moments: a singer stands just behind the curtain, her body drenched with sweat which she dries with handfuls of Kleenex; a moment of silence on-stage and for the audience for the victims of a terrorist attack, which extends backstage, to the security office and even to the kitchens; a ballerina dances beautifully offstage then collapses to the ground, heavily panting with the effort, catching her breath just in time to dance some more.

Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2017)

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With his third feature film as a director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi has yet to develop an identity for himself outside of Studio Ghibli, where he began his career and made his debut, The Secret World of Arrietty, eight years ago. His films are technically impeccable, with the kind of detail and beauty that Hayao Miyazaki is known for, but something is missing. And it’s that something extra that marks Miyazaki as a great artist, while Yonebayashi is merely a skillful animator. Mary and the Witch’s Flower proves an excellent case-in-point. A young girl, bored while living with older relatives in the countryside, accidentally stumbles into a magical world above the clouds. Finding a flower that temporarily grants her magical powers, she’s mistaken for a new student and rushed into a wondrous school of wizardry by a magical broomstick. But it turns out the headmistress and the school’s resident scientist have been conducting mad experiments in interspecies hybrids, jeopardizing the girl and her friend Peter. Mary has to rescue the boy and defeat the evil sorcerers before it’s too late*.

The look owes everything to Miyazaki joints like Kiki’s Delivery ServiceCastle in the Sky (which you can catch this week at the Egyptian, kicking off the Northwest Film Forum’s annual Children’s Film Festival) and Howl’s Moving Castle. Mary is a headstrong girl with a mess of unruly red hair and a strong moral center. The magic school is made of gently steampunkish castles floating in seas of green, and the herds of experimented-upon animals recall the armies of forest creatures in Princess Mononoke. It’s all very beautiful, with some nice fantastical images and one quiet moment of repose. But where in Castle in the Sky the quiet moment is an oasis of beauty in an otherwise non-stop adventure, a pause to remind the heroes of what they’re fighting to defend and what the world has lost, and in Spirited Away the quiet moment leads to a soft deflation of all the expected action film anxiety right before it should have burst, in Mary it merely serves as a location for the delivery of flashbacked backstory before the final, rote, chase/battle sequences.

Yonebayashi’s last film, When Marnie Was There, was much more successful in breaking out of the Miyazaki template, bringing a ghostly Gothic romance edge to its story of a young girl coming of age. Mary, though, is a recapitulation, a kind of remix of Miyazaki without any of the idiosyncrasy. The scenario isn’t much more complex than that of Howl’s, or Ponyo, but Miyazaki is incapable of making an impersonal work and those films, targeted as they are (especially the later) toward the littlest kids, abound in the kind of small oddities and plot-free idylls that make a movie world come to life. Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a beautiful movie, and God knows it’s better than at least 90% of what passes for children’s entertainment in American multiplexes, but it’s a ghost.

*Note that I watched the English dub of this Japanese film. It’s what was available on the press screener and, as far as I can tell, the English version is the only one that will be playing during the film’s run at the Meridian. But Regal is haphazard in noting dubbing or subtitling on their animated films. The English dub is quite good though, with Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent adding some degree of star power. The film’s source and setting, it’s based on a novel by British writer Mary Stewart, are perfectly consistent with English accented voices, with none of the discordances caused by the dubbing of Isao Takahata’s very Japanese Only Yesterday a few years ago.

Friday January 19 – Thursday January 25

Featured Film:

The Seventh Seal at the Seattle Art Museum

This winter’s series at SAM is a retrospective on Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, and this week, about halfway through the series, they’re playing his most famous work, in which Death stalks a returning Crusader (Max von Sydow, playing chess) and a family of acrobats. I’ve never really warmed to Bergman, one of my failings as a cinephile, I suppose, but The Seventh Seal was one of the first “art house” movies I ever saw, and it remains a personal favorite. There are other fine films in the series (a lot of people who are not me adore next week’s Wild Strawberries, for example), but if you haven’t seen any Bergman, and you only get to see one, I’d recommend this one, playing Thursday night only.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Fri-Thurs Our Review
1987: When the Day Comes (Jang Joonhwan) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Rear Window (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) Fri-Thurs
Vertigo (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958) Fri-Thurs
Turbo Kid and Zombiology (Anouk Whissell, François Simard & Yoann-Karl Whissell, 2015 and Alan Lo, 2017) Thurs Only Double Feature

Central Cinema:

Run Lola Run (Tom Tykwer, 1998) Fri-Weds
Dreamgirls (Bill Condon, 2006) Fri-Weds

SIFF Egyptian:

Castle in the Sky (Hayao Miyazaki, 1986) Thurs Only

Century Federal Way:

1987: When the Day Comes (Jang Joonhwan) Fri-Thurs

Grand Cinema:

The Road Movie (Dmitrii Kalashnikov) Sat Only
My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) Sat Only Free Screening
The Final Year (Greg Barker) Tues Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Final Year (Greg Barker) Fri-Thurs
Saturday Secret Matinee: Swashbuckling Heroes! Sat Only 16mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Hiromasa Yonebayashi) Fri-Thurs Our Review Dubbed or Subtitled, Check Listings
Agnyaathavaasi – Prince in Exile (Trivikram Srinivas) Fri-Thurs
Thaanaa Serndha Koottam (Vignesh Shivan) Fri-Thurs
Rangula Ratnam (B. N. Reddy) Fri-Thurs
Chamak (John Huston, 1948) Sat & Sun Only

Regal Meridian:

Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Hiromasa Yonebayashi) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Northwest Film Forum:

Bombshell – The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean) Fri-Sun Our Review
Brown’s Canyon (John Helde) Fri & Sat Only Director & Cast in Attendance
2017 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour Sat Only
Tom of Finland (Dome Karukoski) Sun & Thurs Only

AMC Pacific Place:

A Better Tomorrow 2018 (Ding Sheng) Fri-Thurs
Ex Files 3 (Tian Yusheng) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

The Seventh Seal (Ingmar Bergman, 1957) Thurs Only

SIFF Film Center:

The Paris Opera (Jean-Stéphane Bron) Fri-Sun Our Review
Awesome I F**kin’ Shot That and Fight For Your Right Revisited Thurs Only

AMC Southcenter:

Condorito: La película (Eduardo Schuldt & Alex Orrelle) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson) Our Review
The Commuter (Jaume Collet-Serra) Our Review
The Post (Steven Spielberg) Our Review
The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson) Our Review Our Podcast
Downsizing (Alexander Payne) Our Review
The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro) Our Review
Pitch Perfect 3 (Trish Sie) Our Review
Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig) Our Review
The Disaster Artist (James Franco) Our Review
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh) Our Review

 

Phantom Thread (2017, Paul Thomas Anderson)

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In a film culture dominated – visibly or not – by views inextricably tied to the concept of auteurism, there’s something irresistible about judging films by how they reflect the artistic evolution of their director. In the case of Paul Thomas Anderson, this arc is clear, moving from the wide-ranging ensembles of Boogie Nights and Magnolia to the intent historical studies of There Will Be Blood and The Master. In particular, the latter two films and his latest effort, Phantom Thread, represent a neat trilogy (interrupted by Inherent Vice) of stylistic and thematic development. But at the same time, this film represents something daring in Anderson’s career: something astonishingly shapeshifting, tracing the ebbs and flow of a relationship with an exceeding amount of care, all with a lushness and richness of form that belies an essential, wondrous perversity.

Anderson here works in a setting entirely new to him: the haute couture fashion scene of 1950s London, five thousand miles away from his preferred setting of Southern California. It centers upon Reynolds Woodcock (Daniel Day-Lewis), an intensely private and controlling acclaimed fashion designer with only his sister Cyril (Lesley Manville) as a constant companion. Things quickly change when Reynolds happens upon Alma (Vicky Krieps), a shy, quiet waitress who becomes his muse. To reveal much more would give away some of the most genuine surprises of 2017, but suffice it to say that their relationship is forced into changes that eventually put Alma on an equal footing with the two seemingly indomitable siblings.

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Anderson’s attention to detail and mood, especially in period settings, has always been uncannily attuned, and it feels even more heightened here. Much of the film is suffused by returning collaborator Jonny Greenwood’s score, which has a lilting, swooning quality, reminiscent of music far removed from the Hollywood of today, that matches perfectly with the gliding, elusiveness of the cinematography (headed by an uncredited Anderson).

What moves and transports about Phantom Thread is precisely that which cannot be adequately described without foreknowledge of the film’s summed development. Such intensity towards something so ostensibly normal and gentle is rare, especially when combined with a certain sharp wit and humor. Constantly evolving before the viewer’s eyes, it works in both stillness (the gazes of Day-Lewis, Krieps, and Manville) and dynamism (the world that swirls around them) to create something that simply embodies romance.

Bombshell: The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean, 2017)

Image of Bombshell

Bombshell begins with an arresting and hilariously pointed epigraph from the film’s subject: “Any girl can look glamorous; all she has to do is stand still and look stupid.” The black-and-white still shots that follow show Lamarr looking terribly glamorous and not at all stupid. As image after image of her startlingly beautiful face appears onscreen, ghostly renderings of her own hand-written scientific notations fade in and out of view in the black field framing each photograph. Without a word of dialogue, in its opening seconds the film has already powerfully established one of its key themes: that Lamarr’s role in developing history-changing technologies has, over the decades, faded from view, having unjustly—even shamefully—taken a back seat in the public’s imagination to her beauty and glamour, as well as the numerous scandals that pocked her life. The story that follows is rendered with narrative and cinematic artistry and intelligence; director Alexandra Dean creates a fitting tribute to a figure whose true accomplishments have been too long obscured by history.

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The Commuter (2018, Jaume Collet-Serra)

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A far cry from the portentous, franchise-driven blockbusters of today, the oeuvre of Jaume Collet-Serra is one of effectiveness and impacts. In the vein of the classic form of the auteur theory – the manifestation of recurring visual and thematic motifs in a blatantly commercial setting – Collet-Serra has established himself as someone capable of churning out incredibly well-made, visceral mid-budget pictures. His career so far has followed two paths, the first of which is horror, represented by the very fun 2005 remake of House of Wax, the utterly masterful Orphan, and the elementally constructed The Shallows. But the aspect more germane to this review is his series of action films with the resurgent Liam Neeson, all of which are tense and subtly playful works that use restrictions – physical, temporal – for maximum effect.

With The Commuter, this standard has been maintained, albeit in a more crowd-pleasing and unabashedly conventional format. Our Neeson hero this time around is Michael, an ex-cop turned insurance salesman that has taken the Hudson Valley line to Grand Central Station every day for the past ten years. On the way back from being fired, he is approached on the train by a mysterious woman who calls herself Joanna (previous Collet-Serra collaborator Vera Farmiga). In an astoundingly dynamic, extended conversation, the self-described people observer slowly tempts Michael into accepting her offer of $100,000 to find a particular, unfamiliar passenger on the train. As motives are slowly revealed and identities are unmasked, Michael uses his particular set of skills in judicious fashion.

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This scenario is closest to what is his perhaps Collet-Serra’s finest film yet, the airplane-set Non-Stop, but the stakes are delineated in sharply different ways. While Neeson was an air marshal in that film, he is clearly set as an everyman, concerned first and foremost with wrestling between his desire for the money – his son is about to go to a college that he can’t afford – and his burgeoning conscience. Collet-Serra takes care to set him against the massive melting pot that is the collected inhabitants of New York City. Especially in the first act of the film, the cars of the train are crammed, and even as more and more passengers exit the almost stage-like confines, there are more than enough riders (and potential targets).

It is worth noting the touches that, at first glance, are not typical of Collet-Serra. Though his films have never been anything approaching dour or self-serious, they have always been relatively sober affairs, especially his previous Neeson collaboration Run All Night. Not so with The Commuter: it boasts at least a few moments of laugh-out-loud comedy, including a delicious flipping of the bird to an arrogant broker, and the eventual derailment of the train is handled with, if not excess, then a flashiness that is atypical.

But in conjunction with this seeming kowtowing to the cultural taste for destruction comes an even greater manifestation of Collet-Serra’s ability to create impact with every single scene. Here, his mode is that of destabilization, of which the opening salvo of an utterly disorienting montage, cutting back and forward in time over a decade of early morning routines, is but the first of gambits. A noticeably shaky use of handheld, impossible CGI tracking shots through the entirety of the train, motivated uses of slow-motion, a bravura one-take fight scene, even an honest-to-God Vertigo zoom: all of these are in Collet-Serra’s toolkit, and he integrates them with his precise style perfectly. If The Commuter is an example of a director’s style triumphing over the standard content that he is given, it matters little: it is genuine and fun, done with a love of craft and film that is nothing short of intoxicating.

Friday January 12 – Thursday January 18

Featured Film:

Phantom Thread at the Egyptian

The final piece of the awards season puzzle finally opens in Seattle this week, exclusively at the Egyptian. Paul Thomas Anderson’s latest is a departure from his recent sprawling epics of American history and psychosis (There Will be Blood, The Master, Inherent Vice) and a return to the oddball romance of Punch-Drunk Love, albeit in disguise as a tasteful costume drama. Literally, in this case, as Daniel Day-Lewis plays a mid-century British fashion designer with a fastidiously controlled life (monitored by his watchful sister (Lesley Manville) who falls for a young waitress (Vicky Krieps) and whisks her away to his life of luxury. Recalling both the Rebecca-style romances of the 1940s and moodier films like Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy, it also, for reasons I can’t quite articulate, reminded me of Erich von Stroheim. It’s resolutely pro-breakfast food message is I believe something we can all get behind in these troubled times.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Wolf Guy (Kazuhiko Yamaguchi, 1975) Thurs Only

Central Cinema:

Dr. Strangelove… (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) Fri-Mon
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Philip Kaufman, 1978) Fri-Mon

SIFF Egyptian:

Phantom Thread (Paul Thomas Anderson) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Century Federal Way:

1987: When the Day Comes (Jang Joonhwan) Fri-Thurs
Agnyaathavaasi – Prince in Exile (Trivikram Srinivas) Fri-Thurs
Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds (Kim Yong-hwa) Fri-Thurs
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948) Sun & Tues Only

Grand Cinema:

The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) Sat & Weds Only
Bombshell – The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean) Tues Only Our Review

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Square (Ruben Östlund) Sat-Mon, Weds
Saturday Secret Matinee: Alien Invasion! Sat Only 16mm
Thelma (Joachim Trier) Fri-Sun, Tues & Thurs
Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006) Thurs Only 35mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Agnyaathavaasi – Prince in Exile (Trivikram Srinivas) Fri-Thurs
Mukkabaaz (Anurag Kashyap) Fri-Thurs
Sketch (Vijay Chandar) Fri-Thurs
Thaanaa Serndha Koottam (Vignesh Shivan) Fri-Thurs
Rangula Ratnam (B. N. Reddy) Sat-Thurs
The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948) Sun & Tues Only

Regal Meridian:

Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino) Fri-Thurs
Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Northwest Film Forum:

Aida’s Secrets (Alan Schwarz & Saul Schwarz) Fri-Sun
D.O.A.: A Rite of Passage (Lech Kowalski, 1980) Fri-Sun
The Future Perfect (Nele Wohlatz) Sat & Sun Only
Bombshell – The Hedy Lamarr Story (Alexandra Dean) Weds-Sun Our Review
Tom of Finland (Dome Karukoski) Starts Weds
2017 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Tour Thurs & Sat Only

AMC Pacific Place:

Namiya (Han Jie) Fri-Thurs
Ex Files 3 (Tian Yusheng) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Agnyaathavaasi – Prince in Exile (Trivikram Srinivas) Fri-Thurs
Parchi (Azfar Jafri) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

Smiles of a Summer Night (Ingmar Bergman, 1955) Thurs Only

SIFF Film Center:

Nordic Lights Film Festival Fri-Sun Full Program
Being 17 (André Téchiné) Tues Only

AMC Southcenter:

Condorito: La película (Eduardo Schuldt & Alex Orrelle) Fri-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948) Sun & Tues Only
Mary and the Witch’s Flower (Hiromasa Yonebayashi) Thurs Only

Varsity Theatre:

The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (John Huston, 1948) Tues Only

In Wide Release:

The Commuter (Jaume Collet-Serra) Our Review
The Post (Steven Spielberg) Our Review
The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson) Our Review Our Podcast
Downsizing (Alexander Payne) Our Review
The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro) Our Review
Pitch Perfect 3 (Trish Sie) Our Review
Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig) Our Review
The Disaster Artist (James Franco) Our Review
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh) Our Review

 

Goldbuster (Sandra Ng, 2017)

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In her directorial debut, veteran comic actress Sandra Ng gives us a goofy farce, a compendium of horror movie tropes and references, and a sappy tribute to the underdog spirit of Hong Kong’s working class in the days of hyper-capitalisim and real estate speculation. She plays a ghostbuster hired by a handful of families to protect themselves from the evil spirits haunting their dilapidated apartment building. The ghosts are a scam, a scheme by a developer to get the last remaining tenants of a property to sell so he can tear the building down and make something new (the pull-away shot revealing the location is striking: a lone run-down concrete block surrounding by a massive ditch separating it from the city itself all CGI skyscrapers and hazy lights, an island of the real in the middle of an urban fantasy). Ng, no stranger to con games herself, quickly deduces the scam and helps the residents out-scare their ghosts, a game of horror movie one-upsmanship that turns into a full-scale zombie invasion.

Ng has been one of Hong Kong’s brightest comics for over two decades now, equally at home in slapstick, grotesquerie and wordplay, and while her film doesn’t have the classical misanthropy of Michael Hui or the blinding verbal games of Stephen Chow, it does recall her own Golden Chicken films in the way it explores how the feeling and ideology of a place can be expressed through the stories it tells itself. In Golden Chicken and its sequel (from 2002 and 2003), she plays a gregarious prostitute who recalls her life story in parallel to the history of Hong Kong, political and pop cultural, from the late 70s through the immediate post-Handover era. Goldbuster isn’t as expansive, but rather explores how stories of the supernatural can paralyze us and how fear is manipulated by ruling elites to bend us to their whim, Scooby-Doo as Marxist allegory.

While, pointedly, Goldbuster‘s location is never specified, it could technically take place in any Chinese city, that seems more a concession of vagueness for the Mainland market than any real conviction. In tone and purpose this is a resolutely Hong Kong film, where stories about housing complexes and tenants’ wars with their landlords have a long tradition, a byproduct of the housing shortages which followed the influx of massive numbers of refugees in the post-World War II and Civil War years. Chor Yuen’s House of 72 Tenants almost single-handedly saved the Cantonese language film from extinction in the early 70s, and in recent years as speculation and real estate bubbles have made affordable housing increasingly hard to find, the subject has become ubiquitous. Comedies like Temporary Family, which played here at SIFF in 2015, and last year’s Sinking City: Capsule Odyssey address it head-on, while Goldbuster folds the crisis into the fabric of its gonzo vision of a city driven to apocalypse by decades of unease and overdevelopment.

Each of its characters, generic types all of course, are refugees in some way from the past twenty years of economics and pop culture: scientists scammed out of their patents; a webcam girl; over-the-hill Triads, one of whom (the great Francis Ng (no releation) thinks he’s a cop); a doctor who failed to save his wife from some illness. The latter is the most melodramatic character, afflicted as he is by an adorable son and a penchant for whininess, obsessed with finding his wife’s ghost and somehow atoning for her death. This is the paralytic state the tenants find themselves in: trapped by fear and overcome with superstition, surrounded on all sides by rapacious capital. Only with the wit and heart of a scoundrel like Sandra Ng can they hope to defeat the forces waged against them. Another victory for the indigenous scrappiness of Hong Kongers against the powers of vague superstition and vampiric elites.

Friday January 5 – Thursday January 11

Featured Film:

The Post at the Pacific Place

The weirdest movie month of the year, the time when studios both expand their biggest award-hopefuls and dump their trashiest genre fare, begins this week with the latest from Steven Spielberg, playing exclusively at the Pacific Place. It’s the story of the second newspaper to publish excerpts from Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers, the classified history of US involvement in Vietnam, and of the internal conflicts between the Washington Post’s publisher, Meryl Streep’s Katharine Graham and its editor, Tom Hanks. This is the kind of sturdy liberal procedural Spielberg has excelled at in recent years, and while it doesn’t hit the heights of Lincoln and is vastly more self-important than Bridge of Spies, it does work as a stealth reunion of Mr. Show. I reviewed it back in December.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds (Kim Yong-hwa) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

The Florida Project (Sean Baker) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review

Central Cinema:

Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986) Fri-Mon Sing-along Monday
Deadpool (Tim Miller, 2016) Fri-Sun

Century Federal Way:

Along With The Gods: The Two Worlds (Kim Yong-hwa) Fri-Thurs

Grand Cinema:

Thelma (Joachim Trier) Sat Only
God’s Own Country (Francis Lee) Tues Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Square (Ruben Östlund) Fri-Thurs
Saturday Secret Matinee: Alien Invasion! Sat Only 16mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino) Fri-Thurs
I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie) Fri-Thurs
Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Velaikkaran (Mohan Raja) Fri-Thurs
Okka Kshanam (VI Anand) Fri-Thurs
Tiger Zinda Hai (Ali Abbas Zafar) Fri-Thurs

Regal Meridian:

Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino) Fri-Thurs
Goldbuster (Sandra Ng) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Hanson and the Beast (Yang Xiao) Fri-Thurs
Hostiles (Scott Cooper) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Northwest Film Forum:

Bugs (Andreas Johnsen) Fri-Sun
Félicité (Alain Gomis) Fri-Sun
Aida’s Secrets (Alan Schwarz & Saul Schwarz) Weds-Sun

AMC Pacific Place:

The Post (Steven Spielberg) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Youth (Feng Xiaogang) Fri-Thurs
Ex Files 3 (Tian Yusheng) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Tiger Zinda Hai (Ali Abbas Zafar) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino) Fri-Thurs
I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

Summer with Monika (Ingmar Bergman, 1953) Thurs Only

SIFF Uptown:

Call Me By Your Name (Luca Guadagnino) Fri-Thurs
I, Tonya (Craig Gillespie) Fri-Thurs
Borg vs. McEnroe (Janus Metz) Thurs Only

In Wide Release:

The Last Jedi (Rian Johnson) Our Review Our Podcast
Downsizing (Alexander Payne) Our Review
The Shape of Water (Guillermo del Toro) Our Review
Pitch Perfect 3 (Trish Sie) Our Review
Lady Bird (Greta Gerwig) Our Review
The Disaster Artist (James Franco) Our Review
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh) Our Review