Friday January 4 – Thursday January 10

Featured Film:

2018 Documentaries at the Pacific Place

I said I’d do my best not to name whichever film was playing in the Northwest Film Forum’s Shaw Brothers series as our Featured Film every week, so I’m definitely not picking Come Drink With Me, the King Hu classic that started it all, which is playing Wednesday night only. Instead I’m going with the AMC Pacific Place, which is playing 15 of the best documentaries of the year (the ones shortlisted for the Academy Awards nomination) for a couple of shows each over the course of this week. The ones not to miss are: Shirkers, which has otherwise only be available on Netflix, Minding the Gap, and Hale County This Morning, This Evening, each of which had unfortunately brief runs here in Seattle. This might be your last chance to ever see them in a theatre.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Swing Kids (Kang Hyeong-cheol) Fri-Thurs 
Take Point (Kim Byung-woo) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

Labyrinth (Jim Henson, 1986) Fri-Tues
Pan’s Labyrinth (Guillermo del Toro, 2006) Fri-Mon, Weds

Century Federal Way:

Swing Kids (Kang Hyeong-cheol) Fri-Thurs 
Take Point (Kim Byung-woo) Fri-Thurs 

Crest Cinema Centre:

Roma (Alfonso Cuarón) Fri-Thurs  
Free Solo (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs

Grand Cinema:

Shoplifters (Kore-eda Hirokazu) Fri-Thurs 
Suspiria (Luca Guadagnino) Sat Only
Supa Modo (Likarion Wainaina) Tues Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The House that Jack Built (Lars von Trier) Fri-Thurs
Sicilian Ghost Story (Fabio Grassadonia & Antonio Piazza) Fri-Thurs
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

On the Basis of Sex (Mimi Leder) Fri-Thurs
Njan Prakashan (Sathyan Anthikad) Fri-Thurs
Simmba (Rohit Shetty) Fri-Thurs 
Bhai Vyakti Valli Purvardh (Mahesh Manjrekar) Fri-Thurs

Regal Meridian:

Simmba (Rohit Shetty) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

On Her Shoulders (Alexandria Bombach) Fri-Thurs
The Trouble with Wolves (Collin Monda) Fri-Sun
Seattle Arabian Nights Festival 2019 Sat Only
Come Drink With Me (King Hu, 1966) Weds Only Our Review
Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes (Alexis Bloom) Thurs & Next Fri Only

AMC Pacific Place:

Mojin: The Worm Valley (Fei Xing) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Ben is Back (Peter Hedges) Fri-Thurs 
On the Basis of Sex (Mimi Leder) Fri-Thurs
Charm City (Marilyn Ness) Fri & Mon Only
Crime + Punishment (Stephen Maing) Fri & Thurs Only
Free Solo (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri & Mon Only
Communion (Anna Zamecka) Fri & Mon Only  
The Silence of Others (Almudena Carracedo & Robert Bahar) Fri & Mon Only
RBG (Betsy West, Julie Cohen Sat & Tues Only
Three Identical Strangers (Tim Wardle) Sat & Thurs Only
Minding the Gap (Bing Liu) Sat & Tues Only  
The Distant Barking of Dogs (Simon Lereng Wilmont) Sat & Tues Only  
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville) Sun & Weds Only  
Dark Money (Kimberly Reed) Sun & Thurs Only  Our Review
Hale County This Morning, This Evening (RaMell Ross) Sun & Weds Only  Our Review
Of Fathers and Sons (Talal Derki) Sun & Weds Only  
Shirkers (Sandi Tan) Sun & Weds Only  

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Zero (Anand L. Rai) Fri-Thurs
Simmba (Rohit Shetty) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Sawdust and Tinsel (Ingmar Bergman, 1953) Thurs Only

AMC Seattle:

Shoplifters (Kore-eda Hirokazu) Fri-Thurs  
Free Solo (Jimmy Chin & Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi) Fri-Thurs  

SIFF Film Center:

Garry Winogrand: All Things are Photographable (Sasha Waters Freyer) Fri-Sun

Regal Thornton Place:

On the Basis of Sex (Mimi Leder) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Uptown:

Shoplifters (Kore-eda Hirokazu) Fri-Thurs 

Mojin: The Worm Valley (Fei Xing, 2018)

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A prequel to 2015’s Mojin: The Lost Legend, in which a band of intrepid treasure hunters brave mysterious wilds and scary animals in search of a MacGuffin that will cure a curse they picked up during an earlier treasure hunting expedition. Where the first Mojin film had an exceptional cast, led by Shu Qi, Angelababy and Huang Bo, and an intricate plot weaving present-day scenes in New York’s Chinatown, a love triangle amid the Cultural Revolution, and effects-driven action scenes together in an uneasy and ultimately unsuccessful blend of the personal, the political and the ridiculous, Worm Valley is linear all the way through. After a quick setup, including a minimal amount of backstory related in a speech and a visit to a crazy, blind, and sexist old man, the party of six adventurers head into the jungles of Yunnan to discover whatever the thing is they’re looking for.

Also missing from the first film is the cast, which has been entirely replaced by young actors who kind of but don’t quite resemble their forbears, an uncanny valley effect to match that of the film’s CGI monsters and environments. Also gone is director Wu Ershan, and in his place is Fei Xing, making his first film since the 2013 Aaron Kwok/Sun Honglei film Silent Witness. Fei, somewhat surprisingly given Wu’s history with the effects genre, proves much more interesting a director of spectacle, though that may simply reflect a welcome change in the genre’s conventional style. Like last year’s Monkey King 3 and the previous year’s Once Upon a TimeWorm Valley is full of bright environments, lush with greens and pinks and blues: tall grasses and crystalline flowers, flying bugs that burst into flame when touched. Only its initial action sequences are set in the darkness, but even those are well-lit, allowing the digital creations to shine rather than hide in the murkiness of bad effects. As such the film has a cartoonish quality, at best approaching something like the charm of a lesser Ray Harryhausen movie (more Mysterious Island than Jason and the Argonauts or Clash of the Titans).

The Mojin films are based on a highly popular book series called Ghost Blows Out the Light (or alternately, Candle in the Tomb) by Zhang Muye, which has been adapted several times into film and television. There was another film the same year as The Lost Legend, (Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe) though it didn’t, to my knowledge, get a US release. There have also been three TV/web series adaptations of different books in the series, and another film version is to be expected in 2019, Candle in the Tomb (or Mojin X), starring Zhang Hanyu and Celina Jade and directed by Li Yifan. I imagine that knowing the source material or some of the other adaptations is helpful in filling in some of the backstory and fleshing out the characters, but Worm Valley is at its best when it isn’t concerned about any of that, when it just gives into the straight-ahead thrills of an old school adventure serial, with one literally cliff-hanging sequence after another. The only times the movie slows down over its final hour and a half are for brief moments of rest, some joyous nightswimming and a pre-climax motivational crisis, neither of which have the kind of emotional resonance a serious movie would require. It’s not camp, overblowing genre clichés with Aquaman-ian gusto. But it is almost two hours of pretty people wearing leather and canvas shooting giant alligators with arrows and slicing at razor-toothed fish with machetes.