Friday March 29 – Thursday April 4

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Featured Film:

War and Peace at the SIFF Uptown

It’s a great week for long movies, as the Northwest Film Forum has the acclaimed two-part A Bread Factory, which looks pretty good, though I haven’t had a chance to see it, and SIFF has the new restoration of Sergei Bondarchuk’s legendary adaptation of War and Peace, which at just over seven hours, is almost four Bread Factories long. It’s a big movie in every sense of the word, not just running time: the cast of extras runs into the quintuple digits, the sets and costumes are spectacular, and it has more diversity of film technique than anything this side of Arnaud Desplechin. In terms of film epics, it ranks with the works of DW Griffith, Abel Gance, Sergei Eisenstein (Alexander Nevsky in particular) in ambition, while also basically inventing everything Terrence Malick did in The Thin Red Line and The New World. SIFF’s playing it in four parts, so you can stretch it out over a few days, or all at once on Sunday. 

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
Money (Park Noo-ri) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

Logan’s Run (Michael Anderson, 1976) Fri-Weds Our Podcast
O Brother Where Art Thou? (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2000) Fri-Tues Subtitled Sat, Sun & Tues
The Return of the King (Peter Jackson, 2003) Weds Only 

Century Federal Way:

Rabb Da Radio 2 (Sharan Art) Fri-Thurs 
The Karate Kid (John G. Avildsen, 1984) Sun & Weds Only 

Grand Cinema:

The Mustang (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) Fri-Thurs 
Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994) Sat Only 
The Invisibles (Claus Rafle) Tues Only 
Cat Video Fest 2019 Weds Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Relaxer (Joel Petroykus) Fri-Thurs 
Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra) Sun, Mon & Weds Only 
Blood Lake (Tim Boggs, 1987) Fri, Sat & Tues Only 
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm
The Future is Female (Various) Sun Only  

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

The Aftermath (James Kent) Fri-Thurs 
The Mustang (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) Fri-Thurs 
Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 
Junglee (Chuck Russell) Fri-Thurs 
Lakshmi’s NTR (Ram Gopal Varma & Agasthya Manju) Fri-Thurs 
Lucifer (Prithviraj Sukumaran) Fri-Thurs 
Notebook (Nitin Kakkar) Fri-Thurs 
Super Deluxe (Thiagarajan Kumararaja) Fri-Thurs 
Suryakantam (Pranith Bramandapally) Fri-Thurs 
Airaa (KM Sarjun) Sat-Thurs 
The Karate Kid (John G. Avildsen, 1984) Sun & Weds Only 

Regal Meridian:

Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
The Aftermath (James Kent) Fri-Thurs 
The Mustang (Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

The Trial (Sergei Loznitsa) Fri Only 
A Bread Factory (Patrick Wang) Sat & Sun Only Two Parts
The Juniper Tree (Nietzchka Keene, 1990) Fri-Sun, Weds 
The Hours and Times (Christopher Munch, 1992) Weds & Thurs Only 

AMC Oak Tree:

The Aftermath (James Kent) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
More than Blue (Gavin Lin) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Ulan (Irene Villamor) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

Making Babies (Josh F. Huber) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Passport to Pimlico (Henry Cornelius, 1949) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

Mobile Homes (Vladimir de Fontenay) Fri-Sun 

AMC Southcenter:

No manches Frida 2 (Nacho Garcia Velilla) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Uptown:

War and Peace (Sergei Bondarchuk, 1966) Fri-Thurs Four Parts Our Review
Woman at War (Benedikt Erlingsson) Fri-Thurs 
Window Horses: The Poetic Persian Epiphany of Rosie Ming (Ann Marie Fleming) Sat Only 

Varsity Theatre:

Dragged Across Concrete (S. Craig Zahler) Fri-Thurs 
Screwball (Billy Corben) Fri-Thurs 
A Vigilante (Sarah Daggar-Nickson) Fri-Thurs 

In Wide Release:

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) Our Review Our Other Review
Triple Threat (Jesse V. Johnson) Our Review

War and Peace (Sergei Bondarchuk, 1966)

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Sure to be among the longest, if not the best, movies to play on Seattle Screens this year is Sergei Bondarchuk’s adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s longest novel. Running just over seven hours, and split conveniently into four parts, the film captures something of the essence of the book, while leaving out just enough to infuriate partisans of literature in its war against cinema. Being that this is the rare adaptation of a book I have actually read, I can happily carp on the minimization of some of the best characters, the wholesale elimination of favorite scenes, and the rejection of Tolstoy’s more bizarre musings on the movements of history. But I won’t, because taken as it is, War and Peace is majestic, the missing link between the silent epics of Griffith, Ganceand Eisenstein and the historical films of Terrence Malick.

Of the four parts, three are named after the film’s three primary characters, the fourth reserved for that monumental year 1812. It begins with Prince Andrei Bolkonsky, an earnest and reserved man who heads off to war only to lose both his delusions about martial honor in the battle of Austerlitz and his sickly young wife in childbirth. His story forms the spine of Part One, the longest of the sections, with the rest of the time taken up with stage-setting and character introductions, especially the two other main characters: Natasha Rostova, namesake of Part Two, and Pierre Bezhukov (Part Four). Key episodes from the book are rushed through (Pierre’s drunken revelry and disastrous marriage, Natasha’s brother Nikolai’s experience at Austerlitz, etc) but the focus remains primarily on Andrei and his view of the world. Multiple voice-overs compete for our attention, internal monologues for many, many characters, along with a narrator who at times might be Pierre but at others matches more closely Tolstoy’s own voice. These voices, with their philosophical musings, mixed with gorgeous images of the Russian countryside, make it obvious that this is a film Malick certainly saw before making The Thin Red Line or The New World. Bondarchuk goes just about as far in the direction of romantic transcendentalism as one could expect from a Soviet-era production.

The second part, Natasha’s story, is probably the best. Lyudmila Savelyeva has something of the charm Audrey Hepburn brought to the role in King Vidor’s fine 1956 version of the book, growing believably from effervescent pixie to hollowed-out saint through the course of the the story’s seven years. Her debut ball is a magnificent bit of filmmaking, dare I say Minnellian in the shear joy of her first dance with Andrei. Her fall from grace is filmed just as impressionistically, as Bondarchuk abandons the tedious recounting of dialogue and plot in favor of the mad rush of excitement and temptation that leads the poor girl into an deliriously ill-considered romance with Pierre’s dastardly brother-in-law.

The third part is mostly concerned with the Battle of Borodino, where the Russian army fought the French to a standstill on the outskirts of Moscow before ultimately retreating, setting the stage for the Bonaparte’s disastrous winter withdrawal. The battle scenes are as spectacular as everything else in the movie, with reportedly more than ten thousand extras populating vast scenes of movement and death, which Bondarchuk films in every way imaginable: split screens and wipes, helicopters and cranes and tracks and handheld cameras, POV shots and long arcing movements. It’s as glorious as it is horrific.

The final section, after these spectacular middle parts, is a bit of a let down. The focus centers on Pierre, the brains of the film (such as he is with all his deluded ideas, barely hinted at in the film), where Andrei is its heart and Natasha its soul. Various plot threads are rushed to their conclusion, new characters sent on their tragic ways almost as soon as they are introduced. Rather than building in cumulative power over the course of its massive run time (as Hu Bo’s upcoming An Elephant Sitting Still does), or capping the proceedings with an unexpected change in tone and direction (as does Satantango, that other great behemoth of Eastern European cinema), War and Peace just kind of fizzles out. It’s been more than a decade since I read the book, but if I remember correctly it kind of does the same thing. A novel that big, in length and scope and ambition, can’t ever really end though, it goes on long after you’ve put it down. Despite its length, the film doesn’t approach the all-embracing nature of the book and its failure to do so is a good argument for the claim that no film can really express the totality of a great massive novel. The movie is at its worst when it tries to stick to the novel’s plot. But at its best, it captures the same great heights of Tolstoy’s most stirring sequences.

Triple Threat (Jesse V. Johnson, 2019)

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The second very fine action flick released by WellGo in two weeks, alongside the Vietnamese film FurieTriple Threat for some reason played but one night only in theatres before making its way to VOD. That’s somewhat understandable, given its straight-to-video pedigree, with both director Jesse V. Johnson and star Scott Adkins being major SVOD stars. But one would hope the ridiculous stack of martial arts movie talent would have earned the film a broader release, or at least the chance not to get buried in the hype around Netflix’s similarly-titled Triple Frontier. As it is, Triple Threat is a major event for afficianados of filmic fisticuffs, featuring several of the greatest screen fighters of our time. Joining Adkins are Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais and Tiger Chen, along with Michael Jai White, Celina Jade and, just for kicks, none other than Michael Wong. It’s a blunt instrument of a movie, eschewing anything approaching character or theme in favor of simply throwing its stars into a generic plot and sitting back to watch them do their thing. The best thing you can say about Johnson’s direction is that he doesn’t get in the way.

Uwais, the Indonesian star of the Raid movies who had his talent memorably wasted in The Force Awakens, is the victim of a terrorist jailbreak in the Burmese jungle, where White and his band of mercenaries free Adkins from imprisonment. He tracks down Jaa and Chen, who had unwittingly aided the bad guys in navigating the jungle (their laughable but earnest excuse is that they thought they were on a humanitarian mission, apparently the most heavily-armed one in history), and the three join forces to take revenge. Meanwhile the bad guys try to kidnap Celina Jade (the woman in distress in Wolf Warrior 2), but Jaa and Chen rescue her. The dividing line between Asian good guys and Euro-American bad guys is obvious but thoroughly unexplored.

The fights are in keeping with the dominant 21st Century style, pioneered by Jaa in his Ong-Bak movies and in Donnie Yen’s MMA-influenced films like SPL and Flash Point, fast and hard, with lots of flying elbows and knees. Adkins and White and the other beefy white guys are much bigger and stronger than their Asian foes, making every fight essentially about the little guy out-thinking the bigger one. This is where the choreography shines: it’s honestly the only creative thing in the entire movie. Chen comes off particularly well in this respect, as you’d expect from a protegé of Yuen Woo-ping. Uwais seems somewhat underused in the fights, though his character is nursing an injured arm through the whole movie, but he does get the coolest outfit. Adkins seems a natural fight as the bad guy, though he isn’t nearly as much fun as White is, or Frank Grillo was in Wolf Warrior 2 for that matter. As is usually the case, Tony Jaa outclasses everyone around him, not just in the fight scenes, but with his ever improving acting, briefly even showing a flair for comedy that was too-often absent in his Thai films.

In many ways, Triple Threat hearkens back to Wheels on Meals, that mid-80s highpoint of martial arts cinema, starring Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao. That film too featured a trio of Asian stars uniting to defend a pretty girl from gangs of evil Europeans. But Johnson doesn’t have Sammo’s interest in film form or in comic set-piece construction, and his film has no emotional or intellectual resonance outside the visceral thrill of its fights (this is the reason why Furie, though just as generic in plot and filled with lesser stars, is more affecting). I suppose every generation gets the Wheels on Meals it deserves, and Triple Threat as such is a fine match for our dumb, brutal, meaninglessly efficient age.

What is Democracy? (Astra Taylor, 2018)

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I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
That Time cannot decay
I’m junk but I’m still holding up
This little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the USA

Astra Taylor’s new documentary, What is Democracy? is significantly more conventional that her last one, Examined Life, made a decade ago. It’s still made up of long interviews with fascinating thinkers, but where that film featured a number of philosophers expounding on their beliefs for about ten minutes each, captured with a cheap handheld camera while walking (or riding, or rowing) through typical urban settings, What is Democracy? features a wider range of speakers and locations, captured in crisp digital images. But the fundamental emphasis on ideas remains, with scholars and thinkers joining with activists and regular people to toss around the eponymous question. Some of them are more compelling than others: Cornel West, one of the highlights of Examined Life, makes a welcome return; Silvia Federici, discussing a massive mural in Sienna called “The Allegory of Good and Bad Government”, is delightful; and Eleni Perdikouri takes us on a fascinating tour of Athenian ruins and political practices.

Taylor links the more theoretical discussions with practical realities of the failures of democracy to be realized in the United States and Greece, with heart-breaking interviews with public school students and Syrian refugees, with an ex-con barber, with infuriatingly ignorant white kids at a Florida beach, and more. The whole thing seems hopeless, the disconnect between the theory and practice of democracy, of the corruption of the ideal by systems of oppression (economic, racial, patriarchal). And Taylor doesn’t flinch from that hopelessness, nor does she offer easy solutions to the enormity of the problems that beset those people striving for justice and freedom. Too many social problem documentaries would be content to touch on all these issues, financial crises and civil wars and apartheid states, and then offer an example or two of a worker co-op or a volunteer worker as a balm for our outraged consciences. But the co-op Taylor gives us is full of people tearfully terrified of America’s racist immigration policies, and the volunteers trying to teach English to refugee kids are instead begged by their students to tell them their own stories of trauma. There’s no easy route to democracy, the powers that stand against it are too vast and mighty. The struggle has been on-going for 2,500 years and it can only continue.

Friday March 22 – Thursday March 28

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Featured Film:

What is Democracy at the Northwest Film Forum

After all the crazy action of last week’s Furie (and Triple Threat, if you managed to snag a ticket last Tuesday), what better this week than a movie about a bunch of people talking about the meaning of democracy? Astra Taylor’s new documentary likely has little in the ways of fisticuffs, although it does have Cornel West, still as animated as any action star.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

Army of Darkness (Sam Raimi, 1992) Fri-Weds 
Howl’s Moving Castle (Hayao Miyazaki, 2004) Fri-Tues Subtitled Sat, Sun & Tues

Century Federal Way:

Band Vaaje (Smeep Kang) Fri-Thurs 
Guddiyan Patole (Vijay Kumar Arora) Fri-Thurs 
To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) Sun & Weds Only 

Grand Cinema:

Lords of Chaos (Jonas Åkerlund) Fri-Thurs 
Arctic (Joe Penna) Fri-Thurs 
Pity (Babis Makridis) Sat Only 
Searching (Aneesh Chaganty) Mon Only 
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot (Robert D. Krzykowski) Tues Only 
The Backyard Theater Rewind (Various) Thurs Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra) Fri-Thurs 
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm
Une Histoire Simple (A Simple Story) (Claude Sautet, 1978) Tues Only  

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 
June (Ahammed Khabeer) Sat & Mon Only 
To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) Sun & Weds Only 

Regal Meridian:

Kesari (Anurag Singh) Fri-Thurs 
No manches Frida 2 (Nacho Garcia Velilla) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

Wrestle (Suzannah Herbert & Lauren Belfer) Fri-Sun 
What is Democracy? (Astra Taylor) Sat & Sun Only Our Review
Constant Thought (Palmer Morse & Matthew Mikkelsen) Sun Only Filmmakers in Attendance
Waiting in the Wings (Q. Allan Brocka) Sun Only 
Engauge presents: A 16mm Monument to Mekas Weds Only 16mm
The Trial (Sergei Loznitsa) Thurs & Next Fri Only 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
The Crossing (Bai Xue) Fri-Thurs 
More than Blue (Gavin Lin) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Ulan (Irene Villamor) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

The Wedding Guest (Michael Winterbottom) Fri-Thurs 
Cliffs of Freedom (Van Ling) Fri-Thurs 
Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Green for Danger (Sidney Gilliat, 1946) Thurs Only 35mm

SIFF Film Center:

A Breath Away (Daniel Roby) Fri-Sun 

AMC Southcenter:

No manches Frida 2 (Nacho Garcia Velilla) Fri-Thurs 
Furie (Lê Văn Kiệt) Fri-Thurs Our Review 

SIFF Uptown:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) Fri-Thurs 
Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra) Fri-Sun
The Fireflies Are Gone (Sebastien Pilote) Sun Only Free Screening
Seattle Jewish Film Festival Mon-Thurs Full Program

Varsity Theatre:

Dragged Across Concrete (S. Craig Zahler) Fri-Thurs 
Out of the Blue (Carol Morely) Fri-Thurs 
To Kill a Mockingbird (Robert Mulligan, 1962) Weds Only 

In Wide Release:

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) Our Review Our Other Review

Friday March 15 – Thursday March 21

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Featured Film:

Furie at the Pacific Place and the AMC Southcenter

You know I was tempted to put Jackie Chan in this spot again, as his Police Story and Police Story 2 have made the rounds and are now playing at the Crest, but Lê Văn Kiệt’s Furie is sticking around for another week and it’s about as close to an old-school 80s era Jackie Chan vehicle as we get nowadays. Veronica Ngo stars as a mother trying to win back her daughter from a gang of organ-harvesting kidnappers in Saigon. It’s quick and colorful with a minimum of subtext and a bunch of great fight sequences, all checking in at the ideal running time of 98 minutes. Also sure to satisfy that martial arts movie itch is Triple Threat, with an international who’s who of action movie stars (Tony Jaa, Iko Uwais, Scott Adkins, Michael Jai White, Tiger Chen, and so on). For some reason it’s playing one night only, Tuesday March 19, but at a bunch of theatres: The Meridian, Pacific Place, Thornton Place, Alderwood (Regal), Lakewood (AMC), Southcenter, and Gateway (AMC).

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 
Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Capernaum (Nadine Labaki) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

Cry-Baby (John Waters, 1990) Fri, Sat, Mon-Weds  
Say Anything… (Cameron Crowe, 1989) Fri-Mon 
Leprechaun 3 (Brian Trenchard-Smith, 1995) Sun Only Hecklevision

Crest Cinema Centre:

Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review 
Police Story 2 (Jackie Chan, 1988) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Egyptian:

Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 

Century Federal Way:

Band Vaaje (Smeep Kang) Fri-Thurs 
Guddiyan Patole (Vijay Kumar Arora) Fri-Thurs 
The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 

Grand Cinema:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 
Arctic (Joe Penna) Fri-Thurs 
The Neverending Story (Wolfgang Petersen, 1984) Sat Only Free Screening
Lords of Chaos (Jonas Åkerlund) Sat Only 
The Worlds of Ursula K. LeGuin (Arwen Curry) Tues Only 
City Lights (Charles Chaplin, 1931) Weds Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Iceman (Felix Randau) Fri-Thurs 
Combat Obscura (Miles Lagoze) Fri-Thurs  
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 
The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Luka Chuppi (Laxman Utekar) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 
Thadam (Magizh Thirumeni) Sat & Sun Only 
Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) Sun & Mon Only 

Regal Meridian:

Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 
No manches Frida 2 (Nacho Garcia Velilla) Fri-Thurs 
The Wedding Guest (Michael Winterbottom) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

Mapplethorpe (Ondi Timoner) Fri-Weds 
ByDesign Festival 2019 Fri-Sun 
Look but with Love (Sharmeen Obaid Chinoy & Chris Milk) Sun Only 
Island of the Hungry Ghosts (Gabrielle Brady) Weds Only 
The People Under the Stairs (Wes Craven, 1991) Thurs Only 
What is Democracy? (Astra Taylor) Starts Thurs 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Furie (Lê Văn Kiệt) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
The Crossing (Bai Xue) Fri-Thurs 
More than Blue (Gavin Lin) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Alone Together (Antoinette Jadaone) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

The Wedding Guest (Michael Winterbottom) Fri-Thurs 
Cliffs of Freedom (Van Ling) Fri-Thurs 
Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

Styx (Wolfgang Fischer) Fri-Sun 

AMC Southcenter:

No manches Frida 2 (Nacho Garcia Velilla) Fri-Thurs 
Furie (Lê Văn Kiệt) Fri-Thurs Our Review 

SIFF Uptown:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) Fri-Thurs 
Birds of Passage (Cristina Gallego & Ciro Guerra) Fri-Thurs 

Varsity Theatre:

Finding Steve McQueen (Mark Steven Johnson) Fri-Thurs 

In Wide Release:

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck) Our Review Our Other Review

Furie (Lê Văn Kiệt, 2019)

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It’s not often we get a Vietnamese movie here on Seattle Screens, much less an action movie as kinetic and thrilling as Furie, a Taken-clone starring Veronica Ngô, the actress who stole the opening moments of The Last Jedi a few years ago. Like Ong-Bok: Muay Thai Warrior, from Thailand, and The Raid, from Indonesia, before it, Furie is a further marker in the spread of high quality martial arts cinema outward from Hong Kong and Japan across Southeast Asia at a time when the Hong Kong industry itself is having its lifeblood sucked away by the vast opportunities and resources but complicated politics of the Mainland Chinese market, like Jupiter stealing the Earth’s atmosphere in the biggest action hit of the year so far. Resolutely low-scale, Furie follows a mother’s quest from the pastoral countryside to the neon-lit criminal underbelly of Saigon in search of her ten year old daughter, kidnapped by an international cartel of organ harvesters. The plot is familiar, and its beats are nothing new, though the emphasis on the femininity of its heroes and ultimate villain is unusual. But the stunts, the stunts are terrific.

Unlike Tony Jaa and Iko Uwais, Ngô is more an actor than a martial artist, though like many a great actress before her (Michelle Yeoh, Zhang Ziyi, Kara Hui, Cheng Pei-pei) she is a dancer as well (she one the first season of Vietnam’s version of Dancing with the Stars). Director Lê Văn Kiệt, along with his stunt crew, do a fantastic job of covering any weaknesses as a fighter she might have, honestly I didn’t notice much of anything (unlike with Brie Larson in Captain Marvel, who just looks out of place in every fight). The fight scenes are fluid and brutal, in the bone-crushing-to-electronic-beats style that has dominated martial arts movies this century, ever since Donnie Yen discovered MMA at least. Best of all is that the fights actually build, they have a sense of rhythm and pace that is almost entirely missing from Hollywood filmmaking, and frankly from a lot of what comes out of Hong Kong these days. The final 15 minutes are spectacular without restoring to special effects or outlandish stunts: they’re simply the best fights in the movie, charged with emotion and skill and captured with a minimum of editing. It’s the best on-screen action since Paradox, and possibly since SPL 2: A Time for Consequences.

Other than that, and outside of Ngô’s soulful performance, which brings to mind some of Hui’s better work (the recent and very fine Mrs. K, for one), and the novelty (at least for us in the US) of seeing contemporary Vietnam on film, that there isn’t much to the movie. Where Paradox and SPL 2 complicate the simple missing kid/organ harvesting plots with complex conspiracies and some beautifully outlandish storytelling, Furie is a simple straight line: a mother doing the impossible for the sake of her daughter. But I’ll take the purity of this efficient, brutally exciting adventure any day over the bloated CGI artifacts and winking, middling politics of whatever corporate Hollywood blockbuster it is we’re supposed to be caring about this week.

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, 2019)

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What is the source of Carol Danvers’ power? This is the question that Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck’s excellent Captain Marvel asks, and the answers are various. The answer to the most literal form of the question is the typical sort of quasi-semi-demi-scientific explanation we’ve come to know and mostly love from the rest of the entries in the Marvel Cinematic Universe—something about an accident involving an advanced energy source, etc. etc. Where the movie becomes deeply interesting, however, is in its many answers to the metaphorical versions of the question, many of which will resonate deeply with most of the women in the audience, and many men. The movie details a specifically female set of experiences, and not only in the ways one might expect from a movie about a woman who rises through the intermittently sexist ranks in the U.S. Air Force, eventually to fight alien bad guys. To say much more on this subject requires spoilers, which are plentiful after the page break here. So before you read on, go see this enormously entertaining and wonderfully hopeful movie.

Continue reading Captain Marvel (Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, 2019)”

Captain Marvel (Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck, 2019)

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A few weeks ago, concurrent with and possibly motivated by one of the many snowy disasters that has marked the early months of 2019 here in the South Puget Sound, I watched all of the movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in chronological order. Most of them I had seen before, either in their initial release (sporadically as I found them to be relentlessly mediocre and all pretty much the same) or last summer, around the time I started reading comic books again for the first time in 30 years. The books too I’m tackling in chronological order, following the Marvel Literary Universe from its Silver Age inception in 1962 with Fantastic Four #1 on into the present day (so far I’m somewhere in 1965). Watching the movies in order has given me a sense of how they have changed over time, responding to current events (especially the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the election of Donald Trump) in occasionally interesting ways and forming their own internal structure through a system of Phases which can serve as markers for changes in tone and approach as the series has progressed. Reading the books has given me a new perspective on the films as well: not only can I now find them wanting as action films (the house action style is poor without exception: the editing a half-assed knock-off of Paul Greengrass’s already bad Bourne movies; the choreography, even when it is good, buried under whip pans, extreme close-ups, blurry images and too dark night scenes designed to hide the seams of CGI), as auteurist expressions (with authorial voices as distinct as Ryan Coogler, Louis Leterrier, Shane Black, Kenneth Branagh, Peyton Reed and a host of less interesting types smooshed into the familiar rhythms and bland imagery of a bad knockoff Joss Whedon (including Whedon himself)), and as adaptations of one of the unique 20th Century American art forms: the comic book.

Watching the MCU films as comic book adaptations highlights two of their biggest shortcomings in the middle phase of their run (roughly Iron Man 3 through Ant-Man, with Winter Soldier, Age of Ultron and the Civil War (technically Phase 3 but in spirit belonging to Phase 2) being the big ones). This is Marvel’s “We Make Real Movies” phase, where heroes deal with trauma in increasingly dangerous and irrational ways. It’s Marvel’s only real attempt to deal with contemporary politics, albeit at least a decade too late (I mean, it is Hollywood), as the various heroes discover that the government is full of lies, that those lies are used to prop up a global system of never-ending war for the benefit of capital, and that the human consequences for both the people who fight the wars and the people who get caught in the middle of them are incalculable. But, rather than seriously explore these issues, or the contradiction of being critical of this system while also being a multi-billion dollar profit-generating machine for one of  the biggest and most powerful corporations in the world, the MCU films are content to merely touch on them at the most basic level of exposition or sad-face acting, brief pit-stops on the way to another nauseatingly hyperactive bout of fisticuffs or a weightless car (ship, plane, robot suit) chase through empty pixels. Borrowing from prestige television, the movies never really end: individual episodes are merely subsumed into the mass whole, with any glimmer of individuality or self-contained storytelling swallowed up by the need to hype up the next installment (a trend which reaches its apotheosis in Marvel’s unwatchable Netflix series, where every episode of bleak dullness blends into the next in a formless, personality-less mush of moodiness).

But, with Phase 3, things begin to improve. These are the movies I’d mostly skipped when they were released in 2016 and 2017, and so when I caught up with them last summer I was pleasantly surprised to see that Marvel appeared to be moving on from its moody teen years and rediscovered some of the fun of its pre-1990s self. Doctor Strange is a misfire, a rote origin story with a tenth of the imagination that the character should inspire, but the rest of the group (new movies for Spider-Man and Black Panther; bright, goofy sequels for Thor, Ant-Man, and the Guardians of the Galaxy; with Civil War and Infinity War as the big crossovers) are pretty good. Civil War, split between classic superhero vs. superhero stuff that’s been essential to Marvel’s storytelling since the very beginning, and gritty psychodrama is half good (guess which half), while Infinity War is the closest the MCU has yet gotten to the kind of all-star crossover epic these films are supposed to be: bright and fast-paced yet expansive in its world and never too self-serious (despite the whole killing half the universe thing). The others all approach having an individual style, with Taika Waititi’s Ragnarok being the closest the MCU has yet gotten to a true auteur movie, while Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther fights the good fight against the series’ corporately-mandated middle-road politics, Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man movies continue to shine in small moments (though they mostly fail in big ones), and James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films do a pretty good job of capturing the (mostly safe) weirdness of Marvel’s cosmic adventures.

So, it’s with all that in mind that I found myself watching Captain Marvel, the penultimate film of Phase 3 (Endgame wraps it up next month while another Spider-Man kicks off Phase 4 this summer). And, well, it’s fine. It’s an origin story, albeit one that, like Black Panther and Spider-Man: Homecoming before it, avoids many of the clichés of that genre (unlike Doctor Strange). Brie Larson’s Carol Danvers is blessedly free of dark trauma, rather she suffers from some kind of amnesia while serving in the Kree army (the Kree being an alien race that figures in the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie) in their on-going war against the Skrulls, another alien race, this one with the ability to shape-shift into other humanoid beings. The Skrulls head to Earth in search of Annette Bening’s MacGuffin, and Larson follows them there. She teams up with Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury (this being set in 1995, Jackson has been digitally de-aged, a ghoulish special effect that hopefully will quickly be dropped from the language of cinema and forgotten for all time) and the two have adventures while on the run from the Skrulls, the US government, and the Kree, led by Larson’s boss and mentor, Jude Law (doing little more than fulfilling the contractual obligation wherein every actor in Hollywood must appear in at least one MCU movie).

Like most recent MCU films, Captain Marvel is at its best in its smallest moments, with Larson’s impetuous quips and her easy rapport with Jackson, who appears to be having more fun than he has in any of his big spectacle movies to date, or at least since he battled a plane full of snakes. Larson’s performance is closer to Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in its bug-eyed charm and confidence than any of the MCU’s stiffer, more tortured heroes, and the character should fit easily into the cosmic side of the cycle, alongside the Asgardians and the Guardians of the Galaxy. Which is good, because that’s where the Captain Marvel character belongs: she’s way too overpowered to be dealing with Earth-bound drama. Directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck, mostly known for well-regarded little indie dramas that I haven’t seen like Half Nelson and Sugar, are an unlikely choice for a slightly goofy interstellar epic, and it shows in the film’s lack of visual and aural imagination (1995 was apparently a strip mall in suburban LA playing a “We Love the 90s” mix CD and that’s about it) and its action sequences, which are almost entirely bad. The fist fights (between Larson and Law in the beginning and between her and various other stunt people later) are jumbled to incoherence, which is to be expected, and Larson doesn’t appear to be a natural for this kind of physical performance: she always looks off-balance to me. Her stunt double is probably pretty good, but it’s hard to tell what they’re doing amid all the editing and camera movement. The only halfway decent action comes at the end, with a reasonably well done dogfight and then when Danvers has achieved full power and just turns into a fiery ball of CGI vengeance, ripping through spaceships like a superstar.

Captain Marvel is, of course, the first MCU film built around a woman, and much of the film’s marketing has revolved around this fact. People much more qualified than I am should speak to the film’s feminist credibility, or about just how much its representation is worth. It doesn’t seem to me though that it’s as nuanced in its engagement with feminism as, say Black Panther was in its examination of potential responses to institutional racism. Rather it’s content to just assert its heroine’s power as an end it itself. And that might actually be more revolutionary, more joyously liberating than Black Panther‘s middling neo-liberalism. Danvers begins the film as a subservient tool of the patriarchy and ends up burning a bunch of men to the ground before heading out to dismantle the entire social-political system they’ve constructed. It’s a real comic book movie and that works for me.

Friday March 8 – Thursday March 14

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Featured Film:

The Image Book at the Grand Illusion

Almost 60 years after Breathless, it remains the case that every new film from Jean-Luc Godard is a major event. The Image Book continues in his recent vein of gnomic thoughts about cinema and history spoken over striking imagery. Trains in particular stand out this go around. There’s a lot going on in it and what you get out of it depends in large part on you. For me, I’m always happy to spend time with a cranky old man who is still upset about cinema’s failure to prevent the Holocaust.
Also out this week are other films by big auteur names: Gaspar Noé who is not my cup of tea, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan, who sometimes is. Noé’s Climax plays at a few theatres around town and is sure to provoke people who enjoy being provoked by art house movies. Ceylan’s The Wild Pear Tree is at the Northwest Film Forum. As studies of obnoxious Turkish men go, it’s definitely about ten minutes shorter than his Palme d’Or winning Winter Sleep, with some similarly sublime moments.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Capernaum (Nadine Labaki) Fri-Thurs 

Central Cinema:

Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) Fri-Weds  
They Live (John Carpenter, 1988) Fri-Weds 

Crest Cinema Centre:

Triple Frontier (J. C. Chandor) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Egyptian:

Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 
Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival 2019 Sat Only

Century Federal Way:

Extreme Job (Lee Byung-heon) Fri-Thurs 
Guddiyan Patole (Vijay Kumar Arora) Fri-Thurs 
The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 

Grand Cinema:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Capernaum (Nadine Labaki) Fri-Thurs 
If Beale Street Could Talk (Barry Jenkins) Fri-Thurs 
If You Build It (Patrick Creadon) Mon Only Free Screening
What is Democracy (Astra Taylor) Tues Only 
Cat Video Fest 2019 Weds & Thurs Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Image Book (Jean-Luc Godard) Fri-Thurs 
FP2: Beats of Rage (Jason Trost) Fri Only 
Saturday Secret Matinee Sat Only 16mm
Funny Ha Ha (Andrew Bujalski, 2002) Sat, Sun, Mon & Weds 35mm
Rock ‘n Roll Cowboys (Rob Stewart, 1987) Sat Only VHS

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Climax (Gaspar Noé) Fri-Thurs 
Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 
Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Luka Chuppi (Laxman Utekar) Fri-Thurs 
118 (K. V. Guhan) Fri-Thurs 
Badla (Sujoy Ghosh) Fri-Thurs 
Thadam (Magizh Thirumeni) Fri-Thurs 
Chambal (Jacob Verghese) Sat & Sun Only 

Regal Meridian:

Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
The Kid (Vincent D’Onofrio) Fri-Thurs 

Northwest Film Forum:

The Wild Pear Tree (Nuri Bilge Ceylan) Fri-Thurs 
Distant Constellation (Shevaun Mizrahi) Fri-Sun 
Indian Horse (Stephen S. Campanelli) Sat Only 
Island of the Hungry Ghosts (Gabrielle Brady) Weds & Next Weds Only 

AMC Pacific Place:

The Wandering Earth (Frant Gwo) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Furie (Lê Văn Kiệt) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Luka Chuppi (Laxman Utekar) Fri-Thurs 
Total Dhamaal (Indra Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Gully Boy (Zoya Akhtar) Fri-Thurs 
Alone Together (Antoinette Jadaone) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Fanny and Alexander (Ingmar Bergman, 1982) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

This Magnificent Cake! (Emma De Swaef, Marc James Roels) Fri-Sun 
Frey: Part 1 and Mies on Scene (Jake Gorst and Pep Martin) Weds & Thurs Only 

AMC Southcenter:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Furie (Lê Văn Kiệt) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Uptown:

Everybody Knows (Asghar Farhadi) Fri-Thurs 
Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck) Fri-Thurs 
The 20th Annual Animation Show of Shows (Various) Fri-Thurs 
Brave Girl Rising (Richard Robbins and Martha Adams) Fri Only 
Science Fiction + Fantasy Short Film Festival 2019 Sun Only

Varsity Theatre:

I’m Not Here (Michelle Schumacher) Fri-Thurs