VIFF 2019: And Then We Danced (Dir. Levan Akin, 2019)

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Levan Akin’s gorgeous coming-of-age tale And Then We Danced fairly glows with beauty, pain, hope, and joy. It is a thoroughly transporting film, one that makes you wish that you were part of its hero’s world instead of being a mere observer.

And Then We Danced is set in the nation of Georgia and features the hauntingly beautiful dance and music of traditional Georgian culture. The film follows Merab (Levan Gelbakhiani), a college-aged member-in-training of the National Georgian Ensemble, a troupe specializing in traditional dance. Merab has been chastely dating his dance partner, Mary (Ana Javakishvili), with whom he was first paired when they were just children, and the two have an easy, playful rapport that comes from many years of knowing each other and dancing together. If Mary suspects that her partner is gay, she keeps that suspicion under wraps until the truth becomes too obvious to ignore—which it does when a new dancer, Irakli (Bachi Valishvili), suddenly arrives from out of town and begins to claim more and more of Merab’s attention. Irakli is dashing and mysterious, and Merab is soon utterly fascinated by him. A relationship that should proceed apace, however, is complicated by the fact that both young men live in a sternly judgmental culture where being gay is a criminal offense. Further complexities arise when auditions are announced for a single, prestigious position in an ensemble piece, a position for which Merab and Irakli find themselves competitors.

Continue reading “VIFF 2019: And Then We Danced (Dir. Levan Akin, 2019)”

VIFF 2019: The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019)

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Oh! dream of joy! is this indeed
The light-house top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk?

Is this mine own countree?

We drifted o’er the harbour-bar,
And I with sobs did pray—
O let me be awake, my God!
Or let me sleep alway.

Robert Eggers is a maker of myths. Not in the interconnected serialized myth-making of Disney’s corporate franchises, the Marvels and Star Warses and other princesses. Rather in that with The Lighthouse, as with his last film, The Witch (The VVitch if you’re nasty), he exploits cinema’s love for grotesque ambiguity in tapping into the oldest, weirdest currents of New England culture, digging into the primal fears that lurked underneath the Puritan world. Quite literally with The Witch, set as it was in the 17th century among a family of too fundamentalist for the Puritans farmers. The Lighthouse is set some two hundred years later, give or take, but the fears and repressions of New England culture are still deeply felt. With allusions to everything from Moby-Dick to Coleridge to the story of Prometheus, Eggers weaves an allegory of guilt and rebellion, of a man (Robert Pattinson) under the yoke of a tyrannical and loving God (Willem Dafoe) that he cannot hope to understand, and how that lack of understanding costs him his soul.

But just as importantly, The Lighthouse is a movie about a pair of our greatest actors trapped together for 110 minutes in a square, black and white frame, covered in beards and torrential rain, railing away at each other in impossibly ornate old-timey monologues of fire and damnation. As a pure horror film, it’s more successful than something like Darren Aronofsky’s Mother!, which conversely has it beat in terms of religious allegory. The hamminess of the two stars’ performances is deeply pleasurable, especially Dafoe, who in a just world would finally win an Oscar for a role that might have just been talking like a pirate and acting drunk, but instead oscillates brilliantly between power and weakness, between an imposing, all-powerful god of the sea, and a frail, lost old mariner.

The comparison to Mother! is especially apt (thanks to my colleague Melissa for bringing it to my attention), as Eggers and Aronofsky appear to be on a similar track. Both Mother! and Aronofsky’s Noah dig into biblical stories in search of the more primal human fears and desires that gave birth to them. But while Aronofsky tells the stories relatively straight, following the familiar plot points more or less closely and using the tropes of horror cinema to flesh out the emotions, Eggers is treading newer ground, still after those same basic emotions, but building newish plots around them. He also, at least with The Lighthouse, finds pre-Christian parallels for his myths, as in the story of Prometheus (who stole the secret of fire from the gods and as punishment had his liver eaten by an eagle every day for eternity). The result is an even more elemental kind of fear and guilt, as old as the weather itself, but one that doesn’t parse nearly as coherently. The Lighthouse could be “about” a lot of things, which is a weakness as much as it is a strength, depending on your point of view. They aren’t fables, defined in the end by a clear moral statement–myths are necessarily more ambiguous, and more entertaining. At its best, The Lighthouse recalls the primal mythologies of great films like Conan the Barbarian (the closest we’ve ever come to a Gilgamesh movie) or Excalibur (which similarly freely mixes Christian and pre-Christian myth in the service of cinematic weirdness). 19th century New England had a nightmare, and it dreamt of Willem Dafoe.

Friday September 27 – Thursday October 3

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Featured Film:

The Vancouver International Film Festival

Most of us here at Seattle Screen Scene are making our way north to cover VIFF once again, but you can be sure that if we were in town, we’d be hanging out at the Grand Illusion this week. Not only do they have two of Abbas Kiarostami’s best films in Close-Up and Through the Olive Trees, they’re playing all three of Takashi Miike’s Black Society Trilogy (Shinjuku Triad Society, Rainy Dog, Ley Lines; it’s a thematic trilogy, unconnected by plot or character). But we’ll be in Vancouver, and this week we’re planning to catch: Young Ahmed (the Dardennes), Parasite (Bong Joonho), The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers), Joan of Arc (Bruno Dumont), Anne at 13,000 Ft. (Kazik Radwanski), Varda by Agnès (Agnès Varda), A Hidden Life (Terrence Malick), The Shadow Play (Lou Ye), MS Slavic 7 (Sofia Bohdanowicz), Synonyms (Nadav Lapid), Bacurau (Kleber Mendonça Filho), and much more. Should be a good week.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Judy (Rupert Goold) Fri-Thurs 

The Beacon Cinema:

Cranes are Flying (Mikhail Kalatazov, 1957) Fri-Thurs 
The King of Comedy (Martin Scorsese, 1982) Fri Only 
John Wick Chapters 1-3 (Chad Stahelski, 2014, 2017, 2019) Sat Only 
Royal Space Force: The Wings of Honnêamise (Hiroyuki Yamaga, 1987) Sun Only 
Monsieur Verdoux (Charles Chaplin, 1947) Sun Only Our Podcast 
Flooding with Love for the Kid (Zachary Oberzan, 2010) Sun Only 
House (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977) Mon Only 
The Peanut Butter Solution (Michael Rubbo, 1985) Tues & Weds Only 
Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) Starts Thurs 

Central Cinema:

When Harry Met Sally… (Rob Reiner, 1989) Fri-Tues 
Slither (James Gunn, 2006) Fri-Tues 

Cinerama:

70mm Film Series Fri-Weds  

SIFF Egyptian:

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Stanley Nelson) Fri-Thurs Our Review 

Century Federal Way:

Doorbeen (Ishan Chopra) Fri-Thurs 
Nikka Zaildar 3 (Simerjit Singh) Fri-Mon  
The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010) Sun & Mon Only Subtitled Mon
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Surender Reddy) Starts Tues  
Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl (Sôichi Masui) Weds & Thurs Only  

Grand Cinema:

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 
Judy (Rupert Goold) Fri-Thurs 
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Fran Rubel Kuzui, 1992) Sat Only 
The Nightingale (Jennifer Kent) Tues Only 
The Infiltrators (Cristina Ibarra & Alex Rivera) Thurs Only Tacoma Film Festival Premiere

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Close-Up (Abbas Kiarostami, 1990) Fri-Sun 
Through the Olive Trees (Abbas Kiarostami, 1994) Sat & Sun Only  
Blood Orgy of the Leather Girls (Meredith Lucas, 1988) Fri Only VHS
Shinjuku Triad Society (Takashi Miike, 1995) Sat, Tues & Thurs  
Rainy Dog (Takashi Miike, 1997) Sun, Mon & Weds  
Ley Lines (Takashi Miike, 1999) Mon, Weds & Thurs 

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Judy (Rupert Goold) Fri-Thurs 
Namma Veetu Pillai (Pandiraj) Fri-Thurs 
Oththa Seruppu Size 7 (R. Parthiepan) Fri-Thurs 
Dream Girl (Raaj Shaandilyaa) Fri-Thurs 
Chhichhore (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs 
Ne Zha (Jiaozi) Fri-Thurs 
The Zoya Factor (Abhishek Sharma) Fri-Thurs 
Valmiki (Harish Shankar) Fri-Thurs 
Ganagandharvan (Ramesh Pisharody) Sat & Sun Only 
The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010) Sun & Mon Only Subtitled Mon
Snoopy Come Home (Bill Melendez, 1972) Sun Only 
The Climbers (Daniel Lee) Starts Mon  
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Surender Reddy) Starts Tues  
Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?: Arrow of the Orion (Katsushi Sakurabi) Tues & Thurs Only Subtitled Thurs
War (Siddharth Anand) Starts Weds  

Regal Meridian:

The Matrix (Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 1999) Fri-Thurs 
Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi) Fri-Thurs Subtitled
Villains (Robert Olsen, Dan Berk) Fri-Thurs 
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 
The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010) Sun & Mon Only Subtitled Mon
My People, My Country (Various) Tues & Weds Only 
Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl (Sôichi Masui) Weds & Thurs Only  

Northwest Film Forum:

Local Sightings Film Festival Fri-Sun Full Program 
Becoming Nobody (Jamie Catto) Sat-Thurs 

AMC Pacific Place:

Judy (Rupert Goold) Fri-Thurs 
Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi) Fri-Thurs 
Ne Zha (Jiaozi) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Chhichhore (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs 
Tod@s Caen (Ariel Winograd) Fri-Thurs 
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy (Surender Reddy) Starts Tues  
War (Siddharth Anand) Starts Weds  

AMC Seattle:

Judy (Rupert Goold) Fri-Thurs 
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Detour (Edgar G. Ulmer, 1945) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

Videodrome (David Cronenberg, 1983) Weds Only Our Podcast 

Regal Thornton Place:

Judy (Rupert Goold) Fri-Thurs 
Official Secrets (Gavin Hood) Fri-Thurs 
Villains (Robert Olsen, Dan Berk) Fri-Thurs 
The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010) Sun & Mon Only Subtitled Mon
The Climbers (Daniel Lee) Mon-Weds  
Rascal Does Not Dream of a Dreaming Girl (Sôichi Masui) Weds & Thurs Only  

SIFF Uptown:

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins (Janice Engel) Fri, Mon-Thurs 
Monos (Alejandro Landes) Fri-Thurs 
French Cinema Now Festival Fri-Thurs Full Program 

Varsity Theatre:

Manhattan Short Film Festival Fri & Sun Only
Prey (Franck Khalfoun) Fri-Thurs 
The Day Shall Come (Chris Morris) Fri-Thurs
The Secret World of Arrietty (Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 2010) Sun & Mon Only Subtitled Mon

In Wide Release:

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino) Our Review Our Other Review

First Love (Takashi Miike, 2019)

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Every time I watch a Takashi Miike movie, I end up asking myself why I ever watch movies that aren’t Takashi Miike movies. That’s certainly the case with First Love, his latest, which premiered at Cannes earlier this year and opens next week (October 4) at the Uptown. It’s a familiar story, a one crazy night gangster movie mixed with just enough romance and humor to confound the tonal consistency police. But while the plot evokes faint memories of Johnnie To’s The Odd One Dies or Derek Yee’s One Night in Mongkok or Soi Cheang’s Love Battlefield, really it’s all Miike, suffused with his inimitable blend of pitch-black humor, razor-sharp filmmaking, and a surprising undercurrent of hope amid all the absurdist bloodshed and horror of a world that has almost completely lost its mooring.

A young boxer who has been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor stumbles into a scheme wherein a low-level yakuza and a crooked cop are conspiring to steal a bag of drugs from the yakuza, while framing a prostitute and a Chinese Triad syndicate for the crime. The hope is to incite a gang war and have all the bad guys kill each other off, while the schemers get away with the drugs and can then take over. But the prostitute, a young drug addict who suffers from hallucinations, caused by years of abuse by her father and her handlers, runs away from the cop at a pivotal moment, and thinking she needs rescuing, the boxer clocks the cop. The young people run away and the scheme falls apart, thanks as well to a pair of nigh-indestructible women, one the girlfriend of the guy who the drugs are stolen from, the other a Chinese gangster lamenting the sad state of honor among today’s yakuza men. A host of other memorable baddies abound, including an old school yakuza who is fresh out of prison and terribly annoyed by everyone around him, and a one-armed Chinese gangster who has no lines but follows along the whole way, waiting for his opportunity to take revenge on the man who maimed him.

Miike unfolds the convoluted plot with expert precision, such that it’s pretty much always clear exactly who is double-crossing who, and why. And those double-crosses play out in and escalating series of violent encounters, as funny as they are original. I wouldn’t dare spoil any of the surprises the movie has in store, but I want to single out Miike’s editing in particular, cutting on motion with as much attention to the flow of action as, say, Steven Spielberg, but with a sublime sense of humor, as when a punch in the boxing ring becomes a beheading stroke of a katana in a dark alley. First Love is filled with these little touches. One imagines Miike chuckling away as he finds ever more demented ways to depict violence on-screen. I’ve said before that no one in contemporary cinema has as much fun making movies as Takashi Miike, and First Love is him working with complete freedom within otherwise well-worn genre terrain.

Even the romance is unusual. Given the circumstances, and their various medical and mental conditions, it’d be absurd, something that only happens in the movies, for our two innocents to fall madly in love right away (even with the help of a pop song, as they do in Wong Kar-wai’s As Tears Go By). Instead, the First Love of the title can only grow after the trials of the one crazy night have been put behind them. Not just a lunatic cascade of gangster movie violence, the night instead becomes a stand-in for all the horrible things that have happened to them in their pasts, and only after they survive them and move on to a new day, is a first love even possible. The final shot doesn’t need a pop song, or even a close-up, to be the most hopeful, most romantic image of the movie year.

I should watch more Takashi Miike movies. The Grand Illusion this week is playing three of them, none of which I have seen, Shinjuku Triad SocietyRainy Dog, and Ley Lines. Like First Love, they all involve rivalries between Chinese Triads and Japanese yakuza, such that their grouped together as his “Black Society Trilogy”, though they are apparently unrelated in plot or character. If I was in town next week, that’s where I would be.

VIFF 2019: The Wild Goose Lake (Diao Yinan, 2019)

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One of the most anticipated Chinese titles of this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival is Diao Yinan’s follow-up to his Berlin winning 2014 film Black Coal, Thin Ice. Like that film, The Wild Goose Lake is a moody Chinese noir, full of morose characters trapped in a world of violence they cannot understand. It’s also significantly more interesting to look at than the majority of Chinese noirs that have afflicted the festival circuit in the wake of Black Coal‘s triumph. Sure, it has more than its share of torrential downpours and black nights of the soul, but Diao mixes the morose setting with yellows, greens, and reds (along with some delightfully sickly neon pinks) more reminiscent of Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night and the first third of Jia Zhangke’s Ash is Purest White than the dull grayness of movies like The Looming Storm or Savage or Lush Reeds. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for his characters, who are nowhere near as vibrant as the film’s images.

Hu Ge, who had a small role in Shunji Iwai’s Last Letter, stars as an ex-con and gangster who finds himself the target of a manhunt after he accidentally shoots a cop. The setup to this is extremely promising, with Diao melding the highbrow style of Bi and Jia with a classic Triad-type story, involving gang rivalries and a motorcycle-stealing contest that ends in a shocking bit of violence. But it quickly shifts into a different kind of film entirely, with Liao Fan as the cop in charge of hunting him down and Gwei Lun-mei as the prostitute with a heart of gold who tries to help him escape (both Gwei and Liao starred as well in Black Coal).

Liao and the cops come off much better, as the blankness of their personalities matches the just-the-facts proceduralism of their pursuit, Liao himself bringing a necessary weight and professional authority to the role. But Gwei and Hu are blank slates, almost entirely affectless, with nary a hint of personality to mitigate their mopey sadness. Gwei is usually an actress of considerable charm, but there’s nary a hint here of the performer who stole scenes left and right in Tsui Hark’s Seven Swords and Flying Swords of Dragon Gate a decade ago. Instead she walks determinedly, if directionlessly, around the frame, face pinched in a perpetual scowl, while Hu (hobbled as his character is by multiple gunshot wounds) merely looks depressed. The motivations and actions mostly make sense, but it’s hard to care anything about them when they aren’t the least bit interesting. Compare them to the wit and will Zhao Tao showed in Ash, or Liao Fan’s weaselly over-confidence in that same film, or the mystery and passion of Tang Wei and Sylvia Chang in Long Day’s Journey, and you’ll see what Wild Goose Lake is missing most.

But for all that, at moments the film is wonderful. There are at least three expert showdowns, built slowly and without dialogue, actors carefully arranging themselves in a well-defined space, communicating only with looks (or just as much: by not looking at all). Diao heightens one by having one group wearing shoes that have neon lights around their soles, such that our hero (such as he is) is seemingly hunted by circles of eerie pale green light, stark against the blackness of night. Another is set in a dilapidated concrete apartment complex, reminiscent of so many such structures in Hong Kong films, with their tangled hallways and noisy neighbors. In scenes like this, The Wild Goose Lake approaches the best of Johnnie To (the showdowns are nothing if not a nod to The Mission). If only the rest of the movie were so free.

VIFF 2019 Preview

We here at Seattle Screen Scene are very much looking forward to once again covering the Vancouver International Film Festival this year. It’s shaping up to be a pretty strong festival, with a number of titles we can’t wait to catch. We’ve already seen a few of the movies playing this year, though, as we covered them at festivals earlier this year. Here is a compendium of links to our previously published reviews of VIFF films that played at the Toronto Film Festival and the New York Asian Film Festival.

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Blood Quantum (Jeff Barnaby) – Evan in the Georgia Straight: “TIFF kicked off for me with the First Nations zombie movie Blood Quantum, but the moment that I walked out of the theater, I ejected it from my consciousness like a spent shotgun cartridge (though one dumbfounding line—delivered with perfect seriousness—will rent a room in my memory palace for eternity: “They look at me like my vagina is Pandora’s box!”)”

Hard-Core (Nobuhiro Yamashita) – The latest from the director of Linda Linda Linda, one of the great films of the century thus far, was a disappointment for Sean, who wrote at the Notebook that, “Hard-Core is simply lost in itself, its collection of losers as charmless and uninteresting as the film’s forced whimsicality.”

A Hidden Life – (Terrence Malick) – Lawrence at InReview Online notes that Malick’s latest is a “vision of breathtaking natural expanses and solid manmade enclosures [which] remains every bit as formally radical as any of his films this decade.” While Evan is very much looking forward to seeing it again, as he wrote for the Georgia Straight that while he was initially disappointed, he “sat down for the next film, the lights dimmed, and then, suddenly, they came back up. How long had I been here? Sometimes, at a festival, a movie gets sacrificed on the pyre when the film that precedes it sparks something in the soul. Turns out I spent two hours replaying A Hidden Life in my head—everything else passed by in a blur. Sorry Beanpole [also playing VIFF], Terrence Malick set my mind on fire.”

It Must Be Heaven(Elia Suleiman) – Evan was not a fan of Suleiman’s latest, noting at InReview Online that, “Suleiman possesses maybe two or three visual ideas, though he strongly prefers one: sometimes things over here look like things over there. Because warmed-over humanism is his chosen mode, his facile symmetries are meant to reinforce — as the press notes say — the “unexpected parallels” that he discovers while travelling the globe. They’re also meant to be funny. That they fail as comedy is perhaps forgivable. That they turn disparate places and people into easily readable mirror images, which provide us the comfort of the familiar only because they reflect back a portrait of ourselves, is more worthy of condemnation.”

Krabi, 2562 – (Anocha Suwichakornpong & Ben Rivers) – At Reverse Shot, Lawrence writes that Suwichakornpong & Rivers’s collaboration “present[s] the viewer with sundry moving parts buttressed by fulsome textural detail and all manner of disorienting edits. If the pieces don’t quite fit together by the end, linked somewhat arbitrarily by the film’s temporal flattening—the entirety of the Holocene is folded into the present, 2562 being the current year of the Thai Buddhist calendar—that irresolvability is at least part of the point”

Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach) – At InReview Online, Lawrence sees the risk-averse Baumbach attempting a bit more formal experimentation, such that his new movie “might eventually come to feel like a transitional work within his filmography.” As an example: “Baumbach sets up the formal template of the film, which introduces exaggerated, even caricatured types, then offers sundry details to modulate or even overturn the typification — which is also to say the opposite of what goes on during divorce proceedings, where small slippages are turned into deadly character flaws.”

Parasite (Bong Joon-ho) – In the Georgia Straight, Evan writes that Bong’s “images possess the graphic panache and pith of a comic book panel, and in Parasite, he tosses them off with characteristic ease. But as Bong bulks up his visual prowess with each new film, his characterological muscle only atrophies further. We’ve reached an unhealthy point: the internal and external stimuli that motivate his people are now second order concerns at best, always subordinate to the next punchy composition.”

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Cèline Sciamma) – Writing in the Georgia Straight, Evan was not a fan of Sciamma’s “finicky attention to candlelight and 18th century domestic fripperies [which] can’t hide the fact that Portrait of a Lady on Fire actually takes place in the present. And like any ready-made facsimile, the historical varnish is merely a concession to bourgeois tastes, a decorative contrivance, and therefore entirely dishonest.”

Synonyms (Nadav Lapid) – Evan in the Georgia Straight: “Lapid sees a neat correlation between his behaviorist approach to character—which abstracts human behavior into a series of violent tics—and the unstable psychogeography of Israeli selfhood. It’s unclear, however, that his style alone is sufficient to explicate his subject, at least to anyone living outside the confines of Nadav Lapid’s skittish mind—which is to say, the rest of us.”

The Twentieth Century (Matthew Rankin) – At InReview Online, Lawrence notes that while “Comparisons to fellow Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Maddin are inevitable, as both share an evident interest in lost and/or defunct film forms, artificial staging, and wild humor.” But, “the difference seems to be that the incongruous, borderline surreal turns of Maddin’s singularly fecund oeuvre feel touched by genuine madness, whereas Rankin’s film registers as merely mannered.”

Vitalina Varela (Pedro Costa) – Evan is conflicted on Costa’s latest, noting in the Georgia Straight that while “his images are as striking as any in contemporary cinema; they are incredible things to witness on a movie screen” but that “it also raises a question that both Costa and his fans are intent on avoiding. If Vitalina Varela truly belongs to the woman at its center, who lends the film her name and her life story, shouldn’t Costa bend his style around her?”

White Lie (Calvin Thomas & Yonah Lewis) – At InReview Online, Sean wrote that this Canadian indie from the team that brought Spice It Up to last year’s VIFF, about a woman pretending to have cancer is “like a straight version of a Seinfeld episode, with Katie (Kacey Rohl) as the Costanza at the center of it all, barely afloat atop a sea of deceit.”

White Snake (Amp Wong & Ji Zhao) – Reviewing this Chinese animated fantasy at the Mubi Notebook, Sean wrote that “aside from showing a bit too much skin and having a decided lack of songs, White Snake might as well be a Disney product.” But also, “it’s standard fairy tale romance stuff, but done with enough verve and belief that old clichés can be forgiven. It’s not Tsui Hark, but it might be a kids version of House of Flying Daggers.”

The Wild Goose Lake (Diao Yinan) – Evan was mixed on the latest from the director of Black Coal, Thin Ice, writing in the Georgia Straight that, “the eccentric mise-en-scène scrambles important plot information just as often as it transmits it with ingenuity. In other words, Diao is a less sophisticated storyteller than he is a stylist, and the narrative convolutions eventually throw a wrench in things. The film breaks down as it approaches its end, and the final beat, which should register with the emphatic force of a full stop, instead trails off like an ellipsis.”

Friday September 20 – Thursday September 26

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Featured Film:

A Matter of Life and Death at the Beacon

It’s another strong week on Seattle Screens: SIFF favorites Lynch: A History and Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool open at the Grand and the Egyptian, respectively; an extensive retrospective of films from the American indie film distributor Factory 25 plays the Beacon, along with more in their 2010s action film series, including SPL II: A Time for Consequences and Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning; the Kiarostami retrospective moves to the SIFF Film Center with his Palme d’Or winner Taste of Cherry along with And Life Goes On (aka Life, and Nothing More…); the Northwest Film Forum hosts their annual Local Sightings Film Festival; and SAM kicks off their fall noir series with Murder, My Sweet. But our Featured Film has got to be Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s A Matter of Life and Death, if only because it’s the best movie playing anywhere in Seattle this week, if not this year.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Tazza: One-Eyed Jacks (Kwon Oh-Kwang) Fri-Thurs 
Official Secrets (Gavin Hood) Fri-Thurs 

The Beacon Cinema:

A Matter of Life and Death (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1946) Fri, Sat, Tues & Weds 
All the Light in the Sky (Joe Swanberg, 2012) Fri Only 
Silver Bullets (Joe Swanberg, 2011) Fri Only 
Bad Fever (Dustin Guy Defa, 2011) Sat Only 
Stinking Heaven (Nathan Silver, 2015) Sat Only 
The Color Wheel (Alex Ross Perry, 2011) Sat Only 
The Oregonian (Calvin Reeder, 2011) Sat Only 
Fake It So Real (Robert Greene, 2011) Sun Only 
Better Say Something: Jay Reatard (Alex Hammond & Ian Markiewicz, 2011) Sun Only 
Sun Don’t Shine (Amy Seimetz, 2011) Sun Only 
Tito (Grace Glowicki) Sun Only 
The Grandmaster (Wong Kar-wai, 2013) Mon Only Our Podcast 
SPL II: A Time for Consequences (Soi Cheang, 2015) Mon & Weds Only Our Podcast 
The Incredible Melting Man (Williams Sachs, 1977) Mon Only 
Fritzcarraldo (Werner Herzog, 1982) Tues Only Beer in Attendance
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (Luis Buñuel, 1972) Weds & Thurs Only 
Avengement (Jesse V. Johnson) Thurs Only 
Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning (John Hyams, 2012) Thurs Only 

Central Cinema:

The Third Man (Carol Reed, 1949) Fri-Weds 
Half Baked (Tamra Davis, 1998) Fri-Weds 

SIFF Egyptian:

Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool (Stanley Nelson) Fri-Thurs Our Review 

Century Federal Way:

Tazza: One-Eyed Jacks (Kwon Oh-Kwang) Fri-Thurs 
Nikka Zaildar 3 (Simerjit Singh) Fri-Thurs 
The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994) Sun & Weds Only 

Grand Cinema:

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 
The Iron Giant (Brad Bird, 1999) Sat Only 
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (Stephen Herek, 1989) Sat Only Our Podcast 
Lynch: A History (David Shields) Mon & Tues Only Post-Film Discussion w/Director Monday Our Review 
Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky & Nicholas de Pencier) Weds Only 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Murder in the Front Row: The San Francisco Bay Area Thrash Metal Story (Adam Dubin) Fri-Sun, Tues & Thurs  
Give Me Liberty (Kirill Mikhanovsky) Fri-Thurs 35mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Gang Leader (Vikram K. Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Dream Girl (Raaj Shaandilyaa) Fri-Thurs 
Official Secrets (Gavin Hood) Fri-Thurs 
Ne Zha (Jiaozi) Fri-Thurs 
Chhichhore (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs 
Kaappaan/Bandobast (K. V. Anand) Fri-Thurs Tamil or Telugu, Respectively Check Listings
Love Action Drama (Dhyan Sreenivasan) Fri-Thurs 
Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas (Sunny Deol) Fri-Thurs 
Prassthanam (Deva Katta) Fri-Thurs 
The Zoya Factor (Abhishek Sharma) Fri-Thurs 
Vallmiki (Harish Shankar) Fri-Thurs 
The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994) Sun & Weds Only 

Regal Meridian:

The Last Wish (Tian Yusheng) Fri-Thurs 
Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi) Fri-Thurs Subtitled
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 
Villains (Robert Olsen, Dan Berk) Fri-Thurs 
Tokyo Ghoul S (Kazuhiko Hiramaki & Takuya Kawasaki) Fri Only 

Northwest Film Forum:

Local Sightings Film Festival Fri-Thurs Full Program 

AMC Pacific Place:

Midnight Diner (Tony Leung Ka-fai) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi) Fri-Thurs 
Bad Guys: Reign of Chaos (Son Yong-Ho) Fri-Thurs 
The Last Wish (Tian Yusheng) Fri-Thurs 
Ne Zha (Jiaozi) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Chhichhore (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs 
Just a Stranger (Jason Paul Laxamana) Fri-Thurs 
Tod@s Caen (Ariel Winograd) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

Official Secrets (Gavin Hood) Fri-Thurs 
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 

Seattle Art Museum:

Murder, My Sweet (Edward Dmytryk, 1944) Thurs Only 

SIFF Film Center:

Taste of Cherry (Abbas Kiarostami, 1997) Fri-Sun 
And Life Goes On (Abbas Kiarostami, 1992) Sat & Sun Only 

AMC Southcenter:

Tokyo Ghoul S (Kazuhiko Hiramaki & Takuya Kawasaki) Fri Only 

Regal Thornton Place:

Official Secrets (Gavin Hood) Fri-Thurs 
Villains (Robert Olsen, Dan Berk) Fri-Thurs 
Tokyo Ghoul S (Kazuhiko Hiramaki & Takuya Kawasaki) Fri Only 
The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994) Sun, Tues & Weds Only

SIFF Uptown:

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins (Janice Engel) Fri-Thurs 
Official Secrets (Gavin Hood) Fri-Thurs 
Paris is Burning (Jennie Livingston, 1990) Fri-Sun  
The Last Unicorn ( Jules Bass & Arthur Rankin Jr., 1982) Sat Only 
American Heretics: The Politics of Gospel (Jeanine Isabel Butler) Mon Only 
Fiddlin’ (Julie Simone) Tues Only 
Anthropocene: The Human Epoch (Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky & Nicholas de Pencier) Weds Only 

Varsity Theatre:

American Dreamer (Derrick Borte) Fri-Thurs
Bloodline (Henry Jacobson) Fri-Thurs 
The Sound of Silence (Michael Tyburski) Fri-Thurs
The Shawshank Redemption (Frank Darabont, 1994) Weds Only

In Wide Release:

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino) Our Review Our Other Review

Midnight Diner (Tony Leung Ka-fai, 2019)

Midnight-Diner-2019-trailer

I am, as I suspect many people are, afflicted with an unquenchable fondness for movies about food. Close-ups of meat sizzling, the sound of tea being poured into a china cup, the crispy crunch of vegetables being chopped, it all triggers some kind of ASMR-like pleasure center deep in the back of my brain. Combine that with a rich environment filled with deep brown wood, dark stone tile, golden light and a tinkling piano score, and I’m sold. Midnight Diner has all of this and more–it’s only lack is any glimpse of the greatest food of them all. But fortunately there’s more than enough cheese in its screenplay to compensate.

Tony Leung Ka-fai is The Other Tony Leung. Not the one who starred in Hard-Boiled and Chungking Express and In the Mood for Love, that’s Tony Leung Chiu-wai, but the one who starred in Prison on Fire and Centre Stage and Election. Chiu-wai starred in Bullet in the Head, Ka-fai starred in A Better Tomorrow III. They both starred in Ashes of Time and The Eagle-Shooting Heroes. Chiu-wai is “Little Tony”, Ka-fai is “Big Tony”. Chiu-wai starred a couple of years ago in a movie called See You Tomorrow, about a bartender who helps people deal with various personal problems, structured as a series of short stories packed with an all-star cast. Ka-fai stars in a movie called Midnight Diner which opens this week and is about a chef who helps people deal with various personal problems, structured as a series of short stories packed with an all-star cast. See You Tomorrow was directed by Zhang Jiajia, and was based on his own story, and is dizzyingly fast-paced, zooming forward and backward in time with egregiously orange images, like Speed Racer meets My Blueberry NightsMidnight Diner was directed by Ka-fai himself, and is based on a manga by Yarō Abe that has previously been adapted into a TV series in Japan, Korea and China, as well as two films directed by Joji Matsuoka. It’s as calm and conventional as See You Tomorrow is garish and unexpected.

Leung plays the chef at a diner in Shanghai that is only open from midnight until seven in the morning. It’s called, in the delightfully direct manner of Chinese movie restaurants, “Midnight Diner”. It’s frequented by a variety of more or less normal people, and Leung tells us their stories in narration. Some of the stories are more interesting than others, but only barely so. There’s a boxer who fights with his mom (Elaine Jin) even though they both really love each other. The boxer falls for a nurse who has a daughter in a wheelchair, but his mother interferes (trying only to help, of course). A young executive (Joyce Cheng) panics about the impending arrival of the boy she was too afraid to pursue in high school. Leung’s brother, a local cop, loses his temper sometimes. A young couple from Hunan break up because he wants to make money and go home while she dreams of making it big as a model. A rock star falls in love with a young singer but loses her.

None of it is particularly moving and it’s certainly not original, but it is weirdly comforting to see something this old fashioned. That comfort is only amplified by the rich sensuousness of restaurant set and the cooking scenes. Leung himself very obviously is not doing the cooking (the only time we see a longshot of food preparation is a bit of him cracking an egg, all the other cooking images are close-ups that block the chef’s face), which is kind of funny. And the warmth and closeness of the restaurant are nicely contrasted with the vast neon darkness of the megalopolis at night. Other recent food movies have delivered the same kinds of pleasures, while also managing to tell an interesting story: Ramen Shop‘s exploration of the legacy of World War II in Singapore, for example, or a young woman’s reconciliation with her mother and her life in the city during a year on a farm in Little Forest (in both the two-part Japanese version and the single-feature Korean version). While Leung himself has been outspoken recently in support of the Hong Kong police and against the protestors there, there’s nothing the least bit controversial in Midnight Diner. It’s a conservative movie to be sure, but in the way of the kindly grandpa at the other end of the counter who dresses in tweed and doles out reassuring aphorisms and gently pours you a cup of tea when you’re sad. It’s a nice movie, and it made me very hungry.

What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? (2018, Roberto Minervini)

brothers

The opening gesture of What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? consists of a move from the outward to the inward. A hard cut yields the first shot in the film, following an adolescent Mardi Gras Indian as he bounds down a suburban street, brandishing a sword and chanting along to a pounding drum beat. This restless image gives way to enclosure, as two young brothers cautiously make their way through a flickering haunted house, with the younger sibling clearly more frightened than the elder. This lateral move, from a figure who never reemerges to two of the film’s main characters, typifies the structural schema of this remarkable film: relations between scenes and characters are fluid and inexact, operating more on contrast and rhythm than thematic heft, and yet yielding tantalizing, often moving associations.

The director of What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? (a title derived from a traditional spiritual), the Italian-born, Houston-based Roberto Minervini, began in fiction filmmaking before moving to documentary, or at least a slippery hybrid that mines both the approximate formal and narratological approach of standard documentary and the performativity that comes with any human being placed in front of a camera. His two previous works in this vein, 2013’s Stop the Pounding Heart and his 2015 breakthrough The Other Side, both followed white outsiders; the former featuring religious goat farmers in Texas, the latter following amphetamine addicts and, in one of the most disquieting and prescient sequences of filmmaking of the decade, far-right nationalists in Louisiana.

judy

With What You Gonna Do…, Minervini shifts focus within the Bayou State to a different group of outsiders. Hewing exclusively to the black communities in Baton Rouge and its outskirts, he focuses mostly on three separate threads: a bar owner, Judy; the two brothers from the opening, Ronaldo and Titus; and the members of the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense. The film’s style is stripped of almost all adornment: no intertitles, chyrons, or dividing chapters; no clear delineation of dates — though the film begins and closes with the Mardi Gras Indians, who are otherwise not seen, and the New Black Panther Party’s protest surrounds the one-year anniversary of Alton Sterling’s murder by the police; and no direct interviews or voiceovers.

The approach, then, is almost akin to a hyperrealized — perhaps overly so — version of verite, shot entirely in black-and-white handheld and frequently in extended close-ups. Minervini, who is also one of the camera operators, observes from mere inches away as Judy commiserates with her friends about the ingrained nature of institutional discrimination as a modern form of slavery, or as the New Black Panther Party protests outside of the Baton Rouge City Hall, or as Ronaldo and Titus bike freely down the city streets. His aim here isn’t necessarily one of total sociopolitical equivalency — his sincere belief and support of the radicalism suggested and stated by his adult figures seems apparent — but the coherency and cohesion of this particular experience is paramount.

In the modern landscape, when racial oppression in America and elsewhere is very nearly as severe as it has ever been, What You Gonna Do… understands that the small moments of day-to-day living are just as vital as the outward protests. (Whiteness is the structuring absence in some ways: no white people are visible on screen until the New Black Panther Party’s final scene, in which multiple members are arrested at a protest by taser-wielding police officers.) The vitality that his fluid camera and editing afford these people only enhances their quiet but defiant resistance, achieving a sweeping quality because of, not in spite of, their individuality.

Friday September 13 – Thursday September 19

nz_fagara_110983
Featured Film:

Fagara at the AMC Pacific Place

There’s a bunch of great stuff out there on Seattle Screens this week. The Beacon has Roberto Minervini’s excellent doc What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? along with more killer 2010s action movies: Baahubali: the ConclusionThe Raid and DreddMaster Z and The Grandmaster (in its original, Chinese cut, not the Weinsteined one that originally got released here). Art House Theatre Day this Wednesday brings In Fabric to the Grand and the Uptown and Putney Swope to the Grand Illusion, while Polyester plays Thursday at the Central Cinema and the Uptown on Tuesday has the brilliant meta-zombie comedy One Cut of the Dead (I know that sounds bad, but really, it’s very good). And the Northwest Film Forum kicks the city’s Kiarostami Retrospective into high gear with The Traveler and Where is the Friend’s Home. But I’m going with the most under-the-radar pick for our Featured Film this week, and that is the Heiward Mak-directed, Sammi Cheng-starring family drama Fagara playing only at the Pacific Place. It’s a warm, lovely movie with a terrific cast and a lot of tasty-looking hotpot. 

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Ne Zha (Jiaozi) Fri-Thurs 
Official Secrets (Gavin Hood) Fri-Thurs 
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 
Freaks (Adam Stein, Zach Lipovsky) Fri-Thurs 

The Beacon Cinema:

What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire? (Roberto Minervini) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Trading Places (John Landis, 1983) Fri, Tues & Weds Only 
The Best Friday the 13th Movie (???, ???) Fri Only 
Baahubali: The Conclusion (SS Rajamouli, 2017) Sat Only Our Review 
Mission Impossible: Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie, 2018) Sat Only 
Unico in the Island of Magic (Moribi Murano, 1983) Sun Only 
The Raid (Gareth Evans, 2011) Sun Only 
Dredd (Pete Travis, 2012) Sun Only 
Master Z: Ip Man Legacy (Yuen Woo-ping) Mon & Tues Only Our Review 
Daisies (Věra Chytilová, 1966) Weds & Thurs Only 
The Grandmaster (Wong Kar-wai, 2013) Thurs & Next Mon Only Our Podcast 

Central Cinema:

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (John Hughes, 1986) Fri-Sun, Tues & Weds 
Liquid Sky (Slava Tsukerman, 1982) Fri-Sun, Tues & Weds 
Polyester (John Waters, 1982) Thurs Only Free Screening

SIFF Egyptian:

We Are the Radical Monarchs (Linda Goldstein Knowlton) Thurs Only 

Century Federal Way:

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Robert Wise, 1979) Sun & Weds Only 

Grand Cinema:

Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska & Ljubomir Stefanov) Fri-Thurs 
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982) Sat Only 
American Heretics: The Politics of Gospel (Jeanine Isabel Butler) Tues Only 
Say Amen Somebody (George T. Nierenberg, 1982) Weds Only 
In Fabric (Peter Strickland) Weds Only Our Podcast 

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Jay Myself (Stephen Wilkes) Fri-Thurs  
The Films of Sarah Jacobson Fri, Sat & Tues Only 
Utano Princesama Maji LOVE Kingdom Movie (Jouji Furuta) Sat & Sun Only 
Putney Swope (Robert Downey, 1969) Weds Only 

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Gang Leader (Vikram K. Kumar) Fri-Thurs 
Dream Girl (Raaj Shaandilyaa) Fri-Thurs 
Official Secrets (Gavin Hood) Fri-Thurs 
Brother’s Day (Kalabhavan Shajohn) Fri-Thurs 
Pailwaan (S. Krishna) Fri-Thurs 
Section 375 (Ajay Bahl) Fri-Thurs 
Ne Zha (Jiaozi) Fri-Thurs 
Chhichhore (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs 
Mission Mangal (Jagan Shakti) Fri-Thurs 
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Robert Wise, 1979) Sun & Weds Only 

Regal Meridian:

Chhichhore (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs 
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 
Ne Zha (Jiaozi) Fri-Thurs 
Aquarela (Viktor Kossakovsky) Fri-Thurs 
Tokyo Ghoul S (Kazuhiko Hiramaki & Takuya Kawasaki) Mon & Weds Only 
Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi) Tues & Thurs Only Dubbed Tues

Northwest Film Forum:

Say Amen Somebody (George T. Nierenberg, 1982) Fri-Thurs 
Rezo (Levan Gabriadze) Sat & Sun Only 
Where is the Friend’s Home? (Abbas Kiarostami, 1987) Sat Only 
The Traveler (Abbas Kiarostami, 1974) Mon Only 
Seattle Arabian Nights Festival 2019 – LGBTQ Shorts Thurs Only 

AMC Pacific Place:

Fagara (Heiward Mak) Fri-Thurs Our Review 
Ne Zha (Jiaozi) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Saaho (Sujeeth) Fri-Thurs Telugu
Chhichhore (Nitesh Tiwari) Fri-Thurs 
Just a Stranger (Jason Paul Laxamana) Fri-Thurs 
Tod@s Caen (Ariel Winograd) Fri-Thurs 
Don’t Let Go (Jacob Aaron Estes) Fri-Thurs 

AMC Seattle:

Luce (Julius Onah) Fri-Thurs 
Official Secrets (Gavin Hood) Fri-Thurs 
Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice (Rob Epstein & Jeffrey Friedman) Fri-Thurs 

SIFF Film Center:

Chulas Fronteras & Del Mero Corazón (Les Blank, 1976) Fri-Sun 

AMC Southcenter:

Don’t Let Go (Jacob Aaron Estes) Fri-Thurs 
Luce (Julius Onah) Fri-Thurs 
Freaks (Adam Stein, Zach Lipovsky) Fri-Thurs 

Regal Thornton Place:

Ne Zha (Jiaozi) Fri-Thurs 
Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Robert Wise, 1979) Sun & Weds Only 
El Norte (Gregory Nava, 1983) Sun Only 
Rob Zombie’s 3 from Hell (Rob Zombie) Mon, Tues & Weds 
Tokyo Ghoul S (Kazuhiko Hiramaki & Takuya Kawasaki) Mon & Weds Only 
Promare (Hiroyuki Imaishi) Tues & Thurs Only Dubbed Tues

SIFF Uptown:

Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins (Janice Engel) Fri-Thurs 
Official Secrets (Gavin Hood) Fri-Thurs 
David Crosby: Remember My Name (A.J. Eaton) Fri-Weds 
One Cut of the Dead (Shinichiro Ueda) Tues Only 
In Fabric (Peter Strickland) Weds Only Our Podcast 

In Wide Release:

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino) Our Review Our Other Review