The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017)

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This is the first movie I’ve seen from celebrated Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, and it’ll likely be the last. A bearded Colin Farrell plays a surgeon whose patient dies during an operation. The patient’s son (Barry Keoghan, super creepy) first tries to get Farrell to hook up with his mother (Alicia Silverstone, sad and sadly underutilized) to take the dead father’s place, but when that doesn’t work out, begins supernaturally torturing his family in an attempt to force Farrell to choose which one of his two kids should die as compensation for the boy’s dead father. It’s an adaptation of the story of Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon who is commanded to be sacrificed after her father kills a deer beloved of the goddess Artemis. But in adapting the story into the bleak world of Euro-art house cruelty, Lanthimos drains the story of its humanity and its tragedy, leaving instead a deeply cynical, and exceedingly dumb, black comedy. Farrell and Nicole Kidman, playing his wife, speak and relate with an affectless precision, which is funny and weird when playing up their bizarre oversharing at parties or depressing bedroom antics, but serves no other apparent purpose. A satire of bourgeois zombiism dressed up with a classical education. Lacking belief in either the cause or the tragedy of Iphigenia’s sacrifice, all that’s left is a cheap mockery of humanity. An adaptation of myth from the point of view not of the people who strive and suffer, but through the eyes of an imperious god, tormenting foolish, hubristic mortal souls. A film almost wholly lacking empathy.

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Friday October 20 – Thursday October 26

Featured Film:

The Florida Project at the SIFF Egyptian and the Lincoln Square

Normally I’d use this space to highlight the Northwest Film Forums presentation of an unearthed, uncut 35mm print of Dario Argento’s classic horror film Suspiria, with star Jessica Harper in attendance. But they’re playing it one night only and both shows have been sold out for weeks. So if, like me, you’re shut out of the movie event of the fall, you should go see what is quite probably the best American film of 2017 so far, Sean Baker’s The Florida Project. We like it so much, we reviewed it twice in a single day. Here’s Ryan’s take on it and here’s mine.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Fortress (Hwang Dong-hyuk) Fri-Thurs
The Bachelors (Kurt Voelker) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Death Bed: The Bed that Eats (George Barry, 1977) Thurs Only

Central Cinema:

Notorious (Alfred Hitchcock, 1946) Fri-Mon   Our Review
The Cabin in the Woods (Drew Goddard, 2012) Fri-Mon
The Nightmare Emporium (Various) Tues Only

SIFF Egyptian:

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

Century Federal Way:

The Fortress (Hwang Dong-hyuk) Fri-Thurs
Secret Superstar (Advait Chandan) Fri-Thurs
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Lucky (John Carroll Lynch) Fri-Thurs
The Last Dalai Lama? (Mickey Lemle) Fri-Thurs
Dolores (Peter Bratt) Fri-Thurs
Young Frankenstein (Mel Brooks, 1974) Sat Only
The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973) Sat Only
California Typewriter (Doug Nichol) Tues Only
Turn It Around: The Story Of East Bay Punk (Corbett Reford) Thurs Only
The Road to Nickelsville (Derek Armstrong McNeill) Thurs Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Old Dark House (James Whale, 1932) Fri, Sat, Mon & Weds
The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Rawhead Rex (George Pavlou, 1986) Sat & Thurs Only
2nd Annual Scarecrow Video Weirdo Horror Triple Feature Sun Only VHS
Damsels of Doom: Horror B-Movie Double Feature Tues Only 16mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

The Florida Project (Sean Baker) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman) Fri-Thurs
Golmaal Again!!! (Rohit Shetty) Fri-Thurs
Secret Superstar (Advait Chandan) Fri-Thurs
Goodbye Christopher Robin (Simon Curtis) Fri-Thurs
Mersal (Atlee Kumar) Fri-Thurs
Raja the Great (Anil Ravipudi) Fri-Thurs
Tokyo Ghoul (Kentarô Hagiwara) Sat Only
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Golmaal Again!!! (Rohit Shetty) Fri-Thurs
Wind River (Taylor Sheridan) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Mother! (Darren Aronofsky) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Northwest Film Forum:

4 Days in France (Jérôme Reybaud) Fri-Thurs
King of Jazz (John Murray Anderson, 1930) Sun Only
Rat Film (Theo Anthony) Starts Weds
Suspiria (Dario Argento, 1977) Thurs Only Jessica Harper in Attendance Sold Out

AMC Pacific Place:

Never Say Die (Yang Song & Chiyu Zhang) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Golmaal Again!!! (Rohit Shetty) Fri-Thurs
Wind River (Taylor Sheridan) Fri-Thurs Our Review

AMC Seattle:

Dina (Antonio Santini & Dan Sickles) Fri-Thurs
The Departure (Lana Wilson) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

Kiss of Death (Henry Hathaway, 1947) Thurs Only

SIFF Film Center:

Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968) Fri-Sun

SIFF Uptown:

Loving Vincent (Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman) Fri-Thurs
Lucky (John Carroll Lynch) Fri-Thurs
Seattle Polish Film Festival Fri-Sun Full Program
Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) Fri, Mon & Tues Only
Night of the Living Dead (George Romero, 1968) Mon & Tues Only
The Fall (Tarsem Singh, 2006) Weds Only

Varsity Theatre:

Jungle (Greg McLean) Fri-Thurs
Walking Out (Andrew J. Smith & Alex Smith) Fri-Thurs
Leatherface (Alexandre Bustillo & Julien Maury) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve) Our Review

The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)

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Tangerine director Sean Baker returns to Seattle Screens this week with another tale of life on the margins of 21st century capitalism. Set entirely around the vicinity of the cheerfully purple Magic Castle motel, a semiurban wasteland of hotels, abandoned houses and oversized promotional mascots bordering the unapproachable dream of Disney World, Baker takes for his heroes a small group of children, led by Moonee (Brooklynn Prince), an amoral, loudmouth innocent trying to entertain herself over summer break. The first half of the film mostly follows her adventures with the neighbor kids in the motel (begging for change to buy ice cream, playing hide and seek in the motel office, exploring empty houses and what passes for countryside amid Orlando’s sprawl). The second half focuses more on Moonee’s mother, just as loud, but more amoral, as she resorts to increasingly inappropriate ways of earning the weekly rent cash. Uniting it all is the weary presence of Willem Dafoe, motel manager, a good man trying to do his job with compassion and honor.

Like Tangerine, Baker films with a sun-dappled luminosity that’s all but anathema in the European art house tradition of films about poverty. Being poor isn’t supposed to look nice, or fun, and the easiest way to convey that is with a drab grunginess. The Florida Project rejects that approach, but also the kind of somber mysticism that makes things like Beasts of the Southern Wild* or George Washington palatable for a mass audience. His models instead go back further, to the Depression: Hal Roach and the Little Rascals are thanked in the credits, and the influence of those stories of kids being poor but nonetheless being kids is clear. I was reminded as well of Frank Borzage’s classic No Greater Glory, about unsupervised children recreating the martial ideologies and conflicts of their parents’ generation, with tragic consequences. The kids in The Florida Project aren’t playing war games, but are instead learning their parents’ approaches to failing in capitalism: acting out against things, not people – they vandalize objects of wealth, a car, a house. One of their first acts of terror is literally turning off power. Poverty in The Florida Project never looks fun, it looks brutal and crushingly sad (the unseen face of the boy forced to give away all his toys because they don’t fit in his father’s car when they’re moving away). But it’s still sunny in Florida, and there is ice cream and cows and maple syrup to be found.

*Spoiler Ahead*

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The Frances Farmer Show #15: VIFF 2017 Recap

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We talk about many of the movies we saw at the Vancouver International Film Festival. Films discussed include: Maison du bonheur, Milla, Caniba, 24 Frames, Claire’s Camera, The Square, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, the Future//Present program (Fail to Appear, Mass for Shut-Ins, Still Night Still Light, Prototype, Black Cop, Scaffold, Forest Movie), Faces Places, Top of the Lake: China Girl, 120 Beats per Minute, Bad Genius, Wonderstruck, The Florida Project, and SPL: Paradox.

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

Friday October 13 – Thursday October 19

Featured Film:

The Princess Bride in Wide Release

Our VIFF coverage is on-going though the festival has come to an end, and there’s good stuff to be seen on the art house circuit (the TWIST film festival, Ex Libris at the Grand, Days of Heaven at SAM), and I wouldn’t normally feature one of these TCM/Fathom Events repertory showings, but it’s my wife’s birthday week and this is her favorite movie, an adaptation of the book by her favorite author. If you haven’t seen it, don’t miss it this Sunday and Wednesday at any of several multiplexes around the region. If you have seen it, you might as well watch it again. It never, ever gets old.

Playing This Week:

Admiral Theatre:

Rooted in Peace (Greg Reitman) Mon Only

AMC Alderwood:

Brave (Brenda Chapman & Mark Andrews, 2012) Fri-Thurs
The Outlaws (Kang Yoonsung) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Dial M for Murder (Alfred Hitchcock, 1954) Fri-Tues
Hausu (Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977) Fri-Tues
Get Out (Jordan Peele) Thurs Only

SIFF Egyptian:

TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival Fri-Thurs Full Program

Century Federal Way:

Bailaras (Ksshitij Chaudhary) Fri-Thurs
The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Lucky (John Carroll Lynch) Fri-Thurs
Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968) Sat Only
Ex Libris: New York Public Library (Frederick Wiseman) Tues Only Our Review
The Lady Vanishes (Alfred Hitchcock, 1938) Weds Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

M.F.A. (Natalia Leite) Fri-Thurs
Finding Joseph I: The HR from Bad Brains Documentary (James Lathos) Sat Only
Danger Diva (Robert McGinley) Sat & Weds Only
EXcinema Group Show Tues Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Judwaa 2 (David Dhawan) Fri-Thurs
Raju Gari Gadhi 2 (Omkar) Fri-Thurs
Mahanubhavudu (Maruthi) Fri-Thurs
Kaafi Thota (T. N. Seetharam) Sat & Sun Only
The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Chasing the Dragon (Wong Jing & Jason Kwan) Fri-Thurs
Wind River (Taylor Sheridan) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Mother! (Darren Aronofsky) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Northwest Film Forum:

Tasveer South Asian Film Festival Fri-Sun Full Program
TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival Fri-Thurs Full Program

AMC Pacific Place:

Brave (Brenda Chapman & Mark Andrews, 2012) Fri-Thurs
City of Rock (Dong Chengpeng) Fri-Thurs
Never Say Die (Yang Song & Chiyu Zhang) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Judwaa 2 (David Dhawan) Fri-Thurs
Last Night (Bb Joyce Bernal) Fri-Thurs
Til Death Do Us Part (Chris Stokes) Fri-Thurs
Wind River (Taylor Sheridan) Fri-Thurs Our Review

AMC Seattle:

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review
So B. It (Stephen Gyllenhaal) Fri-Thurs
The Secret Scripture (Jim Sheridan) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

Leon Morin, Priest (Jean-Pierre Melville, 1961) Weds Only
Days of Heaven (Terrence Malick, 1978) Thurs Only

SIFF Film Center:

Wasted! The Story of Food Waste (Anna Chai & Nari Kye) Fri-Sun
Crash Kids Sat Only
The Painting (Jean-François Laguionie, 2011) Weds Only

AMC Southcenter:

Brave (Brenda Chapman & Mark Andrews, 2012) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Uptown:

Dolores (Peter Bratt) Fri-Thurs
Lucky (John Carroll Lynch) Fri-Thurs
International Ocean Film Tour Thurs Only

Varsity Theatre:

Columbus (Kogonada) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Walking Out (Andrew J. Smith & Alex Smith) Fri-Thurs
The Princess Bride (Rob Reiner, 1987) Weds Only

In Wide Release:

Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve) Our Review

SPL: Paradox (Wilson Yip, 2017)

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It’s unclear if this film is actually a continuation of the SPL series or if it just started as one and then mutated into its own thing. I thought I saw the characters for “Sha Po Lang” on the title card of the movie though, so I’m just gonna go with it. Regardless, like the second film in the series, SPL 2: A Time for ConsequencesParadox has only a tenuous thematic relation to its forbearers: all of the characters are new. Louis Koo plays a Hong Kong cop who travels to Pattaya, in Thailand, in search of his daughter, who has gone missing. He hooks up with a Thai cop (Wu Yue) as the two uncover an organ trafficking ring with connections all the way to the top of city government. Helping out in the investigation is another cop, a superstitious (possibly psychic) Tony Jaa, star of the last SPL and arguably the best martial arts star in the world today, in what amounts to little more than a guest-starring role. The final villain is played by Lam Ka-tung (Sparrow, Trivisa), which means that the two most important Thai characters in the film are played by Chinese actors. Such are the vagaries of international cinema.

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VIFF 2017 Index

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This is an index to our coverage of the 2017 Vancouver International Film Festival, categorized by writer:

All of Us:
The Frances Farmer Show #15: VIFF 2017 Recap

Sean Gilman:
24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami, 2017)
Claire’s Camera (Hong Sangsoo, 2017)
120 Beats per Minute (Robin Campillo, 2017)
Bad Genius (Nattawut Poonpiriya, 2017)
Future//Present (Maison du bonheur, Fail to Appear, Black Cop, Still Night Still Light, PROTOTYPE, & Forest Movie)
SPL: Paradox (Wilson Yip, 2017)
The Killing of a Sacred Deer (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2017)

Evan Morgan:
Forest Movie (Matthew Taylor Blais, 2017) & Prototype (Blake Williams, 2017)
Maison du bonheur (Sofia Bohdanowicz, 2017)
Western (Valeska Grisebach, 2017)
Paradox (Wilson Yip, 2017)

Ryan Swen:
“Scaffold” (2017, Kazik Radwanski) & “Let Your Heart Be Light” (2016, Deragh Campbell & Sophy Romvari)
A Skin So Soft (Denis Côté,2017)
Faces Places (Agnès Varda & JR, 2017)
The Florida Project (Sean Baker, 2017)

Jhon Hernandez:
Close-Knit (Naoko Ogigami, 2017)

Nathan Douglas:
Milla (Valérie Massadian,2017)
BC Spotlight (Luk’Luk’I, Never Steady, Never Still, Entanglement, Once There Was A Winter, Gregoire)

Melissa Tamminga:
24 Frames (Abbas Kiarostami, 2017)
Sami Blood (Amanda Kernell, 2016)
Top of the Lake: China Girl (Jane Campion, 2017)

VIFF 2017: Future//Present

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The Future//Present program at VIFF has quickly become one of the most dynamic and interesting streams the festival has to offer, adding to the festival’s longtime commitment to the cutting edge in Asian cinema an exploration of the burgeoning Canadian independent film scene, offering showcase opportunities to young filmmakers from Nova Scotia to Vancouver. This year’s program was even better than last year’s inaugural offering, and provided some of the festival’s most interesting, engaging and challenging films.

Last year’s program was lead by a feature and a trilogy of shorts from director Sofia Bohdanowicz, who returns this year with her documentary Maison du bonheur. Filmed on a Bolex over 30 days during a stay with a friend’s mother in Paris, the film is both the story of a woman and the way she does things (makes bread, gets her hair styled) and the story of a woman making a film about a woman she finds fascinating. While not as explicitly meta-cinematic as Never Eat Alone, Bohdanowicz continually leaves in her own attempts to erase herself from her movie (telling her subject how to answer questions when the questioner won’t be heard, or telling people not to look directly at the camera or acknowledge her presence), and at times simply can’t help but take it over, including snippets of her nightly audio journal entries, or taking a side trip to Deauville, the site of some unexplained unhappiness in her past, for which this trip, this film project, seems in some way designed to, if not exactly erase, then somehow compensate for: she wants new memories. It’s a warm, fascinating film from one of the best young filmmakers in the world today.

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Bad Genius (Nattawut Poonpiriya, 2017)

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Fresh off of wide acclaim both at film festivals across North America (the New York Asian Film Festival, Fantastic Fest in Austin and the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal as well as here at VIFF) and at home, where it was just edged out as Thailand’s submission to the Academy Awards (in favor of SIFF favorite (and veteran of last year’s VIFF) By the Time It Gets Dark, Nattawut Poonpiriya’s cheating scandal/heist film is one of the most enjoyable, smartest genre films of the year. Chutimon Chuengcharoensukying plays Lynn, the eponymous Bad Genius, who allows her pretty, but dumb, friend Grace and Grace’s pretty, but dumb and super-rich, boyfriend Pat to convince her to help them cheat on tests at their high school, an exclusive (ie expensive) private school. Lynn lives modestly with her father, a divorced teacher, and only attends the school on what she believes is a full-ride scholarship. When she learns the school is still charging her father money he really can’t afford, she decides to stick it to the system by snagging as much money from her wealthy classmates as she can. Eventually she ropes in the school’s other star scholarship student, Bank, who’s as smart as Lynn but even poorer. Years of cheating eventually lead them to try to cheat the STIC, the standardized test given to students all around the world who hope to study abroad.

The whole film, and especially the cheating sequences, are hyper-kinetic, with camera movement and on-screen graphics bringing life to what is essentially a group of kids filling in bubbles with a #2 pencil (there’s even a killer chase sequence, in a film about test-taking!). But Nattawut also deftly delineates the economic landscape of the school, with the rich kids pressured by their families to succeed at all costs: their exploitation of the poor, smart kids is merely following the logic of their parents’ ideology. And the poor kids, recognizing how the system is rigged against them, are motivated to sell their labor to the highest bidder, regardless of the ethical consequences. The ultimate moral crisis in the film is not so much the cheating, everyone knows that’s “wrong” and everyone does it anyway. Rather it’s in the differing ways Lynn and Bank chose to act within a society in which everyone cheats. Bank, fully internalizing the demon logic of capitalism, is never content, he’s constantly out to squeeze another million baht out of his marks, always in need of a new grift. For Lynn though, ultimately, enough is enough. She alone has the imagination both to create the scheme to cheat the system, and to see a way out of it.

120 Beats per Minute (Robin Campillo, 2017)

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120 Beats per Minute, inexplicably changed to Beats per Minute or simply BPM for its English language title, at least so far, we’ll see when it gets a regular theatrical release, is a heist film built around a social problem, a social problem film structured around a series of heists, a film about politics that sees action as not only possible, but necessary for life in the face of inexplicable tragedy. It’s the story of the Paris branch of ACT UP in the early 90s, protesting the Mitterrand government’s silence about the AIDS crisis and pushing drug companies to speed up the release of new drugs that promised to greatly ameliorate the effects of the deadly disease. The film alternates between fascinating group discussions in which the activists argue about and plan various tactics (with shades of Ken Loach’s masterpiece The Wind that Shakes the Barley) with highly suspenseful recreations of their guerrilla demonstrations. One invasion of a drug company office, for example, is as fraught with suspense as any sequence in any film this year. Running through it all is the love story between a young HIV+ activist and a new, negative member (regardless of their status, all ACT UP members would claim to the public to be positive). Each movement is punctuated by a dance party, the youth of the world luxuriating in a space where they’re free to express their sexuality with the kind of joyous release that comes from spending most of your life confronting your own imminent mortality. The film is an effective counterpoint to all of the nihilism of Nocturama, where a later generation of revolutionaries lacks the imagination or will power to carve out a place for themselves outside the system, where their aimless act of resistance is easily swallowed up by the world they stand against. If there’s a more vital piece of popular cinema this year, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.