SIFF 2017: Week Four Preview

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This weekend the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival comes to an end, with three more days featuring another handful of interesting titles. here are some of the ones we’re anticipating.

The DoorRogue One star Jiang Wen’s brother Jiang Wu (A Touch of Sin) stars in this interdimensional comedy about a mechanic who discovers a time-portal.

The Feels – Constance Wu stars in Jenée LaMarque’s film in which “a lesbian bachelorette weekend goes awry when one of the brides admits she’s never had an orgasm.”

A Ghost Story – In one of the year’s most-anticipated American films, Casey Affleck plays a white-sheeted ghost haunting his wife, Rooney Mara.

The Witches – SIFF-honoree Anjelica Huston stars in Nicholas Roeg’s 1990 Roald Dahl adaptation, which is apparently a kind of touchstone for people younger than me.

Free and Easy – A variety of oddballs and conmen interact in a Northern Chinese town in Jun Geng’s film. SIFF compares it to Jarmusch and Kaurismaki.

Taste of Cherry – The late Abbas Kiarostami’s most famous film, winner of the 1997 Palme d’Or, about a man looking for someone to bury him after he kills himself. Stick a jazz band on my hearse wagon/Raise hell as I stroll along.

 

SIFF 2017: Week Three Preview

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We’ve passed the halfway point of the 2017 Seattle International Film Festival, and there are still a number of interesting films to come. Here are some of the ones playing this week, between June 2 and June 8:

Soul on a String – Director Zhang Yang returns with what appears to be a genre companion to last year’s Paths of the Soul, about a Buddhist traveling through Tibet.

I, Daniel Blake – Ken Loach’s 2016 Palme d’Or winner is about one man struggling to work a computer and other failures of Britain’s public welfare system.

Gook – Justin Chon’s comedy about two Korean-American brothers caught up in the Rodney King riots.

Mr. Long – Chang Chen plays a hitman hiding out cooking noodles in a small Japanese town in this film from Sabu. SIFF calls it “Yojimbo meets Tampopo“.

The Reagan Show – Archival footage takes us back to the first fake presidency of my lifetime. Should be fun.

The Dumb Girl of Portici – Archival presentation of silent film director Lois Weber’s adaptation of the opera that inadvertently helped spark the Belgian Revolution. Stars superstar ballerina Anna Pavlova.

My Journey through French Cinema – Bertrand Tavernier’s amiable history lesson loses  focus in its final third, but is nonetheless a fun and insightful idiosyncratic look at mid-Century French film. Will make you want to watch Eddie Constantine films.

Landline – Director Gillian Robespierre and star Jenny Slate, who’s Obvious Child is one of the better Hollywood romantic comedies of this decade, reunite for this film about two sisters who discover their father is having an affair.

Wind River – Hell or High Water writer Taylor Sheridan directs this backwoods policier with Jeremy Renner and Elizabeth Olson investigating a murder in snowy Wyoming.

Brainstorm – Douglas Trumbell’s 1983 mind-bender starring Christopher Walken and Louise Fletcher as scientists attempting to keep their brain-recording virtual reality device from the military.

Love and Duty – Archival presentation featuring Ruan Lingyu, one of the greatest of all silent film stars, in a romantic melodrama directed by Bu Wancang. With live piano accompaniment by Donald Sosin.

Columbus – Video essayist and critic Kogonada’s debut feature stars John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson a couple who meet and travel through Columbus, Indiana.

Nocturama – Director Bertand Bonello’s film about young leftist terrorists hanging out in a shopping mall.

SIFF 2017: Week Two Preview

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Eight days into the festival and the SIFF is beginning to pick up steam, ready to plow through unheard of 80 degree weather this Memorial Day weekend and on into June. Here are some of the movies we’re looking forward to this week, May 26-June 1.

God of War – Sammo Hung and Vincent Zhao vs. Pirates. I should not need to say more.

Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World – Documentary on the contributions of Native Ameircans like Link Wray, Buffy Sainte-Marie and Robbie Robertson to popular music.

Chronicles of Hari – Indian film about an actor who specializes in female roles on stage. Jhon reviewed it for us here.

Girl without Hands – French animated adaptation of a Grimm Brothers tale about a girl who, well, loses her hands, trying to escape from the Devil.

Finding Kukan – Doc about the search for the woman who may have been the primary creative force behind, a documentary on World War II China that won an Academy Award in 1941. Melissa reviewed it for us here.

The Little Hours – Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie and Kate Micucci as a gang of foul-mouthed nuns. I should not need to say more.

The Marseille Trilogy – As they did two years ago with Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy, SIFF presents new restorations of three classic films on three consecutive days. This time it’s Marcel Pagnol’s early 1930s French series following the complicated lives of Marius and Fanny, two shopkeepers in love who can’t seem to end up together.

Godspeed – Taiwanese direct Chung Mong-hong’s blackly comic thriller about a taxi driver and a drug courier stars Hong Kong legend Michael Hui, in a performance that earned him several Best Actor nominations throughout Asia.

By the Time it Gets Dark – Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong’s mysterious exploration of the fracturing effects of the 1976 Thammasat University massacre. Evan reviewed it for us here.

The Ornithologist – Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues’s oddball quest film starts as the story of a man lost in the woods and somehow becomes an adaptation of the story of St. Anthony. Along the way he’s tricked by Chinese backpackers, falls in love with a young man named Jesus and stumbles across a primitive tribe of demons.

2017 SIFF Preview

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The time has come once again for the month-long extravaganza across this city known as the Seattle International Film Festival. This is my second time attending but the first covering it as a member of the press, and while I can’t say that there is an overflowing multitude of films I am absolutely dying to see, there are enough curiosities to satisfy.

As a means of organization, I will be listing out many of the most notable titles roughly by order of interest. It should be noted that my views (based solely on a fairly light perusal of the film guide) on what are the most noteworthy films may diverge wildly from yours, and should thus be take with a grain of salt – The Big Sick, tonight’s opening gala film, isn’t on this list for instance. But otherwise, on to the films.

Almost certainly the most noteworthy and delightful inclusion is one of the latest works from the South Korean auteur and master filmmaker Hong Sang-soo, entitled Yourself and Yours. His wholly idiosyncratic and hilarious style, filmed in long takes with obtrusive zooms and bountiful amounts of soju, typifies some of the best and most intelligent films of world cinema. Equally noteworthy is his quick working method: since Yourself and Yours premiered last year at the Toronto Film Festival he has completed three films, including two that are set to debut at Cannes in the next few days. It should be noted that this particular incarnation of Hong’s pet obsession, the fraught relationship between men and women, has been reported to be more abtruse than much of his previous work, so a prior immersion in his work is recommended, something like his great film last year Right Now, Wrong Then.

Nocturama is the latest film by French director Bertrand Bonello, who has garnered much praise for his meticulous, hypnotic brand of direction. This film in particular has been received with a great deal of controversy, as it deals with a terrorist attack perpetuated by a group of teenagers, who spend the second half of the film hiding out in a mazelike shopping mall in the heart of Paris. Also very noteworthy are João Pedro Rodrigues’ The Ornithologist, a Portugese jungle exploration into the erotic and the spiritual, A Ghost Story, David Lowery’s tale of semi-supernatural romance starring returning collaborators Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, and Person to Person, a New York multiple-storyline “network film” starring, among many, Michael Cera, Abbi Jacobson, and Phillip Baker Hall.

On the repertory side of things, the most noteworthy inclusion is Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry. The film for which the late director, perhaps the greatest of all modern artists, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, it attracted strongly divided critical responses and has emerged as one of his most definitive works, an immensely contemplative work on suicide and the human condition that takes place, as with many of Kiarostami’s works, mostly over a series of car rides. Other intriguing repertory titles include The Marseille Trilogy, a series of films about a love triangle written and conceived by Marcel Pagnol, Maurice, a gay Merchant-Ivory romance, and Love and Duty, a silent drama starring Chinese film icon Ruan Lingyu.

There are, of course, other notable films showing during the next month, and here are just a few more.

  • After the Storm, the latest film by Japanese auteur Hirokazu Koreeda
  • By the Time It Gets Dark, a Thai film that plays with notions of reality and cinema
  • Columbus, the debut film of noted video essayist kogonada
  • The Unknown Girl, the new Dardennes Brothers movie
  • Beach Rats, an exploration of sexuality on the beaches of Brooklyn
  • Bad Black, an explosive, crazed no-budged action film from Wakaliwood in Uganda
  • Afterimage, the final film by Polish direct Andrzej Wajda
  • I, Daniel Blake, the second Palme d’Or winning film by Ken Loach
  • Manifesto, a series of monologues performed by Cate Blanchett in 13 different roles
  • Wind River, the directorial debut of Taylor Sheridan, script writer of Sicario and Hell or High Water
  • Searchers, a Canadian Inuit film based partly on the legendary John Ford movie

This list forms a good portion of the truly noteworthy and worthwhile works showing at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, but it is naturally incomplete. The rest is up to the viewer.

SIFF 2017: Week One Preview

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That occasional glimpse of sun in our dank gray skies signals not only the rebirth of allergy season but also that it is time once again for Seattle’s annual migration to the margins of international art house cinema. The Seattle International Film Festival begins this Thursday, kicking off another epic 25 day march around the world of contemporary and archival cinema. We at Seattle Screen Scene will once again have extensive coverage, and here are some of the films we’re looking forward to this first week, May 18-25. We’ll add links to our reviews of the films we see here as we write them.

After the Storm – The latest from acclaimed Japanese director Kore-eda Hirokazu is another in his series of quiet family dramas, following Still Walking and Our Little Sister. Hiroshi Abe plays a dilapidated father, a novelist moonlighting as a private detective while he struggles with his second book. He tries to reunite with his ex-wife and connect with his young son. Slight, but warm, Kore-eda could probably churn out films like this for another 20 years and I’d be OK with that. I wrote a short review of it last fall at VIFF. Plays May 19 & 20.

The Unknown Girl – An unusual film from the Dardenne Brothers, in that it’s generically conventional: a nurse investigates the identity of a young woman who knocked on her door one night and wound up dead in the morning. The Dardennes’ Catholic vision of collective guilt meshes naturally with the film’s noir vibe. Evan reviewed it at VIFF. Plays May 19 & 21.

Dawson City: Frozen Time – Experimental documentarian Bill Morrison’s Beyond Zero 1948-1918 was one of my favorites of SIFF 2015, so I’m very much looking forward to this new film, which uses uncovered, decaying nitrate film to chronicle the transformations of a gold rush town around the beginning of the 20th Century. Plays May 19 & 20.

Animal Crackers – “The beginning of the end. Drab dead yesterdays shutting out beautiful tomorrows. Hideous, stumbling footsteps creaking along the misty corridors of time.” Plays May 20.

Hello Destroyer – Canadian director Kevan Funk’s chronicle of a hockey player wrestling with the consequences and ideology of violence after he puts a vicious hit on another player. It didn’t technically play as part of the Future // Present program at VIFF last fall, but it might have. Plays May 20 & 21.

The Trip to Spain – Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon continue their travels through Europe, along with the third installment of Michael Winterbottom’s series of improvisational fake documentaries about celebrity impressions and the angst of being rich, middle-aged men. Plays May 20 & 21.

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Yourself and Yours – One of four Hong Sangsoo films to be released in the past nine months, this one is about a woman who, after her boyfriend tells her she drinks too much, spends a few days flirting with other men, or doesn’t but in fact has a twin who drinks and flirts a lot. Evan reviewed it at VIFF, and I reviewed it earlier this year. Plays May 21, 22 & 24.

Cook Up a Storm – One of only two Hong Kong films at this year’s SIFF, and back after a brief run at the Pacific Place in February, Raymond Yip’s foodie clash show stars Nicholas Tse, famous actor and host and primary chef on a popular cooking show. Chef Nic plays a Cantonese street cook competing against a Michelin-starred chef in a culinary competition. Anthony Wong plays Nic’s dad. I’m expecting a flashier, less soulful take on Tsui Hark’s The Chinese Feast, with less of the romantic charm of the now-playing This Is Not What I Expected. Plays May 21, 28 & 31.

Manifesto – Cate Blanchett plays thirteen different roles reciting famous artistic statements in this adaptation of Julian Rosefeldt’s installation. Plays May 22 & 26.

Bad Black – A DIY action comedy from Uganda and producer/director/writer/editor Nabwana IGG that looks to promise as many joy of making exploitation cinema thrills as anything likely to be found in this year’s festival. Plays May 20, 22 & 25.

Vampire Cleanup Department – The other Hong Kong film at SIFF this year, it’s a kind of reboot of the classic 80s hopping vampire films (Mr. VampireThe Dead and the Deadly), with a young man learning the ropes of vampire removal while protecting the vampire woman he loves. Plays May 23, 25 & 26.

 

2016 Year in Review: Part 3

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Our autopsy on the still-living body of 2016 continues with a discussion about the year’s best performances. Our previous entries tackled themes and surprises.

Q: As a rank-and-file auteurist, I often fail to adequately acknowledge onscreen work when writing about film. There are exceptions of course. I was quick to acknowledge Zhao Tao’s generous performance as one of the great strengths of Mountains May Depart. I am thankful that wonderful film saw a belated release in Seattle because I can include it in my year-end write-ups (especially since I am woefully behind in the bumper crop of Oscar bait currently invading theatres). Which 2016 performances stood out to you?

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2016 Year in Review: Part 2

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All week long we are taking a look back at the year in film. Yesterday’s discussion of cinematic trends can be found here.

Q: Going into a new year, we all have the films we are eagerly anticipating, but when we look back twelve months later it’s often the surprises that stick with us, the films we knew nothing about or didn’t expect much from that end up making the biggest impact. What film(s) snuck up on you this year, be they works by first-time directors or someone you wrote off long ago, that you will cherish in the years to come?

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2016 Year in Review: Part 1

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To wrap 2016 up in a neat little bow before drowning it in the river, we decided to convene a virtual round table with several Seattle Screen Scene contributors. As expected, everyone wrote way too much so this discussion will be parceled out over the course of the week.

Q: Film nerds are often looking for patterns in the chaos and the end of the year always brings out the think pieces on the cinematic themes of the last 12 months. This year was no different. Dispatches from VIFF highlighted a preponderance of poetry in film, with Paterson, Neruda, and others. Recently I liked connecting the quest for love in Knight of Cups and The Love Witch through Tarot cards. What other patterns or significant trends did you notice this year? Anything flying under the radar of the hive mind? 

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The 2016 Seattle Film Poll

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Once again this year, we here at Seattle Screen Scene asked a selection of local critics, programmers, and filmmakers to send us their Top Ten lists for the year and in an extremely close race, Paul Verhoeven’s Elle just edged out Barry Jenkins’s MoonlightMountains May Depart, from Chinese director Jia Zhangke tied with Whit Stillman’s Jane Austen adaptation Love & Friendship for third place, while Kirsten Johnson’s documentary Cameraperson took fifth.

Here is our Top Ten:

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1. Elle (Paul Verhoeven)

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2. Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)

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3. Love & Friendship (Whit Stillman)

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3. Mountains May Depart (Jia Zhangke)

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5. Cameraperson (Kirsten Johnson)

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6. Cemetery of Splendor (Apichatpong Weerasethakul)

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6. Certain Women (Kelly Reichardt)

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8. SPL 2: A Time for Consequences (aka Kill Zone 2) (Soi Cheang)

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9. The Love Witch (Anna Biller)

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10. Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie)

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10. Right Now, Wrong Then (Hong Sangsoo)

Full results are listed after the break, along with each voter’s individual ballot.

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The Seattle Screen Scene Top 100 Films of All-Time Project

When the new Sight & Sound poll came out in 2012, Mike and I each came up with hypothetical Top Tens of our own. For the next few years, we came up with an entirely new Top Ten on our podcast, The George Sanders Show every year around Labor Day. The podcast has ended, but the project continues here at Seattle Screen Scene.

The idea is that we keep doing this until the next poll comes out, by which time we’ll each have a Top 100 list. Well, I will. Mike will have only 98 because he repeated two from his 2012 list on the 2013 one.

Here are Mike’s Top Ten Films of All-Time for 2016:

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1. The Adventures of Prince Achmed (Lotte Reiniger, 1926)

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2. L’Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)

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3. Rio Bravo (Howard Hawks, 1959)

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4. Shock Corridor (Samuel Fuller, 1963)

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5. Chimes at Midnight (Orson Welles, 1965)

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6. Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

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7. Streetwise (Martin Bell, 1984)

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8. The 8 Diagram Pole Fighter (Lau Kar-leung, 1984)

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9. This is Spinal Tap (Rob Reiner, 1984)

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10. Dead Man (Jim Jarmusch, 1995)

And here are Sean’s Top Ten Films of All-Time for 2016:

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1. Ruggles of Red Gap (Leo McCarey, 1935)

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2. Hatari! (Howard Hawks, 1962)

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3. News from Home (Chantal Akerman, 1977)

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4. The Green Ray (Eric Rohmer, 1986)

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5. Peking Opera Blues (Tsui Hark, 1986)

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6. The Last of the Mohicans (Michael Mann, 1992)

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7. Millennium Mambo (Hou Hsiao-hsien, 2001)

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8. Running on Karma (Johnnie To & Wai Ka-fai, 2003)

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9. Tropical Malady (Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2004)

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10. Linda Linda Linda (Nobuhrio Yamashita, 2005)