The Adventurers (Stephen Fung, 2017)

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Almost thirty years after A Moment of Romance, Andy Lau still looks impossibly cool riding a motorcycle. He does it here as the lead of a small gang of jewel thieves in Stephen Fung’s heist movie, his first film since the lunatic double punch of 2012’s Tai Chi 0 and Tai Chi Hero. Those films are the most successful yet adaptation of the comic book steampunk aesthetic to the kung fu film, supplementing its basic conceit with a breathless storytelling verve: the on-screen titles introducing the film’s stars all end in exclamation points. The Adventurers finds Fung in a much more relaxed mode, the idiosyncratic personal expression bound within the generic form of a movie designed to meet audience expectations rather than defy them. To this end he’s helped immeasurably by Lau, who has spent much of his long career making otherwise interminable movies watchable (for example Ringo Lam’s laziest film, also called The Adventurers, released in 1995) and Shu Qi, who’s undeniable greatness as an art house actress (Millennium Mambo, The Assassin) tends to overshadow, in the West, a sparkling, magnetic movie star charm (as in Ringo Lam’s goofiest film, 2003’s Looking for Mr. Perfect). The two great stars, ably supported by a multinational cast of veterans (Hong Kong’s Eric Tsang and France’s Jean Reno) and relative newcomers (Zhang Jingchu from China and Tony Yang from Taiwan), enliven what is blatantly a Mission: Impossible knock-off (Reno of course featured in the first film in that series, while Zhang was in the latest one, a performance which amounted to nothing but a superfluous 30 second pandering to the Chinese audience).

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Friday August 11 – Thursday August 17

Featured Film:

Dawson City: Frozen Time at the Northwest Film Forum

Two of my favorite films from this past SIFF open this week, and while I really loved Kogonada’s ode to Ozu and modern architecture, Columbus (playing at the SIFF Uptown), our Featured Film this week has to be Bill Morrison’s sprawling documentary Dawson City: Frozen Time. Springing from the discovery of a horde of silent films buried under an old swimming pool to the concurrent histories of a Klondike Gold Rush town, the North American West and early cinema, and constructed to a large degree out of images from the discovered and decaying nitrate trove, it’s a movie about a specific time and place and about the ghostly interconnectedness that links us inescapably to our past.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Wind River (Taylor Sheridan) Fri-Thurs Our Review
A Taxi Driver (Jang Hoon) Fri-Thurs
Velaiilla Pattadhari 2 (Soundarya Rajinikanth) Fri-Thurs
Jab Harry Met Sejal (Imtiaz Ali) Fri-Thurs
Battleship Island (Ryoo Seung-wan) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Central Cinema:

The Goonies (Richard Donner, 1985) Fri-Weds
City of Lost Children (Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro, 1995) Fri-Weds

SIFF Egyptian:

The Little Hours (Jeff Baena) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Century Federal Way:

A Taxi Driver (Jang Hoon) Fri-Thurs
Battleship Island (Ryoo Seung-wan) Fri-Thurs
Bonnie & Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Maudie (Aisling Walsh) Fri-Thurs
13 Minutes (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2015) Fri-Thurs
The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review
The Little Hours (Jeff Baena) Sat Only Our Review
This is Spinal Tap (Marty DiBergi, 1984) Mon Only Our Review
Score: A Film Music Documentary (Matt Schrader) Tues Only
National Velvet (Clarence Brown, 1945) Weds Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Pop Aye (Kirsten Tan) Fri-Thurs
Endless Poetry (Alejandro Jodorowsky) Sun-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Step (Amanda Lipitz) Fri-Thurs
Jab Harry Met Sejal (Imtiaz Ali) Fri-Thurs
The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Wind River (Taylor Sheridan) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Nene Raju Nene Mantri (Teja) Fri-Thurs
Velaiilla Pattadhari 2 (Soundarya Rajinikanth) Fri-Thurs
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (Shree Narayan Singh) Fri-Thurs
LIE (Hanu Raghavapudi) Fri-Thurs
Jaya Janaki Nayaka (Boyapati Srinu) Fri-Thurs In Telgu with No Subtitles
Bonnie & Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Jab Harry Met Sejal (Imtiaz Ali) Fri-Thurs
The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Wind River (Taylor Sheridan) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Toilet: Ek Prem Katha (Shree Narayan Singh) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Dawson City: Frozen Time (Bill Morrison) Fri-Sun Our Review
Tango Negro (Dom Pedro, 2013) Fri Only
Bless Their Little Hearts (Billy Woodberry, 1984) Sat Only
A Life in Waves/Snakes (Brett Whitcomb, 2017/Art Names 1974) Weds Only Digital/35mm
Turn It Around: The Story Of East Bay Punk (Corbett Reford) Thurs Only
Killer of Sheep (Charles Burnett, 1977) Starts Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

Once Upon a Time (Zhao Xiaoding) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Wolf Warrior 2 (Wu Jing) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Regal Parkway Plaza:

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Jab Harry Met Sejal (Imtiaz Ali) Fri-Thurs
Finally Found Someone (Theodore Boborol) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Seattle Art Museum:

To Catch a Thief (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955) Thurs Only

SIFF Film Center:

I Am the Blues (Daniel Cross) Fri-Sun
Landline (Gillian Robespierre) Tues & Thurs Only Our Review
Les cowboys (Thomas Bidegain, 2015) Weds Only

Regal Thornton Place:

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review

SIFF Uptown:

Columbus (Kogonada) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Step (Amanda Lipitz) Fri-Thurs

Varsity Theatre:

13 Minutes (Oliver Hirschbiegel, 2015) Fri-Thurs
Maudie (Aisling Walsh) Fri-Thurs
The Little Hours (Jeff Baena) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Bonnie & Clyde (Arthur Penn, 1967) Weds Only

In Wide Release:


Baby Driver (Edgar Wrighht) Our Review

Once Upon a Time (Zhao Xiaoding, 2017)

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The intersection between myth and teen drama, between cartoon wuxia and soap opera, with a dash of Hitchcock just to make things interesting, Once Upon a Time is unlike anything likely to play on Seattle Screens this year. The directorial debut of longtime Zhang Yimou cinematographer Zhao Xiaoding (he shot all of Zhang’s films from House of Flying Daggers through The Great Wall), it’s as lushly gorgeous as anything in higher profile releases like Journey to the West: Demons Strike Back, with acres of peach blossoms, castles in the clouds, and godlike beings morphing freely into animals. The story is adapted from a 2008 online fantasy novel called Three Lives Three Worlds, Ten Miles of Peach Blossoms by Tang Qi, which may have been plagiarized from an earlier online fantasy novel called The Peach Blossom Debt by Da Feng. (You can read about the allegations and compare some evidence for yourself here. I can’t read Chinese, so I can’t judge if it is outright plagiarism or simple imitation. The fact that both works were published online and that in Da Feng’s the romance is homosexual (LGBT depictions are officially banned on television and online media in China) makes the issue particularly complicated). The novel was also adapted earlier this year as the Chinese TV series Eternal Love starring Mark Chao and Yang Mi.

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Wolf Warrior 2 (Wu Jing, 2017)

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Somewhat surprisingly, Wu Jing’s Wolf Warrior 2 is smashing box office records across China, on pace to overtake last year’s The Mermaid as the number one Chinese film of all-time. Wu is probably the greatest Chinese martial arts star of his generation, best known here in the US for his starring role in SPL 2: A Time for Consequences, which the best action film to play here last year. He both stars and directs, as he did with Wolf Warriors, released in 2015. In the first one, he plays Leng Feng, a badass soldier who gets recruited into the Wolf Warrior brigade of the People’s Liberation Army, an elite special forces unit. During a training exercise, he and his squadmates are attacked by a multiethnic band of vicious mercenaries led by Scott Adkins who was hired by a drug lord seeking revenge on Leng for murdering his brother, and also as the cover for a scheme to steal a virus that only kills Chinese people. The film is an unabashed propaganda piece about the skills, technology and valor of the PLA, but it’s got a lot of cool jungle action and it moves along quickly.

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The Ornithologist (João Pedro Rodrigues, 2016)

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Sensation in film is, by definition, an event that is difficult to describe. It privileges the experience of watching, of holistically observing sight and sound work in tandem to produce something nearly indescribable. Such an concept is placed front and center in The Ornithologist, a remarkable, subtly shape-shifting film by Portugese director João Pedro Rodrigues. By turns raucous, menacing, gorgeous, and haunting, the movie is never less than throughly engrossing, moving through its surreal logic with a confidence and daring, the likes of which have been sorely missed from Seattle screens this year.

As might be expected, The Ornithologist follows the eponymous birdwatcher Fernando (Paul Hamy) as he explores a mysterious, possibly haunted forest after his kayak is destroyed by rapids. Through his perilous, somewhat meandering attempts to return to civilization, he encounters various denizens and transients, along with increasingly supernatural and surreal experiences. Impressively, this roster begins with a pair of lesbian Chinese Christian hikers, who first rescue him from the waters and then tie him up with rope and sadistic intentions, and only becomes stranger from there, including a motley cast of possible costumed cult members, bare-breasted hunters on horseback, and of course, many birds, some of which assume a strange symbolic importance.

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Friday July 28 – Thursday August 3

Featured Film:

Landline at the Uptown and the AMC Seattle

Gillian Robespierre and Jenny Slate’s follow-up to Obvious Child, one of the finest romantic comedies of the decade, is a more expansive film, following the cracking up of a New York family in the mid-90s as two sisters (Slate and Abby Quinn) discover their father (John Turturro) has been cheating on their mother. It’s a coming of age story in triplicate, focusing on women dealing with crises at different stages of life (along the lines of Sylvia Chang’s 20 30 40). I wrote a bit about it at SIFF this year, and this week Melissa takes a longer look at it. Landline opens at the Uptown and what we’ve apparently agreed to call the “AMC Seattle 10” (formerly the Seattle Sundance, formerly the Metro Cinemas).

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review
A Ghost Story (David Lowery) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Central Cinema:

Point Break (Kathryn Bigelow, 1991) Fri-Weds Our Podcast
Bring It On (Peyton Reed, 2000) Fri-Tues
Come Drink with Me (King Hu, 1966) Weds Only Our Review Our Podcast

Crest Cinema Center:

The Hero (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs
Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Egyptian:

A Ghost Story (David Lowery) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Century Federal Way:

Vekh Barataan Chaliyaan (Ksshitij Chaudhary) Fri-Thurs
The Black Prince (Kavi Raz) Fri-Thurs
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Maudie (Aisling Walsh) Fri-Thurs
A Ghost Story (David Lowery) Fri-Thurs Our Review
The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Dave Made a Maze (Bill Watterson) Fri Only
Tommy (Ken Russell, 1975) Sat Only
Moka (Frederic Mermoud) Tues Only
Deconstructing the Beatles: Rubber Soul (Scott Freiman) Weds Only
Eyes of the Totem (WS Van Dyke, 1927) Thurs Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Endless Poetry (Alejandro Jodorowsky) Fri-Thurs

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

A Ghost Story (David Lowery) Fri-Thurs Our Review
The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd) Fri-Thurs
Fidaa (Sekhar Kammula) Fri-Thurs
Mubarakan (Anees Bazmee) Fri-Thurs
Vikram Vedha (Pushkar and Gayathri) Fri-Thurs
Gautham Nanda (Sampath Nandi) Fri-Thurs
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

City of Ghosts (Matthew Heineman) Fri-Thurs
The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Northwest Film Forum:

Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (Linda Saffire & Adam Schlesinger) Fri-Sun, Weds-Thurs
VIDEOJOY (Tommy Swenson) Fri Only
The Ornithologist (João Pedro Rodrigues) Weds-Sun

AMC Oak Tree:

Scales: Mermaids Are Real (Kevan Peterson) Fri-Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

Wolf Warrior 2 (Wu Jing) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review

AMC Seattle:

Landline (Gillian Robespierre) Fri-Thurs Our Review
The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd) Fri-Thurs
A Ghost Story (David Lowery) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Seattle Art Museum:

People Will Talk (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1951) Thurs Only

SIFF Film Center:

Mali Blues (Lutz Gregor) Fri-Sun

AMC Southcenter:

A Ghost Story (David Lowery) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Regal Thornton Place:

The Big Sick (Michael Showalter) Fri-Thurs Our Review

SIFF Uptown:

Landline (Gillian Robespierre) Starts Thurs Our Review
Lady Macbeth (William Oldroyd) Fri-Thurs
The Little Hours (Jeff Baena) Fri-Thurs Our Review
The Beguiled (Sofia Coppola) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Raiders of the Lost Ark/Temple of Doom (Steven Spielberg, 1981/1984) Thurs Only 35mm Double Feature

Varsity Theatre:

Maudie (Aisling Walsh) Fri-Thurs
Neither Wolf nor Dog (Steven Lewis Simpson) Fri-Thurs
Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Amy Heckerling, 1982) Weds Only
Grateful Dead Meet Up 2017 Tues Only

In Wide Release:


Baby Driver (Edgar Wrighht) Our Review
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (James Gunn) Our Review

Landline (Gillian Robespierre, 2017)

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Early in Gillian Robespierre’s new film, Landline, Dana (Jenny Slate), compulsively scratching a poison ivy rash contracted in a not-so-romantic encounter in the woods with her fiancé, sits across a desk from a co-worker discussing their dates from the previous night. Effusively, the co-worker describes a romantic, hours’ long “epic conversation on the rooftop.” Dana, pausing, responds that she and her fiancé, in contrast, had spent “three hours at Blockbuster.” “We got Curly Sue,” she adds. It’s the kind of specific, funny, and evocative moment that punctuates and defines Robespierre’s work, a moment that deftly situates us in the time and space of the film’s 1995 setting, in a character’s emotional landscape, and in the thematic framework. Continue reading

Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017)

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There is something to be said for the recent resurgence of a certain brand of flair in the more independently-minded multiplex films. Whether for good (Don’t Breathe) or ill (La La Land), it is refreshing to see an assertion of directorial style in films made close to the auspices of the studio system, which lends a breath of fresh air to even the most seemingly concrete and inflexible of stock scenarios.

Into this climate comes Edgar Wright, the celebrated English writer-director who, with Baby Driver, makes his American and action film debut. This is not to say that this is entirely unprecedented territory for Wright; he was originally slated to helm the United States-set Marvel’s Ant-Man before he left due to creative differences, and his 2007 film Hot Fuzz contains a substantial amount of suitably frenetic bouts of action. But there is a very different vibe and feeling at work in Wright’s latest film, something that uses the same objects of both homage and derision for something more straightforward and cool, if not altogether serious. Baby Driver is consequently both livened up and slightly weighed down by its influences, which include, among many others, The Driver, Thief, and Bottle Rocket. But they are all connected by Wright’s deft, wonderfully unsubtle touch, all beat-heavy music, tight edits, nicely executed earphone gags, and abundance of feeling.

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Meow (Benny Chan, 2017)

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From Mao to Meow: Revolution in Contemporary Chinese Cinema

Pop will eat itself.

Last summer veteran Hong Kong director Benny Chan brought us the year’s best martial arts film with the High Noon variation Call of Heroes. This year, he’s made the summer’s most improbable movie: a heart-warming comedy about a giant alien cat who befriends a mop-headed Louis Koo and his wacky family. Pudding is the greatest warrior on the distant planet Meow, a cat-world (literally: it’s shaped like a cat’s head) wracked by meteor collisions that has been hoping to colonize Earth for centuries. But none of the cat-agents sent to Earth have ever returned, though there are snippets of their successes: inspiring worship from the ancient Egyptians and modeling yoga in India. Pudding crashes on Earth and loses his MacGuffin, making him susceptible to the corrupting influences of Earth static. In a last ditch effort to save himself, he merges with the form of a fat orange house-cat, the resulting abomination being a obese, six foot tall ball of cuteness.

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Questions of Innovation [THE BIG SICK & A GHOST STORY]

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Just past the halfway mark of this year of 2017, it should be apparent to any attentive observer that, at best, this theatrical release year has been subpar, and at worst it appears to be the worst year for film (not to mention the United States) in living memory. Though I won’t come close to claiming that I’ve seen anywhere near every major release – I have not, for example, seen either Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver or Albert Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV, among other presumably worthy titles – there has been a shocking dearth of any wholly satisfying films. Whether it be the usual batch of disappointingly overrated superhero films (Logan, Wonder Woman), a number of fascinating if flawed works from noted auteurs (Personal Shopper, The Beguiled, Staying Vertical), or other sundry curios (Get Out, Your Name, By the Time It Gets Dark), it is somewhat dismaying that my favorite film from this year still remains the admittedly stellar Resident Evil: The Final Chapter. This isn’t to say that certain films haven’t been very good, and I do greatly enjoy a more than a few of the films I just named, but when David Lynch is showing up the entirety of the theatrical selections every week on Showtime with Twin Peaks: The Return, there is more than a little cause for alarm.

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