Golden Job (Chin Ka-lok, 2018)

They discover the car is loaded with gold

In the wake of the 1997 Handover, when Hong Kong turned from a relatively independent British colony to a Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, the Hong Kong film industry, which had been for most of the previous 30 years or so one of the glories of the world, almost completely collapsed. Uncertainty was the primary cause, both in economic and political freedom, which led many of the industry’s brightest talents to seek employment in the United States and beyond (Jackie Chan, John Woo, Tsui Hark, Sammo Hung, Jet Li, Ringo Lam, Michelle Yeoh, Corey Yuen, Ronny Yu, etc), while the excesses of production in the 80s and early 90s, plus infiltration of unsavory, criminal elements into the filmmaking business, led to the dissolution of most of the major production houses that had led Hong Kong’s last Golden Age. But still, the Hong Kong cinema didn’t collapse entirely: Herman Yau kept churning out low-budget horror and gangster films (as he continues to do to this day); Johnnie To founded his own studio, which found a way to produce anywhere from two to six high quality films a year, both popular entertainments and idiosyncratic personal explorations of genre; Stephen Chow, who for much of the mid-90s was the only star who mattered, single-handedly keeping the industry afloat, began directing and produced increasingly ambitious and accomplished work. But above all, the Young & Dangerous series struck a chord with the youth audience, leading to something in the neighborhood of a dozen sequels, prequels and spin-offs between 1996 and 2001.

The Young & Dangerous films, shepherded by director Andrew Lau (an accomplished cinematographer (he shot Wong Kar-wai’s debut As Tears Go By and parts of Chungking Express, he also co-directed the Infernal Affairs films, the first of which came out in 2002), were a cheap, glossy, teen idol-driven, comic book variations on the heroic bloodshed sagas of the late 1980s. Stars Ekin Cheng and Jordan Chan had fancy hair and stylish clothes and a propensity for finding themselves in musical montages depicting the anguish and joy of violent brotherhood. They are wholly absurd and a great deal of fun. Now, more than 20 years after the first installment, director Chin Ka-lok reunites the stars of the series for Golden Job, a maudlin action film about brotherhood among formerly stylish middle-aged men.

Five “brothers”, friends since they were orphans together, work as vaguely immoral mercenaries for hire, kind of like the A-Team, but with more hugging. One of them goes bad and betrays the group, and the others have to, well, not really seek revenge, but do something to fix his errors. The film skirts topics familiar from recent Chinese action films (the pharmaceutical foul play of Woo’s Manhunt and Lam’s Sky on Fire, the paternalism of China’s relationship with East Africa from Wolf Warrior II), but in most ways it is a throwback to those older movies, albeit with much more expensive and impressive action sequences. Director Chin is a former member of Sammo Hung’s stunt team with a long career as an actor and fighter, though this is only his third film as a director in his own right (he did Aces Go Places ’97 with Tony Leung and Alan Tam, and the 2002 Yuen Biao film No Problem 2). His action scenes are solid, if not original. Capable facsimiles of the military maneuverings of Operation Red Sea and vehicle stunts that honestly aren’t all that much worse than what you’d see in a Mission: Impossible movie. It’s just hard to take them seriously because the rest of the film is so generically earnest, its aged heroes so out of step with the times that their posed male laughter and tears play even more absurdly than they did twenty years ago.

The difference isn’t with the film’s earnestness. That was always there in the Young & Dangerous movies: their sentimentality is entirely believed. But what those earlier films also had were brilliant supporting performances, like Anthony Wong chewing up scenery and picking his nose, or Simon Yam at his oiliest, or which served to cut the sap with a bit of irony or acidic cruelty. Golden Job has Eric Tsang being wise and noble as the gang’s father figure, which is a complete waste. In fact, the only actor who seems to be having any fun at all is Yasuaki Kurata, who continues his late career rebirth with a far too brief appearance. His short fight scene is the best one in the film, though it’s also the smallest and probably the cheapest. Clement Cheng and Derek Kwok’s Gallants similarly revived stars of the past now well into middle-age into a genre film, one with its share of sentimentality but also one that updated the genre stylistically and ideologically for a new era. Golden Job plays everything straight, all as it would have been done twenty years ago, and as a result there’s nothing to leaven the soapiness, leaving a bunch of nice action sequences surrounding a sickeningly schmaltzy core.

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The Great Battle (Kim Kwangsik, 2018)

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One of the more peculiar and underexamined genres of the 21st century is an outgrowth of the two films at the heart of the Oscar race in 2000, Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The former revived the sword and sandals craze of the 1950s: epic war movies set in the distant past, with handsome men and headstrong women wielding spears and arrows as they face oncoming hoards of villains; while the later breathed new life into the wuxia film, updating King Hu and Chang Cheh classics to a contemporary art house setting. As Gladiator spawned Troy, Alexander, Kingdom of Heaven and a handful of Arthurian, Viking and assorted other medieval adventures, Crouching Tiger led to Zhang Yimou’s trilogy of ornate epics Hero, House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower, along with countless lesser adventures produced across Asia (Mongol with Tadonobu Asano, Musa with Zhang Ziyi, God of War with Sammo Hung and The Great Wall with Matt Damon, and Korea’s own The Admiral: Roaring Currents with Choi Minsik). The decisive factor the revival of these spectacles was the easy availability of computer generated imagery, drastically reducing the time and cost of producing a “cast of thousands”, while also amplifying the action sequences with slow motion (“bullet time”), erasure of wires, cartoonish gore, and the stitching together of disparate takes to create an illusion of seamless, continuous action. What the technology has thus far been unable to do, unfortunately, is raise the quality of the films’ scripts.

Into this heady tradition steps Kim Kwangsik’s The Great Battle, the story of the siege of Ansi fortress in northern Korea (at the time, AD 645, the kingdom of Goguryeo) by the massive army of Taizong, the Tang Dynasty ruler generally considered among the greatest of all Chinese Emperors. Outnumbered 40 to 1 (that is, 200,000 to 5,000), the Koreans are led by Yang Manchun, a mysterious historical figure embodied on-screen as a brilliant, brave, passionate, wise, honest, charming, generous, and handsome leader by Jo Insung. At his side are a pair of bickering captains (a tall, elegant leader of swordsmen and a hairy, gruff leader of axemen, the Legolas and Gimli of the story), a pair of young lovers (the leader of the cavalry and Yang’s sister, who leads a fearless band of crossbowwomen) and a callow youth, who has been sent to assassinate Yang by the leader of the Goguryeo army (who had killed the king and precipitated the war with the Tang), but who is instead so impressed by Yang’s moral and martial courage that he becomes his flag-bearer instead.

The cookie-cutter characterization and rote emoting of the generic plot can be tough to take, but fortunately the film’s real interest lies in its action scenes, which are of uniformly high quality. A siege movie, we are treated to a variety of infernal machines developed for the sole purpose of killing men on top of walls. Many of them we’ve seen before, but the film builds neatly from trebuchets, ladders and battering rams to massive towers and ultimately a gigantic earthen mound that takes months to build. Only the scrappy heroism and purity of Yang and his men (and women) are able to overcome the overwhelming numerical and technological superiority of the Tang. The combat itself is well-done, with a steady camera tracking though the bloody chaos, limbs and CGI reds flying as soldiers more or less follow the laws of physics. It’s all easy to read and delivers the essential violence that is the genre’s reason for being.

But that’s all it does. The better films in the genre have higher ambitions: Alexander‘s vision of a world-conquering madness; Hero‘s meditation on power and national unity;  Baahubali‘s genre-blending, intricate story-telling and wildly imaginative special effects; even The Great Wall‘s melding of medieval warfare with 50s style science-fiction; or Red Cliff, to date the finest example of the genre, deftly blending unique characters and relationships on a grand scale of schemes, tactics and action. The Great Battle plays it safe, content with the cliché, lacking even enough ideology to be a propaganda film.

Friday September 21 – Thursday September 27

Featured Film:

Madeline’s Madeline at the Grand Illusion and the Meridian

There’s film noir at the Central Cinema (The Maltese Falcon) and SAM (White Heat kicking of their fall noir series), and the Local Sightings Festival at the Northwest Film Forum (featuring our own Ryan Swen’s look at Scarecrow Video Pictures at an Excavation as well as the excellent La cartographe by former SSS contributor Nathan Douglas), but the most exciting new release of the week on Seattle Screens is doubtless Madeline’s Madeline, the third feature by experimental filmmaker Josephine Decker (and the first to play here in Seattle? I don’t recall Butter on the Latch or Thou Wast Mild & Lovely playing here). The official synopsis: “Madeline (newcomer Helena Howard) has become an integral part of a prestigious physical theater troupe. When the workshop’s ambitious director (Molly Parker) pushes the teenager to weave her rich interior world and troubled history with her mother (Miranda July) into their collective art, the lines between performance and reality begin to blur. The resulting battle between imagination and appropriation rips out of the rehearsal space and through all three women’s lives.”

Playing This Week:

Admiral Theater:

Rebel without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) Weds Only

AMC Alderwood:

The Great Battle (Kim Gwang-Sik) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Central Cinema:

The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941) Fri-Mon
The Last Dragon (Michael Schultz, 1985) Fri-Tues

Century Federal Way:

The Great Battle (Kim Gwang-Sik) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Qismat (Jagdeep Sidhu) Fri-Thurs
Rebel without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Schlock (John Landis, 1973) Sat Only
The Guilty (Gustav Moller) Sun Only
1945 (Ferenc Torok) Tues Only
Bad Reputation (Kevin Kerslake) Weds Only
Survivors Guide to Prison (Matthew Cooke) Weds Only
Making a Killing: Guns, Greed, and the NRA (Robert Greenwald, 2016) Thurs Only Free Screening

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Madeline’s Madeline (Josephine Decker) Fri-Thurs
Schlock (John Landis, 1973) Sat Only
Let the Corpses Tan (Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani) Sat Only Our Review
What Keeps You Alive (Colin Minihan) Fri & Sat Only
Haikyu!! The Movie: Battle of Concepts (Susumu Mitsunaka & Tetsuaki Watanabe) Sat & Sun Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Lizzie (Craig Macneill) Fri-Thurs
Stree (Amar Kaushik) Fri-Thurs
Manmarziyan (Anurag Kashyap) Fri-Thurs
Batti Gul Meter Chalu (Shree Narayan Singh) Fri-Thurs
Nannu Dochukunduvate (R.S. Naidu) Fri-Thurs
U Turn (Pawan Kumar) Fri-Thurs
Sailaja Reddy Alludu (Maruthi) Fri-Thurs
Saamy 2 (Hari ) Fri-Thurs
Rebel without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Madeline’s Madeline (Josephine Decker) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Local Sightings Film Festival Fri-Thurs Full Program

AMC Pacific Place:

Lizzie (Craig Macneill) Fri-Thurs
The Road Not Taken (Tang Gaopeng) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Miss Granny (Joyce E. Bernal) Fri-Thurs
The Hows of Us (Cathy Garcia-Molina) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Lizzie (Craig Macneill) Fri-Thurs

Seattle Art Museum:

White Heat (Raoul Walsh, 1949) Thurs Only 35mm

SIFF Film Center:

Glenn Murcutt: Spirit of Place (Catherine Hunter) Tues & Weds Only

Regal Thornton Place:

Lizzie (Craig Macneill) Fri-Thurs
Rebel without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) Sun & Weds Only

SIFF Uptown:

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet) Fri-Thurs
Pick of the Litter (Dana Nachman & Don Hardy) Fri-Thurs
Mandy (Panos Cosmatos) Fri-Thurs
Cat Video Fest 2018 Sat & Sun Only

Varsity Theatre:

Bel Canto (Paul Weitz) Fri-Thurs
I Think We’re Alone Now (Reed Morano) Fri-Thurs
3100 Run and Become (Sanjay Rawal) Fri-Thurs
Love, Gilda (Lisa Dapolito) Fri-Thurs
Rebel without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955) Weds Only

In Wide Release:

Mission: Impossible–Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie) Our Review
Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham) Our Review
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed) Our Review

Let the Corpses Tan (2017, Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani)

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There are few aspects of film more alternated praised and criticized than so-called “excessive” style. Whether manifested in languor or in freneticism, rapid bursts of images or gorgeously exacting frames, the excesses of the styles of one director or the other has been dissected, castigated, fawned over, and put back together again in mountains of words written in the past decade alone. And yet, despite all of this sometimes heated and passionate discourse, such overt manifestations of filmmaking still seem even more subjective, even less explainable than most other determining factors of a film.

One of the most overt examples of this in recent years comes in the form of Let the Corpses Tan, a neo-Western crime film directed by Hélène Catte and Bruno Forzani, best known for their prior giallo efforts Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears. Though this time the gloriously pulpy title is taken from the source material, a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid, the sensibility and eye for relentless stylization is unmistakeable. For better and for worse, this is an unfiltered vision, throwing in so many techniques and formal devices that it somehow becomes a unified aesthetic.

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Friday September 14 – Thursday September 20

Featured Film:

Shaun the Sheep Movie at the Grand Cinema

It’s a weird week for me to pick a Featured Film because I haven’t seen any of the coolest looking titles of the week: the Northwest Film Forum’s one night only screening of Khalik Allah’s latest film, Black Mother, with the director in attendance; a revival of Smokey and the Bandit in memory of the late, great Burt Reynolds playing at various multiplexes across town; Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani’s Let the Corpses Tan at the Grand Illusion; Lois Weber’s restored silent The Dumb Girl of Portici; the latest from Indian auteur Anurag Kashyap, Manmarziyan, playing exclusively at the Lincoln Square; or Frank Perry’s The Swimmer, part of the NWFF’s 1968 series. But since my daughter turns 7 years old this week, I’ll go with one of her favorite movies, the free screening of the Shaun the Sheep Movie, playing Saturday morning only at the Grand in Tacoma. Her Shaun the Sheep, glued to her side since she saw the movie, her first ever trip to a theatre, back in 2015, is pictured above.

Playing This Week:

Admiral Theater:

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) Sun & Weds Only

AMC Alderwood:

Where Hands Touch (Amma Asante) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Spirited Away (Hayao Miyazaki, 2001) Fri-Sun, Tues & Weds Subtitled Sat & Tues
Scanners (David Cronenberg, 2001) Fri-Sun, Tues & Weds Hecklevision Weds

Cinerama:

70mm Film Festival Full Program

Century Federal Way:

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) Sun & Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet) Fri-Thurs
Shaun the Sheep Movie (Richard Starzak & Mark Burton, 2015) Sat Only Free Screening
Coffy (Jack Hill, 1973) Sat Only Our Podcast
Sleep Dealer (Alex Rivera, 2008) Tues Only
The Dumb Girl of Portici (Lois Weber, 1916) Weds Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Let the Corpses Tan (Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani) Fri-Thurs
What Keeps You Alive (Colin Minihan) Fri & Sat Only
Haikyu!! The Movie: Battle of Concepts (Susumu Mitsunaka & Tetsuaki Watanabe) Weds & Next Sat & Sun Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Where Hands Touch (Amma Asante) Fri-Thurs
Stree (Amar Kaushik) Fri-Thurs
Manmarziyan (Anurag Kashyap) Fri-Thurs
C/O Kancharapalem (Maha Venkatesh) Fri-Thurs
Seema Raja (Ponram) Fri-Thurs
U Turn (Pawan Kumar) Fri-Thurs
Sailaja Reddy Alludu (Maruthi) Fri-Thurs
Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) Sun & Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

I am Not a Witch (Rungano Nyoni) Fri-Thurs
The Peacemaker (James Demo) Fri-Sun
The Swimmer (Frank Perry, 1968) Sat Only
Black Mother (Khalik Allah) Thurs Only Director in Attendance

AMC Pacific Place:

Where Hands Touch (Amma Asante) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Ya veremos (Pedro Pablo Ibarra) Fri-Thurs
The Hows of Us (Cathy Garcia-Molina) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

A Whale of a Tale (Megumi Sasaki) Fri-Sun

Regal Thornton Place:

Smokey and the Bandit (Hal Needham, 1977) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Uptown:

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet) Fri-Thurs
Pick of the Litter (Dana Nachman & Don Hardy) Fri-Thurs
Mandy (Panos Cosmatos) Fri-Thurs

Varsity Theatre:

Don’t Leave Home (Michael Tully) Fri-Thurs
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Desiree Akhavan) Fri-Thurs
3100 Run and Become (Sanjay Rawal) Fri-Thurs
American Chaos (James D. Stern) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Mission: Impossible–Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie) Our Review
Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham) Our Review
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed) Our Review
Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross) Our Review

Friday, September 7 – Thursday September 13

Featured Film:

Andrei Rublev at the SIFF Film Center

The Northwest Film Forum has a fine lineup of documentaries this week, led by In the Intense Now and Cielo, and including Andy Warhol’s Mrs. Warhol, and the Cinerama kicks off its annual 70mm film festival (my highlights: Howard the Duck and Days of Thunder), but our Featured Film this week is an easy choice, as Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev is quite simply one of the greatest films ever made, and it’s playing here for the first time in quite awhile, as far as I can remember. The sweeping portrait of a famed icon painter and the medieval world he lived in, the Film Center has it in its latest restoration. If you haven’t seen it, this is the unmissable film event of the week.

Playing This Week:

Central Cinema:

Tremors (Ron Underwood, 1990) Fri-Weds Hecklevision Wednesday
The Sandlot (David Mickey Evans, 1993) Fri-Tues
Waking the Sleeping Giant (Jon D. Erickson & Jacob Smith) Weds Only

Cinerama:

70mm Film Festival Full Program

SIFF Egyptian:

The Wife (Björn Runge) Fri-Thurs

Century Federal Way:

Mar Gaye Oye Loko (Simerjit Singh) Fri-Thurs
The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965) Sun & Weds Only Our Podcast

Grand Cinema:

Woman Walks Ahead (Susanna White) Fri-Thurs
Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub) Fri-Thurs
Arizona (Jonathan Watson) Sat Only
The Catcher was a Spy (Ben Lewin) Tues Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

SECS Fest Fri-Sun
Never Goin’ Back (Augustine Frizzell) Sun-Thurs
An Invisible College: Illuminated Jewels by Elder Masters of Experimental Cinema, 1936 – 1978 Tues Only 16mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

The Wife (Björn Runge) Fri-Thurs
Stree (Amar Kaushik) Fri-Thurs
Geetha Govindam (Parasuram) Fri-Thurs
C/O Kancharapalem (Maha Venkatesh) Fri-Thurs
Manu (Phanindra Narsetti) Fri-Thurs
Premaku Rainchek (Akella Peri Srinivas) Fri-Thurs
Silly Fellows (Bhimaneni Srinivasa Rao) Fri-Thurs
Savita Damodar Paranjape (Swapna Waghmare Joshi) Sat & Sun Only
The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965) Sun & Weds Only Our Podcast

Regal Meridian:

Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1997) Mon Only

Northwest Film Forum:

In the Intense Now (João Moreira Salles) Fri-Sun Our Review
Betty: They Say I’m Different (Phil Cox) Fri-Sun, Weds & Thurs
Mrs. Warhol (Andy Warhol, 1966) Sat Only
Cielo (Alison McAlpine) Weds Only Our Review
Mammon, Moloch, and the False Maria: Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and the Cult of Capitalism Thurs Only

AMC Pacific Place:

Destination Wedding (Victor Levin) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Ya veremos (Pedro Pablo Ibarra) Fri-Thurs
The Hows of Us (Cathy Garcia-Molina) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

Andrei Rublev (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1966) Fri-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1997) Mon Only
The Sound of Music (Robert Wise, 1965) Sun & Weds Only Our Podcast

SIFF Uptown:

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet) Fri-Thurs
We the Animals (Jeremiah Zagar) Fri-Thurs

Varsity Theatre:

Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub) Fri-Thurs
The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Desiree Akhavan) Fri-Thurs
3100 Run and Become (Sanjay Rawal) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Mission: Impossible–Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie) Our Review
Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham) Our Review
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed) Our Review
Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross) Our Review

In the Intense Now (João Moreira Salles, 2017)

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One of the better documentaries of the year plays this weekend only at the Northwest Film Forum. In the Intense Now is built out of archival images, some shot by director João Moreira Salles’s mother, when she visited China in 1966, but mostly from amateur and independent film footage of France and Czechoslovakia and Brazil in the revolutionary summer of 1968. It’s one of the centerpiece presentations of the Film Forum’s fall series 1968: Expressions of a Flame, which is presenting a wide variety of films, fiction and non-, well-known and obscure, from that year. It would also have been a fine addition to their Home Movies series, which began this spring and continues this weekend with Andy Warhol’s Mrs. Warhol, with its focus on filmmakers documenting and exploring their own families (which we highlighted here when they played Liu Jiayin’s Oxhide II and Chantal Akerman’s News from Home). In the Intense Now is built around this tension, between the personal and the political, as much as it is about the disconnect between the hopes of the past and the failures of the present.

Reminiscent of the films of Chris Marker, the film is entirely composed of archival images, over which the director narrates his thoughts in a soft, unassuming voice. His mother’s trip to China, where she appears not to notice the Cultural Revolution going on around her in favor of the sheer beauty of the country and its landscape, forms the apolitical counterpoint to the footage of the May protests in France two years later, where students march in the streets in support of striking workers (who seem generally bemused by the students, whom the refer to as “their future bosses”). Moreira Salles focuses less on the ideology of the protestors or their opponents, exemplified by young firebrand Daniel Cohn-Bendit on the one side and aged General DeGaulle on the other, than on the small moments captured almost accidentally by the filmmakers: minute gestures; expressions of unself-conscious joy and happiness; the fact that there are hardly any black people in the movement, and that they always are wearing suits; and so on. This fine eye for detail gives us a new way of looking at old footage, and a new angle on well-worn territory.

As does the film’s second half, the aftermath of the events of May, not just in Czechoslovakia, where Soviet tanks bring an end to the flowering Prague Spring, but in France, where the youth movement fizzles out and is co-opted by commercial interests. In fact, those interests were there from the start, fueling some of the most enduring memories of ’68, the slogans, bite-sized sentiments more surreal than Marxist that were not the organic output of youth rebellion they seemed to be at the time. For all the expressions of optimism and joy captured in the early days of the movement, In the Intense Now is ultimately a tragedy, a story of how movements fade away, how people, left and right, become grist for the content mills. In the face of all this inevitability, the film becomes a call to focus instead on experience, the individualized moment, the textures of existence, as a break from systemic thought or dreams of collective action. That it was made by the heir of one of Brazil’s most powerful banking families, a man worth close to 4 billion dollars, is probably important.

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 2018:

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1. The Skeleton Dance (Walt Disney, 1929)

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2. Thieves’ Highway (Jules Dassin, 1949)

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3. All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)

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4. Lola (Jacques Demy, 1961)

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5. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (John Ford, 1962)

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6. The Train (John Frenkenheimer, 1964)

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7. Lady Snowblood (Toshiya Fujita, 1973)

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8. Harlan County, USA (Barbara Kopple, 1976)

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9. Gremlins (Joe Dante, 1984)

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10. Shaun of the Dead (Edgar Wright, 2004)

And here are Sean’s Top Ten Films of All-Time for 2018:

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1. Morocco (Josef von Sternberg, 1930)

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2. Bringing Up Baby (Howard Hawks, 1938)

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3. A Canterbury Tale (Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger, 1944)

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4. Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)

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5. I am Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov, 1964)

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6. Police Story (Jackie Chan, 1985)

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7. Kiki’s Delivery Service (Hayao Miyazaki, 1989)

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8. A Brighter Summer Day (Edward Yang, 1991)

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9. The Matrix (Lana & Lilly Wachowski, 1999)

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10. Kung Fu Hustle (Stephen Chow, 2004)

Cielo (Alison McAlpine, 2017)

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The images in Alison McAlpine’s Cielo are the primary draw and are probably themselves worth the price of admission. Not just the starscapes, captured in the pristine thin air of the Atacama desert, gorgeous sweeping vistas of galaxies and nebulae, planets and stars, shot in crisp digital images, time-lapsed over sunsets and dawns, but the images of the land as well: a slo-motion cloud of dust, a man descending into a hole in the earth, his sky several tons of rock, his only light a single bulb worn loosely around his neck. McAlpine breathlessly muses upon the meaning of the sky, the stars, and she interviews many of the denizens of the desert, all of whom have their unique relationship to the world above. Planet hunters, astronomers who use machines and high-tech imaging to scour the universe for other worlds, are contrasted with more ancient occupations: shepherds and storytellers, and the aforementioned miner, who writes poetry in his spare time.

The transitions are deftly made, and slowly the film’s main idea comes into focus: that of the interconnection between sky and land, mirroring the fluidity of past and future. The night sky is both. Light from stars that traveled through the void for hundreds, thousands, millions of years only to become visible to us in the present, representing our hopes for a future, which are then reflected back into the sky. The machines of the scientists, overwhelming, massive constructions that distort the space around them, McAlpine films in the style of the Sensory Ethnography Lab, or something like Mauro Herce’s Dead Slow Ahead, imposing impositions upon the natural world. The locals though are filmed in the desert itself, in run-down shacks, rickety tents, or the open air itself. The film comes dangerously close to ethnographic condescension in some of these scenes, with a poor couple and a UFO hunter. But the miner/poet is charming and the film’s ultimate star is the folklorist who recites old stories, examines petroglyphs, and comes closest to unifying the film’s disparate elements.

One thing McApline does not cover is what became the ultimate subject of Patricio Guzmán’s 2010 film Nostalgia for the Light: the fact that the Atacama, while an ideal site for star-gazing, is also home to countless bodies of people disappeared and murdered under Chile’s military dictatorship. It was probably wise to avoid repeating Guzmán, of course, but the total absence of the subject from Cielo is unusual. In focusing so much on the people who actually live and work in the desert, she seems to be prioritizing the specificity of this single place. But in cutting it off from one of the most tragic and telling passages in its history, she leaves a black hole. The desert becomes a no-place, a mere place-holder for a general concept of “land” and its subjects in turn merely “people”, relevant only for their relation to an impassive, distant, omnivorous sky.

Friday August 31 – Thursday September 6

Featured Film:

Support the Girls at the Grand Illusion

Crystal Moselle’s fine Skate Kitchen opens this week at the Meridian and the Uptown, but I’m sticking with Support the Girls as our Featured Film because not only is it one of the very best films of the year (and the best American film I’ve seen so far in 2018), but because it’s Labor Day weekend and no film currently on Seattle Screens is more appropriate. Regina Hall plays the manager of a Hooters-like sports bar and restaurant in freeway sprawl Texas, and the film follows a day, a night, and a dawn in her life as she juggles staff new and old, a depressed husband, obnoxious customers, and a worthless boss. Few films have captured customer service management with such depth of feeling and nuance, with marvelous performances (from Hall and Haley Lu Richardson in particular, but also James LeGros as the physical embodiment of slimy capital) and assured direction from the former shining light of mumblecore.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

The Dark Crystal (Jim Henson & Frank Oz, 1982) Fri-Tues
Legend (Ridley Scott, 1985) Fri-Tues Hecklevision Tuesday

Century Federal Way:

Mar Gaye Oye Loko (Simerjit Singh) Fri-Thurs

Grand Cinema:

Woman Walks Ahead (Susanna White) Fri-Thurs
Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub) Fri-Thurs
Summer of ’84 (François Simard, Anouk Whissell & Yoann-Karl Whissell) Sat Only
En el séptimo día (Jim McKay) Tues Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Support the Girls (Andrew Bujalski) Fri-MOn, Weds
Terminator 2L Judgement Day (James Cameron, 1991) Sat, Sun & Thurs Only 35mm
The Long Kiss Goodnight (Renny Harlin, 1996) Fri, Sun, Mon & Weds Only 35mm

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Stree (Amar Kaushik) Fri-Thurs
Geetha Govindam (Parasuram) Fri-Thurs
Imaikkaa Nodigal (R. Ajay Gnanamuthu) Fri Only
Narthanasala (Srinivas Chakravarthi) Fri-Thurs
60 Vayadu Maaniram (Radha Mohan) Fri-Thurs

Regal Meridian:

Skate Kitchen (Crystal Moselle) Fri-Thurs
Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1997) Thurs Only

Northwest Film Forum:

Cielo (Alison McAlpine) Fri-Sun Our Review
Love, Cecil (Lisa Immordino Vreeland) Fri-Sun, Tues-Thurs
Investigation of a Flame and El pueblo se levanta (Lynne Sachs, 2003 and Third World Newsreel Film Collective, 1971) Sat Only
MEX AM NW – Animated Shorts for Youth Sun Only
Oulaya’s Wedding (Hisham Mayet, Cyrus Moussavi & Brittany Nugent) Weds Only Directors in Attendance
Betty: They Say I’m Different (Phil Cox) Starts Thurs

AMC Oak Tree:

Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub) Fri-Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

Big Brother (Kam Ka-wai) Fri-Thurs Our Review
L Storm (David Lam) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Ya veremos (Pedro Pablo Ibarra) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

1 Reel Film Festival Fri-Sun
The Third Murder (Kore-eda Hirokazu) Tues-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

Perfect Blue (Satoshi Kon, 1997) Thurs Only

SIFF Uptown:

The Bookshop (Isabel Coixet) Fri-Thurs
Skate Kitchen (Crystal Moselle) Fri-Thurs
Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub) Fri-Thurs

Varsity Theatre:

Puzzle (Marc Turtletaub) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Mission: Impossible–Fallout (Christopher McQuarrie) Our Review
Eighth Grade (Bo Burnham) Our Review
Ant-Man and the Wasp (Peyton Reed) Our Review
Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross) Our Review
Solo (Ron Howard) Our Review