Ant-Man and the Wasp (2018, Peyton Reed)

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In the wake of not just Avengers: Infinity War, but the length of more or less the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe so far, one could certainly be forgiven for a healthy dose of skepticism. Not to say that there haven’t been noteworthy or even good films in the twenty-strong series – although undoubtedly some would argue even that – but the more pertinent question is that of stakes. In terms of the wider MCU, all of the films involve as their central conflict a villain whose plans at some point involve widespread destruction of an “innocent” public. Even something as far afield from the standard operation like Black Panther couldn’t help but hew to this.

The first exception I can think of to this is Ant-Man and the Wasp, which by design seems to be a comedown from the galactic strife of Avengers: Infinity War. Directed by Peyton Reed (who also directed Ant-Man), this film somehow manages to embody all the qualities that Marvel films had heretofore merely suggested: light, breezy, and emotional in a way more linked to the characters rather than a wider society. This isn’t necessarily to say that this feels especially personal in the way that, say, Black Panther does. But it has more than its fair share of liveliness and sense of play, which makes this feel markedly different from other MCU films.

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Leave No Trace (2018, Debra Granik)

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One of the more pressing concerns of any narrative film is the representation of the environment – in purely geographic terms – that surrounds the characters and plot. In the hands of a carefully attuned director, the setting can (and almost always should) inflect and influence the mood of the film and the course of the events, drawing upon a landscape in order to reflect upon whatever conflicts or crises the figures are involved in. Such an ideal seems to apply to such a film as Leave No Trace, directed and co-written by Debra Granik.

Granik, whose last narrative feature film was the widely lauded Winter’s Bone back in 2010, seems to have developed this sense of location and place as her professed metier: her previous film derived much of its critical cachet from its hard-nosed portrayal of the Ozarks and the people that inhabited it. In a similar vein, Leave No Trace is defined by its primary (though crucially not sole) location: the forests of Oregon and Washington, especially an unspecified public park outside Portland.

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Friday June 15 – Thursday June 21

Featured Film:

2001: A Space Odyssey at the Pacific Place

Sure the Pacific Place isn’t the ideal spot for watching a classic film, but the Cinerama I guess would rather be one of fifty screens in the area playing the new Pixar movie than be the home of an unmissable film event. Stanley Kubrick’s seminal sci-fi epic is of course no stranger to Seattle Screens, but this is a new restoration and it’s playing on 70mm. With the rest of the city suffering its annual SIFF hangover (with the exception, as usual, of the Grand Illusion, which has a restoration of Melvin Van Peebles’s equally classic Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song), you might as well go to the AMC and see a great movie again, even if Christopher Nolan was somehow involved.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville) Fri-Thurs
Believer (Lee Hae-young) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

Manos Returns (Tonjia Atomic) Thurs Only

Central Cinema:

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (Steven Spielberg, 1989) Fri-Tues
The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, 1994) Fri-Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

Mountain (Jennifer Peedom) Fri-Thurs

Century Federal Way:

Carry on Jatta 2 (Smeep Kang) Fri-Thurs
Pom Poko (Isao Takahata, 1994) Sun, Mon & Weds Only Subtitled Monday

Grand Cinema:

The Rider (Chloé Zhao) Fri-Thurs
First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Mountain (Jennifer Peedom) Fri-Thurs
Dazed and Confused (Richard Linklater, 1993) Sat Only
Madagascar (Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath, 2005) Sat Only Free Screening
Strangers on the Earth (Tristan Cook) Mon & Tues Only
The Day the Earth Stood Still (Robert Wise, 1951) Weds Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Mary Shelley (Haifaa Al-Mansour) Fri-Thurs
Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song (Melvin Van Peebles, 1971) Fri, Sat & Tues Only
Bijou (Wakefield Poole) Thurs Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville) Fri-Thurs
Kaala (Pa. Ranjith) Fri-Thurs Tamil, Telugu or Hindi, Check Listings
American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs
Naa Nuvve (Jayendra Panchapakesan) Fri-Thurs
Veere Di Wedding (Shashanka Ghosh) Fri-Thurs
Race 3 (Remo D’Souza) Fri-Thurs
Sammohanam (Mohan Krishna Indraganti) Fri-Thurs
Pom Poko (Isao Takahata, 1994) Sun, Mon & Weds Only Subtitled Monday

Regal Meridian:

How Long Will I Love U (Su Lun) Fri-Thurs Our Review
First Reformed (Paul Schrader) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Other Review
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville) Fri-Thurs
Race 3 (Remo D’Souza) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Queerama (Daisy Asquith) Fri-Sun
Five Seasons: The Gardens of Piet Oudolf (Thomas Piper) Fri-Thurs
Mama Colonel (Dieudo Hamadi) Thurs Only

AMC Pacific Place:

2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) Fri-Thurs 70mm
The Rider (Chloé Zhao) Fri-Thurs
American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Race 3 (Remo D’Souza) Fri-Thurs
Sid & Aya: Not a Love Story (Irene Villamor) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs
American Animals (Bart Layton) Fri-Thurs
Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio) Fri-Thurs
On Chesil Beach (Dominic Cooke) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

Summer 1993 (Carla Simón) Fri-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

Pom Poko (Isao Takahata, 1994) Sun, Mon & Weds Only

SIFF Uptown:

Hearts Beat Loud (Brett Haley) Fri-Thurs
Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (Morgan Neville) Fri-Thurs
Best of SIFF 2018 Full Program 

Varsity Theatre:

The Year of Spectacular Men (Lea Thompson) Fri-Thurs
The Yellow Birds (Alexandre Moors) Fri-Thurs

In Wide Release:

Ocean’s 8 (Gary Ross) Our Review
Solo (Ron Howard) Our Review
Avengers: Infinity War (Anthony & Joe Russo) Our Review
Ready Player One (Steven Spielberg) Our Review
Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson) Our Review
Black Panther (Ryan Coogler) Our Review

SIFF 2018: ★ (Johann Lurf, 2017)

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Science fiction with the boring bits left out. Johann Lurf reconstructs the universe by stripping Hollywood product of the generic narratives that propel mass consumption filmmaking to the heavens in order to focus on the stars themselves. In other words, a montage of voids: only moments of emptiness, of white specks against infinite dark remain. Though an avant-gardist himself, Lurf seems sincere in his desire to engage with popular cinema; he surely could have scrounged up a few more images from the likes of Jordan Belson or Stan Brakhage to include here, but he largely restricts himself to the kinds of movies that draw a crowd—or at least were intended to. He somehow mines wonder from Howard the Duck, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and Guardians of the Galaxy. The trajectory from Man Ray to Marvel suggests a real traversal of aesthetic boundaries, and not just of cinematic time, and the final effect of seeing so much discarded matter bent, almost accidentally, into something beautiful is a little like watching light escape a black hole: the rational mind says it shouldn’t work, but it sure is a sight to behold.

SIFF 2018: Un beau soleil intérieur (Claire Denis, 2017)

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Cinema’s seer of texture and touch swaps the pleasures of the eye for the vagaries of spoken language. Denis applies her halting, fragmentary style not to the images—which are atypically steady and clear—but to the words. Un beau soleil intérieur understands how people talk in fits and starts, how romantic (comedy) conversations slip into ellipses; it’s the gaps that matter. So, a Claire Denis film. Still, there’s a sense of perhaps too much light let in, of the genre bending Denis to its will, and not the other way around.

SIFF 2018: First Reformed (Paul Schrader, 2017)

First Reformed possesses a gravestone’s beauty: cold and white like marble, angular, terminal. Paul Schrader learned his art in the pews; he relishes mounting the pulpit with his camera. And for better or worse, sermons don’t come much more sulphuric than this. Damnation is as American as apple pie (“it’s organic and local”). Hawke devoutly incorporates this chronicle of darkest hours, and Schrader remains, as ever, trapped in the garden.

SIFF 2018: People’s Republic of Desire (Hao Wu, 2018)

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Note: as this film is under embargo until its release in the Seattle area, here are exactly 75 words.

Life in the People’s panopticon; that’s the idea anyways. Money sloshes around via exploding CGI coins—the digital puss of wealth accretion under authoritarian capitalism—yet the film fails to locate China’s live-stream stars in meaningful social context. Trapped in the machine, but never interrogating 21st century cinema’s central question: how do we watch people watching screens? Talking head aesthetics won’t cut it. It takes a poet to penetrate the human surge beneath the simulacra.

Meek’s Cutoff (Kelly Reichardt, 2010)

The following is a loose transcript of a presentation I gave on Meek’s Cutoff, a film that was part of the Pickford Film Center’s repertory series, West of What?!, that ran from June 2017-May 2018. The presentation included a slideshow; the images below correspond to the slideshow images.


Meek

Good afternoon and welcome to the screening of the Kelly Reichardt’s 2010 film, Meek’s Cutoff.

Today’s film is a part of the Pickford’s West of What?! Westerns series, and, so before we begin the film, I’m going to talk for a little while about the film and its place in this series.

The Westerns genre is, of course, a significant part of the American cinematic landscape, and it was, for a certain period, enormously popular.

Between 1930-1954, approximately 2,700 Westerns were released. (Source: http://www.b-westerns.com/graphs.htm )

 

Meek's Slide 1

The Westerns genre, though, contained some troubling ideas or myths that are important to recognize.

For example,

  • The genre often promoted myths of westward expansion – the idea of Manifest Destiny – this sort of God-given right (to white people) for westward expansion into the indigenous peoples’ land.
  • It often defined a very narrow, traditional view of masculinity
  • It presented often absurd, gender stereotypes for women. Women were often depicted as purely domestic beings, side characters mostly useful as a civilizing force over men
  • It often normalized genocide, specifically of Native Americans

One of the most interesting things about Westerns is that the popularity of the genre might have a lot more to do with how many Americans tend to see and explain themselves (Looking at Movies, Barsam and Monahan), rather than with a connection to historical accuracy or to the true, often troubling, complexity of our country’s checkered history.

So one of the goals of the West of What?! series – given these things – has been to consider the problematic ideas or ideologies in the Western genre both by looking at Westerns that contain them and by looking at Westerns that subvert them in some way.  Continue reading

You Were Never Really Here (Lynne Ramsay, 2017)

Joe in shadow

“Where are we going?”
“Wherever you want to go. . . . Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t know either.”

In Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 film, Psycho, a past-haunted man cannot escape himself or the violence he has known and inflicted, and he preserves his own guilt and trauma, literally, in the body of his mother. He could not bear to live with her and the man she called her husband, and so he killed her. He could not bear to live without her, and so he keeps her, tucked in her bed, a “boy’s best friend.” It’s an impossible, stunted existence, an embalmed life, where the dead cannot be buried, and it is a life that splits Norman Bates’s identity in two. His body becomes a sort of prison, a site of ever-present struggle between two selves, between life and death, past and present. “We scratch and we claw,” Norman says, “but only at the air, only at each other, and for all of it, we never budge an inch.”

Lynne Ramsay’s newest film, You Were Never Really Here, beautifully recalls this earlier cinematic classic both overtly and obliquely.  Joe (Joaquin Phoenix) is a war veteran, a sort of walking dead man like Norman Bates. Joe carries the suffocating horror of his past around in his scarred body while violent images of that past crash, unbidden, into his mind, disrupting his path in any given moment. The voices of the dead, too, and of his younger self force themselves into his ears. His is a divided existence, and his body contains a mind that won’t obey him. “What am I doing?” he mutters to himself when one of these images or voices shatters his attention and a task at hand. He is often, then, cut off from the world around him, the trauma of his mind wrenching him towards itself and away from an exterior, Other reality.   Continue reading

The Green Fog (Maddin, Johnson, Johnson, 2017)

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“San Francisco’s changed. The things that spell San Francisco to me are disappearing fast.” — Gavin Elster, Vertigo, 1958

I’ve never seen Gus Van Sant’s remake of Psycho. I know the consensus opinion is one of distaste, if not disgust, but from afar I have always kind of respected what I think Van Sant was going for, the experiment behind the film. Can someone take the elements of a stone cold classic and manage to replicate its power? In their bizarre, Canadian way Guy Maddin and his collaborators, Galen and Evan Johnson, have taken the baton from Van Sant with their new film The Green Fog, which uses clips from a century of cinema and television shot entirely in San Francisco to retell the plot of another Hitchcock masterpiece, Vertigo.

And damn it, The Green Fog is Vertigo, albeit filtered through the manic Friday night-to-Saturday morning antics of Joe Dante’s Movie Orgy. (Dick Miller is even in it!) There are clips from ’40s film noir like Dark Passage and scenes from ’70s cop shows like The Streets of San Francisco. (Apparently one episode had Karl Malden dressed as a clown, which gets a surprising amount of mileage here.) Knowing Maddin’s house style there are not as many clips from silent films as one would expect but the filmmakers did include scenes from the mid-’90s David Caruso joint, Jade, so its a wash. However, the joy of The Green Fog comes less from playing I-Spy with the copious array of film clips–this is not Maddin’s Ready Player One–but from seeing how a bunch of disparate moments from all kinds of films can be repurposed to recount one of cinema’s most enduring mysteries.

The experiment could come off as tedious or pretentious in the hands of anyone else but thanks to a concise one-hour running time and the lowbrow high jinks of Messrs. Maddin, Johnson, and Johnson, The Green Fog is a piece of entertaining and hilarious art. A young and dashing Michael Douglas watches video footage of a naked, middle-aged Michael Douglas and nods approvingly. N*Sync shows up for an inexplicable musical interlude. Nicolas Cage screams. But the film is not a farce. It is not taking malicious aim at Vertigo. The filmmakers are playing deliriously with something they love.

The Green Fog works because it chooses to replicate Vertigo specifically. The consensus pick for THE GREATEST FILM OF ALL TIME is perhaps the only choice that would make sense. Because of its placement atop the Sight and Sound poll, Vertigo is required viewing for all budding cinephiles. It has become homework. Like Citizen Kane before it, the distinction as cinema’s ideal makes viewing Vertigo on its own terms difficult. The film has so much baggage. It is getting harder to separate the movie from the accolades and analysis. The Green Fog gives us a new way of coming to Vertigo. It boils the film down to its essence and reminds us what was so intoxicating in the first place.