VIFF 2018: Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes & Daniel Schmidt, 2018)

e2809cdiamantinoe2809d-credit-charades

A soccer player strides across the field. Beautiful, dumb and happy, he tells us his story in a wide-eyed narration. A Candide lost in a world far too corrupt for his dim intelligence and brilliant soul. In the opening moment we get to see the world, the game, through his eyes. Not one of screaming lunatic fans or hulking, hostile opponents, but of giant fluffy puppies cavorting in slo-mo through cotton candy pink billows of cloud.

Circumstances, as they do, intrude on this perfect, pre-verbal vision of the world as it might be, and our hero, Diamantino, is sent into a tailspin of awareness, first by an encounter with refugees lost at sea, then by the death of his beloved father. Rather than center their film on their naive hero’s growing consciousness, as in, say, Daisy von Scherler-Meyer’s Party Girl, in which club kid Parker Posey grows into an existentialist librarian, directors Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt instead put poor Diamantino at the center of a complex and farcical conspiracy involving his evil twin sisters, a pair of undercover cops, a Brexit-like campaign (but for Portugal) and a scientist who walks in water and tries to clone our hero (to make the perfect soccer team) but with gender-confounding consequences. His only ally is one of the cops, whom he adopts thinking she is an orphan refugee boy.

The conspiracy plotting is ridiculous, reminding me of the half-assed terrorism sub-plot in the film within the film of Spice It Up at best and the grotesque anti-comedy of Edgar Pêra’s Cinesapiens short at worst. A few of the jokes land, especially when the directors find new uses for familiar musical cues like the “Vorspiel” from Das Rheingold or Henry Purcell’s “Dido’s Lament”. But the film rarely again reaches the heights of its first few magical moments, yet every time they bring us back to Diamantino and his pure, foolish soul I’m won over again. He’s truly the hero we need in our dumb, degraded, beautiful world.

Advertisements

Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution (Yony Leyser, 2017)

queercore

Over the course of 83 brisk, entertaining minutes, Yony Leyser’s alternately raucous and thoughtful documentary traces the origins and rise of the queer punk rock scene. Like a punk song, much of the film’s force is in its economy, and like a punk song, it challenges the status quo, flouts taboos, and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Leyser does a fine job recovering buried history in a way that’s fresh and illuminating, reminding us that settled narratives exist to be unsettled and that the voices of outsiders can often tell the truth the loudest.

Continue reading

VIFF 2018: Sofia Bohdanowicz’s Shorts

VeslemoysSong

“I found myself taking photos of things people left behind.” It sure is nice to be back in Sofia Bohdanowicz’s world of forgotten things. Maison du bonheur, her most recent feature, was, for me, the highlight of last year’s festival (on some days I feel like I’m still basking in its sun-kissed warmth) and this year we’ve been gifted no less than four new works. They’re shorts this time out, but as Bohdanowicz demonstrated with A Prayer, An Evening, and Another Prayer (her triplicate reckoning with a grandmother’s death and that grandmother’s many, multiform absences) she’s a master of the format. She knows precisely how to compress the expansive generosity and inquisitiveness of her cinema into a matter of minutes.

Veslemøy’s Song, the longest and most substantial of the shorts, is another Bohdanowicz excavation project. Like her first feature, Never Eat Alone, a dusted-off object prompts an inquiry into unremembered histories both personal and artistic. Here it’s a song dedicated to Kathleen Parlow, a music instructor who taught Bohdanowicz’s violinist grandfather his craft and a woman of some note during her time, now long since forgotten. The sole recording of the song resides in a basement of the New York Public Library system and is available only by appointment. Deragh Campbell, once again standing in for Bohdanowicz, hops on a plane to pay witness. But upon arriving, her efforts are frustrated by a form of institutional preservationism heretofore alien to Bohdanowicz’s cinema, despite the filmmaker’s own archivist instincts. A faceless technician, located six floors below, spins the warped old disk. Campbell hears nothing more than a 30 second snippet piped in through a computer, and the off-screen archivist, via a chat window, bureaucratically denies her requests for a more complete experience.

Bohdanowicz’s earlier films were, quite literally, home movies, and as such they benefitted from her subjects’ hospitality and their open-door policies. Institutional actors, even or especially those who share Bohdanowicz’s archaeological mission, are as accommodating as procedures allow and no more. As if in response to this frosty welcome, graphite tones replace Maison du bonheur‘s impressionist daubs of color and, with one particularly sepulchral close-up, the film takes on an almost Dreyerian spareness. Not every host—and not every film—greets you with open arms. Veslemøy’s Song serves to acknowledge the challenges that face Bohdanowicz’s project as it expands outward from her family unit. Nothing to despair about, and certainly not for an artist as intuitive as Bohdanowicz. Still, muted disappointment is the right final note: “Afterwards I ate an egg salad sandwich on whole wheat. It wasn’t very good.”

Where

Technology and personal history intersect again in Where, Bohdanowicz‘s bad romance as recounted by Google street view. Mapping software introduces uncanny digital movement to Bohdanowicz’s world and, by its very nature, erects a spatial and emotional distance between the film and its subject. Given the interpersonal cruelty described by the intertitles—the only form of narration here—the film’s remove from physical space registers as a kind of therapy, a means to inspect an old wound without touching it.

A physical, if faked, wound plays a central role in Roy Thomson. Bohdanowicz revisits the symphony hall where she once saw her grandfather play the violin and relates how, frustrated by his unwillingness to wave to her mid-performance, she patched together a false arm bandage to garner his attention. Seeing his granddaughter hurt, he waved back. As in Where, Bohdanowicz transforms still images through scratchy, sepia-toned 16mm—apparently processed with natural chemicals derived from flowers. The effect is, appropriately, like stumbling on some moldy, time-eaten artifact and holding it close to admire the beauty of its deformations. In other words, a memory.

The Soft Space is the outlier of the bunch: close-ups of a woman’s naked torso alternate with the adamantine geometry of the New York City subway system. The contrasting visual and aural textures are approached with an admirable lack of prejudice—pliable flesh and the hard metal girding of the MTA are equally appealing under Bohdanowicz’s eye—but fail to suffuse the film with anything like the personal charge that’s present in her other works. This might be Anywoman, Anycity. Still, every young filmmaker ought to be afforded the chance to strike out and claim new spaces, to test the boundaries of her world, and as Sofia Bohdanowicz moves farther from home, she paradoxically invites more of us in.

VIFF 2018: Spice It Up (Lev Lewis, Yonah Lewis, & Calvin Thomas, 2018)

spiceitup

One of the highlights of this year’s Future//Present program, and almost certainly the funniest movie to ever play in the now three-year-old series highlighting the cutting edge in Canadian independent cinema, is Spice It Up, from the directorial troika of Lev and Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas. Beginning life five years ago as a shambolic portrait of seven young women who, failing at high school, join the Canadian Army and spend one crazy summer together hanging out, dancing and somehow becoming involved in a terrorist plot involving French Canadian separatists. Charming and goofy, the original film seems like exactly the kind of thing people who teach in film schools rail against: it’s formless and fails to follow the rules of screenwriting as set done by hacks in how-to books. The current version of the film embraces that criticism, inventing a frame story in which the film student who ostensibly directed the movie (played by Jennifer Hardy), is tasked by her teacher (a very funny Adam Nayman) with restoring some classical virtues to her slice-of-life hangout movie. And he isn’t the only one with criticisms: seemingly everyone Hardy meets tells her what is wrong with her film and makes suggestions that simply don’t make sense to her. Still, she works at it, but, as she says, every change she makes away from her original vision simply makes her like the movie less.

Of course all the people who criticize Hardy’s work are men: her instructor, her editor, a guy who suggests she turn her characters into manifestations of virtues set down by moral philosophers, a guy who lives next door who walks out of her movie halfway through a screening. The only woman she actually talks to about it is her sister, played by Sophy Romvari, who hasn’t even bothered to watch the movie yet. It’s a pointed criticism of the film school system, and the wider world of film criticism, dominated by the point of view of men, both under- and over-educated, with directors like Hardy flustered when their personal style of cinema doesn’t line up with established norms. It’s hardly a polemic, though, and the film is just as hilarious in its parody of film culture as the film within a film is of a group of underprepared women sticking together (where Hardy in her story is pointedly alone) despite a significant dearth of common sense. It’s maybe the funniest movie about independent filmmaking since La última película, or maybe even Tom DiCillo’s classic Living in Oblivion. It’s also, with its memorable supporting cast, a compelling portrait of the Toronto film scene as it stands right now in the 2010s, resolutely opposed to commercial norms and dedicated to making the personal cinematic and the cinematic personal.

VIFF 2018: Fausto (Andrea Bussmann, 2018)

Fausto

Sea shanty cinema: we might plot coordinates from Griffith’s one-reeler The Unchanging Sea through The Immortal Story and on to a constellation of Raul Ruiz works. In its purest form this a marauder’s cinema, possessed by a desire to horde half-heard tales and rum barrel laments (all that narrative jetsam that floats into port when sea dogs hit the shore) and cobble them into something resembling a coherent shape. Andrea Bussmann’s Fausto participates in a number of trends currently in vogue for the self-consciously modest festival film (a fetish for 16mm stock, self-reflexive exoticism, and what we might call neo-ethnography) but it distinguishes itself—initially, anyways—by seeming to revive this raconteur’s tradition. More movies that raid sailors’ bars for inspiration, please.

The odd thing, though, is that Bussmann maintains a cautious distance from the snatches of Oaxacan myth that she picks up in beachside booze shacks. The film leaves these stories unillustrated (deserted landscapes dominate the day and abstract, Costa-esque shadows rule the night) and unquestioned (aphorisms abound but lack insight or explication: “All animals are to a degree telepathic. They even retain their telepathic abilities when stuffed.” If you say so…). Animism at least operates as a key motif, though a mid-film trip to a natural history exhibit, stocked with a variety of taxidermied specimen, too neatly reveals Fausto’s hand: we are to understand that the local fauna have been poached for our amusement and ponder the ways in which the film’s narratology replicates this pilferage. In other words, Bussmann foregrounds her discomfort with her own project and its elected storytelling mode, which by its very nature borders on theft. This is a gesture of thoughtful self-critique by some standards, or a rusty escape hatch by mine. And so, Fausto offers us another soft-grained interrogation of a young filmmaker’s anthropological anxieties. We’re not exactly lacking for those. A more, well, Faustian bargain was in order: piracy is a dirty business, but not without its pleasures.

VIFF 2018 Preview: Grass, People’s Republic of Desire, Girls Always Happy, Microhabitat, Matangi/Maya/MIA

grass

I’m actually already here in Vancouver, three excellent movies into my time at this year’s Film Festival. But as a kind of a preview, I want to highlight some of our previously published coverage of films that will be playing here over the next couple of weeks.

Hong Sangsoo is of course the headliner. His Grass, which premiered earlier this year, will be playing in the second week of the festival, after I leave town. Fortunately, Evan and I had a chance to see and talk about it earlier this year. Like The Day After and Hotel by the River (which isn’t playing VIFF but will be at the New York Film Festival this week), it’s a black and white film starring Kim Minhee. All three films are melancholy,  meditations on death and suicide informed by a Christian spirituality. I think Grass, the Purgatorio of Hong’s Divine Comedy, is the best of them.

Evan and I were split on the documentary People’s Republic of Desire when it played SIFF earlier this year. He found it too formally boring to really get anything out of its subject, the online celebrity culture of contemporary China, while I thought that was kind of the point, that despite the apparent newness of the world, all the old evils will reassert themselves.

Yang Mingming was the most adventurous of the several solid titles in SIFF’s Chinese film program this year, and I’m glad to see it pop up again here at VIFF. The director herself stars as a young woman with a hot and cold relationship with her mother (played by Nai An, who also stars here at VIFF in Ying Liang’s A Family Tour).  Yang “mixes tones cavalierly, one minute wrenching personal drama told in close-ups of anguished, sweaty, tear-stained faces, the next a jaunty scooter trip through Beijing’s warren of hutong alleys, the next those same alleys turned to the scene of unnamable, invisible dread. The result is a highly unstable film, lurching from lyricism to (self-)excoriation, coming dangerously close to resembling life itself.”

Also in VIFF’s Gateway stream is Jeon Go-woon’s Microhabitat, which I wrote about this summer when it played the New York Asian Film Festival. It’s a polished, warm film about a young woman who “chooses homelessness when price increases make sustaining her budget of cigarettes, whiskey and rent unsustainable. She couches surfs from one former college bandmate to another, all miserable in their own way while she remains pure, the only one of her peers not to compromise her independence and joy in life’s most basic consumptive pleasures.”

Finally, I was mixed on the documentary Matangi/Maya/MIA when it played at SIFF. Made up almost entirely of footage the star shot herself, long before she became famous or even., apparently had any idea of becoming a musician, it’s a fascinating look inside the mind of a creative person who hasn’t quite figured out what she wants to create. It kind of falls apart once she becomes famous, skipping from controversy to controversy, but I imagine that happens to all of us when we get old.

Friday September 28 – Thursday October 4

Featured Film:

Leave Her to Heaven at the Seattle Art Museum

SAM’s annual fall film noir series kicks into high gear this week with John Stahl’s 1945 Leave Her to Heaven, with Gene Tierney as the woman who will do absolutely anything it takes to win, and keep, the man she loves (Cornel Wilde). The most sublime intersection of Technicolor women’s melodrama and film noir, it’s one of the most singular, nastiest, and fun films of the classical Hollywood era. SAM’s noir series continues throughout the fall, with greats like Abraham Polonsky’s Force of Evil, Nicholas Ray and Ida Lupino’s On Dangerous Ground, Charles Laughton’s Night of the Hunter (maybe the best film ever made), and Michael Mann’s Heat. All but that last one are slated to be shown on 35mm to boot.

In the meantime, Seattle Screen Scene is going on the road for our annual trip to the Vancouver Film Festival. Stay tuned for extensive coverage of some of the most interesting movies of the year, including highlights from the summer festival season, the best in independent Canadian cinema, and one of North America’s finest and most adventurous Asian film programs.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

The Great Battle (Kim Gwangsik) Fri-Thurs Our Review
The Negotiation (Yoon Jekyoon) Fri-Thurs

Central Cinema:

Mean Girls (Mark Waters, 2004) Fri-Tues
The Lost Boys (Joel Schumacher, 1987) Fri-Tues

Century Federal Way:

Parahuna (Amrit Raj Chadha & Mohit Banwait) Fri-Thurs
The Great Battle (Kim Gwang-Sik) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Qismat (Jagdeep Sidhu) Fri-Thurs
My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) Sun, Mon & Weds Only Subtitled Monday

Grand Cinema:

Mandy (Panos Cosmatos) Fri-Thurs
The Catcher was a Spy (Ben Lewin) Fri-Thurs
Pick of the Litter (Dana Nachman & Don Hardy) Fri-Thurs
Let the Corpses Tan (Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani) Sat Only Our Review
Madeline’s Madeline (Josephine Decker) Tues Only
Prospect (Chris Caldwell & Zeek Earl) Thurs Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

Rodents of Unusual Size (Quinn Costello, Chris Metzler & Jeff Springer) Fri-Thurs
Outrage Coda (Takeshi Kitano) Fri-Thurs
Let the Corpses Tan (Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani) Sat, Sun & Tues Only Our Review
Blood Salvage (Tucker Johnston) Sat Only VHS

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Collette (Wash Westmoreland) Fri-Thurs
Chekka Chivantha Vaanam (Mani Ratnam) Fri-Thurs
Manmarziyan (Anurag Kashyap) Fri-Thurs
Batti Gul Meter Chalu (Shree Narayan Singh) Fri-Thurs
Devadas (Sriram Aditya) Fri-Thurs
Natakam (Kalyanji Gogana) Fri-Thurs
Pataakha (Vishal) Fri-Thurs
Sui Dhaaga-Made in India (Sharat Katariya) Fri-Thurs
My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) Sun, Mon & Weds Only Subtitled Monday

Regal Meridian:

Science Fair (Darren Foster & Cristina Costantini) Fri-Thurs
Golden Job (Chin Ka-lok) Fri-Thurs Our Review

Northwest Film Forum:

Local Sightings Film Festival Fri & Sat Full Program
Pioneers: First Women Filmmakers Sun Only
True Conviction (Jamie Meltzer) Tues Only
The Changeling (Peter Medak, 1980) Weds Only
Queercore: How to Punk a Revolution (Yony Leyser) Weds-Fri Only

AMC Oak Tree:

Golden Job (Chin Ka-lok) Fri-Thurs Our Review

AMC Pacific Place:

Lizzie (Craig Macneill) Fri-Thurs
Collette (Wash Westmoreland) 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:

Leave Her to Heaven (John M. Stahl, 1945) Thurs Only 35mm

AMC Southcenter:

El día de la unión (Kuno Becker) Fri-Thurs
Trico Tri: Happy Halloween (Christian Vogeler) Fri-Thurs

Regal Thornton Place:

My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) Sun, Mon & Weds Only

SIFF Uptown:

Blaze (Ethan Hawke) Fri-Thurs
Pick of the Litter (Dana Nachman & Don Hardy) Fri-Thurs
Mandy (Panos Cosmatos) Fri-Thurs
French Cinema Now Festival Fri-Thurs Full Program

Varsity Theatre:

Love, Gilda (Lisa Dapolito) Fri-Thurs
The Healer (Pablo Arango) Fri-Thurs
My Neighbor Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, 1988) Weds Only

In Wide Release:

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

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.

The Great Battle (Kim Kwangsik, 2018)

fullsizephoto994975

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