SIFF 2017: Mr. Long (Sabu, 2017)

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The SIFF program describes this as “Yojimbo meets Tampopo“, which definitely has an “I can only think of two Japanese movies” vibe, in that it isn’t really like either of those movies except its main character is a man who slices up people for hire and also sometimes makes noodles. It’s more akin to Johnnie To’s Where a Good Man Goes, but I’m probably only saying that because I’m the kind of person who compares everything to a Johnnie To movie.

Chang Chen’s a hitman in Kaohsiang who gets sent to Japan to kill someone. The job gets botched and he barely escapes. Recovering in a dilapidated slum, he’s befriended by a young boy (whose mom is a junkie) and eventually a whole community of locals, who figure out that he’s an excellent cook and, in like two days, build him an apartment and a noodle cart, while at the same time he helps the mom kick her heroin habit. It’s a story of rebirth fostered by community, and its portrait of the unity of people living on the margins recalls the spirit of no less than Sadao Yamanaka’s Humanity and Paper Balloons. The fairy tale approach is leavened by a harder edge, but director Sabu (last seen here as Samurai #1 in Scorsese’s Silence) keeps things brisk and light, with long wordless stretches scored jauntily by Junichi Matsumoto. Chang’s deadpan performance is a delight, even as his hair comes perilously close to “Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element”. Befuddled as to why the locals seem to like him, the kid explains “it’s because you keep cool and don’t say anything”. Taiwanese actress Yao Yiti is unconvincing as a junkie (she cleans up into super-adorable way too quickly), but shines in her extended flashback, providing the unlikely link between her and Chang. That that link should go undiscovered by the characters involved is one of the many small idiosyncrasies of Sabu’s storytelling, one which defies both Hollywood notions of causality and Hong Kong traditions of cosmic coincidence.

SIFF 2017: Week Four Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Friday June 9 – Thursday June 15

Featured Film:

The Seattle International Film Festival, Part Four

The never-ending festival finally ends this weekend, as SIFF 2017 comes to a close with a handful of anticipated films, including Nocturama, Mr. Long, A Ghost Story, The Door, Gook, The Feels, and archival presentations of The Witches and Taste of Cherry. Last week, we reviewed Columbus, Have a Nice Day, The Little Hours, Landline, Wind River, and The Dumb Girl of Portici. We’ll have more reviews in the coming week, along with another episode of The Frances Farmer Show.

Playing This Week:

AMC Alderwood:

3 Idiotas (Carlos Bolado) Fri-Thurs
Churchill (Jonathan Teplitzky) Fri-Thurs

Ark Lodge Cinemas:

The Man Who Fell to Earth (Carlos Bolado) Thurs Only Remixed with DJ NicFit performing a decades-spanning all-Bowie score!

Central Cinema:

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962) Fri-Tues
Tommy Boy (Peter Segal, 1995) Fri-Tues

SIFF Egyptian:

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Century Federal Way:

Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) Weds Only

Grand Cinema:

Obit (Vanessa Gould) Fri-Thurs
The Lovers (Azazel Jacobs) Fri-Thurs
Churchill (Jonathan Teplitzky) Fri-Thurs
Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde (John S. Robertson, 1920) Fri Only
Dr. Strangelove (Stanley Kubrick, 1964) Sat Only
Hidden Figures (Theodore Melfi) Mon Only Our Review
Heal the Living (Katell Quillevere) Tues Only

Grand Illusion Cinema:

The Survivalist (Stephen Fingleton) Fri-Thurs
Resist, Rebel, Survive (Various) Tues Only

Cinemark Lincoln Square:

Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs
Ami Tumi (Mohan Krishna Indraganti) Fri-Thurs
Raabta (Dinesh Vijan) Fri-Thurs
The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage
Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) Weds Only

Regal Meridian:

God of War (Gordon Chan) Fri-Thurs Our Review
Didi’s Dreams (Kevin Tsai) Fri-Thurs
Sachin: A Billion Dreams (James Erskine) Fri-Thurs

Northwest Film Forum:

Violet (Bas Devos) Fri-Sun
Maurizio Cattelan: Be Right Back (Maura Axelrod) Fri-Sun Only
The Maury Island Incident (Scott Schaefer) Sun Only Filmmakers in Attendance
The Short Films of Toshio Matsumoto Weds, Thurs & Next Sun Only
Last Men in Aleppo (Feras Fayyad) Starts Thurs
Funeral Parade of Roses (Toshio Matsumoto, 1969) Starts Thurs

AMC Oak Tree:

Norman: The Moderate Rise And Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (Joseph Cedar) Fri-Thurs

AMC Pacific Place:

Beautiful Accident (Wi Ding Ho) Fri-Thurs
Paris Can Wait (Eleanor Coppola) Fri-Thurs
The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Regal Parkway Plaza:

Lowriders (Ricardo de Montreuil) Fri-Thurs
Raabta (Dinesh Vijan) Fri-Thurs
Hindi Medium (Saket Chaudhary) Fri-Thurs
3 Idiotas (Carlos Bolado) Fri-Thurs

AMC Seattle:

Middle Man (Ned Crowley) Fri-Thurs

SIFF Film Center:

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

SIFF Uptown:

The 2017 Seattle International Film Festival Full Program Our Coverage

Varsity Theatre:

A Quiet Passion (Terence Davies) Fri-Thurs Our Review Our Podcast
Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) Weds Only

In Wide Release:

Alien Covenant (Ridley Scott) Our Review
Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (James Gunn) Our Review

SIFF 2017: Columbus (Kogonada, 2017)

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

20 days into #SIFF2017 and this is the first time I’ve seen something truly unique, a new cinematic voice. An elegant mashup of Ozu (the plot: convincing a young woman to move on with her life), Linklater (a man and a woman talk about art and life) and Antonioni (architecture!), a Platonic romance with lovely performances from John Cho and Haley Lu Richardson (and Parker Posey!), Kogonada’s debut feature is precise and warm but never sentimental.

SIFF 2017: Have a Nice Day (Liu Jian, 2017)

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

The second feature from director Liu Jian is an animated network-noir that in its amoral glee at the interconnected machinations of crooks and losers recalls early Tarantino, or at least his Korean imitators. A bag of money is stolen and passes through many vicious hands in dingy, bleak sections of a city at night (the pale, grimy animation recalls a hungover Duckman), a world away from the glitzy capitalist paradises of recent Chinese urban rom-coms.

SIFF 2017: The Little Hours (Jeff Baena, 2017)

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

No doubt parallels abound between Boccaccio’s plague-ridden Renaissance and our own apocalyptic present, so surely the time is ripe for this adaptation of a story from The Decameron, about vulgar nuns fighting the patriarchy the only way they can: sex, alcohol and witchcraft. Very funny, with Aubrey Plaza, Alison Brie, Kate Micucci leading the improv-ed script. Dave Franco is adequate, but fortunately his role mostly just requires being yelled at and looking pretty.

SIFF 2017: Wind River (Taylor Sheridan, 2017)

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

Like Hell or High Water and Sicario, for which he wrote the scripts, Taylor Sheridan’s directorial debut is the story of manly men and women doing manly things in a manly genre and a manly wilderness. This time, it’s a park ranger (Jeremy Renner) helping an FBI agent (Elizabeth Olsen) track down a murderer on a reservation. The ending’s a disaster, but strong performances from Native actors Gil Birmingham and Graham Greene almost redeem it.

SIFF 2017: Landline (Gillian Robespierre, 2017)

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

Following up their excellent 2014 rom-com Obvious Child, director Robespierre and star Jenny Slate reunite for a family comedy set in 1995. Slate and her teenage sister (Abby Quinn) discover their father (John Turturro) is cheating on their mom (Edie Falco) and spiral out of control into comic misadventures. Robespierre’s films resemble much of 21st century Hollywood comedy in their openness, vulgarity and spontaneity, but they have an emotional depth and maturity that the Apatows can’t fathom.

SIFF 2017: The Dumb Girl of Portici (Lois Weber, 1916)

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Few things wipe the sleep away from bleary festival eyes quite like a retrospective screening which, regardless of provenance or even quality, helps to restore the cinematic senses. Lois Weber’s The Dumb Girl of Portici is not exactly a forgotten masterpiece awaiting rediscovery, but even in the context of revival screenings it’s a bit of rarity: pre-20s cinema mostly lives on the small screen these days. See Flicker Alley’s Early Women Filmmakers blu ray set for a recent and relevant example of the curatorial work being done in the home video format, even as streaming continues its march towards total domination. Lois Weber is well-represented in that set, and by programming The Dumb Girl of Portici (which Flicker Alley did not include) SIFF takes part in the same push to move women’s contributions to early cinema from the historical footnotes, where they’ve frequently been resigned, and into the mainstream canon. If it accomplishes nothing else, The Dumb Girl of Portici at least testifies to the clout and studio resources Weber had accrued by the mid-teens, less than a full decade into her career.

Though more than studio scale (it was something of a mega-production), it’s Weber’s stylistic coups that count. The film opens with a little cinema-of-attractions amuse bouche: ballerina turned temporary movie star Anna Pavlova floats onto the screen in dissolve, dancing against the void. Abstraction soon gives way to rather banal plotting. Something about a nobleman donning oppressed peasant clothing and making nice with the eponymous mute. I imagine this felt as rote in 1916 as it does today, though Weber finds flourishes: choreographed dances that prefigure, in primitive form, the geometric patterns of golden age musicals or the cascade of energy unleashed when the vox populi storm the castle perched above their beachside hovels. These crowd scenes in particular serve Weber’s skills well; she has a proto-Langian eye for the way that mobs move as if controlled by a single nervous system and the late film revolt ignites her visual sense. She hacks away at the proscenium staging by hurtling her camera down diagonal axes, typically against the movement of the players. The effect, coming so suddenly after an hour of flat planes, is practically three dimensional. Another dance closes the film, again manipulated with optical printing, though instead of a black vacuum Weber superimposes Pavlova dancing over a series of backlit clouds, Maya Deren’s spirit born a few decades early. As a whole it’s inarguably minor. As festival fatigue sets in, the buried treasures contained within are more than enough.

SIFF 2017: Week Three Preview

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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