Yourself and Yours (Hong Sangsoo, 2016)

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Yourself and Yours isn’t the latest film from South Korean director Hong Sangsoo, that would be On the Beach at Night Alone, which premiered a few weeks ago at the Berlin Film Festival (where it picked up a Best Actress award) and which Evan wrote about here last week (Evan has also written here about both Yourself and Yours and its trailer). Yourself and Yours may still come to Seattle Screens, Hong’s Right Now, Wrong Then played here last summer, almost a year after its festival premiere in 2015. It’s probable that if it does, it won’t be until after another new Hong movie plays the Cannes Film Festival, as his Claire’s Camera is rumored to be finished by that time. With a director this prolific (since taking a year off in 2007, Hong has directed thirteen feature films in ten years) it’s easy for a film here or there to get lost in the mix, especially given the lethargic pace at which films today move from the festival circuit to the theatrical art house. The system simply isn’t designed, at present, for a director who releases a new film every nine months. This isn’t unique to Hong (the similarly prolific Johnnie To has had equally haphazard distribution) nor is it unique to the present (take a look sometime at the distribution schedule of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960s period). But don’t let these institutional vagaries obscure the fact that Hong is in the midst of one of the great cinematic winning streaks, a frenetic burst of creative energy that comes along only a few times in a generation. And Yourself and Yours, seemingly already forgotten though it premiered just six months ago, epitomizes the greatness of that streak as well as anything.

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Two Screwball Comedies: Mistress America (Noah Baumbach, 2015) and She’s Funny That Way (Peter Bogdanovich, 2014)

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The third of Noah Baumbach’s collaborations with actress/writer Greta Gerwig, following 2010’s Greenberg and 2012’s Frances Ha, Mistress America is their best film yet, and possibly the best work Baumbach has ever done, with or without her. For the first time in his career, he’s made a film that feels loose, free from the strained serious grasps at artistry that have plagued his career from the beginning, ranging from endearingly awkward in his debut, 1995’s Kicking and Screaming to really kind of irritating in what nonetheless remains his most critically successful film, The Squid and the Whale. A pure screwball companion to While We’re Young, the 2014 film that graced Seattle Screens just a few months ago, the two films form a hilarious portrait of our culture’s obsession with a certain kind of youth, a Manhattanite companion to Sylvia Chang’s brilliant exploration of Hong Kong womanhood, 20 30 40, in which the idiosyncrasies of three women of the eponymous ages are compared and contrasted. Where While We’re Young followed an older couple’s attempts to match coolness with a much younger pair while also somewhat clunkily exploring the interplay between authenticity in life and authenticity in art, this one focuses on a college freshman’s infatuation with her older future stepsister, a free spirit who makes New York seem as magical as it should be, while much more deftly exploring the oft-contentious relationship between an artist and the people who inspire their work. In both cases, the idyllic figure is a creative powerhouses in their early 30s, stable enough to enjoy a certain standard of living, but not so rooted as to avoid taking risks. It’s the age of sitcom heroes. Gerwig is a powerhouse as always (she’s already a three-time Endy Award winner, for her work in the Baumbach films and Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress) dogged in pursuit of her ideals and not nearly as ridiculous as she might first appear, her effervescence contains unfathomable depths and Lola Kirke is excellent as the younger woman, wide-eyed but with a steely determination that’s more than a little unnerving, the coldness of youth. There’s no fat in the film, it’s Baumbach’s tightest, most-focused work, for the first time he demonstrates the ease, the lack of apparent effort that marks a truly virtuosic film. The lengthy set piece at a Connecticut mansion is a classic of screwball escalation, as Baumbach ably piles a Sturgesian array of characters and relationships into a few crowded rooms.

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More consciously seeking to recreate an old Hollywood vibe is the latest from Peter Bogdanovich, the refugee from the first golden age of cinephile directors who has found film work increasingly hard to find in recent years (this is his first theatrical fiction feature since 2001’s The Cat’s Meow). In fact, his new film is pretty hard to find as well, with an under-the-radar nationwide release (it opened on Seattle Screens with little fanfare last week at the Varsity, we’re it continues on a reduced schedule this week), a far cry from his generation-defining 70s masterpieces like The Last Picture Show, What’s Up Doc? or Paper Moon. Combing a theatrical farce reminiscent of his 1992 film Noises Off with the cosmic screwball romanticism of his 1981 masterpiece They All Laughed, She’s Funny That Way is a story told by a young woman (Imogen Poots) to a reporter (Illeana Douglas), the story of how she was discovered and her life changed from that of a hooker (with a heart of gold, naturally) to star of stage and screen. The story is wildly improbable, its reality questioned every step of the way by the reporter, but so seductive in its interconnections and coincidences as to be irresistible. The conflation of cinema as real life is charmingly seductive (print the legend), and the myth-making power of star cameos only adds to the glowing unreality. Familiar faces abound: contemporary icons like Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson, older relics Austen Pendleton, Richard Lewis and Cybil Shepard, and up-and-comers like Poots, Will Forte and the always marvelous and perpetually under-utilized Kathryn Hahn and Rhys Ifans. Douglas herself provides a link to the old world the film idealizes: her grandfather Melvyn, in a different Lubitsch film, told Greta Garbo an even better joke than the one from Cluny Brown that serves as a key line for Owen Wilson’s character. While the film isn’t as existentially radical as They All Laughed, in a weird kind of way it’s Bogdanovich’s Hong Sangsoo film. Like with the greatest modern director of romantic comedies, She’s Funny That Way questions the very nature of the cinema’s relation to reality, reveling in the idealized illusions while simultaneously undermining their spell by pointing out their unreality. But where Hong relentlessly deconstructs his narratives, laying bare their artifices and exposing the lonely needs that drive us to invent them, Bogdanovich the classicist is content to faithfully recreate the form of the old (his zooms are subtle and patient, not Hong’s wild, drunken lurches), with nothing but a sly wink to the audience to remind us of the precariousness of our ideals. We know it’s all a lie, but we happily dream away nonetheless.

Mistress America is now playing at the Guild 45th, SIFF Uptown and Cinemark Lincoln Square.

She’s Funny That Way is now playing at the Varsity Theatre.

Seattle Screen Valentine Scene

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Valentine’s Day hits Seattle screens weird this weekend, with off-kilter romances old and new taking over theatres all across the city. Here they are in alphabetical order:

The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland, 2014) at SIFF Film Center: I haven’t seen this yet, but it was our friend Matt’s favorite movie of 2014. It’s an homage to the European softcore art-porn films of the 1970s. So I assume it’s pretty romantic with great music and some nifty dissolves.

Giant (George Stevens, 1956) at Cinemark theatres in Federal Way and Bellevue: James Dean makes a fortune in oil to impress Elizabeth Taylor, spends his super-wealthy life in misery when she still prefers Rock Hudson, apparently because she can’t understand a word Dean says because he’s always mumbling.

Gone with the Wind (Victor Fleming, 1939) at the Cinerama: Vivien Leigh’s feisty Southern Belle falls for the one man she can’t dominate (Clark Gable), submits to him (sort of), then sabotages their romance with all the incandescent fire of an orange only achievable in Technicolor.

Guys and Dolls (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1955) at the Cinerama: Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando gamble on whether or not Brando can sleep with Jean Simmons (or “take her to Cuba” as they say). He gets her drunk, they go to Cuba. Also there’s gambling. And music. And everyone talks funny.

Harold & Maude (Hal Ashby, 1971) at the SIFF Uptown: Suicidal teenager falls for batty old lady. A favorite of every girl I went to high school with.

It Happened One Night (Frank Capra, 1934) at Scarecrow Video: Paparrazzo Clark Gable stalks runaway heiress Claudette Colbert, destroys the undershirt industry with his daring chest.

Lady Snowblood (Toshiba Fujita, 1973) at Scarecrow Video: Meiko Kaji revenges herself on the people who raped her mother and killed her family. It is snowy and there is blood. Like all Valentine’s Days.

Moulin Rouge! (Baz Luhrmann, 2001) at the Central Cinema: Ewan McGregor invents the mashup and falls tragically in love with Nicole Kidman’s tubercular prostitute and then Kurt Cobain rolls over in his grave.

R100 (Hitoshi Matsumoto, 2013) at the Grand Illusion: Mike saw this movie and wrote about it. I assume the “R100” rating means it’s fun for all ages.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright, 2010) at the SIFF Uptown: A video game universe teaches bassist Michael Cera the key lesson about relationships: the other person is irrelevant, the important thing is to know that you are awesome.

Some Like it Hot (Billy Wilder, 1959) at the Cinerama: Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis dress in drag to escape mobsters. Curtis pretends to be Cary Grant to sleep with Marilyn Monroe. Lemmon hooks up with Joe E. Brown. Marilyn Monroe is pretty.

True Romance (Tony Scott, 1993) at the Central Cinema: Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette are so cool falling in love over a Sonny Chiba triple feature, coffee and pie. Then they travel across the country to make a fortune selling stolen cocaine. As we all do.