Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Seattle Screens

Seattle Screens: The Grand Illusion celebrates 12 years of independence and more

Welcome to The Grand Illusion

The Grand Illusion, the pocket theater that has been running in form or another in the University District since the early 1970s, celebrates its 12th Anniversary of its current non-profit incarnation with a week of the weird and the wonderful. On the latter front, they are screening new 35mm prints of Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946) (on Friday, Saturday, and Wednesday) and Max Ophuls’ From Mayerling to Sarajevo (1940) (on Sunday and Monday). Also on Sunday, April 3 is Spencer Williams’ Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946), which screens as part of its “Pioneers of African-American Cinema” series of restored films, and on Tuesday, April 5 is a new 35mm print of Corn’s-a-Poppin’ (1956), an indie comedy from the midwest co-written by Robert Altman. Running all through the week is the new Turkish horror film Baskin. Schedule and showtimes here.

The 21st Seattle Jewish Film Festival opens on Saturday, April 2 with A Tale of Love and Darkness, the directorial debut of Natalie Portman, who also stars in the film, at Pacific Place and continues through the weekend at Pacific Place, moving to SIFF Cinema Uptown on Monday and the Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island next weekend, where the closing night film Baba Joon, winner of 5 Ophir Awards (the Israeli equivalent of the Academy Award), screens with actor Navid Negahban in attendance. Filmmaker Aviva Kempner will attend with her new documentary Rosenwald, about Sears owner Julius Rosenwald, and director Jake Witzenfeld brings his documentary Oriented, focused on the lives of three gay Palestinian friends in Tel Aviv (both on Sunday, April 3 at Pacific Place). The complete schedule is here.

The Last Dragon (1985), a Motown martial arts movie seeped in New York urban culture and eighties color and music, stars real-life 19-year-old karate black belt Taimak as an earnest martial arts student nicknamed Bruce Lee-roy by the locals and Prince protégé Vanity as a music club deejay pressured by gangsters to play lousy music videos. Clearly that calls for a hero. Directed by Michael Schultz and produced by Berry Gordy, the film became a cult favorite and it is playing on Friday, April 1 at the Uptown with Taimak appearing in person. Details here.

Jeff Nichols’ Midnight Special opens this weekend exclusively at the Egyptian Theater in Capitol Hill. Film critics Robert Horton and Andrew Wright both recommend it.

The documentary Before the Big Bang, directed by Richard Beymer and featuring Beymer and novelist Rudy Wilson, makes its West Coast premiere on Wednesday, April 6 at Seattle Art Museum’s Plestcheeff Auditorium at 7:30pm. Details here.

A Pig Across Paris (1956), directed by Claude Aurtant-Lara and starring Jean Gabin, plays on Thursday, April 7 at Plestcheeff Auditorium at SAM. Individual tickets are available on the day of show on a first come, first served basis. Details here.

It’s not too late to make your plans for Friday, April 8. Robert Horton and Richard T. Jameson are your hosts for the monthly film discussion Framing Pictures at the screening room at Scarecrow Video. It’s a free event. More at the Framing Pictures Facebook page.

Visit the film review pages at The Seattle TimesSeattle Weekly, and The Stranger for more releases.

View complete screening schedules through IMDbMSNYahoo, or Fandango, pick the interface of your choice.

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Seattle Screens

Seattle Screens: The Hunger Cinema

You might assume that since The Hunger Games is opening on over 4,000 screens across the country that it’s the only film around, but that’s not quite true. There is Salmon Fishing in Yemen from Lasse Halstrom and Boy from New Zealand and the final weekend of the Seattle Jewish Film Festival at The Uptown. And on the micro-indie front is Invincible Force, which received its North American premiere at the 2011 Olympia Film Festival.

The Hunger Games

But the big news is The Hunger Games, the latest young adult book series-turned-Hollywood movie franchise. It opens midnight Thursday, March 22 (actually at 12:01, technically making it Friday for contractual reasons), in dozens of theaters in the Seattle area, including Cinerama and the IMAX at Pacific Science Center. Every critic in America is obliged to offer his or her opinion and the response has been, for the most part, respectfully affirmative. (Parallax View’s own Kathleen Murphy is a notable exception, calling it “a glossy entertainment sufficiently bland and sanitized that it will offend no one.”)

Not that any review is going to make one iota of difference in the opening weekend take. The fact that director Gary Ross, who adapted the novels with screenwriter Billy Ray and author Susan Collins, remained so faithful to the book in terms of plot and presentation will satisfy most fans of the book, and the message of resistance and defiance in the face of tyranny is just the kind of rousing theme that everyone can get behind. Ross correctly frames the “games” as both punishment and pitiless entertainment at the expense of the players and shows how the our heroine uses the entertainment factor of so-called reality TV to write her own story and use it as another weapon in her quiver, and he avoids so many potential potholes along the way (focusing on the survival over the competition, making sure the violence is not glorified) that it’s easy to forget that “smart” doesn’t necessarily mean expressive. Clearly Ross gets the book. He merely fails to communicate the experience: the intensity of runaway emotions, the isolation of mistrust and desperation, even the vitality of the characters themselves.

The final weekend of the Seattle Jewish Film Festival brings shorts, documentaries, and features to The Uptown, including Rabies (Israel’s first slasher movie), the American romantic comedy Dorfman, the dramas Wunderkinder from Germany and My Lovely Sister from Israel, and the closing night film The Boys of Terezin, a documentary about teenage boys who risked their lives to create a secret magazine to communicate their experiences while incarcerated at the Terezin concentration camp. Schedule, showtimes and descriptions are here.

Invincible Force

The zero-budget Invincible Force, a feature shot over 90 consecutive days using only obsolete video formats, opens for a week at Grand Illusion. Seattle Weekly film critic Brian Miller warns that it is “long and slow, immersed in dull dieting process and amusing home workouts set to bad techno music, but there’s also a creepy art-film fascination as our hero gradually morphs into Travis Bickle.”

Raj Kapoor and the Golden Age of Indian Cinema, opening Thursday, March 29 and running through Wednesday, April 11, presents twelve newly restored films from Indian superstar-turned-director Raj Kapoor spanning from the 1940s to the 1980s. Opening night is at the Uptown, where the Bollywood splendor can play across the big screen, and moves to the SIFF Film Center for the rest of the series, unspools mostly on new 35mm prints (with some digital prints). Complete schedule and showtimes here. Series tickets are also available.

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Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, Seattle Screens

Seattle Screens: Rendez-Vous with Festival Season

The Well-Digger's Daughter

Festival season is apparently underway in Seattle. This weekend finds three separate cinema celebrations competing for your attention: the 2012 Seattle Jewish Film Festival, the new edition of the Rural Route Film Festival at Grand Illusion, and a curated sampling from the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema series making its first appearance in Seattle.

Eight films from the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s annual Rendez-Vous with French Cinema will screen at the Uptown between Friday, March 16 and Sunday, March 18. “This smorgasbord of Gallic screen fare has been an annual event since its inception in 1996,” explains Richard T. Jameson. “SIFF is one of 50 exhibitors nationwide to be offered a touring version of the 2012 edition, a weekend’s worth of feature films representing about a third of the festival…”

Jameson surveys the films at Straight Shooting and offers recommendations on two in particular: The Well-Digger’s Daughter, which screens 5:30 p.m. Sunday, March 18 “[Director Daniel] Auteuil honors the maître’s decision to open his earthy storytelling to the sun, wind, and ripeness of Provence: one’s eyes virtually breathe this movie”) and the new 4K digital restoration of Marcel Carné and Jacques Prévert’s 1945 Children of Paradise, screening 2:15 p.m. Sunday, March 18 (“one of the most splendiferous movies ever made”). Schedule and details here.

The 2012 Seattle Jewish Film Festival, which opens Thursday, March 15 with the film Mabul (The Flood) at Cinerama, begins in earnest over the weekend with screenings at Pacific Place on Saturday and Sunday and then moves to the Uptown. The program includes features, documentaries and short programs, including what is being called the first slasher films from Israel: Rabies. Schedule, showtimes and descriptions are here.

The Rural Route Film Festival is, in the words of the organizers, the only film fest devoted to rural people and places. Grand Illusion presents highlights from the 2011 incarnation throughout the week: a collection of narrative shorts, a program of short documentaries, and the documentary feature Truckfarm, from the makes of King Corn. The programs play through Thursday, March 22. Showtimes and schedule here.

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