Notes From The Program Director | Week of May 19th, 2023
Notes From The Program Director
Week of May 19th 2023
Newsletter for May 19-May 25, 2023
The luminousJoylandcontinues for one final week this week, and opening Friday, we’ve got a crowd-pleasing trio of new films: the gorgeous new anime film from beloved director Makato Shinkai, Suzume; the witty action-comedy feature film debut from Nida Manzoor,Polite Society; and the new blood-sucking comedy-horror film from Chris McKay,Renfield.
Suzumeis the follow-up to Shinkai’s wildly successful and beautiful films,Your Name(which surpassed evenSpirited Away’s heights at the global box office) andWeathering with You, which was Japan’s entry into the 2020 Academy Awards. But even on the heels of those two hard-to-beat films,Suzumeis being named by some, includingVulture, as the best animated film of 2023.Suzumeis a magical coming-of-age tale that follows 17-year old Suzume, who encounters a single, weathered door, standing in the midst of ruins, and when Suzume opens the door, she inadvertently opens other mystically connected doors that had acted as barriers to natural catastrophes and other disasters. It then becomes Suzume’s urgent, mythic quest to stop the destruction the open doors give rise to. This compelling narrative links to deeply felt themes, and as Alissa Wilkinson notes in herVulturereview, “Like Shinkai’s previous film,Weathering With You,Suzumeis about young people who’ve inherited responsibility for a crumbling world they have to risk everything to save” while also noting that the film is a tribute to “community and connection Suzume gets from the strangers who help her along the way.” As such,Suzumeis both poignant and gloriously beautiful; the animation is stunning, particularly in its wide screen format. Josh Larsen ofFilmspottingfurther notes, while “Shinkai’s recent films have all been wildly ambitious in terms of their imagination and scope[,]Suzumemight be the most impressive in terms of connecting that to a powerful emotional core.” We’ll be offering the film in two versions, the English dub and the subtitled version -- check our listings for the showtimes -- and you won’t want to miss this opportunity to see it on the big screen!"
Polite Societyis a fantastically fun film (watch the trailer if you've not yet seen it!), evoking the joys ofEverything Everywhere All at Onceas an action-comedy centered on family relationships and the intergenerational immigrant experience, but it is also wholly distinct from last year’s hit, offering a fresh and unique perspective. Directed by South Asian-British director Nida Manzoor (We Are Lady Parts, Doctor Who) and starring Priay Kanzara, Rita Arya (Umbrella Academy), and an excellent supporting cast, the film follows Ria (Kanzara) a stuntwoman and martial artist-in-training, who begins to suspect that her sister Lena (Arya) is in danger and that Lena’s charming and wealthy fiance, whom the sisters’ parents adore, is not what he seems to be. Hijinks ensue, as Ria enlists her high school best friends to pull off the wedding heist of the century and save her sister from certain doom.
The filmis Manzoor's feature-film debut, but it's a pleasure to see her roots in TV (e.g. directingDoctor Who) showing through as well as to note the influences from film predecessors like Edgar Wright withScott Pilgrim, especially in the high speed editing and whip-snappy smart dialogue. It is, overall, a warm, witty, light and inventive film with a delightfully and intentionally-loose connection to realism and with winsome central relationship between the two sisters and standout performances from both.
Renfield, likePolite Society, might also be described as an action-comedy film with a loose -- and this time, outright fantastical -- relationship to reality, that centers on a close relationship. Except here, it’s a play on the horror genre, and we follow Renfield (the multi-talented Nicholas Hoult), Dracula’s servant -- his “familiar” -- who starts to grow a conscience and becomes tired of the daily grind of rounding up Dracula’s victims and serving them up to his master. Renfield’s desire to turn over a new leaf, however, is complicated by the fact that his connection to Dracula gives him the enviable gifts of immortality and superhero-like strength, and it is further complicated by the fact that Dracula isn’t keen to give up his right-hand man. Dracula wants Renfield to stay among the bones, death, and damp of their rundown hideout and serve up bloody treats; Renfield wants to leave, buy a new pastel-colored wardrobe, and set up a nice new apartment with tasteful furniture and flowers. It’s a problem when two people in a relationship want very different things.
Renfield, directed by Chris Mckay (The Lego MovieandThe Lego Batman Movie), has wonderfully irreverent sensibilities in keeping with his earlier projects, and he plays with the character of Dracula, much as he did with the character of Batman. Such sensibilities are bolstered by an excellent comedic (but earnest, in all the right ways) performance from Hoult as well as a perfectly matched performance from Awkafina, who plays a cop who suspects recent killings in the area cannot be explained by ordinary criminal activity. But the real standout of the film for me is, perhaps unsurprisingly, Nic Cage, who, exactly as we might hope, offers an utterly gonzo and completely dedicated performance as Dracula. His acting choices, facial expressions, and verbal inflections alone are worth the price of admission, and there are few other things than Cage as Dracula that have made me happier this year. (Fair warning to those who are a bit squeamish -- it’s a horror-comedy that leans into the gore; it is, certainly, intentionally comedic and over-the-top gore that involves, for example, detached limbs being used as weapons, but it won’t be to everyone's taste!)
And, as is our tradition, in addition to our theatrical runs, we also have several film events to offer -- a veritable feast of them this week! ForKid Pickford, we have not one, not two, but three screenings of the modern-classicShrek, Saturday May 20, 1:30 pm, and Sunday, May 21, 10 am, and then Saturday, May 20, 10 pm, for the night owls and kids-at-heart. This month’sNational Theatre Livebrings usOthello, playing Sunday, May 21, 11 am, for its second and last showing, here in Bellingham. We also have our now-annual tradition ofMountain Runners, playing Wednesday, May 24, 6:00 pm, in advance of the Ski-to-Sea race (May 21) -- celebrating its 50th anniversary this year! -- and we’re delighted to have co-directors Todd Warger and Brian Young with us to talk about their film and the fascinating early history of what would become Ski-to-Sea. Get your tickets early, as the seats always fill fast! And on Thursday, May 25, 7:30 pm, we’ve got the quarterly celebration of local film and filmmakers withStorytellers’ Seasonal, an hour-long event that consists of 5-minute films submitted from students and DIY filmmakers from our area, and the filmmaker whose film wins the audience vote chooses the next Seasonal’s theme. It’s a joyous and affirming way to celebrate the visual creativity of filmmakers and emerging filmmakers in our community!
We also have a unique opportunity this week to see a new documentary about Ukraine,Wounded Land, and we’re especially happy to have the cinematographer, Andriy Semenyuk, a graduate of the WWU School of Journalism, with us for a Q&A, hosted by the WWU Journalism Dept.Wounded Landtells the story of those in Ukraine who, in the face of war and against the odds, are engaged in protecting their country and upholding the spirit of resistance not by fighting but by continuing to invest in their businesses and their entrepreneurial ideas, firmly putting down roots, caring for their land, or for their wine vineyards, as the case may be. It’s a particular privilege, too, to have Semenyuk with us, as the story of making the film is a rich one: the original vision for the film, before the war began, was as a feature documentary about the rich culture of wine-making in Ukraine that spans thousands of years. But then came the war, and the filmmaking team decided to start a new project that would capture winemakers specifically amidst the war setting. The film was made, then, in the middle of a war zone, the small crew often not knowing where they’d spend the night from one day to the next or filming amidst sounds of artillery fire. This is a film and Q&A you won’t want to miss: Wednesday, May 23 at 5:30 pm.
Finally, on Thursday, May 25, 7:45 pm, we have a very special sneak preview screening of writer-director Nicole Holofcener’s newest film,You Hurt My Feelings. Fans of Holofcener, who loved films likeLovely and Amazing,Please Give, orWalking and Talking, won’t want to miss this one, and we also have the additional treat with this new film of seeing Holofcener teaming up with Julia-Louis Dreyfus again after their brilliant work inEnough Said. Holofcener always excels at comedy-dramas that tease out the complexities of relationships (and there’s nobody quite like Holofcener for writing naturalistic but very funny and sharp dialogue), and the premise of this film -- a novelist (Dreyfus) overhears her husband (Tobias Menzes) giving his honest reaction to her latest book -- is exactly the kind of wonderful material Holofcener is perfectly suited for. What a marvelous way to start our summer movie season.
I’ll be out next week, so there will be a one-week hiatus in newsletters, but I’d urge you to check out reviews of the beautifulCarmen, starring Paul Mescal and Melissa Berrera, opening May 26 along withYou Hurt My Feelings-- two fabulous films! The former, particularly, is going to be a stunner in the big screen format.