Film festival season has officially started with Local Sightings, Seattle’s only festival devoted to the Pacific Northwest and its filmmakers. This weekend will also see a mini-festival of American indie cinema of the 2000s called Factory 25, featuring Joe Swanberg. There’s also the release of Ad Astra, starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut seeking his father out in the cosmos, plus a run of the sinister postwar classic The Third Man. (Charles Mudede was looking forward to Rambo: Last Blood, but pretty much every critic ever hates it.) See all of our film critics’ picks for this weekend below, and, if you’re looking for even more options, check out our film events calendar and complete movie times listings (which are now location-aware!).
Note: Movies play Thursday–Sunday unless otherwise noted
Heading to Portland or Tacoma? Check out EverOut to find things to do there and in Seattle, all in one place.
Abbas Kiarostami Retrospective
Four treasured Seattle arthouse cinemas will revisit the masterpieces of one of the most important filmmakers of the 20th and 21st centuries: the Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami, who died in France in 2016. During his long career, he explored the fine line between documentary and fiction, the relationship between spectator and image, and the mysteries of life and death. The theaters are showing eight of his extraordinary movies, including this week’s Taste of Cherry and And Life Goes On… Charles Mudede on Taste of Cherry: “The well-to-do, middle-aged Tehranian man has the saddest face ever, as he drives a Land Rover around the dusty city, looking for someone to bury him after he kills himself. He offers a lift to a stranger, talks with them for a little bit, and then asks them to do this awful task (for money) after he puts a bullet in his head. The film enters the zone of existential philosophy when one stranger finally accepts the offer (he badly needs the money). It is not an exaggeration to say that this is one of the greatest Iranian films ever made.” And Life Goes On… is a more docudrama-style film which takes place in the aftermath of the Guilan earthquake, about a director and his son searching for children in the devastated region who had appeared in his film years earlier.
SIFF Film Center
Writer/director James Grey’s follow-up to 2016’s excellent, underrated The Lost City of Z is a clunkier affair, with sad-sack Roy McBride (Brad Pitt) embarking on an almost-certainly doomed voyage through the solar system to track down his MIA astronaut father (Tommy Lee Jones). Along the way, he fights battles both external (space pirates!) and internal (daddy issues!), and he also spends a whole lot of time monologuing, thanks to an unnecessary, on-the-nose voiceover that rivals Harrison Ford’s awkward ramble in Blade Runner. But it’s when the movie shuts up—when Gray’s camera skims the plains of the Moon, when an antenna towering into Earth’s atmosphere begins to shudder, when the screen is filled by the shadow-blue rings of Neptune or the churning storms of Jupiter—that Ad Astra hits the profundity and scope that all McBride’s monologuing fails to get at. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Brittany Runs a Marathon
Me, for the first 70 minutes of Brittany Runs a Marathon: “This is some fat-shamey nonsense and I hate it.” When Brittany (Jillian Bell in a freakin’ fat suit) visits a doctor in hopes of scoring Adderall, she instead gets a lecture on her weight—despite the doctor knowing nothing else about her health. But anyway, Brittany decides to get her life together by losing weight and training for a marathon. I’m happy this wasn’t actually a feature-length film about how losing weight can change your life (vomit), because once she’s out of the problematic prosthetics, Bell is hilarious. There are plenty of enjoyable things in this movie, but I can’t recommend it to anyone who’s struggled with disordered eating. ELINOR JONES
Factory 25: A Decade of American Cinema with Joe Swanberg
On September 20–22, the Beacon will be celebrating the work of label FACTORY 25, featuring special guest, director Joe Swanberg (whom you might recognize from his Netflix comedy-drama Easy). I’ve been trying to watch Silver Bullets (playing Saturday)—a film about an increasingly jealous and surreal relationship between an actress and her director boyfriend—for a while now. The Beacon is offering up a $50 full weekend pass to all 10 FACTORY 25 screenings, if your heart so desires. Get to it! JASMYNE KEIMIG
If you had a fatal disease, would you want to know? This question lies at the heart of a 2016 This American Life segment called “What You Don’t Know” by Lulu Wang. Her 80-year-old grandmother, known as Nai Nai, had been diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and given three months to live. Her family decided not to tell her she was sick at all. Now Wang has written and directed a film, The Farewell, based on her family’s experience. It features Awkwafina, the wonderful rapper and actor, in her first starring role. GILLIAN ANDERSON
Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw
The first of the Fast & Furious spinoff films, the ampersand-fueled Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw is exactly as goofy and fun as it should be. Free of the core saga’s melodrama, the buddy cop comedy finds Dwayne Johnson’s tough guy Hobbs and Jason Statham’s tough guy Shaw flex-bickering and secretly loving each other as they work with Shaw’s super-spy sister (Vanessa Kirby, AKA the sister on The Crown) to fight Brixton Lore (Idris Elba), who, notably, has a robot motorcycle. (In the first five minutes, somebody asks Lore who he is, and he says, “Bad Guy,” which is almost as good of a name as “Brixton Lore.”) If you thought F&F couldn’t get any sillier, Hobbs & Shaw is happy to prove you wrong (the Rock fights a helicopter), and if you thought F&F couldn’t get more emo, Hobbs & Shaw is also happy to prove you wrong (once again, we learn that families, both those we inherit and those we create as we flip dune buggies through the air, are Very Important). In conclusion, vote Hobbs and Shaw in 2020. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Give Me Liberty
Christy Lemire of FilmWeek called this comedy by Kirill Mikhanovsky “a little miracle.” A Russian American medical driver named Vic changes his usual route to shuttle a Russian boxer and gaggle of old ladies to a funeral, much to the consternation of his usual riders, including an intense young woman named Tracy (the Disability Lifestyle Influencer Lolo Spencer). Plus, to get there, they have to navigate protests breaking out in black neighborhoods after a police shooting. What follows is an inclusive, zany and affectionate depiction of chaos, community, and freedom.
If you think a 12-year-old saying “Fuck” is kinda funny—and for the record, I’m not judging you—then you’ll probably have fun with Good Boys. There are a bunch of 12-year-olds in it, and they all say “fuck” a lot, which also doubles as the film’s plot synopsis. BEN COLEMAN
Surely this screening won’t be packed full of highly stoned Chappelle fans softly giggling to their favorite lines in a rippling five-second radius both before and after they’re recited onscreen. BOBBY ROBERTS
If you were looking forward to women-focused crime capers in The Kitchen and felt let down, rejoice! Hustlers, which rocks an amazing cast including Jennifer Lopez, Constance Wu, Julia Stiles, Cardi B (!), and freakin’ Lizzo (!!!), is the real deal. Former erotic dancers, led by J.Lo, team up to rob their grossly rich clients. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone writes: “As a stripper who can work a pole better than rivals half her age, Lopez is that dazzling, that deep, that electrifying. This you don’t want to miss.”
It: Chapter Two
It: Chapter Two gets better as it goes, but be warned that it goes for 169 minutes. It’s hard to argue with the film’s length, given the complicated, sprawling underbelly of lore and symbolism in Stephen King’s novel, but what does director Andy Muschietti do with all this time? Like the first film, Chapter Two has high points, but Muscietti also drags scenes out for far too long. This is an above-average blockbuster, and audiences who go to Chapter Two looking for a monster movie will find something much better than usual. But King fans will be left wanting—though perhaps in a way that makes them want to reread It and remember why they loved it so much in the first place. SUZETTE SMITH
Local Sightings Film Festival
This year, the regional film festival will get even more local, partnering with homegrown nonprofits and media production companies like Indigenous Showcase, Sustainable Seattle, Langston, Pr0n 4 Freakz, NFFTY, and more. Once again, the city will become a hub for indie filmmakers who eschew New York or LA for the earnest and eccentric Northwest. Local Sightings acts as a showcase and watering hole for regional filmmakers, VR artists, and others who range from emotional storytellers to nature documentarists to political essayists. Many of them will attend, which makes for an opportunity for local professional and aspiring moviemakers to meet at the screenings, workshops, and parties. JOULE ZELMAN
Northwest Film Forum
A Matter of Life and Death
The legend team of Powell and Pressburger (The Red Shoes) filmed this postwar romantic drama about an RAF pilot (David Niven) spared death by a clerical error in Heaven. A beautiful love story featuring Kim Hunter as an American radio operator, A Matter of Life and Death was produced to encourage closeness between British and American allies in the wake of WWII.
Midsommar: The Director’s Cut
When we meet college student Dani (Florence Pugh), she’s isolated, enduring a nerve-shredding family crisis behind a mask of feminine selflessness and apparently afraid to reveal her emotions to her distant and manipulative boyfriend, Christian. But once an affection-starved Dani, along with Christian and his bros, follow their friend Pelle to his cultish village in rural Sweden for a mysterious pagan festival, Midsommar blossoms into a flower of a different color. Dani wavers between unease with the cult’s weird rituals and attraction to its sense of unshakable fellowship. Soon, they’re all swept up in rites involving dancing, feasting, and tripping out, unaware that far more transgressive acts are being prepared. The ensuing narrative is expansive, a bit funny, full of elaborate invented culture, and overall less exhausting (and exhilarating) than Ari Aster’s Hereditary. Where Hereditary is about losing a family, Midsommar is about gaining one, a process that’s a lot less wholesome than it sounds. JOULE ZELMAN
Ark Lodge Cinemas
Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool
Miles Davis was one of the greatest musicians ever. He was also a nasty motherfucker. Stanley Nelson’s documentary Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool pivots on these two immutable elements of the jazz trumpeter’s existence with a penetrating, analytical approach that doesn’t stint on emotion. It’s about as rewarding a dissection of a great artist and problematic human as one could hope for in under two hours. Nelson enlists an elite cadre of Davis’s bandmates, wives and lovers, childhood friends, family members, promoters, music critics and historians, managers, label bosses, and Carlos Santana to provide key insights into this tormented genius. They’re generous with praise, but not afraid to call out the man’s faults, of which there were plenty. While the film’s commenters deem Davis the epitome of a hip black man who took no shit, he was also physically and mentally abusive to some of his wives and girlfriends, actions that would likely get him “canceled” today. Nelson fairly presents Davis’s blemishes and virtues, but he ultimately can’t help elevating Davis to godhead status. DAVE SEGAL
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
Murder in the Front Row
Adam Dubin’s new documentary about “Bay Area headbangers” features interviews with members of Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax, and more. Narrated by Brian Posehn!
After catching wind of a plot to lie Britain into war with Iraq, a reluctant whistleblower (Keira Knightley) finds her freedoms rapidly slipping away. Gavin Hood’s firmly buttoned-up drama strictly follows the based-on-actual-events playbook, right down to the now standard (and dramatically deflating) glimpse of the actual people at the end credits. Still, while the narrative may lack oomph, there is some good stuff in Official Secrets, particularly when the ridiculously stacked cast moves past the exposition-heavy setup and starts to actually interact. (As Knightley’s lawyer, Ralph Fiennes’s decision to underplay an already quiet character gets you leaning in to catch every word.) Compellingly dry, and dryly compelling. ANDREW WRIGHT
SIFF Cinema Uptown & AMC Seattle 10
Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood
Once Upon a Time doesn’t have the self-conscious, This Is a Quentin Tarantino Film™ feel of the filmmaker’s past few movies. Make no mistake: Nobody besides Tarantino could have made Once Upon a Time—it’s a singular thing, uniquely dialed in to his obsessions and quirks. But like Tarantino’s best movies, it feels neither reliant nor focused on those obsessions and quirks. We spend the bulk of our time with three people: Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an earnest, anxious, B-list actor whose career is right about to curdle; Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Rick’s toughed-up, chilled-out former stuntman and current BFF; and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), a bubbly, captivating actress who’s just starting to enjoy her first taste of success in show business. How Tarantino plays with history in Once Upon a Time is one of the more intense and surprising elements of the film—and, thankfully, it’s also one of the best. ERIK HENRIKSEN
Paris Is Burning
Jennie Livingston’s enthralling and heartbreaking portrait of drag ball culture in late-’80s New York is one of the best documentaries ever made.
SIFF Cinema Uptown
Originally released in 1981, Polyester is John Waters and Co.’s first studio picture, and it’s chaotic and thrilling to watch Waters get ahold of a bigger budget. The film straddles the line between contemporary Waters and classic Waters, and it’s a sweet spot that’s pure, filthy magic. Waters hires Tab Hunter, a certified movie star, to star alongside Divine, a certified monster—a dream come true for Divine, who worshipped Hunter as a kid. This pairing is one of the greatest accomplishments of the 20th century, right up there with landing on the moon. To celebrate the new release, a free screening of Polyester, hosted by Central Cinema and Scarecrow Video, is happening Thursday. CHASE BURNS
Raise Hell: The Life and Times of Molly Ivins
Did you know one of George W. Bush’s most ardent critics was a journalist from his own state? Molly Ivins was the loudest liberal voice covering the Texas legislature. She eventually followed the Bush clan from the state house to the White House. But that was hardly the height of her career. Ivins had long made a name for herself as a journalist. Her sometimes abrasive style was unique and boisterous. In Raise Hell, Ivins’s story clips along breezily, punctuated by her dry wit. It’s an easy watch, but it’ll leave you wondering: What would the late Ivins have thought of the White House’s current tenant? NATHALIE GRAHAM
SIFF Cinema Uptown
Director Jovanka Vuckovic’s debut feature, about a splintered teenage rivalry in a post-apocalyptic town, Riot Girls promises an interesting, rebellious lesbian love story between Scratch (Paloma Kwiatkowski), sporting a super-cool mohawk, and her friend/crush Nat (Madison Iseman). But—let me prepare you—the movie spends way more time establishing that the town’s jock bad guys are bad. (Why’re they bad? They comb their hair back, that’s why.) Riot Girls is quickly bogged down by an outdated, jocks-vs.-punks rivalry that I’m not sure kids are even doing anymore, and ultimately, its cringe-inducing acting and inconsistent seriousness regarding the end of the world place it squarely in B-movie territory. SUZETTE SMITH
Say Amen, Somebody
George T. Nierenberg’s 1982 documentary is about two of gospel’s most important figures: Thomas A. Dorsey and Mother Willie Mae Ford Smith. Say Amen, Somebody competently tells its protagonists’ inspirational stories, mostly revolving around interviews with Ford Smith and Dorsey (plus family members and musical collaborators). To nonbelievers like me, many of these songs—besides coming off as a bit melodically stodgy—seem like overblown huzzahs to a godlike entity of dubious veracity. However, there are moments in the movie when even godless types may catch the spirit. Say Amen, Somebody climaxes near the end when Dorsey, shortly after breaking both hips, appears at the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, and performs with Ford Smith during a hugely emotional service. The rave-up during the final song is a true “holy shit” moment. It turns out that when gospel gets up to 120 bpm and over, even atheists have to hallelujah. DAVE SEGAL
Northwest Film Forum
Seattle Arabian Nights Festival 2019: LGBTQ Shorts
Seattle Arabian Nights Festival shows queer short films from around the globe—from Morocco to Lebanon to the UK and the US—that shed light on the art and diversity of the Arab world. These include stories about women chess players, loyal brothers in a strict Muslim family, a grieving man who discovers his mother was a belly dancer, and others.
Northwest Film Forum
The Third Man
If this movie doesn’t glamorize the life of black-market profiteers in immediate post-WWII Vienna, then no movie ever did. Joseph Cotten plays Holly Martins, a “scribbler with too much drink in him,” trying to clear the name of his recently deceased best friend, the nefarious Harry Lime (Orson Welles, at his cherubic pinnacle). The acting, music, photography, and dialogue (script by Graham Greene, the British author, not the Native American actor) are peerless. SEAN NELSON
Time is Undefeated: The Best Action Movies of the Decade
Thrill to the most kickass films of the past decade. Keep your adrenaline up with Wong Kar Wai’s The Grandmaster.
Why watch Bill Skarsgard be a clown in It: Chapter Two when you can watch him be a cutie-pie who sucks at crime and gets stuck in a creepy couple’s basement?
Regal Meridian & Regal Thornton Place
We Are the Radical Monarchs
Meet the Radical Monarchs, an Oakland-based group for girls of color who advocate for social justice in the face of the hope-crushing machine that is post-2016 American society.
SIFF Cinema Egyptian
What You Gonna Do When the World’s on Fire?
Roberto Minervini’s documentary was shot in the American South in the summer 2017, during the aftermath of a rash of police killings of African American men. Some black people, like bar owner Judy, are trying to survive in the face of oppression and gentrification; others, like Kevin of the Mardi Gras Indians, are trying to keep precious traditions alive; others are acting more directly, like the Black Panthers. It’s a stirring, un-preachy film that, according to Beatrice Loayza of the AV Club, “concentrates on the raw, emotional textures of [Minervini’s] subjects.”
Our critics don’t recommend these films, but you might like to know about them anyway.
Heading to Portland or Tacoma? Check out EverOut to find things to do there and in Seattle, all in one place.