SIFF 2015: Picks for Week One (May 18-21)

sunbreak_siff_watching

No surprise, SIFF ’15 blazes forward with a stacked roster that’ll make you rue working at all this week. Below are our picks for the best stuff to see before Memorial Day Weekend descends.

Josh’s picks:

SonOfTheSheik_KeyArt

The Son of the Sheik  Cambridge’s Alloy Orchestra — a three-man band consisting of percussionists Terry Donahue and Ken Winokur and former Mission of Burma guitarist Roger Miller — will be performing a new score alongside a restored print of George Fitzmaurice’s 1926 silent romance/adventure. Featuring Rudolph Valentino in his final role(s), the film  includes “moonlit rendezvous, knife fights, kidnapping, horseback racing, betrayal, and love” while the live performance promises  instruments native to the Middle East to match the dramatic desert setting. Events like this are one of the niftier features of the festival, making this one-night-only special engagement worth both a look and a listen.

    • May 19, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival   7:00 PM

Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana Of potential interest to fans of a very particular slice of  semi-recent Seattle dive bar burlesque history, this documentary profiles Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling’s Ronald McFondle, Eddie Van Glam, and The Banana. Rowdy performances, internal strife, and parody wrestlers going all the way to the state capitol ensues. Directors Ryan Harvie, John Paul Hortsmann scheduled to attend to answer some, if not all, of your questions.

  • May 21, 2015 9:30 PM SIFF Cinema Egyptian

ListenToMeMarlon_KeyArtListen to Me Marlon Stevan Riley’s documentary about the life and times of Marlon Brando sounds absolutely mind-boggling. Fittingly the story is told in the actor’s own voice — via a stash of previously unreleased audio diary entries — and the usual bits of rare photographs and film footage is paired with a digitized 3D image of Brando’s head that the actor himself had crafted [!], making for a haunting post-mortem autobiography.

  • May 19, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival 6:00 PM

OldDarkHouse_KeyArt

Tony’s picks:

The Old Dark House  Another rescue/restoration compliments of The Film Foundation, James Whale’s 1932 chiller showcases the director’s mordant streak of black humor, genuinely creepy atmosphere, and a terrific cast including scare king Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, and Melvyn Douglas. Plus, you’ll get to see what Gloria Stuart, octogenarian Oscar nominee for Titanic, looked like as an ingenue (for the record, she was quite the dish).

  • May 18, 2015 7:00 PM SIFF Cinema Egyptian

Shrew’s Nest  Director Alex de la Iglesia’s been responsible for two of my favorite genre offerings from previous SIFFs (2011’s The Last Circus and 2014’s Witching and Bitching). He takes the producer’s desk for this thriller that’s been generating some serious word-of-mouth.

  • May 19, 2015 9:30 PM SIFF Cinema Egyptian
  • May 26, 2015 3:30 PM Lincoln Square

The Look of Silence  2013’s The Art of Killing  just might be the most mesmerizing documentary that’s screened at SIFF in the last five years (our SunBreak staff was left agog by it in one of our SIFF 2013 roundtables), so the notion of director Joshua Oppenheimer returning to Indonesia’s Killing Fields, this time with the relative of one of the massacre’s victims, can’t help but promise much the same level of emotional intensity and artistry.

  • May 21, 2015 9:30 PM Harvard Exit
  • May 23, 2015 1:00 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival

Keep track of the SunBreak’s SIFF coverage on our SIFF 2015 page, plus news updates and micro-reviews on Twitter @theSunBreak.

SIFF 2015: Picks for Opening Weekend (May 15-17)

SIFF 2015

It’s finally (already?) here: the 41st Seattle International Film Festival,  in which we, as a city, embrace our fondness for popcorn and lines, hatred of sunlight and fresh air, and love of film in a twenty-five day marathon of movie-watching! As you prepare yourself for nearly a month of moviegoing, scour the SIFF website and refer to our timeless pro-tips

Josh: Opening Night represents the only day where the festival doesn’t force you to make difficult decisions between simultaneous filmgoing experiences: it’s either Spy and a fancy boozy party where some Seattleites will break the ice, converse with strangers, and just maybe get sugar buzzed enough to dance or a night at home watching the Scandal season finale and studying the SIFF program. We haven’t seen Spy yet, but Paul Feig’s (Bridesmaids ) C.I.A. comedy starring Melissa McCarthy, Jason Statham Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, and Allison Janney made it out of SXSW with universal acclaim, which at least provides a sense of hope that you might spend the party rehashing hilarious moments (rather than tearing it apart like last year’s controversial Hendrixpic).

Tony: When it comes to the Opening Night film, I always try to keep an open mind. With the positive word on Spy, I’m hoping for Our Man in Havana quality, but bracing for Pink Panther (Steve Martin-era) stinkiness. Either way, there’ll be cocktails at the post-film fete to take any potential sting off. Oh, and Megan Griffiths gets the Mayor’s Award tonight, which is really cool.

Josh: As always, there are plenty of movie groupings by mood, genre, etc. Any categories that you’re particularly intrigued by?

Tony: One of the indisputable highlights of SIFF’s programming each year is the Fest’s bushel of reissues and restorations, and this year maintains SIFF’s strong RBA (Reissues Batting Average). Among the many intriguing offerings: Saved From the Flames (director Serge Bromberg’s compilation of rescued old reels, including a restored print of Georges Melies’ 1902 A Trip to the Moon); silent movie heartthrob Rudolph Valentino’s 1926 smash Son of the Sheik, scored by the Alloy Orchestra;  a triple feature of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy films in luminescent 4k digital restoration; and a screening of one of auteur Max Ophuls’ few American films, the 1949 film noir Caught.

Given my track record, it’ll likely surprise no one that I’m also extremely jazzed about SIFF’s Midnight Adrenaline and cult cinema picks for 2015. It’s hard to deny (for the right kind of freak) the allure of a heavy-metal demon-summoning New Zealand comedy with dildo fights (Deathgasm, playing tomorrow night’s Midnight Adrenaline slot at SIFF Egyptian), or a retro-futuristic BMX-bikesploitation action movie boasting gouts of blood and bad-assed character actor Michael Ironside (Turbo Kid). But there are also classier-sounding offerings like the locally-grown thriller The Hollow One and the Danish werewolf film When Animals Dream.

Josh:  I’m looking forward to a little bit of everything from the films I’m planning on seeing for Opening Weekend. I’ll probably browse around based on whims and word on the street, but these are a few at the top of my list:

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Anyone even tangentially paying attention to the buzz coming from the year’s Sundance will have probably at least heard about Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s story of two socially inept teen dudes who make goofy movie parodies and their burgeoning relationship with a girl with leukemia. An audience and jury favorite, it also features Nick Offerman and Connie Britton alongside the teen actors. The director will be in attendance for Saturday’s screening, which will be followed by a party at the mall.

  • May 16, 2015 AMC Pacific Place 11 6:30 PM
  • May 17, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival 2:30 PM

The New Girlfriend (Une Nouvelle Amie)François Ozon. Hitchcockian psychosexual drama. Romain Duris. Cross-dressing. That’s probably enough to let you know this one’s for you.

  • May 16, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 9:30 PM
  • May 17, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival 11:30 AM

Results What’s that you say? A new Andrew Bujalski film is playing during SIFF’s opening weekend? Funny Ha Ha and Mutual Appreciation are so dear to my heart that I almost don’t need to know anything else before committing to a couple hours in the theater. When last we saw him, he’d swerved from being at the vanguard of mumblecore (a term I use with the utmost affection) comedies into the Twilight Zone of nerds and new agers intersecting in Computer Chess. With Results he’s working in color with actors whose names you’ll probably recognize on a love triangle amongst personal trainers and their slacker clients in Austin, Texas.

  • May 15, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival 3:30 PM
  • May 16, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival 9:00 PM

Love and Mercy. John Cusack and Paul Dano play Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson at different points in his career, with a score from Atticus Ross (scheduled to attend Friday’s screening),  a script from one of the writers of Todd Haynes’s chameleonic Dylan biopic I’m Not There, and direction from Bill Pohlad, whose otherwise accomplished biography also includes a mention of his father’s multi-decade ownership of the Minnesota Twins. I’m so there.

  • May 15, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 6:30 PM
  • May 16, 2015 AMC Pacific Place 11 12:30 PM
We're really stoked to see the Brian Wilson Biopic, Love and Mercy.
We’re really stoked to see the Brian Wilson Biopic, Love and Mercy.

Tony: You hit the nail on the head earlier, Josh: Most days, SIFF is a total Sophie’s Choice. I count at least 9 films over the weekend that I’m really aching to see (including the ones you mentioned). Here are three others that I think merit must-see status.  

The Red ShoesMichael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s 1948 fable about a ballerina pursuing stardom richly deserves its rep as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema. It’s a smart and knowing peek into the guts of a dance company, a fairy tale resonant with metaphor, and a visual feast so lushly colorful and gorgeous it’ll take your breath away. You’re nuts not to see it on the Egyptian’s huge screen.

  • May 16, 2015 12:30 PM SIFF Cinema Egyptian

The Hallow.  I’m really intrigued by Corin Hardy’s reputedly atmospheric chiller about an Irish family encountering a forest full of extremely scary things.

  • May 16, 2015 MIDNIGHT SIFF Cinema Egyptian
  • May 20, 2015 8:30 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival

Personal Gold: An Underdog Story.   Directed with birds-eye immediacy by former Olympic kayaker (and Seattle native) Tamara Christopherson, this doc chronicles the struggles of the underfunded but scrappy US Women’s Track Cycling Team as they go for the Olympic Gold in the 2012 London Games. The inspiration feels genuine and hard-won, and it offers a fascinating peek at modern technology’s role in helping athletes achieve personal bests without  performance-enhancing drugs.

  • May 16, 2015 12:00 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
  • May 19, 2015 7:00 PM Pacific Place

Keep track of the SunBreak’s SIFF coverage in the coming weeks here, plus news updates and micro-reviews on Twitter @theSunBreak.

SIFF 2015: A Scientific Approach to SIFF Selections

SIFF 2015
SIFF 2015

As usual,  I’m woefully behind on developing a Grand Unified SIFF Strategy this year, but my one of my favorite obsessions in terms of getting a sense of the festival is to take a deep data dive into the Programmer Picks. Every year, the people who stock the festival with films dish which ones they’d most strongly recommend (Managing Director Mary Bacarella continues her tradition of silence).

And this year, just under half (47%) of the 281 non-SECRET films made the cut as a “Programmer Pick”, garnering one mention from at least one of the programmers and fifteen pages of listings on the SIFF website. (Note, all of this counts Andy Spletzer’s “want to see” as recommendations, because who wants to deal with half-picks?)

As far as “Mood” goes, the programmers were exceptionally democratic in their picks, with the often-challenging “Open My Eyes” seeing only 35% selected while the hodgepodge “Sci-Fi and Fact” would up with 60% of its films on a programmer’s must-see list.

SIFF: 2015 Moods
SIFF: 2015 Moods

Overall, 135 films wound up as Programmer Picks. In narrowing down your selections, this is still probably far too many movies for the somewhat sane among us to actually watch during the festival, we can at least get a general sense of the programmer zeitgeist by processing the blurbs for all of the films that secured at least one mention into a handy word-cloud:

The top words mentioned in the blurbs of films meriting at least one Programmer Pick

 

And although all the films are loved, and some are feted with galas, some films are ever-so-slightly more loved than others: 33 were picked by at least two programmers, and

All SIFF selections are special, but some are more special than others.

All SIFF selections are special, but some are more special than others. Pie charts for entertainment purposes only.

 

Amidst the young world premieres, teenage masterpieces, terrifying intimate pioneers, mysterious shorts, and hilarious interviews, an entirely manageable eleven films found their way onto at least three programmers’ lists:

Tied for “first place” with four “votes” each are: Chuck Norris vs. Communism (clandestine dubbed VHS tapes take down the evil empire); The Nightmare (The director of Room 237 documents the terror of sleep paralysis); Phoenix (Holocaust survivor with a new face returns home to identity issues, intrigue, romance, and thrills); Romeo Is Bleeding (Bay Area Poet stages an ambitious local gang-themed Shakespeare adaptation to save an arts program); andThe Wolfpack (shut-in Manhattanite brothers experience the outside world almost entirely through film, Grand Jury Winner at Sundance). And with a still impressive three votes each, the runners up include:
Eisenstein in Guanajuato (perennial programmer favorite Peter Greenaway gives the biopic treatment to the Russian filmmaker’s sexual awakening in 1931 Mexico); Goodnight Mommy (another point for shut-ins and plastic surgery finds two horrified boys and a recuperating mother in a country home); The Great Alone (Documentary about multiple Iditarod winner Lance Mackey); My Skinny Sister (two pre-teen sisters, one anorexic, the other not); Slow West (In another Sundance Grand Jury winner, Michael Fassbender guides a lovelorn teen across a violent post Civil War landscape); and Tangerine (transgender prostitutes on a wild night in Los Angeles, not to be confused with 2014 foreign language film nominee, Tangerines).

Aside from being an eclectic collection of films to seed your festival viewing bracket, keeping these films on your list also give you some insight into the collective tastes of the SIFF programming hive mind, as well as something to chat about if you run into any bleary eyed SIFF staffers at parties.

The Mein Man: Hand-Shaven Noodles (and More) at La Bu La

   

Chow mein with hand-shaven noodles
Chow mein with hand-shaven noodles

 Dish: Chow Mein

Place: La Bu La, Bellevue

Price: $10.95

On the plate: Hand-shaven noodles with chicken, green onions, carrot, cabbage, and bean sprouts.

Supporting cast/What to do: Just eat and enjoy.

Noodling around: You can order this dish with hand-shaven noodles or egg noodles, and a choice of chicken, pork, beef, seafood, or vegetables. You definitely want the hand-shaven noodles. In the kitchen, the chef holds a block of dough on his arm, and with a free hand, uses a knife to expertly flick strips of dough into boiling water.

Making hand-shaven noodles
Making hand-shaven noodles

Boiling is where the noodle-cooking ends if you order the Cheng Du Hand-Shaven Noodle dish. But for the chow mein, the boiled noodles are brought over to a wok station to be stir-fried with the rest of the ingredients, along with garlic, regular and dark soy sauce, and some oyster sauce. The result: slightly chewy noodles with just a bit of smokiness from the wok.

If you want more: As the Chow Mein is a very mild dish, you’re almost obligated to balance that with something spicy at this Sichuanese restaurant. I strongly suggest you “Take a Walk on the Wild Side” by selecting something from the more interesting “Wild Side” menu. Items like Young Bamboo Shoots in Chili Oil ($8.95) or Fiery Cucumber Pieces ($7.95) will give you something fresh and fiery, but if you’ve got the appetite, try a platter of Chong Qing Hot Chicken ($14.95) for some addictively numbing and spicy (and a little sweet) deep-fried chicken morsels, plated with a scattering of blistered green beans.

Chong Qinq Chicken
Chong Qinq Chicken
Tender Fish Morsels in Fiery Broth of Two Kinds of Chili Peppers (I enjoy all of these fiery fish dishes)
Tender Fish Morsels in Fiery Broth of Two Kinds of Chili Peppers (I enjoy all of these fiery fish dishes)
My favorite dish at La Bu La: The Other Parts of a Pig (with pork blood, intestines, etc.)
My favorite dish at La Bu La: The Other Parts of a Pig (with pork blood, intestines, etc.)

Be aware/beware: Here’s the backstory of La Bu La, as I recently reported for Eater Seattle:

Bamboo Garden, the beloved Chinese restaurant previously located next to an adult toy store in a Bellevue strip mall, quietly reemerged as La Bu La on April 25. Just feet from its former site, La Bu La is in the new Soma Towers development, where it trades the darkness of its previous cave-like locale for a light-filled dining experience, thanks to floor-to-window ceilings. The ambience is contemporary but with classic Chinese touches, such as the antique chests scattered throughout the dining area, as well as the soldier statues towering above the bar.

The new bar (photo courtesy of La Bu La)
The new bar (photo courtesy of La Bu La)

Translating to “spicy not spicy” (as in, “How do you want your food?”), La Bu La opened with a new sit-down bar replete with expanded beer, wine, and cocktail options, and the same trust food offerings from Bamboo Garden. While part of the menu deliberately appeals to diners who don’t want to dabble in the typical heat of Sichuan cooking, true fans will want to turn to the popular “Walk on the Wild Side” menu, which basically takes the typically inaccessible Chinese language menu and makes it available—and appealing—to non-Chinese clientele. Favorites include “Fire Swimming Fish,” “The Other Parts of a Pig,” and the restaurant’s most popular dish: “Chong Qing Hot Chicken” that’s both numbing and spicy (ma la, in Chinese).

Gorgeous new digs (photo courtesy of La Bu La)
Gorgeous new digs (photo courtesy of La Bu La)

Bamboo Garden was featured as part of Eater Seattle’s Chinese map back in September—a high honor since Sichuanese is the Chinese cuisine which Seattle does best. With improved atmosphere and service (as well as private dining options) added to its previously popular menu, La Bu La is even more of a destination-worthy drive from Seattle for Chinese food. And that’s not even mentioning the xiao long bao (soup dumplings) coming to the menu in the weeks ahead…

Curious Georges in a conversation with Seattle