Music[email][twitter][facebook]Tony Kay, the SunBreak's Music Editor, has been slugging it out in the journalistic front-line trenches of the Northwest music scene for over two decades in various websites and periodicals. In addition to covering music, arts, film, and whatever else strikes his fancy for the SunBreak, he also writes about film for City Arts magazine, covers live music for the Seattle Concerts Examiner, and periodically hosts Bizarro Movie Night at the Aster Coffee Lounge in Ballard. Tony was crowned Ultimate Film Fanatic of the Pacific Northwest on the Independent Film Channel game show The Ultimate Film Fanatic a few years ago, and he's got the wacky stories (and the rump-end of a trophy) to prove it.
It’s Memorial Day Weekend, so that means you’ve got an extra day of SIFFting to indulge in before going back to work. Then again, that could make things even more difficult, because Festival programmers have beefed up the film itinerary accordingly. Note that this weekend marks the beginning of a week of screenings for Renton’s IKEA Performing Arts Center. To help us out with this round of recommendations (and the the remainder of the SunBreak’s SIFF coverage, we’re delighted to welcome Chris Burlingame back into the fold.
Tony:Flight of the Concords fans are legion in this town, so the Saturday Night screening of Concord Jemaine Clement’s new dramedy People, Places, Things(replete with Clement attending and a post-film party at Kaspar’s) should be a hot ticket.
Chris: Technically not on Memorial Day Weekend, but football fans will still want to plan ahead: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is introducing a documentary he executive produced called License to Operate, on Tuesday evening, about gang violence in Los Angeles. The Q&A after the film will likely include someone asking former gang leaders and director James Lipetzky if they would have run from the one-yard line with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield in the closing moments of the Super Bowl.
Gentle This Dostoyevsky adaptation, transposed to modern-day Viet Nam and starring former 21 Jump Street regular Dustin Nguyen, has been garnering some major critical acclaim.
May 22, 2015 1:30 PM Pacific Place 11
May 25, 2015 8:00 PM Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center
May 26, 2015 9:00 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
808 If you listened to any new wave, hip hop, or soul in the 1980s, you heard the Roland TR-808 doing its beat-making thing, and its impact’s bled all the way through to today–Pharrell Williams counts himself among the instrument’s acolytes. SIFF music docs are usually worth catching, and this one looks to be no exception.
May 23, 2015 9:30 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
May 25, 2015 1:00 PM SIFF Cinema Egyptian
The Astrologer It’s not just silent films and films noir that get the rediscovery/restoration treatment. Case in point: This truly daffy-sounding (and previously undiscovered) 1975 semi-autobiographical account of a con-man who becomes a psychic astrologer–written, directed by, and starring astrologer Craig Denney. If you’re the kind of freak who makes the Midnight Adrenaline screenings your home away from home all SIFF long, it’s a fair bet you need to see this.
May 24, 2015 11:55 PM SIFF Cinema Egyptian
Chris: Gentlemen, I’m thrilled you’d have me back for another go-round, and let me join in kind of late in the game. Here are some things that sound interesting to me:
Uncle Kent 2A sequel of sorts to the 2011 low-budget Joe Swanberg film, but it’s directed by Todd Rohal (The Catechism Cataclysm) and stars Kent Osbourne (who also wrote the script) as a filmmaker who wants to make a sequel to Uncle Kent, but fails to secure Swanberg’s blessing and heads off to Comic Con for some reason. How meta!
Saturday, May 23, 2015, 9:30 PM, Pacific Place
Monday, May 25, 2015, 2:30 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown
The Boss: Anatomy of a Crime (El Patrón, radiografia de un crimen)As much as I’ve said I want to spend my SIFF focusing on the Northwest Connections films, and some documentaries, this Argentinian film sounds too good for me to pass up. From the synopsis alone, I’m intrigued: “Based on true events, this incredible examination of crime and justice follows a young Argentinean farmhand butcher exploited to a murderous breaking point. A delicate expose of unscrupulous practices in the meat industry and society’s corruption and labor exploitation.”
Sunday, May 24, 2015, 8:45 PM, Harvard Exit
Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 9:30 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown
West of Redemption I’ve been reading a lot of mystery novels and thrillers these days, and this World Premiere film from SIFF favorite and Seattle-based Cornelia Duryée Moore sounds like it’s way up my alley. It stars Billy Zane and was shot in just outside of Spokane. It’s about a farmer who lets a travelling stranger into his home, only to take that stranger hostage and uses what the Bush White House might charitably call “enhanced interrogation methods.” Secrets are to be revealed.
Monday, May 25, 2015, 7:00 PM, Harvard Exit
Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 4:30 PM, Harvard Exit
Josh: Expecting that you’ll have some time on your hands to hideaway at the movies, the weekend provides a few interesting opportunities for immersion in single topics:
You could spend most of Sunday hiding from barbecues with SIFF’s 101 course in the works of Indian auteur Satyajit Ray with back-to-back screenings of his Apu Triology, recently restored and presented in 4K resolution:
Alternately, for culinary aficionados, Sunday also brings the Little Forest quartet — four hours of chamber pieces, each covering a different season in the cooking life of a city girl who returns to the countryside after a breakup to live (and cook) off the land.
Or, Franco-philes could spend a several hours of their weekend in the cinematic company of James Franco. I Am Michaelfinds Franco in the title role in the true story of onetime gay rights activist turned conversion-therapy christian pastor Michael Glatze. Zachary Quinto co-stars as the former boyfriend, Emmar Roberts plays the current girlfriend. Director Justin Kelly is scheduled to attend both screenings; expect a lively discussion.
May 22, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 6:30 PM
May 23, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 4:15 PM
Yosemitemarks another adaptation from Franco’s short story collection. In this installation, the stories of a father (Franco) and three kids intertwine around the unrealistic goal of hunting down a mysterious mountain lion that threatens their suburb. It sounds questionable, but last year’s Palo Alto (from the same collection) was surprisingly good, so I’m willing to dip back into this dreamy world. Director Gabrielle Demeestere scheduled to attend both screenings.
May 23, 2015 AMC Pacific Place 11 7:00 PM
May 24, 2015 Harvard Exit 1:45 PM
Mistress AmericaI’m always excited for a new Noah Baumbach film, and the late addition of this one to the SIFF lineup marks his second release in 2015. Hot on the heels of this spring’s pretty good While We’re Young, the director is back, working once again with Greta Gerwig as star and co-writer (2013’s excellent Frances Ha)in this 21st century screwball farce set in New York City.
Tony: So the first week of the Seattle International Film Festival’s 2015 iteration has SIFFted its way into history. I’ve seen quite a few movies already, and am pretty surprised at the overall quality of what’s crossed my peepers. Of the 13 festival features I’ve seen, only two outright disappointed me. How about you, Josh?
Josh: As usual, some were less than spectacular, but so far I’m nine for nine in terms of non-disappointments.
Tony: Our viewing itinerary intersected on a couple of occasions in the last six or seven days, beginning with Spy, SIFF’s Opening Night feature. I’m very curious about your take.
Josh: While you might blame the afterglow of the always-fun opening night party, I’m coming in decidedly pro-Spy! While it probably won’t make my top movies of all time list, I think it’s definitely among the better SIFF opening night selections of at least the last decade: expertly made, never boring, incredibly funny throughout, while deftly avoiding so many landmines that could’ve made it a complete embarrassment.
Tony: Spy is the kind of flagrantly mainstream snack that the snob in me would dismiss, but the junk food junkie in me found guiltily enjoyable in places. I’ll admit it: I laughed way more than I thought I would. I’d never pay money to see it again, but it amiably diverted me for 90-something minutes and I didn’t resent it when it was over. That, in and of itself, surprised me.
Josh: Right, even though I’d seen the reviews, surprise was definitely a factor in my enjoyment. In particular, the previews for this movie are terrible — as if they don’t trust comedy fans to show up at a theater unless the humor is cringeworthy and that the main joke is the mere existence of Melissa McCarthy looking like Melissa McCarthy. I hope it finds an audience on the basis of the Bridesmaids connection alone. I give Feig et al enormous credit for not going for the easy fish-out-of-water route by and making McCarthy an incredibly competent operative who’s regularly underrated. Plus, it never stopped making me laugh, often with the jokes — verbal, physical, and visual — hitting so fast that I ended up missing some because the room was still cracking up.
Tony: OK, I take it back: If someone put together a loop of just the scenes featuring Jason Statham (indulging in some howlingly funny self-parody) and Morena Bacarin (as the super-spy equivalent of a too-perfect prom queen), I might pay money for that.
Josh: The strength of the cast overall made this sing. I agree that Statham in particular was a joy, and you got the feeling that they all very much enjoyed globe-trotting to locales far more exotic than you’d expect from a comedy. (4⭐️)
Tony: Another film that we both crossed paths with, The New Girlfriend, took me by (pleasant) surprise. The usage of the term ‘Hitchcockian psychosexual drama’ to describe French maestro Francois Ozon’s newest film in SIFF’s printed guide led me to expect something much more menacing than I got. Rather than a thriller, The New Girlfriend turned out to be a subtle and surprisingly adroit comedy that (for me, at least) sported some nice performances and a really interesting meditation on the fluidity of human sexuality and intimacy. It’s the kind of premise that an American director would, more than likely, completely screw up, but Ozon and his cast make it work with unforced ease. The only major liability for me came in the last 15 minutes, during which Ozon’s screenplay descends into what feels like a clumsy lurch at melodrama–an uninspired excuse to force lead character David’s big reveal to a head (then again, this could be an inbuilt fault with Ruth Rendell’s source material book, which I haven’t read). Up until then, though, I was really entertained.
Josh: Yes, I kept waiting for something truly terrible to happen! But it was sort of thrilling to see relationships develop and revelations unfold in uncomfortable fits and starts from the regularly confused and challenged characters. At my screening, it felt like the audience wasn’t sure how to react to [spoiler?] Duris dressed in women’s clothing, which, in a way mirrored the reaction of his [spoiler?] dead wife’s best friend as their relationship evolved in surprising but relatable ways. It did feel like the plot boiled over toward the end, and I found the final scenes not entirely conclusive, but it worked overall like a Very French take on Transparent. (4⭐️)
Tony: Every SIFF, there’s at least one horror movie/thriller that counters deeply disturbing fucked-uppedness with enough artistry to force civilians to acknowledge its quality (even as they peek at it through sweaty, knotted fingers). My favorite intersection of arthouse and grindhouse so far this fest is Goodnight Mommy, an Austrian film directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. It’s got two creepy pre-teen twins (well-played by real-life sibs Elias and Lukas Schwarz) dealing with a flawed mom (Susanne Wuest) whose psychological and physical abuse of her sons leads to, well, some deeply disturbing fucked-uppedness. The movie shares DNA with a couple of other horror movies, particularly (modest sorta-spoiler alert if you’re a horror nerd like me) the 1972 shocker The Other–no relation to the Nicole Kidman film–and Audition, but it also carves out (pardon the pun) its own distinctive identity with a languid, dreamlike pace that renders the deeply unsettling bits all the more impactful. Franz and Fiala did such a good job of diverting audience sympathies and focus that the ending genuinely surprised me.
Josh: Google Translate tells me that the original title of the film (Ich Seh Ich Seh) means, “I see, I see”. Which is appropriate, given how early in the film I spotted the “twist”. However, I agree that the glossy style carried it a long way and the immaculate shots and small creepy moment lulled me into such complacence that I was truly repulsed by the horrifying gore of final act. I’m not sure that I would classify my response as “enjoyment”, but I can’t argue that the film didn’t work on its own terms. I’m just glad that it wasn’t part of the midnight program; seeing it in earlier in the evening gave me some time to process before being haunted by the nightmarish imagery. (3.5⭐️)
Tony: Before I elaborate on the rest of the movies I liked or loved, let’s just get my disappointments off the table first. As a rabid midnight movie-holic, I was underwhelmed with SIFF’s second Midnight Adrenaline entry, The Hallow. I was intrigued by the premise (Irish family moves to a house just outside a reputedly-enchanted forest rife with strange beasts), and the mostly-practical effects were surprisingly effective, but it ultimately wore my patience down with its lack of character development and way too much reliance on hand-held camera fuckery.
Snow on the Blades represented another wolf in sheep’s clothing a la The New Girlfriend, thanks to consignment in the Thrill Me! portion of the SIFF Guide. Alas, it’s nowhere near as interesting as the latter. It’s basically Les Miserables samurai-style, as a disgraced samurai chases down the surviving assassins who took out his boss thirteen years previous. You know you’re in trouble when the climactic confrontation between the samurai and his single surviving quarry culminates with both parties blubbering like simpering milksops. And when said samurai meets his dewy-eyed wife for another good cry in the final scene, I was sure I was watching a Funny or Die parody where someone mashed up a Kurosawa film with a touchy-feely chick flick.
I ended up missing a couple of films that were high on my must-see list–Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and the Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy. How did those fare?
Josh: I’m sorry that you missed those — they’re currently near the top of my rankings! Love and Mercy was an almost radical take on the Great Artist Biopic in that it seemed to argue that the only fascinating aspect of Brian Wilson was the music that he created. And on this front, it works brilliantly in large part due to the score by Atticus Ross woven together from a hard disk full of recordings from the period surrounding the recording of Pet Sounds. Acoustic limitations of the Egyptian aside, I found the synthesis of these outtakes and the final versions of Beach Boys hits to be revelatory (and somewhat heartbreaking to think of how much less Wilson would’ve suffered if he’d had access to modern computer recording techniques). This is not to say that Paul Dano and John Cusack don’t give interesting performances as an increasingly withdrawn Wilson, but what they’re mostly portraying is a person who’s barely present in his own life. As the only character approaching three dimensions Elizabeth Banks nearly steals the spotlight as a 1980s Cadillac saleswoman, love interest, and advocate; elsewhere Wilson cousins and Paul Giamatti as a nefarious and controlling psychiatrist approach cartoonish levels of villainy. (4⭐️)
I can totally see why Me and Earl and the Dying Girl swept the hearts of Sundance audiences and juries while opening distributor pocketbooks. It’s likely to be an instant classic in the “creative teenage guy navigates perils of high school under the cover of faux disaffection but discovers feelings” genre, one that also happens to be in my wheelhouse / relevant to my arrested development interests. Although the motivating incident of story doesn’t entirely hold up under scrutiny — the parent-prodded meet-up of Greg (the “Me”, played amazingly by Thomas Mann) and “the Dying Girl” is as out-of-the-blue in the script as it is on screen — the other elements of the film are so successful and propulsive that it’s easy to be pulled along by the evocative camerawork, clever humor, an increasingly heart-tugging story, and an amazing soundtrack (a lot of Brian Eno, and some strategically perfect and emotionally devastating deployment of Nico Muhly and Explosions in the Sky). On top of all of that, there’s the matter of Greg and Earl’s filmography: a Criterion-Worthy library of astutely hilarious film-geek parodies of classic films. I’m hoping that when the film hits wide release next month, that their collection gets its own microsite or YouTube channel. They’re too perfect to not deserve more time to savor than the quick flashes throughout the film. (5⭐️)
Tony: There’s a lot of great music-related stuff on the SIFF 2015 docket, but the only music-related movie I’ve seen so far is Breathe Umpefumlo, a South African adaptation of La Boheme (AKA the opera ripped off by Rent). Slow Americans likely won’t be able to get past the mouthful of a title and the fact that, clever title cards and some introductory dialogue aside, it’s in un-subtitled African, but I was captivated. If you’ve seen Boheme or Rent, the plot’s easy enough to follow, with the original’s tragic love story cannily transposed against South Africa’s current TB epidemic. Puccini’s original music is performed by the cast with full operatic singing, only the instrumentation incorporates steel drums, marimbas, and other regional instruments. The weld shouldn’t work but does, wonderfully.
What about the rest of the stuff you saw, Josh?
Josh: Let’s see … I caught a couple of basically OK indie comedies. The first, and slightly more successful was Andrew Bujalski’s Results — loosely structured around a love triangle featuring two personal trainers (Guy Pearce, with dreams of a motivational empire; and Cobie Smulders, his all-business fitness star) and a newly-wealthy, freshly-divorced, marijuana-smoking, dadbod client (Kevin Corrigan). I’m a huge fan of his earlier mumblecore/new-wave/experimental catalog; so it was at least meta-fascinating to see him working in the framework of a more conventional rom-com — vaguely akin to looking at medieval paintings of lions by artists with only secondhand knowledge of the major features of the big cats. (3.5⭐️)
I also saw Manson Family Vacation, in which a successful attorney (Jay Duplass) gets dragged, often against his better judgement, on a makeshift tour of Charles Manson sites on a surprise visit from his adopted brother (Linas Phillips). Fittingly for a Duplass Brothers production, its a bit rambly, but successfully conveys the uncomfortable experience of spending an extended period of time with a semi-estranged family member who’s unhealthily obsessed with a serial-killer. (3⭐️)
In an entirely different genre, John Maclean’s Slow West finds mysterious traveler Michael Fassbender taking payment to escort poorly-prepared teen (Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Scottish) across the dangerous post-Civil War Continental Divide. Scenic New Zealand stands in for Colorado and the initially languid pacing picks up as they encounter various characters on the road and culminates in a high-stakes finale. The whole thing is a fool’s errand, beautifully shot. (4⭐️)
Tony: Both of the docs I saw maintained the festival’s high standards for documentary programming. Personal Gold: An Underdog Story told the involving saga of the Women’s Track Cycling Team in their 2012 quest for an Olympic medal. The movie hits all the requisite inspirational notes that a good sports doc needs, while also touching on the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, the financial struggles endured by most Olympic athletes to compete, and modern technology’s evolving role in human health. Good stuff.
Even better was Listen to Me Marlon, a doc about Marlon Brando constructed from hours of Brando’s own audio-taped musings and decades worth of stock footage. The end result is a haunting paean to the iconic actor in his own words, and the most fully-rounded portrait of Brando that we’re likely to see. You get all phases of the man’s life–from his early-career passion for pursuing unprecedented honesty and realism in his craft, to the actor’s perpetual discomfort with international fame, to his painful issues with his abusive jerk of a father: In a clip from a 1950s TV show, all of the tension and dysfunction between Brando and his dad seethes just beneath the surface, and it’s especially harrowing to watch after hearing Brando’s frank dialogue about their relationship. As deeply as it goes, though, Listen to Me Marlon deftly averts tabloid-style gawkery. If we weren’t already hitting Guttenberg-Bible length on this roundtable, I could kibbutz about this one for hours. It’s that good.
Josh: Listen to Me Marlon was incredible. I’m not quite sure that I’ve ever seen anything like it before. On one hand, it’s almost a counterpoint to Montage of Heck in terms of creating a biography entirely from an artist’s own ephemera. On the other, it reminded me of HBO’s The Jinx, in that the whole thing hung on the impulses of an old man to make a taped confession. But the depth of its ability to interrogate an epic career using almost entirely the artist’s own voice (and digitized head!) puts it in a category of its own, with the director’s pairings of existing footage and subsequent diary entries truly illuminating each other in unexpected ways. I’m hardly a Brando scholar, so many of the clips alone were worthwhile for their ability to chart a career arc and the stuff about his perspective on Method acting and his involvement with social justice issues was definitely interesting. (4.5⭐️)
Tony: The Hallow aside, SIFF 2015’s also been scratching my cult movie itch most ably. Deathgasm, the inaugural Midnight Adrenaline selection, delivers everything you could want from a midnighter and then some. A slacker teenage headbanger happens upon some parchments containing ancient sheet music, and when he and his bandmates play said music, it unleashes, well, Hell on Earth. You get plenty of warped giggles, gouts of blood and pus, and metal up the ass (metaphorically and literally), but filtered through an almost John Hughes level of teenage empathy. Who’da thunk that a movie featuring gut-munching, bloody projectile diarrhea, decapitation, demons, and heavy metal kids beating down zombies with dildos could be so, well, sweet-spirited without losing its punch?
The Old Dark House, meantime, proved that even a 1932 thriller about reluctant strangers trapped in a houseful of oddballs and psychos could maintain satiric bite over 80 years after its original release. Director James Whale went on to hone his MO of mordant chuckles and monstrous chills to perfection in 1933’s The Invisible Man and the 1935 masterpiece, Bride of Frankenstein, but the seeds of that style were already sown here. The cast, including Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, and an archly-funny Ernest Thesiger, take to their roles with relish, and Boris Karloff manages to be unerringly creepy as the house’s scarred and mute manservant. Best of all, the print (restored by the Library of Congress) is clear and darkly lovely. This is one of those rare old horror movies where even a jaded modern audience laughs with it, not at it.
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.
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
Listen to Me Marlon Stevan Riley’sdocumentary 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
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.
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.
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
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 Shoes. Michael 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.
There really is a crap-ton of great live music to choose from over the next three days, so much so that it’s almost a fool’s errand to even single out a small handful of gigs. That said, you can’t go wrong with any of the below options. Hey, I just preview ’em: You’re on your own from there.
Friday, April 24 (tonight!):
Down North, Breaks and Swells, Whitney Monge, Purr Gato @ Tractor Tavern. 21+. $12 advance/$14 at the door. Doors at 8:00 p.m., show at 9:00 p.m.
I’ve been a fan of headliners Down North long enough to have nearly run out of adjectives to describe ’em. Suffice it to say they’re one of the most snap-tight, hard-working funk-rock ensembles in town (emphasis on the rock), and that lead singer Anthony Briscoe remains a fireball of a live presence. The get-there-early mantra does apply: Marquetta Miller’s playful and subtly sensual pipes front Breaks and Swells’ ace infusion of velour-tinged old-school soul, Whitney Monge’s sandpaper-soulful merger of folk and R&B translates famously in a live setting, and Purr Gato’s electro-pop should start the evening in sinewy and danceable fashion.
Mr. Gnome, Posse, Wind Burial @ Columbia City Theater 21+. $10 advance/$12 at the door. Show at 9:00 p.m.
Cleveland’s Mr. Gnome float my boat mightily, with a combination of spectral-yet-toothy vocals, clattering layers of sonics, and psychedelia that manages to be cosmic, forward-thinking, and catchy as Hell. Local three-piece Posse do easygoing, ineffably charming stripped-down indie pop a la Yo La Tengo and Luna.
And yes, you’re nuts if you’re not early enough to catch Wind Burial’s opening set. The narcotic spell woven by their newest long-player, We Used to Be Hunters, infuses primal drumming, shoegazer swirl, and strong streaks of fetching darkness with dense, earthy psych-rock. Singer Kat Terran’s mesmerizing voice—a singular instrument that combines a folksinger’s clarion beauty with an undercurrent of gothic eeriness—provides this particular potion’s most resonant ingredient.
Saturday, April 25:
VibraGun, Dirty Dirty, Dead End Friend @ Barboza. 21+. $6 advance. Show at 7:00 p.m.
VibraGun’s shoegazer sound flips back and forth between Swervedriver-style textural/driving rock and dreamy pop reminiscent of Lush. Dirty Dirty and Dead End Friend, meantime, demonstrate the very divergent hues possible with a stripped-down line-up. The former band bashes out a mutant fusion of garage-punk and groove-infused metal with a sturdy two-dude configuration, highlighted by bassist Ian Forrester’s Freddie Mercury-gone-art-punk vocals and drummer Ian Harper’s forceful backbeat. Fellow Seattle rock duo Dead End Friend plays rock in the Pearl Jam/Soundgarden mold that’s refreshingly shorn of any flavor-of-the-month hipster garnishes. Guitarist/vocalist Jonah Simone knows his way around that patented Seattle arena rock stop/start groove, and Drummer James Squires matches Simone slug for slug. It’s a big sound that’s not super-fashionable in this neck of the woods right now, but they play it like champs.
Prom Queen @ Vito’s Restaurant and Lounge. 21+. Free. Show at 9:00 p.m.
In 2014 Celene Ramadan, the raven-haired chanteuse who leads (and sort of is) Prom Queen, put together Midnight Veil, a DVD that combined videos for twelve of her songs into an evocative, funny, and wonderfully retro mini-movie. Oh, and she co-directed the damn thing, too. The DVD was so ambitious that the inclusion of the audio CD almost seemed like an afterthought, but the music enclosed was (and is) amazing—a seamless collection of tunes that augment Prom Queen’s noir-girl-pop style with tremolo-soaked surf pop, jazz, and rich production. Ramadan’s solo Prom Queen shows are always terrific (she often accompanies pre-recordings of her pocket symphonies with guitar and voice), but I’m crossing my fingers that her sharp Prom Queen backing band joins her. Either way, this is one hell of a bargain, especially amidst Vito’s gloriously retro-lounge environs.
Do you really need me to tell you that Elvis Costello’s songbook could well be the finest of any songwriter alive today, that he’s the best lyricist on the planet, and that his song selection for this solo show comes from a catalog so deep that every single cut he plays/sings will likely be amazing? Thought not. You can pretty much bet the steepness of the admission price will be more than offset by the quality (and likely the duration—the man routinely plays two-hour and longer sets) of the music on display.
Mastodon, Clutch, Big Business @ Showbox SODO. 21+. $37 advance, $39 day of show. Show at 7:00 p.m.
For the last 15 years Atlanta-based monsters Mastodon have pretty much represented the gold standard for heavy-as-shit thinking person’s metal, evolving and maintaining a sense of adventure without losing their Hammer-of-Thor crunch. Their 2004 sorta-concept album Leviathan stands as their masterpiece to these ears, but their sixth release, last year’s Once More ‘Round the Sun, proves that they’ve maintained their consistency to an astonishing degree. The even longer-lived Maryland metal combo Clutch and LA’s Big Business form a potent opening one-two punch that should make even the Showbox SODO’s barn-like vibe and dodgy acoustics worth enduring.
Alongside The Kingsmen and The Wailers, The Sonics were basically responsible for the howling breach-birth of the monster that is Northwest rock and roll. Barely out of their teens when they began playing together in the early 1960s, the five snappily-dressed young badasses who comprised The Sonics mixed the soot of their industrial Tacoma hometown with the sweaty abandon of old-school rock and blues heroes like Little Richard and Howlin’ Wolf to create an unhinged new animal.
The resulting records were as primal and stripped-down as you could get—compact blasts of battering drums, growling bass, ragged fuzztone guitar, grunting animal saxophone, dirty blues keyboards, and hell-with-the-lid-blown-off singing. It was a sound that did its small but crucial part to liberate American rock and roll from years of neutered teen idols, and it made British contemporaries like the Rolling Stones sound like candy-assed dilettantes.
The Sonics never became mega-stars, but they helped write the textbook on garage rock, and when leather-jacketed wastrels in the mid-1970s got fed up with arena rock’s empty pretense, The Sonics became one of the key nutrients in the soil that spawned the entire first wave of punk. The band’s pulverizing DNA winds through Iggy Pop and The Stooges, The Ramones, The Sex Pistols, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Jack White, and the Black Keys (to name only a few).
All of the above is a long and windy way of saying that The Sonics, despite their unpretentious demeanor, are pretty much Northwest rock royalty. The simple fact that they’re even playing live at this point is cause for celebration: The fact that their gig last Thursday at The Moore Theatre was one of the best live rock shows I’ve seen in my life is nothing short of inspiring.
Sharply attired in basic black, The Sonics took to the stage just shy of 10:00 p.m., opening up with a concise and ripping version of “Psycho.” From there, the pedal didn’t leave the metal for the next hour and 45 minutes as they tore through old and new cuts alike with the no-bull forcefulness of an outfit one-third their age. Pretty much every track a Sonics fan could’ve hoped for got a workout, from originals like “Shot Down” and “Boss Hoss” to the most menacing cover of “Louie Louie” that you’ll ever hear. Best of all, the band fired through nine cuts from their first all-new full-length in 48 years, This is The Sonics (a record whose flat-out brilliance could merit a couple hundred words on its own).
A lot of the evening’s considerable momentum came courtesy of the band’s founding members. Rob Lind’s saxophone and harp provided as much brute force as the bass and drums, and he served as the band’s informal mouthpiece with aplomb, working the charged-up crowd like the host of an extra-packed house party. Guitarist Larry Parypa’s low-key demeanor stood in sharp contrast to the mutant blues licks and power chords he tossed off with lethal efficacy. And let it be stated for the record that lead singer Jerry Roslie’s aggressive, soulful snarl can still cauterize any and all eardrums within earshot.
Original bassist Andy Parypa and founding drummer Rob Bennett were MIA (both, alas, are unable to travel), but thankfully the two new-ish guys forming The Sonics’ current rhythm section were little short of godsends. Drummer Dusty Watson (who’s logged in time behind the kit with everyone from Lita Ford to The Supersuckers) drove the songs with a potent combination of swing and muscle, and bass player Freddie Dennis proved to be the night’s secret weapon. Almost sweetly unassuming before he began playing, Dennis laid down a near-volcanic bottom end on the four-string, and he let fly on nearly half of the lead vocals with a bobcat wail that matched Roslie’s world-class growl slug for slug.
Ferocious as the band’s attack was, though, The Sonics never lost sight of the fact that they’ve always been (and always will be) a rock and roll party band of epic proportions. Lind led the crowd through plenty of call-and-response shouts, and the house-party atmosphere was reinforced by the numerous guest stars who periodically shared the stage. Presidents of the United States of America frontman Chris Ballew gave a spirited guest vocal on “You’ve Got Your Head on Backwards,” Mudhoney’s Mark Arm joined The Sonics for a roaring take on “Shot Down,” and Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic filled in on bass for a fierce rendition of “Cinderella.” By the time the encores rocketed to a close with a turbo-charged cover of Little Richard’s “Lucille,” even the usually-taciturn Roslie could be seen cracking a smile. True rock and roll badasses, it seems, still know how to have a good time.