Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

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: 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.

SIFF: Nevermind the Weather, SIFF41 Lineup Available, Box Office Open

SIFF 2015
SIFF 2015 is coming. Are you ready to watch?

Late last week, SIFF unveiled the complete lineup for the 2015 festival (the 41st) on their website and in stacks of glossy printed guides all over town, complete with a full festival calendar, compact film descriptions, trailers, and all sorts of other bells and whistles.

Opening Night brings Paul Feig and his C.I.A. comedy Spy — starring Melissa McCarthy, Jude Law, and Jason Statham that maintains universal acclaim on the basis of its SXSW premiere this spring — to McCaw Hall, preceded by a red carpet festivities and followed by a huge party next door in Exhibition Hall. From there, SIFF gives cinema-bound Seattleites plenty of occasions to socialize after the credits roll with a packed slate of so many galas, parties, and events, culminating with a closing night presentation of The Overnight (a Seattle-to-Los Angeles relocation comedy starring Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling) at the Seattle’s chocolate popcorn theater mecca, the Cinerama, followed by a SIFF Soiree at Seattle’s fanciest attic, MOHAI, on Sunday June 7th.  If you plan on diving deep into the SIFF party scene, clear out your Saturday schedule and consider the the “Gala and Party Pass” — gets you expedited entry into many of the films and events along with open bar privileges for $300 ($250 for members).

Yes, between opening and closing night, the country’s biggest festival is ready to overwhelm and delight with a total of 450 films from 92 countries (193 features, 70 documentaries, 164 short films). In addition to festival favorites from around the world, this list represents 49 world premieres (23 features/26 shorts), 51 North American premieres (33/18), and 18 U.S. premieres (7/11) are rolling into town. Can you ever be truly prepared for this film onslaught? I think this year’s ad-campaign answers that question directly:

Yes, even SIFF acknowledges that seeing it all requires something like voluntarily stepping inside Booth Jonathan’s torture tower or committing yourself to an extended stay in Room 23 and accepting that side-effects might include going Full Malkovich. That’s why in the coming weeks we’ll be hivemindmelding to let you know how we’re planning to allocate our precious time to “BE WATCHING” with regular follow-up to chat about what we saw, loved, and hated. And really, if you see a quarter of those, you’ll feel it your stiff legs, bleary eyes, and sun-deprived skin by the end.

If you can’t wait for our crystal ball readings and rambly debriefs, but know that you like your fims, for instance, to get romantic, induce nightmares, take you on a rocket ship to adventure, or cause you to feel horribly melancholic upon having the dire state of human rights/environmental collapse/economic atrocities/etc., SIFF continues to organize the festival into user-friendly moods (“Love“, “Make Me Laugh“, “Open My Eyes“, “Thrill Me“, “Provoke Me”, “Show Me the World“, “Sci-Fi and Fact“, “To the Extreme“, “Creative Streak“, and “Face the Music“) to let you customize your viewing agenda to how you feel like feeling on a given night.

If this all sounds too emo, you can always plan your festival around seventeen overlapping film programs including geographic groupings both international (Africa, Spain, Asia, Latin America) and closer to home (New American Cinema, Northwest Connections); time-of-day (Midnight Adrenaline); time-of-life (Films4Families, FutureWave); or dedication to secrecy (a Secret Festival that includes Sunday morning screenings of films so exclusive that an Oath of Silence is required for entry); or a sommelier-like selection of films to pair with your meal. Of course, local film lovers eager for quality time with celebrities will want to consider attending the annual tributes to film legends, in which SIFF honors a body of work with an extended interview, clip show, feature presentation, Q&A and awards presentation. First up, find yourself one degree closer to every celebrity on earth by way of an evening with Kevin Bacon on May 27th, followed by a screening of his latest film Cop Car at the Egyptian. The next week, Jason Schwartzmann will face hundreds of Wes Anderfans along with a tribute screening of 7 Chinese Brothers on June 6th at the Harvard Exit.

Let’s hash through the details. We’ll update our classic collection of  tips & tricks with the latest info on queue cards and other fluctuating festival features closer to opening day. First, though, in compliance with the SunBreak’s most sacred oath of office, it is my solemn duty to inform you that iSIFF, the amazingly useful little iPhone app, remains in cold storage (as they say in sportsball, “there’s always next year”). But hey! MySIFF is still kind-of around, connected to an alternate festival universe calendar, and approximately functional (successfully adding a film to YourSIFF results in a page with nothing but a reassuring zero).

Early-bird prices have come and gone, but you can still sign up for an all-you-can-eat buffet by getting a series pass or set more achievable goals with a bulk order of six or twenty slightly-discounted tickets. Aside from shopping online, the festival maintains three in-person box offices — one at SIFF Cinema and SIFF Film Center (Lower Queen Anne) and another at SIFF Cinema Egyptian (Capitol Hill). In terms of in-city programming, this year’s map remains fairly compact with most regular screenings taking place downtown at Pacific Place, in Capitol Hill at permanently-revived Egyptian and temporarily-revived Harvard Exit (for an extended wake before the beloved neighborhood theater goes the way of creative offices and craft cocktails), and on SIFF’s home turf in lower Queen Anne with three screens at the Uptown and one at the Film Center. Once again, the festival will take the show on the road to Bellevue (Lincoln Square), Renton, and Kirkland, but we have enough trouble catching everything in Seattle and don’t expect to venture too far beyond city limits.

Can’t wait? Start scouring the festival’s offerings and strategically slotting them into your social calendars, with extra credit for plotting out agendas that allow you to see multiple films at different venues while still managing to find a meal other than popcorn and soda along the way. Should the mood strike, reward yourself with a beer or wine, sold at SIFF-operated venues to accompany you into the theater. With a festival this stuffed full of tough choices and epic film sprints, you’ll more than deserve it.

Auburn Symphony Brings Mozart to Mountainview High

ASO conductor Stewart Kershaw (Photo: Auburn Symphony Orchestra)
ASO conductor Stewart Kershaw (Photo: Auburn Symphony Orchestra)

When the Auburn Symphony Orchestra was formed by music director Steward Kershaw 17 years ago it was in order, he said, to give the members of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Orchestra an opportunity to play the general orchestral literature.

Kershaw had been music director at PNB for many years, conducting an orchestra described by many admiring critics as “the finest ballet orchestra in the country.” While there are still many musicians who are members of both ensembles, there are others who belong to one only.

The Auburn Symphony has showed its caliber over the years since in the small city south of Seattle which showed its pleasure in having its own orchestra by giving it support, although finances have often been dicey particularly in the recent recession. (Their annual gala is coming up June 6.)

The ASO normally performs at the Performing Arts Center, which doubles as Auburn High School’s auditorium, but this past season has seen that venue in the throes of extensive renovation, and the ASO has been performing at Auburn’s Mountainview High School instead. Next season it will be back at the PAC.

Meanwhile the final concert of the 2014-15 season had a packed audience Sunday afternoon at Mountainview. The orchestra showed itself at its best in a superb performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 29. The orchestra was the right size for this music, about 43 players, and the players in each section played as one, clean and crisp. Kershaw drew expressive details from them, the balance was perfect, and the whole an unalloyed pleasure to hear.

It’s not common to hear the bassoon as a solo instrument, but Vivaldi wrote many concertos for it, and principal bassoonist Mona Butler performed as the soloist in his Concerto in A Minor. The bassoon is the lowest of the wind instruments, but its pitch, timbre, and textures were never overlaid by the orchestral accompaniment. Vivaldi chose in this concerto to intersperse orchestra and bassoon with duets between bassoon and solo cello, ably played by Brian Wharton. It’s a concerto of considerable charm, well played by Butler, but there were many moments where orchestra and soloist were not quite together, which detracted from overall enjoyment.

She returned after intermission for a rarely heard and delightful work by Elgar, a short Romance for bassoon and orchestra. This is unmistakable Elgar from the first notes, with a much larger orchestra and clever orchestration to keep from drowning the soloist. Again however, there were moments when they were not together.

The concert ended with Bizet’s lively “Arlesienne” Suites Nos. 1 and 2, between them eight short pieces, robust, fun, colorful, foot-tapping stuff, most feeling like dances (which they may have been as accompaniments for a play by Alphonse Daudet), and of which the orchestra took full advantage. The whole was a pleasure to hear. Kudos particularly to principal flute Wendy Wilhelmi and piccolo player Laura Werner, for their zestful and musical playing.

Chanticleer’s Sacred Music Concert Soars

It’s hard to provide enough superlatives for San Francisco-based Chanticleer, the men’s vocal ensemble which has been top of the charts for much of its 37 years. While personnel have come and gone, the quality remains extraordinarily high.

Performing to a packed audience on the Early Music Guild Series at Town Hall Saturday night, the twelve singers gave a concert, titled “Mystery”, of sacred songs devoted to the Virgin Mary. These ranged from plainsong from the seventh century—although it may actually be much older than that—to 20th-century Russian music, via many of the great Renaissance and Baroque composers. It’s hard to mention highlights, as every song was more beautiful than the last.

From Spain came music by Alfonso X of Castille and Tomas Luis de Victoria; from Portugal an anonymous and lively dance-style song with tambourine, meant to show music of Portuguese West Africa; from Mexico a European-tinged development of a plainsong melody by Antonio de Salazar; and more from the European greats of the great flowering of choral music from the 15th to 17th centuries: among them Giovanni Gabrielli, Josquin des Prez, Orlando di Lasso, Palestrina, William Byrd. Lastly came three from Russia, by Rachmaninov, Georgy Sviridov, and Nikolai Golovanov. Sviridov, like Byrd, lived in fear, both prohibited from writing the music they felt they must: Byrd a Catholic hounded by Protestants, Sviridov under the heavy hand of Communism. Yet all these composers wrote music of sublime beauty.

Listening to Chanticleer, with three voices in each range—soprano, alto, tenor, bass/baritone—the balance between singers made every line audible whether they were singing in four or up to eight parts. In unison the blend sounded seamless, no voice standing out, as the monks of old must have tried to do.

Their diction was clear. It was always possible to find where they were in a song, as the program gave us both the original language and English, plus phonetic translation of the Russian alphabet as well. At times, one or another would sing solo, as in the beginning phrase of the Salazar, or there would be a small group singing antiphonally with a larger group. No vibrato in the voices and the group’s remarkable pitch sense meant intervals were completely pure, a joy to hear.

The soprano voices were astonishing. We are now used to countertenors, but not many sing this high, and all of these sang with a full-throated ease which sounded close to the feminine soprano sound. Only towards the end of the concert—and the end of a three-week tour—did there begin to sound a little strain at the top end of the range, and a few notes which were not quite on pitch.

For an encore, Chanticleer went for something quite difference, a lively arrangement of the old gospel song, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” sung with the same impeccable attention to detail and style and ending with what seemed an impossibly low note.

 

Your Live Music Bets for the Weekend of April 24 through April 26

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 (shown here at Bumbershoot 2013) will funk-rock the Tractor tonight. (photo: Tony Kay)
Down North (shown here at Bumbershoot 2013) will funk-rock the Tractor tonight. (photo: Tony Kay)

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.

Wind Burial, all dark and swirly. (photo: Tony Kay)
Wind Burial, all dark and swirly. (photo: Tony Kay)

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.

Sunday, April 26:

Elvis Costello (solo) @ Paramount Theatre. All ages. $41.25 to $71.25 advance. Doors at 6:00 p.m, show at 7:00 p.m.

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.