Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

SIFF 2015: Picks for Centerpiece Weekend (May 29-31)

Don’t panic, there are still ten days left to get your fill of SIFF, but Even though they call it “Centerpiece Weekend”, the Seattle International Film Festival is actually safely past the halfway point.

EndOfTheTour_Still01.tifSaturday evening includes a screening of The End of the Tour in which Jesse Eisenberg and Jason Segel re-enact on David Lipsky’s epic five-day interview with David Foster Wallace in the days following the publication of Infinite Jest for Rolling Stone (appropriately giving postmodern fiction the rockstar treatment). The film is based on Lipsky’s published as Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace. Following the screening at SIFF Cinema Egyptian, stroll up to the DAR Rainier Chapter House to celebrate the mid-point of your cinematic tour with fellow movie marathoners. This is always one of my favorite parties — people are generally still in the high on film phase, before the bleary eyed exhaustion of the final days arrive. (Film & party, $30 for non-members; additional screening, Sunday May 31, Harvard Exit 2:00 pm).

Aside from Saturday’s gala, this weekend brings another interesting special event. After watching the director’s cut of 54  you can spend the remainder of your evening getting a taste of what Seattle imagines the real Studio 54 was like by way of “the Studio 54 Experience” at the Neptune. Director Mark Christopher is scheduled to attend the screening (Friday, May 29, SIFF Cinema Egyptian, 7:00 PM), count on him to dish on how the mainstream release was “sanitized beyond recognition” during the Q&A. Then head to the U-District for “disco atmosphere, dance lessons, classic music videos, and live performances by actor-comedian-dancer Mark Siano”. You’re on your own to supply costumes and any other Studio 54-related accessories.

Below, some picks from the rest of the SunBreak’s SIFF Team to consider for your weekend watching:

Josh’s Picks:

Mr Holmes
Mr Holmes

Mr. Holmes Bill Condon’s take on the iconic detective finds Ian McKellen playing Sherlock retired on a farm, but still trying to solve that one last case. Actor Hiroyuki Sanada scheduled to attend the May 29 screening; both are on STANDBY so passholders and those hoping to get a rush ticket should show up early.

  • May 29, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival 7:00 PM
  • May 31, 2015 AMC Pacific Place 4:00 PM
ChuckNorris Vs Communism
ChuckNorris Vs Communism

Chuck Norris vs. Communism One of five films that garnered an impressive four “Programmer Picks”, uniting the diverse cinematic preferences of Maryna Ajaja (Russia/Eastern Europe), Clinton McClung (Midnight Adrenaline), Andy Spletzer (Alternative Cinema), and Brad Wilke (Catalyst), this documentary tells of Western films smuggled beyond the Iron Curtain, dubbed for underground consumption as fuel for revolution. Romanian director Ilinca Calugareanu (now based in London) witnessed this story firsthand and is scheduled to attend both remaining screenings.

  • May 30, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 8:30 PM
  • June 1, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival 4:30 PM

Phoenix Another winner of the Programmer Picks derby — this one is a thriller set in post-war Berlin, with all sorts of intrigue surrounding a woman who returns from the concentration camps to the city with a new face.  Thrills follow as her husband tries to use her for her inheritance and she tries to figure out if he’s the one who ratted her out to the Nazis.

  • May 31, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 7:15 PM
Next Time I'll Aim for the Heart
Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart

Tony’s Picks

Next Time I’ll Aim for the Heart  Critics have name-dropped David Fincher’s overlooked masterpiece Zodiac in the context of director Cedric Anger’s new period crime film, which is a plus in my book. And Guillaume Canet’s garnered serious buzz in the role of real life serial killer (and cop)  Alain Lamare.

  • May 31, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 9:45 PM
  • June 2, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 9:45 PM
  • June 3, 2015 Kirkland Performance Center 8:30 PM
Still from the Tower Records glory days from All Things Must Pass
Still from the Tower Records glory days from All Things Must Pass

All Things Must Pass  I pretty much grew up in the Tacoma Tower Records as a kid, and it had a genuine impact on music fans for a couple of decades, so this documentary on the rise and fall of the world’s biggest music retail chain definitely has my interest. Director Colin Hanks and producer Sean Stuart scheduled to attend.

  • May 30, 2015 Harvard Exit 7:00 PM
  • May 31, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival 3:00 PM

Rebel Without a Cause  There was no such thing as a teenager in the collective mind of mainstream America prior to James Dean’s indelible performance in this 1955 drama. It’s also shot in gorgeous, eye-popping color that’ll look glorious on the Egyptian’s big-ass screen.

  • May 31, 2015  SIFF Cinema Egyptian 3:00 PM
Black Panthers
Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution: There was a time in our recent history, circa 2010, when Fox News was really, really worried about something called the New Black Panther Party. No one knows what that is, but I’m hoping this documentary about the original Black Panther movement, featuring interviews with supporters, enemies, journalists, FBI informants, and possibly Henry Rollins*, might provide some insight. (Subject Ericka Huggins is scheduled to attend the 5/29 screening.)

* This cannot be confirmed at press time, but Henry Rollins sure is in a lot of documentaries.

  • May 29, 2015 Pacific Place 9:30 PM
  • June 1, 2015 Pacific Place 4:00 PM

Being Evel: Documentary filmmaker Daniel Junge has become a fixture at SIFF. He made a documentary about former WA governor Booth Gardner’s campaign for physician-assisted suicide, and last year he was here with two documentaries, one about LEGO bricks (but not LEGOs), and another about how Christians really, really love mixed martial arts. He also won an Academy Award for his short doc Saving Face in 2012. This movie is about daredevil Robert “Evel” Knievel. When I was a ute, thought “Evel Knievel” was a bad-ass name (still do, TBH) and he inspired Super Dave Osborne, so he’s always been cool to me. (Daniel Junge is scheduled to attend this screening.)

  • May 30, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 2:30 PM

 

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 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.