Category Archives: Film & TV

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.

Indie Scare Flick ‘Spring’ Weaves a Dark and Affecting Spell

SpringWhen it comes down to brass tacks, you could call Spring (opening tonight at the Grand Illusion) a horror movie, but it sure doesn’t feel like one for much of its running time. That’s because co-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead (working from a screenplay by Benson) have crafted a film that works believably as a drama and a romance, well before things get creepy.

Twenty-something sous chef Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci) loses his mother to cancer, and when his short-fuse temper leads him to kick the crap out of a drunk jerk at a bar, he finds himself in trouble with the California police. Seeking a literal and metaphoric change of scenery, Evan impulsively takes off for Italy, ending up in a small coastal town overlooking the Adriatic Sea. There he meets Louise (Nadia Hilker), an enigmatic local girl, and sparks fly between the two of them. Exotic, gorgeous, and fiercely intelligent, Louise almost seems too good to be true. After a heated night of lovemaking, Evan falls hard, but soon things get weird. It’s not impossible to gauge what happens next (even without the semi-spoiler-y trailer, ads, and advance reviews), but suffice it to say Evan’s new love isn’t all that she seems.

Spring takes its time getting to the scares, and that’s a significant part of its effectiveness. The unhurried pace effectively parallels the setting, a humbly beautiful locale that’s serenely untouched by time. Benson and Moorhead present this place with a refreshing lack of pretense, painting it with character and enough dark corners to sidestep superficial travelogue prettiness. The romance between Evan and Louise evolves gradually and realistically as the two open up aspects of themselves little by little: You’ll definitely see Richard Linklater’s Before films woven into Spring’s DNA, with Evan’s earnestness thawing out Louise’s initial aloofness amidst patches of effective and funny dialogue (Pucci and Hilker, both terrific here, establish an affecting chemistry right away).

Benson and Moorhead certainly navigate the mucous-and-tentacle-laden creepy bits well, but it’s the slow-burn atmosphere that makes their sophomore feature so special. Like the original 1940 Cat People and An American Werewolf in London, Spring is—at its heart—a darkly romantic fairy tale, masterfully wrapped in monster-movie drag.

Support Your Local Indie Movie Houses This Valentine’s Weekend

Moulin-Rouge-0004Sure, Valentine’s Day is just a memorial to a few brutally-executed Catholic martyrs that’s morphed into a cash-grab by candy makers, florists, and retailers of all stripes over the last century. And the pressure of having to invest as much money as possible for the sake of A Romantic Night or Weekend can be overwhelming.

But you can still find a through-line between thoughtful sentiment and fiscal sensibility this weekend. A trip to a movie theater provides an inexpensive-yet-satisfying (and yes, oft-romantic) entertainment experience. Skip the multiplexes and treat your date to a film in a local independent theater, dammit: Indie theaters usually run cheaper, they’ve got a helluva lot more character and charm, they tend to attract more discerning and polite patrons, and you’ll see something way more interesting than your standard corporate-excreted product. Enclosed, please find our recommendations for the most apropos (and in some cases, strangest) films hitting local indie theaters this Valentine’s Weekend.

Harold and Maude (6:45 p.m. tonight, Saturday, and Sunday)—SIFF Cinema Uptown, $12 general admission, $7 for SIFF members: Hal Ashby’s 1971 romantic comedy definitely shows its seams in some places—ancillary characters are almost cartoonishly underdeveloped, and some of its attempts at black humor fall a little flat—but there’s no denying the magical chemistry that imbues the odd couple at its center. Baby-faced proto-goth Bud Cort and seventy-something spitfire Ruth Gordon both deliver career-best performances, and Ashby and screenwriter Colin Higgins develop these characters so sharply that they effectively extinguish any quibbles. Cat Stevens’ plainspoken and sweet soundtrack songs never fail to tug at the heartstrings (not surprisingly, SIFF’s organizing pre-screening Cat Stevens sing-alongs).

Moulin Rouge (various times tonight, Saturday, and Sunday), True Romance (9:00 p.m. tonight, Saturday, and Sunday)—Central Cinema, $7 general admission for each: Do not, we repeat, do not lame out and watch Moulin Rouge on Netflix or On Demand this weekend. Catch Baz Luhrmann’s still-ravishing pastiche of MGM musicals, MTV flash, Bollywood splashiness, and swoon-worthy romance on a big screen as God (and Luhrmann) intended. And speaking of swoon-worthy romance, don’t discount the Tony Scott-directed/Quentin Tarantino-scripted True Romance. Beneath its violence, nerd-centric references, profanity, and stoned Brad Pitt-isms resides a resonant story of two damaged lovers (Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette) finding redemption and mutual strength in each other’s arms. As is customary, Central Cinema sports a full meal menu for all screenings.

Gone with the Wind (11:00 a.m. Saturday), Guys and Dolls (4:15 p.m Saturday), Some Like It Hot (8:00 p.m. Saturday)—Cinerama, $15 each plus service fees: It romanticizes the antebellum South to an absurdly wrongheaded degree, but damned if the 1939 Best Picture Oscar winner Gone with the Wind isn’t the most breathlessly-paced and absorbing four-hour film you’ll ever see, replete with two of Golden Age Hollywood’s most luminous stars (Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable) and scenes of epic splendor sure to make full use the Cinerama’s massive screen. Later that afternoon, hear Frank Sinatra clean Marlon Brando’s clock vocally in the 1955 film adaptation of Guys and Dolls, and wind up the evening with a screening of Billy Wilder’s howlingly funny 1959 gangster/drag opus, Some Like it Hot. Bonus: The Cinerama’s upgraded its snack, food, and drink repertoire.

R100 (various times tonight, Saturday, and Sunday), VHSex 3 (9:00 p.m. Saturday February 14)—Grand Illusion Cinema, $9 general admission each/$5 each for Grand Illusion members: Forget the antiseptic diet-BDSM being relentlessly flogged at local multiplexes. If you want some real cinematic sexual subversion this weekend, get thee to the Grand Illusion for both of these presentations. The former is a warped Japanese comedy about an S&M-addicted milquetoast facing a succession of extremely angry dominatrices. Critics have definitely smiled on it much more than the aforementioned BDSM-lite product, for what it’s worth. VHSex 3, meantime, throws two hours worth of truly demented sexually-explicit and just plain batshit-crazy clips (lovingly collected from vintage VHS tapes) at the unsuspecting audience. Much cheesy Casio synth music, bare flesh, and mulletude shall hold sway, and if the last two VHSex compilations are any indication, this third entry should be the perfect weirdo antidote to all of the hearts-and-flowers sentiment in the air tomorrow.

My Bloody Valentine (10:00 p.m. tonight)—Blue Mouse Theatre, $5: If you’re the kind of person who prefers their Valentine’s Day hearts ripped from screaming teenagers, rejoice. There aren’t any new horror films hitting local screens this weekend (studios traditionally bust out at least one new shocker on Friday the 13th), but Tacoma’s oldest independent movie theater (92 years young and counting) has your back with tonight’s addition to their Friday Night Frights series. This evening, they present the original uncut and uncensored version of one of the most fondly-remembered chillers of the early 1980’s. My Bloody Valentine pretty much skews to the slasher formula, but it’s also packed with extremely effective scares and maintains a genuinely foreboding atmosphere. Seeing the movie at this venerable theater is well worth the trek south if you’re in Seattle. See it with someone you love.

 

 

Walk the Camino Again Tonight

Portland director Lydia B. Smith’s documentary Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago more than made its mark in Seattle earlier this year. The movie’s theatrical run at SIFF Cinema Uptown last winter extended to a whopping 11 weeks, and the last several months have seen the film rack up a tassel of film festival awards and surprising financial success (it’s become one of 2014’s top-grossing documentaries).

All of that makes the movie’s encore screening/DVD release party at the Uptown tonight seem as much like a homecoming as anything. Local fans of the film will be able to savor the movie’s stunning Spanish scenery and genial good vibes on a big screen one more time, and take the movie home on DVD or Blu-Ray to boot.

Walking the Camino focuses on six travelers taking a 500-mile pilgrimage across Spain to Santiago de Compostela, a city that reputedly houses the remains of the apostle St. James. The journey’s been a source of spiritual enlightenment, discovery, and even punishment for centuries (criminals back in the day were often able to walk off their sentences by making the long trek by foot).

The tapestry of land stretched before travelers provides ample visual evidence as to the journey’s allure. Fields of verdant grass often stretch for as far as the eye can see, only occasionally cut by streams and not-always-paved roads. Tall grasses and fulsome vineyards surface and recede. And most of the cathedrals and rustic villages scattered along the way look blissfully untouched by time. Smith and her crew have definitely crafted a labor of love here: The director took the trek herself a year before returning with a film crew to capture the journey of other Camino pilgrims, and the entirety of Walking the Camino unapologetically saunters through the Spanish countryside.Walking the Camino.

 

The movie’s subjects cut a wide demographic swath, and their inclusion elevates Walking the Camino above simple travelogue status. Canadian septuagenarian Wayne walks as a tribute to his late wife; Tomas, a young Portugese businessman with a matinee-idol smile, takes the journey on a whim, only narrowly choosing it over a summer of kite-surfing; French single mom Tatiana drags her 3-year-old son Cyrian and her funny kid brother Alexis along for her pilgrimage; and Sam, a charismatic young woman from Brazil by way of the UK, hikes the 800-kilometer route in an attempt to sort out the self-confessed messiness of her life.

Walking the Camino sometimes leans a bit too heavily on comfort-food new-ageism, and Smith doesn’t spend quite as much time with each individual as you’d like (likely a concession to length and attention-span compromises). But you’d have to be a shin-kicking Grinch to not be powerfully moved by moments like Wayne pulling back tears as he reminisces about his wife’s passing. And just when things begin to get pedantic, Smith and her crew capture some moment that’ll take your breath away. It’s hard to split hairs when you’re gazing at an impossibly scenic Spanish valley swaddled fetchingly in morning mist.

[Tickets and more information on tonight’s 7:00 p.m. screening and DVD launch of Walking the Camino can be found here.]