Friends, I have no comprehension of how it feels to run twenty-six miles in one stretch, but it seems noteworthy that this festival covers almost the same number of days as there are miles in a marathon. So, let’s revel in the moviegoing-highs offered by the final days of the 2015 Seattle International Film Festival knowing that there’s a big party at MOHAI to help us celebrate when the curtain falls on Sunday night.
Before that, though, SIFF has a fair share of special events and parties to keep the weekend festive. Tonight, for instance, Egyptian comedy Excuse My French(6:30 PM, Pacific Place) anchors a celebration of this year’s African Pictures Series. It’s followed by a party at Northwest African American Museum. (The film also screens: June 6, 2015 AMC Pacific Place 4:00 PM and
June 7, 2015 Kirkland Performance Center 8:00 PM)
But that’s just the beginning. Saturday June 6 is packed with choices. The afternoon starts with A Tribute to Stewart Stern: Rebel Without a Cause Screenplay Reading (1:30 PM, Harvard Exit) in which SIFF and Stewart Stern’s mentee, writer/director Ryan Piers Willaims (X/Y), will present a live screenplay reading Featuring Raúl Castillo and America Ferrara as well as exciting up-and-coming actors and members of Seattle’s extraordinary acting community.
Later, Peter Greenaway’s latest, Eisenstein in Guanajuato, a raunchy look at the filmmaker’s sexual and artistic awakening in Mexico, screens at 7:00 PM at the Harvard Exit and is followed by followed by a party downtown at the W Hotel. (If you just want to see the movie, it’s also showing on June 7, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 5:00 PM)
Alternately, spend An Evening with Jason Schwartzman (5:30 PM, the Egyptian). There, the actor, likely best known for his frequent collaborations with Wes Anderson, will be interviewed by IndieWire’s capable and talented Eric Kohn. Their career-spanning conversation (which may or may not dig into the genesis of the OC’s theme song) will be followed by a screening of one of Schwartzman’s new films, 7 Chinese Brothers.
The next day, another Schwartzman film, The Overnight, brings SIFF to a hilarious conclusion (Cinerama, 6:00 PM). In it, Taylor Schilling, Adam Scott, and Adam Scott’s terrible facial hair portray parents who’ve brought a case of the Seattle Freeze with them on their recent move to Los Angeles. An invitation to a pizza party dinnertime playdate from Schwartzman’s consummate LA cooldad/hipster provides hope for a thawing of their social isolation. I don’t have have hard and firm stats on this, but I’d wager that this very funny comedy of adult sexual manners will set the full-frontal record for screen time dedicated to prosthetic penises in SIFF gala history!
Appropriately, following the movie Dan Savage has been tasked with moderating the Q&A, which will feature director Patrick Bice as well as actors Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godrèche. Once all of your questions have been answered, head over to MOHAI for the closing night blow-out. You may need a drink. Or two.
When Animals DreamLet the Right One In has been mentioned more than once as a reference point for this Danish werewolf flick. Here’s hoping director Jonas Armby’s feature debut comes within spitting distance of that classic’s quality.
June 5, 2015 11:55 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
June 6, 2015 9:30 PM Harvard Exit
Shaun the Sheep Aardman Studios, the folks behind the wonderful Wallace and Grommet shorts and Chicken Run, produced this animated feature. I’ve not watched the Shaun the Sheep TV series, but Aardman’s maintained a pretty high batting average on the theatrical front.
June 5, 2015 7:00 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
June 7, 2015 11:00 AM SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
The Road Warrior Those crafty little SIFF programming elves have taken advantage of the recent buzz around Mad Max: Fury Road by booking director George Miller’s balls-out brilliant 1982 predecessor. Seeing one of the best action films of the last 30 years on a big ol’ theater screen is an opportunity you best take.
June 7, 2015 8:00 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
Tig:I’ve been a fan of Tig Notaro’s comedy since I first saw her at a benefit show several years ago and she performed her joke about running into Taylor Dayne. Since then, I’ve seen her here and there on some TV shows I watch, like “Louie” and “The Sarah Silverman Program.” Things took on a life of their own, though, when she gave a much-talked about performance at Largo in Los Angeles, revealing she had cancer. You won’t believe what happened next. Or not, I don’t know, but this documentary follows her year following that. Tig Notaro and director Kristina Goolsby are scheduled to attend both screenings.
June 6, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 6:00 PM
June 7 Pacific Place 1:30 PM
Sergio Herman, Fucking Perfect: It’s a big deal when one of the world’s most well-known restaurants closes. Such is the documentary about Sergio Herman, the chef of the Netherlands’ Oud Sluis. Herman closed it at the end of 2013, saying he wanted to spend more time with his family. That’s what politicians always say when they’re about to be embroiled in a scandal. This documentary tells us what really happened (Herman probably did spend more time with his family). Director Willemiek Kluijfhout scheduled to attend both screenings.
June 6, 2015 Pacific Place 9:30 PM
June 7, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 11:30 AM
The WolfpackCrystal Moselle’s documentary about six homeschooled brothers, raised in a Manhattan housing project with limited access to the outside world beyond the films that they watched (and re-enacted), claimed a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance this year and has been at the top of my most-anticipated screenings list ever since.
June 5, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 7:00 PM
June 6, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 11:00 AM
MarshlandThe story of mismatched cops investigating (and trying to stop) a series of brutal murders with drug ties in 1980s Spain comes recommended for fans of True Detective. If the promise of a weekend crime thriller isn’t enough of a selling point, there’s also the prestige argument: the film cleaned up at the Goyas last year, winning awards for Best Film, Director, Original Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, and Lead Actor among others.
June 5, 2015 AMC Pacific Place 9:30 PM
June 7, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 8:45 PM
Also of note: Although SIFF miraculously revived the beloved Capitol Hill venue for the festival, the Harvard Exit’s last screening of all time will be on Sunday night. Fittingly, All Things Must Pass, about the fall of Tower Records, will be the cinema’s final show.
Collins, for the uninitiated, became a DJ at KNDD, Seattle’s first “alternative rock” radio station in 1991, just before “grunge” had its moment. Collins wasn’t a passive figure, though, and was often the first person, or the most enthusiastic, to play a lot of music that has been iconic before it became a fixture in our soundtracks (Nirvana, Beck, Weezer’s “Undone (The Sweater Song)”). And he did it within the corporate radio constraints. Kinda. There’s a very funny moment in the film where Collins is playing Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy on the air well before it was it was authorized. He played it after 5 on a Friday so that Monday morning was the earliest Epic Records’ lawyers could stop him. Something similar happened when a band he worked with (who also worked with producer Steve Albini) got an unfinished copy of Nirvana’s In Utero album.
I can’t claim any real critical distance here, but I went into the screening with some apprehension because I’ve known Marco Collins through the music scene over the last several years (not closely but he was more than kind to me on numerous occasions). I always found him to be a David Carr-like figure: a big-hearted luminary who publicly wrestled with his own demons but was also generous and supportive of younger bands and people who operate inside of the Seattle music scene. When he had a brief tenure a few years ago with the great – but ill-fated – online radio station Jet City Stream, he invited me to be on with him one time, though logistics kept it from happening (mostly inflexibility with my day job). I’m quite camera-shy and used to stutter terribly so I don’t think it would have made for “great radio,” and could have proven to be a disaster, but that invitation meant the world to me. It still does.
I’m glad that side of Marco Collins came through in the movie and it didn’t build its entire narrative around myth-making and Collins’ battles with addiction, though it would be understandable if it did.
Tony: I think we all enjoyed this a lot. I was struck that Collins’ eagerness to hear and tout new sounds remains genuine and undiminished after three decades; and I like that he really opens up about his various issues without the movie descending into bathos (kudos to director Marq Evans on that front). You get a fascinating peek by proxy into the evolution of music consumption over the last three decades, too.
Josh: I found all of the pieces about the changing modes of music consumption to be fascinating. The clever mix of archival and what I suspect to be cleverly ‘faked’ old footage of Seattle paints a picture of a town so far removed from the mainstream cultural conversation before Collins re-launched 107.7 as “the End” that I would’ve loved to hear more about exactly how it was that a Seattle radio station in the early 1990s ever became influential at all! I imagine that a whole sequel could be made just about the shifting landscapes of the airwaves (this movie had nary a mention of listener-powered KEXP or other highly influential, non-commercial, cultural ‘curators’).
But ultimately, that wasn’t the movie and I can accept that digging into technicalities would’ve dragged down the fascinating story of the guy at the center of this revolution. I thought that it was very much to Evans’s credit that he didn’t even try to tie everything up into a neat “happy ending”. Doing so would have been tempting — and there were certainly marks along the way like the passage of Referendum 74, a reconciliation with his father, and that pawn shop search for a lost piece of beloved memorabilia that could’ve been inflated into a triumphant freeze frame finish. But instead, he made the much more honest and inspiring choice to close just as Marco’s seemed to be at a place of hopeful uncertainty, acknowledging that his story remains very much a work-in-progress. This was by far the rowdiest and most appreciative crowd that I’ve encountered at any SIFF screening this year and the standing ovation before the Q&A demonstrates just how many friends Collins still has in this town, all of whom are rooting for his next act to be even more successful. (4.5★)
Chris: Another movie that I enjoyed for similar reasons was The Primary Instinct, the concert documentary about character actor/podcaster Stephen Tobolowsky. The Tobolowsky Files has become a hit because of his personal stories of being “oh yeah, that guy” in something like 200 movies and TV shows. The movie is a recording of a show he put on at the Moore Theatre.
Tobolowsky frames the performance around a kid from Bellevue asking him at a previous show why he tells stories, and for a brief moment, I was worried that he would have quoted Joan Didion, like way too many amateur personal essays I’ve read, saying “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” Thankfully, he didn’t. Instead gave a very thoughtful, and long answer.
But the movie was very sweet and affecting. I found that I really loved hearing Tobolowsky tell about his personal and Hollywood stories. I’d like to do more of that, and I know where to find his podcast.
At the screening I went to, there was one very funny moment I want to share. During the Q&A, someone asked Tobolowsky what advice he’d give to his younger self (I know). Director David Chen interrupted Tobolowsky’s answer by saying “Not appear in Atlas Shrugged 3.” He had to repeat and explain his joke because some people missed it (probably a majority), but I got it the first time and it was hilarious.
Josh: Yes, an incredible perk of making a “concert film” about an incredible storyteller is that you’re almost guaranteed to get great answers regardless of the question! I really didn’t know much about the movie going in — Chen has been plugging it on the Game of Thrones Podcast he co-hosts for weeks and the timing was convenient to my schedule — so it took me a little bit to adjust to the fact that most of the running time was a single performance and not a typical documentary structure. Without knocking the heart of the film itself (which you’ve already sold convincingly), I think that my favorite parts of The Primary Instinctwere probably the candid “Hollywood Stories” endcaps and the post-film discussion that illuminated how the film, live performances, and podcasts came into existence. I kind of wish that some of that backstory had made it onto the screen, but still thought that it was very nicely done. (4★)
Tony: One of the most pleasant surprises for me this last week was H., a US/Argentinian co-production that welds indie character study with end-of-days/science fiction unease. The Stranger hated it for the reasons I loved it: It’s an odd, slow burn of a film that doesn’t lay out its cards all at once. What starts out feeling like an indie drama gradually gives way to a truly creepy sense of mounting dread, as the town of Troy, NY experiences a bunch of wiggy shit that may or may not have been triggered by a meteor shower. Any further elaboration would spoil some of the movie’s carefully-crafted disorientation. No, it doesn’t always make literal sense, but guess what? Most nightmares don’t, and pound for pound, H. chilled me more than anything I’ve seen at SIFF 2015.
Josh: I had pretty good luck this week, too. In one of the biggest standouts, Nina Hoss gives an breathtaking performance in Phoenixas a concentration camp survivor who returns to Berlin with a new face. Upon her recovery from extensive facial reconstruction, the former singer explores the rebuilding city’s nightlife where she encounters her husband who no longer recognizes her. Explaining the schemes and ensuing revelations here, though, might rob viewers of some of the film’s greatest treats. Instead, I’ll just say that this has a place near the top of my list and kept me guessing until the last note. (5★)
On the other hand, I was grateful for having read “spoilers” about the ultimate resolution Lamb. Even having a sense of where it was (or wasn’t) going, of the film, nothing was quite as uncomfortable to watch. An exceptionally well done film with lots of local connections, this adaptation finds actor/director Ross Partridge somewhat inexplicably befriending an eleven-year-old girl (stunningly great Oona Laurence) and convincing her to take an illicit, if beautifully photographed, road trip to a remote Wyoming cabin. I still haven’t untangled my feelings about it, but am glad that I saw it, with ‘spoilers/reassurances’ in hand. (4.5★)
Tony: SIFF’s definitely delivered on the reissue/archival front this year, but the crown jewel of archival presentations, hands down, was Saved from the Flames, which gathered vintage films rescued from nitrate disintegration into one lively, eye-opening, and extremely entertaining compilation. Deftly hosted by historian Serge Bromberg (who also accompanied some of the films on piano), it showcased a restored print of A Trip to the Moon (the first great sci-fi film), some haunting 1906 footage of San Francisco pre-and-post earthquake (the first great documentary?), Buster Keaton’s last silent short (1923’s The Love Nest), and lots more. Anyone who assumes that old and/or silent films can’t be as funny, dazzling, and relevant as anything on a screen today woulda had that canard blown out of the water.
Josh: On the topic of old movies, somehow, my only documentary of the week was Chuck Norris vs. Communism, the improbable story of how hundreds of VHS tapes of Western films made it under the Communist radar and into private home-based screenings in 1980s Romania. The smuggled tapes were almost entirely dubbed by one woman, whose tireless simultaneous translations were fueled almost entirely by an obsession with getting to see these contraband films before anyone else. Interspersed between clips campy and cinematically classic, the documentary also included lots of recollections from a wide range of people who illicitly watched the tapes whose role (if any) in contemporary Romanian society was not clear to me (they might, however, be familiar faces to the HBO Europe audience). Overall, even as their stories became somewhat repetitive, I remained fascinating about how even inadvertently these Hollywood films communicated capitalist values: from the immense wealth that they brought to the kingpin at the top of the pyramid smuggling scheme, to the extra cash earned by the people who hosted video nights, to the not-entirely-accurate vision of opulent Western live that they presented to viewers. (4★)
Tony: My winning streak of docs continued unabated these last seven days. Being Evel, a loving biopic about 1970s icon and photo-extreme sports pioneer Evel Knievel, hit all the right notes, capturing the excitement of Knievel’s daredevilry while still acknowledging the very dark streak threading through the guy’s character. I’d completely forgotten how utterly huge a figure Knievel was back in the day, and this movie chronicles the evolution of his superstardom solidly.
I also enjoyed Colin Hanks’ All Things Must Pass, a solid doc chronicling the rise and fall of Tower Records, formerly the largest record store chain in the world. It’ll definitely play more compellingly to folks who actually combed a Tower outlet (count me in on that group), but it also finds some drama and humor in the ragtag bunch that created and ran the chain in its halcyon days.
I’m still trying to figure out whether my extreme fondness for two more documentaries, The Black Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolutionand Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll, is due to the excellence of the filmmaking, or the inherently riveting subjects. Either way, both of these maintained SIFF 2015’s high doc standards. The former covers the evolution of the Panthers’ movement with an immediacy that makes it one of the most vital history lessons I’ve ever gotten. Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, meantime, explores Cambodia’s flourishing rock and roll scene in the 1960’s and ’70s–and how the harrowing shrapnel of the Khmer Rouge regime hurt and killed so many of its players.
Josh: More of a historical re-creation than a documentary, seeing Jason Segel re-animating David Foster Wallace in The End of the Tour stirred far more feelings that I expected. Infinite Jest is unquestionably one of the most influential novels in my own personal literary canon, but despite having read it soon after its publication, impractically dragging the giant trade paperback along on a college road trip, I have few contemporary memories of actually seeing Wallace beyond the bandana book jacket photos. So, I don’t know how accurate Segel’s performance was, but it felt chillingly accurate and entirely non-parodic. Getting to see this big, sad, anxious, obsessive, image-conscious, dog-loving human interfacing with David Lipsky (maybe someday Eisenberg will get to play a character who’s totally secure and not beset by low-level competitive jealousy, but for now he’s among the best we have) on a long car trip was a real gift. There’s not a huge amount of plot, but their rich underlying dynamics of their conversations — both have much to gain and lose from the experience — is more than enough to carry the film. The film also makes 1996 seem like the ancient past and, like Almost Famous, contributes to the portrayal of Rolling Stone reporters as perpetually less cool than their subjects. In a strange convergence, like another SIFF favorite Me and Earl and the Dying Girl the movie makes incredible, if emotionally devastating, use of Brian Eno’s “the Big Ship” in a key moment. (5★)
Tony: I’m right with you on End of the Tour, Josh. This unlikely buddy story between journalist David Lipsky and doomed literary giant David Foster Wallace deftly created an odd but winning buddy story with emotional ebbs and flows that never once missed a beat. And Jason Segel’s portrayal of Wallace is rendered with casual, unforced brilliance. If it wasn’t so subtle and fine-tuned, I’d pick his work as a shoo-in for an Oscar nod.
Josh: Given the author, it’s impossible to resist adding just one endnote: I found it borderline bizarre that there was no mention or explanation for why the their epic interview never saw publication until after Wallace’s 2008 suicide. Lipsky later published it as a stand-alone book (on which the film is based) in 2010.
And, I suppose, while we’re getting metafictional and postmodern, it’s as good a time as any to mentionGüeros, an aggressively cinematic and self-aware Mexican film, set in 1999 but filmed like the French New Wave. It picks up as a teen from Veracruz is sent to live with his collegiate brother in the middle of the student strikes and follows them on an journey through various locales and cultures in search of a dying rock legend. Director Alonso Ruiz Palacios has a fantastic eye: the movie is more a series of funny interlinked moments that occasionally drift into magic realism, but they’re so dazzlingly filmed in stunning black and white Academy ratio that nearly every dreamy shot would be suitable for framing. (5★)
Tony: OK, confession time: I saw the Talking Cat movie, and I liked it. A lot. Chatty Catties posits a universe in which housecats communicate telepathically with their people (no, the movie doesn’t explain why). It’s as much a take on the inherent dysfunction of human-to-human relationships as it is about talking cats, but director Pablo Valencia nonetheless gets a huge amount of comic mileage out of his high-concept setup. Hard-of-hearing and deaf performers voice the tabbies, a conceit that likely flirts with political correctness for some. But the voice artists–especially John Autry II as lead cat Leonard–sport terrific comic timing, and there’s a surplus of genuinely funny dialogue. I haven’t laughed this hard at a movie in a long time.
I also went to the Studio 54 Experience party commemorating the screening of the Director’s Cut of 54. I had never seen the original theatrical cut, so I can’t speak for how much director Mark Christopher’s preferred version improves on it. But one tagline that continually popped up in my head as I watched it was “Boogie Nights, with Nutri-Sweet”. I appreciate and respect that this new cut makes this chronicle of the world’s most famous discoteque much gayer (and, by extension, more honest). Even with that in mind, though, 54 is neither fish nor fowl: It’s too earthbound to appeal to camp fans, but still too clumsily-executed to even begin to hold a candle to Boogie Nights (its obvious model).
It’s ostensibly a “kids'” movie about a young orphan who finds a high-coveted book at the library and uses the lessons in the book to hypnotize her way into an opulent London hotel, pop stardom, and the heart of the cruel headmistress at her boarding house. Not necessarily in that order. For someone who treats Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbedlike it’s the bible, Molly Moon is actually quite delightful.
Tony: I also really enjoyed Liza the Fox-Fairy, a gently surreal fantasy about a lonely young Hungarian woman convinced she’ll soon transform into a fox-headed spirit. Oh, and Liza’s good pals with the mischievous, sometimes homicidal ghost of a Japanese faux-Elvis pop singer, too. It’s definitely on the same tip as Delicatessen and Amelie, and while it doesn’t quite hit those films’ sustained brilliance, it’s still genuinely charming and clever without feeling like it’s straining to do so.
Josh: Perhaps primed by a couple of masterful seasons (serieses?) of Benedict Cumberbatch as Mark Gatiss’s modern Sherlock, my excitement about seeing Ian McKellan as Mr. Holmesran pretty high. In Bill Condon’s hands, we find the the title detective doddering, struggling with dementia, and with a precocious child instead of dear old Watson. This often sappy eldercare take, combined with a permanently angry Laura Linney (perhaps infuriated with being stuck with an inconsistent accent and unclear motivations) unfortunately diminished the fun that I was hoping to find in this latest re-interpretation. (2.5★)
Chris: Josh, I register your complaints about Bill Condon’s Mr. Holmes, but I disagree a little. I thought despite the film centering around Sherlock Holmes being 93 years old and suffering from dementia, it had a lot of subtle humor and found the precocious child having such an interest in Holmes’s stories quite fun. While Ian McKellen’s Sherlock Holmes is aging and his body and mind aren’t working the way it used to, I never found him to be pitiable.
Tony: Finally, The Fire is an Argentinian relationship drama about a couple attempting to rent a new apartment, only to have the seller delay the transaction for one day. The added time, as it turns out, only amplifies the already-extant tension between the pair. The movie’s anchored by two terrific central performances by Pilar Gamboa and Juan Barberini, and it burns brightest (sorry) when it hones in most tightly on their awkward, sometimes violently passionate, and queasily genuine interactions with each other.
Josh: For me, Elephant Song was a movie that hung together mostly on performances. In it, Xavier Dolan is a wily pachyderm-obsessed psych patient who’s dominates a quid pro quo session with a psychiatrist (Bruce Greenwood) who’s trying to solve the mystery of a disappearing colleague. Despite being adapted from a play, the film rarely feels ‘stagey’, making great use of camerawork and richly appointed sets to feel well suited to the big screen throughout. (4★)
In contrast to the doctor-patient fireworks above, Virgin Mountain (Fusi), is a much quieter yet very effective bit of character work centered on the small victories and unjust defeats of a fortysomething who still lives with his mother and is bullied by the jerks at work. Being pushed out of his homebound life of World War II reconstructions and into line dancing lessons by his mother’s new boyfriend (who wants some time at home alone) changes some things but not others. As only a native would do, Dagur Kári’s new film about a gentle giant shows off much of the Icelandic character, little of its scenery. (4★)
We have just the weekend left to soak up the SIFF. Keep track of the SunBreak’s SIFF coverage on our SIFF 2015 page, plus news updates and micro-reviews on Twitter @theSunBreak.
Of the large handful of films I’ve seen at the Seattle International Film Festival this year, The Automatic Hateis the least likely that I’ll forget anytime soon. It’s an engrossing film that works combines elements of a family drama, a mystery thriller and love story. If I had to give an elevator pitch on the film, I’d say it’s like Mike Leigh’s Secrets and Lies meets Hitchcock meets “Romeo and Juliet.” It’s about two cousins (played by Adelaide Clemens and Joseph Cross) who learn of their existence while trying to deal both with the secret that has divided their family for a generation and their own attraction to each other.
For a small, independent film, the cast is quite impressive, including Richard Schiff and Ricky Jay as brothers who have been feuding for decades, but are both aware that if the reason for their fighting is revealed, it could further rupture the family.
The Automatic Hate is the second feature film from director Justin Lerner, after his 2010 feature debut Girlfriend, which also deals with the subject of taboo romances, that time pairing a single mother with a man with Down syndrome.
While filmmaker Justin Lerner and screenwriter Katharine O’Brien were in Seattle for its late-May screenings at SIFF, they sat down with the SunBreak to discuss the movie, which they hope to bring back to Seattle in the winter.
This is it! The last week of the Seattle International Film Festival. Has SIFF saved the best for last? Maybe! Special events are hitting hard and fast, so plan carefully to get your fill of screenings and social activities!
Of note, starting today, SIFF brings the festival to the Kirkland Performance Center for a week, celebrating with a gala presentation of Good Ol’ Boy (8 PM). The movie, about a 10-year-old boy in ’70s suburban America navigating mainstream pop-culture obsession and a father who insists on pushing his Indian heritage on him. The previews looked cute and director Frank Lotito, actor/producer Anjul Nigam, actors Roni Akurati and Samrat Chakrabarti, producer Steve Straka, and cinematographer Thomas Scott Stanton are all scheduled to attend. (Those not wanting to face traffic will miss the party, but can catch the film when it screens on June 5, 2015 at SIFF Cinema Uptown, 8:30 PM)
Wednesday June 3 brings the world premiere of Marco Collins documentary The Glamour & The Squalor to the Egyptian (7:00 PM). The inaugural music director at 107.7 The End, Collins was so hugely influential in breaking alternative acts that he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Like any good look behind the music, the film’s blurb promises ” unflinching documentary about media fame and addiction, which tracks his rise, fall, and resurrection”. Director Marq Evans, local producers, and Collins himself will be at the screening (given that the screening is on standby, one assumes that the crowd will be stocked with all kinds of local music royalty, from the grunge era and beyond, too). After the Q&A, head over to a party hosted by Adra Boo at Neumos with performances by Sir Mix-A-Lot, Cataldo, Hobosexual, Ayron Jones, and Ruler ($15, tickets still available). Tickets for the second showing (June 5, the Harvard Exit, 4:15PM) are still available.
Finally, Thursday June 4 brings SIFF’s annual “Gay-La”. This year’s glam event includes a screening of Programmer-beloved Tangerine (7:00 PM, the Egyptian) — about “scrappy transgender prostitute besties Sin-Dee and Alexandra on a wild night in L.A”) — followed by a party at Baltic Room with music by Sugar Beat DJ. (Additional screening June 7, 2015 Harvard Exit 6:15 PM)
Aside from all of the parties, this week also includes a ton of great movies, a few of our selections to get you started:
Beach Town Seattle-based writer/director Erik Hammen mines young romance and humor from DIY indie-band dynamics in an unnamed beach town (played with credibility by Ballard and Georgetown).
June 2, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 6:30 PM
June 4, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 4:00 PM
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll I’m a complete and utter sap for music docs that unearth previously unheard music, and this one–covering Cambodia’s music scene of the 1960s and ’70s, and its near-total destruction by the monstrous Khmer Rouge regime–sounds utterly unmissable.
Cave of the Spider Women/Cave of the Silken Web SIFF 2015 once again strikes with intriguing archival gems–first, a 1927 silent version of a classic Chinese folktale accompanied by composer Donald Sosin, followed by a wild and colorful 1967 reinterpretation of said folktale from Hong Kong’s prolific Shaw Brothers.
June 3, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 6:30 PM
3 1/2 Minutes, 10 BulletsThis documentary focuses on the 2012 Florida case where sociopathic monster Michael Dunn shot into a car of four African American teenagers because he thought they were playing their (rap/hip hop) music too loud. This looks like an important film that explores crime/justice and race in America in today’s age. The father of murdered teenager Jordan Davis is scheduled to attend both screenings.
June 2, 2015 Egyptian 7:00 PM
June 3, 2015 Kirkland Performance Center 6:00 PM
Next Time I’ll Aim for the HeartAhh yes, a French film that is set in the late 1970s about a serial killer who murders female hitchhikers. It’s based on the case of Alain Lamare, a police officer assigned to investigate the murders he was committing.
June 2, 2015 Egyptian 9:45 PM
June 3, 2015 Kirkland Performance Center 8:30 PM
Güeros A mother sends her unruly teenager to live with his college-age brother in Mexico City right in the middle of a months-long student strike. Among other things, a search for an idolized rock star ensues, shot in a black and white style simultaneously evocative of 1968 protests and the French new wave.
June 1, 2015 Harvard Exit 9:00 PM
Virgin Mountain (Fusi)After a dalliance with English language cinema (2008’s The Good Heart), Dagur Kári is back to his Danish/Icelandic film roots (Noi the Albino and Dark Horse — one of my own still enduring SIFF favorites). The title refers to the role created especially for Icelandic sketch comedian Gunnar Jónsson: an overweight recluse whose mother forces him out of the home that they still share so that at least she can get an evening alone for some special adult alone time with her new boyfriend. The occasion for getting him out of the house is dance lessons, so just maybe everyone wins?
Josh: We’re well past the halfway point in the moviegoing marathon that is SIFF. Amazingly, I don’t think that any of us overlapped in our selection; so let’s start the check-in on a high-note. What’s at the top of your list from Week Two?
Tony: By relative accident, nearly everything I saw this SIFF block was genre-related, but the one non-genre film I caught last week was absolutely my favorite so far. Uncertain, the feature debut of Seattle-based filmmakers Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands, weaves its story of three residents of a small Texas town with the grace and slowly mounting drama of a narrative feature. I’ve already prattled on about its brilliance elsewhere in detail, so I’ll only try to touch on something I didn’t really mention initially—namely, its incredible visual beauty (co-director McNicol also served as cinematographer). When the camera first glides through the mist-enshrouded swamps of Uncertain’s epicenter Caddo Lake with fluid, haunting elegance, you’ll fully understand why the press materials name-check Terrence Malick: It’s that gorgeous to look at.
Chris: A film that made me uneasy, but in a good way, is The Automatic Hate. It is the second feature film from Justin Lerner, and it’s my favorite film I’ve seen thus far at SIFF. I’m eager to share my interview with Lerner and screenwriter Katharine O’Brien (likely sometime next week). The film centers around two cousins (played by Joseph Cross and Adelaide Clemens) who only recently found out about each other’s existence, but develop a mutual attraction for each other. A family secret has kept their fathers estranged for decades and Cross’s Ronald had no idea his father even had a brother. It’s a really riveting film that works as a family drama, a mystery because the two cousins try to find out what the family secret is, and as a love story. Did I mention that the great Ricky Jay plays one of the brothers? And Richard Schiff plays the other?
Josh: Improbably, Noah Baumbach released two new comedies this year; but given my enduring fondness for his films, it’s not a surprise that one of them is among my winners of the week. While We’re Young was good, Mistress America is even better. As in Frances Ha, this one reaps immense benefits from Greta Gerwig’s manic wit and irrepressible energy (both in front of the camera and in writing the screenplay), inhabiting a slightly different kind of thirties-adjacent adult in New York trying to will herself into success through sheer will, unfounded optimism, and a borderline delusional degree of faking it until you make it. Viewed through the eyes of her soon-to-be-stepsister, a new-to-the-city college freshman and literary misfit, her character takes on simultaneously heroic and tragic dimensions in a farce that’s nevertheless grounded in the reality of interpersonal relationships and the different kinds of emotional crises that arise around each decade of life. ( 5⭐️)
Chris: I’ve seen a small handful of SIFF films thus far, but the one I’ve been thinking about the most, and the one that has me most conflicted, is License to Operate. I went to the world premiere screening, which was introduced by Seahawks coach (and executive producer, plus he is featured in the film) Pete Carroll, which was its own blessing and curse. I was glad that it brought so many people to SIFF on a Tuesday night but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a theater so full of people so disinterested in seeing a film.
License to Operate concerns the creation of liaisons in Los Angeles that are made up (largely) of former gang members that work with law enforcement and community leaders to reduce violence in their communities on a personal level. It has proven to be very effective. In detailing this, LTO is quite inspiring and could serve as a model for similarly affected communities. The film clearly has its heart in the right place. But License to Operate goes out of its way to not discuss any of the historical or socioeconomic factors that led to the proliferation of gang and other forms of violence in LA. It may not be a focus of the film, but by being so indifferent to how LA got to that point, it continues to let those business and political and police leaders responsible off the hook. Read this and you’ll understand what I mean. Gary Webb already died for our sins, but need it continue to be in vain?
Josh: My SIFF has been light on documentaries, but the two that I saw this week were both very good. In The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer filmed leaders of death squads as they re-enacted, genre-style, the killings of ‘communists’ following Suharto’s overthrowing of the Indonesian government. The Look of Silence covers the same territory, from the other side:an optometrist whose brother’s savage murder was gleefully described in the previous film, goes on a quest to look into the eyes of the (literally) bloodthirsty killers and their enablers. Spoiler: he finds no remorse and few excuses. Chilling. (4⭐️)
On an entirely lighter note 808 is a valentine to a drum machine with outsized influence across decades of music. Interviews with almost everyone (unsurprisingly, Kanye never appears to expound on 808s and Heartbreak) who used the Roland TR-808 to great musical success also document the ways that new technologies spread through (and create) multiple interconnected genres. The stories — covering pioneering use by Afrika Bambaataa, the revitalization of Marvin Gaye’s post-Motown, Phil Collins’s love of its robotic consistency, all the way to modern EDM figures — are great. But just as all of the stories start to sound the same, Ad-Rock and Mike D from the Beastie Boys show up and attempt to relate a story about how Adam Yaunch reversed the beats for “Paul Revere”. Their dopily confused arguments and misunderstandings had me rolling in the aisles. (3.5⭐️)
I also saw a couple of fictional takes on reality that honestly might have been better served by an actual documentary. Alleluia is a Belgian update on the Honeymoon Killers (itself, inspired by the true story of the “lonely hearts killers“). This time, online dating brings together a grifting gigolo & a possessive psycho for a murderous match made in hell. Shot in stylishly grainy available light, the movie features a few gory twists and strong weirdo acting, but I’m not sure that I ever believed in any of the characters. (3⭐️) Similarly, I Am Michael, in fell a little flat, perhaps due to the slippery nature of its subject. It’s not entirely clear that Michael Glatze — who goes from a young gay activist to an ex-gay, conversion-therapy-espousing pastor — ever has a complete handle on what makes Michael Glatze tick, so maybe it’s too much to expect that writer/director Justin Kelly or James Franco (who looks the same age despite the two decades that pass in the film and often seems to be relying on Joey Tribbianiesque smell acting) could get a complete handle on this deeply conflicted self-contradictory figure. (2.5⭐️)
Tony: An accidental trip to the wrong venue put me squarely in the middle of a screening of Overheard 3, the third in a series of action thrillers directed by Alan Mak and Felix Chong. It’s reputedly not necessary to see the first one to follow this third installment, but I entered it about 10 minutes late, which may account for my disorientation with the film’s dense narrative. Basically, a recently-sprung ex-con helps betray his former boss via surveillance set up by another boss, and there’s some stuff with labor unions…or something like that. It says a lot that, despite being alternately overstuffed and undercooked in the characterization department, it rocked most mightily. Mak and Chong (the writing team behind Infernal Affairs, the Hong Kong crime flick lifted by Martin Scorsese for The Departed) rocket things along with a style that incorporates the splashy pop-art color of 60’s-era Japanese Yakuza cinema, luminescent 80’s gloss, gut-level CGI-free car stunts, and not one second of gunplay (!). Color me kinda dazzled.
Josh: In terms of wandering into films with low expectations, I enjoyed Yosemite, adapted from James Franco’s short fiction and featuring him as a single father taking his sons for a hike in the park, a bit more. In three interlinked vignettes with exquisite early 1980s period detail (Star Wars bedsheets, an insomniac dad firing up a loud modem to chat on The Well, calculator watches) the menace of an encroaching mountain lion on the ever-expanding Palo Alto suburbs pales in comparison to the quiet dread of observing unsupervised tween boys on their own in the world. (3.5⭐️)
Theeb provided a stark contrast in terms of setting, pace, and stakes. For the boys of Yosemite, “on their own” constitutes unsupervised playtime between school and dinner. In Theeb, though, it’s an entirely more serious matter: Bedouin brothers escorting an errant English soldier through the dangerous desert of the Ottoman Empire during World War I. Facing the terrain, raiders, and revolutionaries, they get into a real pickle. Despite being a movie with a kid at its center, the consequences are very real and no one pulls any punches. It feels like a very old fashioned kind of adventure filmmaking with beautifully photographed locations, harsh desert justice, a horrifying amount of swarming flies, and good acting (from the kid to the camels). (3.7⭐️)
Tony: The only midnighter I caught Memorial Day Weekend was The Astrologer, and honestly I’m still processing what the fuck I saw. The movie’s a self-made 1976 vanity project written, directed by, and starring reputed Astrologer to the Stars Craig Denney. For fans of total oddities, it’s an absolute must. The very meta story follows an astrologer who becomes an international superstar after his movie about an astrologer becomes a giant hit, and Denney demonstrates an incompetence so consistent it crosses over into the realm of cockeyed genius. As a director, he augments his fairly routine rags-to-riches story with heaps of truly WTF touches—rib-tickling dialogue (“You’re not an Astrologer—you’re an asshole!”), an hilariously over-and-under-emoting amateur cast, and constant misguided attempts at experimentation (one five-minute dinner scene unspools in slow motion, the payoff being the spectacle of Denney being doused with a glass of water in lugubrious slo-mo). God help me, I wanna see it again.
Seattle-based producer Brent Stiefel’s name is on a few movies this SIFF, including two of the genre offerings I saw. Circle chronicles the attempts of a group of reluctant prisoners in a darkened room as they try to figure out why an energy bolt is killing one of their number every two minutes. Before too long, they figure out that they can vote on who lives and who perishes, which invariably leads to human nature turning ugly. Yeah, it’s 12 Angry Men and The Twilight Zone sitting on a picnic bench with Cube, but if its characterizations are a little one-note in places, it more than delivers the goods in the tension department. Bonus points for an ending that’s genuinely creepy (even if it’s not entirely unpredictable).
The other Stiefel-produced effort, John Portanova’s Valley of the Sasquatch, follows an estranged father and son to their shanty cabin, where they, said father’s brother, and a jerkweed pal (David Saucedo) are beset upon by a pack of very pissed Sasquatch. The October People (a 2/3 local production company) has made a rep for themselves doing B movies the way they should be made–you know, with some thought to character and quality on a low budget. The characters in this one aren’t as strong as those in The October People’s previous efforts (The Invoking and The Device), but the actors do really good work, Portanova knows how to build suspense, and the movie fully recognizes the value in throwing down the violent Bigfoot retribution with gusto.
Josh: My “genre” offerings were a little more limited. The most bonkers thing I saw was Turbo Kid, which felt like a homemade take on Mad Max, except on BMX bikes and set in the retro-future year of 1997. It felt like two national governments somehow decided to fund a troupe of cosplayers to make post-apocalyptic adventure and most of the budget was split evenly between drugs and geysers of charmingly fake blood. It was funny, but might have been hilarious as a short. (3⭐️) On the far other end of the spectrum: Vincent was a brilliantly executed, if intentionally low-key, French take on the superhero genre that highlights the absurdity of basing a franchise around a strong swimmer. Très charmant, with lots of practical effects from the acrobatic director, who also played the title role. (4⭐️)
Tony: MissingTurbo Kid and Vincent broke my heart. The best genre-film work I saw all week, however, turned out to be Shrew’s Nest, an engrossing thriller set in 1950 Franco-era Spain. Two sisters living in a flat together take in an injured young man, but agoraphobic older sister Montse (Macarena Gomez) has a really, really, really hard time letting him go. Any more kibitzing would broach spoiler turf, but suffice it to say Shrew’s Nest is a dark treat. Co-directors Juan Fernando Andres and Esteban Roel build the creepiness up with surprising restraint (the last 15 gloriously over-over-the-top minutes notwithstanding), and leading lady Gomez gives a bravura performance that combines Bette Davis crazy-woman hysterics with surprising sympathy.
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.
Saturday 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 cutof 54you 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:
Mr. HolmesBill 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
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
PhoenixAnother 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 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
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
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 Facein 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.)