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.)
In the afterglow of a long Memorial Day Weekend, SIFF transitions into Baconmania for its second full week: with multiple degrees of Kevin Bacon making a splash all around festival venues. The main event is “An Evening With Kevin Bacon” on Wednesday — featuring an onstage interview, clip show retrospective, presentation of SIFF’s Career Achievement Award, followed by a screening of Cop Car(with the actor as corrupt mustachioed rural sheriff in pursuit of two preteen renegade joyriders). Those who want a more up close and personal evening, can spring for a $125 reception at the Alexis (general admission to the tribute, 8 PM at the Uptown, runs $35).
If that’s too rich for your blood, Bacon will also be around tonight for a Q&A following a screening of Barry Levinson’s Diner (6:30 PM, the Egyptian). He’ll stick around long enough to personally introduce Footloose(9:30 PM, the Egyptian), but probably not long enough to lead a dance-along.
Uncertain Seattle-based filmmakers Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands explore the backwater Texas town of the title in this Tribeca Film Festival Award-winning doc. I’ve already seen this, and can hardly wait to talk more about it: I’ll leave it at that. Oh, and you should skip work early to see it. Really.
May 27, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival 3:30 PM
Electric Boogaloo: The Wild Untold Story of Cannon Films Aussie Mark Hartley’s already made a couple of great documentaries about the stranger, wilder corners of exploitation filmmaking, so this one–chronicling the rise of the schlock dream factory that unleashed Chuck Norris’s Missing in Action and, yes, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo on the world, will surely entertain (some mildly NSFW content in the trailer, so you know it must be good).
May 28, 2015 Lincoln Square Cinemas 3:30 PM
May 30, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 11:55 PM
June 2, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 9:30 PM
Cartoonists: Footsoldiers of Democracy It’s a trifecta of documentary recs for me this time. But in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, a documentary about several cartoonists taking on their sometimes-lethal sociopolitical subjects using only a pen and rapier wit couldn’t be more timely.
May 27, 2015 Lincoln Square Cinemas 3:00 PM
May 28, 2015 Pacific Place 6:30 PM
May 29, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 4:15 PM
Chris: Gentlemen, after this long, holiday weekend and my late start, I finally feel like I’m getting into the swing of things at SIFF. Over the weekend, I conducted a few interviews with visiting guests that I’m excited to share with you and our readers. For right now, though, I love the mid-fest, mid-week programming because it’s a chance to get see some of the more undiscovered gems in the festival, and not have to deal with as large crowds that the weekends usually demand.
Having said that, here’s where you’ll likely be finding me in the next few days:
The Birth of Saké:This documentary from one of Anthony Bourdain’s cameramen (Erik Shirai, a guest at both screenings) charts the history of Japan’s oldest potent potable. As one who clamors to be a better-informed and more knowledgeable lush, I don’t think I can stay from this doc.
May 27, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 6:30 PM
May 28, 2015 Pacific Place 4:00 PM
Do I Sound Gay?Another documentary, this one from the first-person with journalist (and director) David Thorpe exploring the anthropology of the “gay voice.” The interviews with Thorpe that I’ve read make it sound intriguing. Plus, it features appearances in the film from Dan Savage, George Takei, David Sedaris, Margaret Cho, and Tim Gunn. (Thorpe and Savage are scheduled to attend the Wednesday night screening.)
May 27, 2015 Harvard Exit 7:00 PM
May 29, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 4:30 PM
Venice: Obviously, there are some major cultural and political factors that make Cuban films something of a rarity on the film festival circuit. But this film from director Kiki Álvarez (scheduled to attend this afternoon’s screening) sounds intriguing: a story of three Havana hairstylists who blow their paychecks on one fabulous night on the town. It’s said to be the first Cuban film to be crowd-funded, for whatever that is worth. But there are two screenings remaining, and you’ll likely catch me at one of them.
May 26, 2015 Pacific Place 4:30 PM
May 30, 2015 Harvard Exit 1:30PM
All of your suggestions have just made my mid-week moviegoing decisions all the more complicated! I’m was also thinking about seeing:
The Price of FameTwo brothers steal Charlie Chaplin’s corpse and hold it for ransom. Although director Xavier Beauvois (Of Gods and Men) reportedly took some liberties with the facts, the absurd scheme is based on a true story.
May 27, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 7:00 PM
May 29, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown 4:00 PM
June 5, 2015 Kirkland Performance Center 8:30 PM
Elephant Song Reviews from this film’s appearance at Toronto are mixed, but the cast — Xavier Dolan, Catherine Keener, Bruce Greenwood — is intriguing enough for me to check out this stage-to-screen adaptation about a “battle of wit and manipulation” between a doctor and patient in the aftermath of a psych ward disappearance.
It’s Memorial Day Weekend, so that means you’ve got an extra day of SIFFting to indulge in before going back to work. Then again, that could make things even more difficult, because Festival programmers have beefed up the film itinerary accordingly. Note that this weekend marks the beginning of a week of screenings for Renton’s IKEA Performing Arts Center. To help us out with this round of recommendations (and the the remainder of the SunBreak’s SIFF coverage, we’re delighted to welcome Chris Burlingame back into the fold.
Tony:Flight of the Concords fans are legion in this town, so the Saturday Night screening of Concord Jemaine Clement’s new dramedy People, Places, Things(replete with Clement attending and a post-film party at Kaspar’s) should be a hot ticket.
Chris: Technically not on Memorial Day Weekend, but football fans will still want to plan ahead: Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is introducing a documentary he executive produced called License to Operate, on Tuesday evening, about gang violence in Los Angeles. The Q&A after the film will likely include someone asking former gang leaders and director James Lipetzky if they would have run from the one-yard line with Marshawn Lynch in the backfield in the closing moments of the Super Bowl.
Gentle This Dostoyevsky adaptation, transposed to modern-day Viet Nam and starring former 21 Jump Street regular Dustin Nguyen, has been garnering some major critical acclaim.
May 22, 2015 1:30 PM Pacific Place 11
May 25, 2015 8:00 PM Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center
May 26, 2015 9:00 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
808 If you listened to any new wave, hip hop, or soul in the 1980s, you heard the Roland TR-808 doing its beat-making thing, and its impact’s bled all the way through to today–Pharrell Williams counts himself among the instrument’s acolytes. SIFF music docs are usually worth catching, and this one looks to be no exception.
May 23, 2015 9:30 PM SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival
May 25, 2015 1:00 PM SIFF Cinema Egyptian
The Astrologer It’s not just silent films and films noir that get the rediscovery/restoration treatment. Case in point: This truly daffy-sounding (and previously undiscovered) 1975 semi-autobiographical account of a con-man who becomes a psychic astrologer–written, directed by, and starring astrologer Craig Denney. If you’re the kind of freak who makes the Midnight Adrenaline screenings your home away from home all SIFF long, it’s a fair bet you need to see this.
May 24, 2015 11:55 PM SIFF Cinema Egyptian
Chris: Gentlemen, I’m thrilled you’d have me back for another go-round, and let me join in kind of late in the game. Here are some things that sound interesting to me:
Uncle Kent 2A sequel of sorts to the 2011 low-budget Joe Swanberg film, but it’s directed by Todd Rohal (The Catechism Cataclysm) and stars Kent Osbourne (who also wrote the script) as a filmmaker who wants to make a sequel to Uncle Kent, but fails to secure Swanberg’s blessing and heads off to Comic Con for some reason. How meta!
Saturday, May 23, 2015, 9:30 PM, Pacific Place
Monday, May 25, 2015, 2:30 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown
The Boss: Anatomy of a Crime (El Patrón, radiografia de un crimen)As much as I’ve said I want to spend my SIFF focusing on the Northwest Connections films, and some documentaries, this Argentinian film sounds too good for me to pass up. From the synopsis alone, I’m intrigued: “Based on true events, this incredible examination of crime and justice follows a young Argentinean farmhand butcher exploited to a murderous breaking point. A delicate expose of unscrupulous practices in the meat industry and society’s corruption and labor exploitation.”
Sunday, May 24, 2015, 8:45 PM, Harvard Exit
Tuesday, May 26, 2015, 9:30 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown
West of Redemption I’ve been reading a lot of mystery novels and thrillers these days, and this World Premiere film from SIFF favorite and Seattle-based Cornelia Duryée Moore sounds like it’s way up my alley. It stars Billy Zane and was shot in just outside of Spokane. It’s about a farmer who lets a travelling stranger into his home, only to take that stranger hostage and uses what the Bush White House might charitably call “enhanced interrogation methods.” Secrets are to be revealed.
Monday, May 25, 2015, 7:00 PM, Harvard Exit
Wednesday, May 27, 2015, 4:30 PM, Harvard Exit
Josh: Expecting that you’ll have some time on your hands to hideaway at the movies, the weekend provides a few interesting opportunities for immersion in single topics:
You could spend most of Sunday hiding from barbecues with SIFF’s 101 course in the works of Indian auteur Satyajit Ray with back-to-back screenings of his Apu Triology, recently restored and presented in 4K resolution:
Alternately, for culinary aficionados, Sunday also brings the Little Forest quartet — four hours of chamber pieces, each covering a different season in the cooking life of a city girl who returns to the countryside after a breakup to live (and cook) off the land.
Or, Franco-philes could spend a several hours of their weekend in the cinematic company of James Franco. I Am Michaelfinds Franco in the title role in the true story of onetime gay rights activist turned conversion-therapy christian pastor Michael Glatze. Zachary Quinto co-stars as the former boyfriend, Emmar Roberts plays the current girlfriend. Director Justin Kelly is scheduled to attend both screenings; expect a lively discussion.
May 22, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 6:30 PM
May 23, 2015 SIFF Cinema Egyptian 4:15 PM
Yosemitemarks another adaptation from Franco’s short story collection. In this installation, the stories of a father (Franco) and three kids intertwine around the unrealistic goal of hunting down a mysterious mountain lion that threatens their suburb. It sounds questionable, but last year’s Palo Alto (from the same collection) was surprisingly good, so I’m willing to dip back into this dreamy world. Director Gabrielle Demeestere scheduled to attend both screenings.
May 23, 2015 AMC Pacific Place 11 7:00 PM
May 24, 2015 Harvard Exit 1:45 PM
Mistress AmericaI’m always excited for a new Noah Baumbach film, and the late addition of this one to the SIFF lineup marks his second release in 2015. Hot on the heels of this spring’s pretty good While We’re Young, the director is back, working once again with Greta Gerwig as star and co-writer (2013’s excellent Frances Ha)in this 21st century screwball farce set in New York City.
Tony: So the first week of the Seattle International Film Festival’s 2015 iteration has SIFFted its way into history. I’ve seen quite a few movies already, and am pretty surprised at the overall quality of what’s crossed my peepers. Of the 13 festival features I’ve seen, only two outright disappointed me. How about you, Josh?
Josh: As usual, some were less than spectacular, but so far I’m nine for nine in terms of non-disappointments.
Tony: Our viewing itinerary intersected on a couple of occasions in the last six or seven days, beginning with Spy, SIFF’s Opening Night feature. I’m very curious about your take.
Josh: While you might blame the afterglow of the always-fun opening night party, I’m coming in decidedly pro-Spy! While it probably won’t make my top movies of all time list, I think it’s definitely among the better SIFF opening night selections of at least the last decade: expertly made, never boring, incredibly funny throughout, while deftly avoiding so many landmines that could’ve made it a complete embarrassment.
Tony: Spy is the kind of flagrantly mainstream snack that the snob in me would dismiss, but the junk food junkie in me found guiltily enjoyable in places. I’ll admit it: I laughed way more than I thought I would. I’d never pay money to see it again, but it amiably diverted me for 90-something minutes and I didn’t resent it when it was over. That, in and of itself, surprised me.
Josh: Right, even though I’d seen the reviews, surprise was definitely a factor in my enjoyment. In particular, the previews for this movie are terrible — as if they don’t trust comedy fans to show up at a theater unless the humor is cringeworthy and that the main joke is the mere existence of Melissa McCarthy looking like Melissa McCarthy. I hope it finds an audience on the basis of the Bridesmaids connection alone. I give Feig et al enormous credit for not going for the easy fish-out-of-water route by and making McCarthy an incredibly competent operative who’s regularly underrated. Plus, it never stopped making me laugh, often with the jokes — verbal, physical, and visual — hitting so fast that I ended up missing some because the room was still cracking up.
Tony: OK, I take it back: If someone put together a loop of just the scenes featuring Jason Statham (indulging in some howlingly funny self-parody) and Morena Bacarin (as the super-spy equivalent of a too-perfect prom queen), I might pay money for that.
Josh: The strength of the cast overall made this sing. I agree that Statham in particular was a joy, and you got the feeling that they all very much enjoyed globe-trotting to locales far more exotic than you’d expect from a comedy. (4⭐️)
Tony: Another film that we both crossed paths with, The New Girlfriend, took me by (pleasant) surprise. The usage of the term ‘Hitchcockian psychosexual drama’ to describe French maestro Francois Ozon’s newest film in SIFF’s printed guide led me to expect something much more menacing than I got. Rather than a thriller, The New Girlfriend turned out to be a subtle and surprisingly adroit comedy that (for me, at least) sported some nice performances and a really interesting meditation on the fluidity of human sexuality and intimacy. It’s the kind of premise that an American director would, more than likely, completely screw up, but Ozon and his cast make it work with unforced ease. The only major liability for me came in the last 15 minutes, during which Ozon’s screenplay descends into what feels like a clumsy lurch at melodrama–an uninspired excuse to force lead character David’s big reveal to a head (then again, this could be an inbuilt fault with Ruth Rendell’s source material book, which I haven’t read). Up until then, though, I was really entertained.
Josh: Yes, I kept waiting for something truly terrible to happen! But it was sort of thrilling to see relationships develop and revelations unfold in uncomfortable fits and starts from the regularly confused and challenged characters. At my screening, it felt like the audience wasn’t sure how to react to [spoiler?] Duris dressed in women’s clothing, which, in a way mirrored the reaction of his [spoiler?] dead wife’s best friend as their relationship evolved in surprising but relatable ways. It did feel like the plot boiled over toward the end, and I found the final scenes not entirely conclusive, but it worked overall like a Very French take on Transparent. (4⭐️)
Tony: Every SIFF, there’s at least one horror movie/thriller that counters deeply disturbing fucked-uppedness with enough artistry to force civilians to acknowledge its quality (even as they peek at it through sweaty, knotted fingers). My favorite intersection of arthouse and grindhouse so far this fest is Goodnight Mommy, an Austrian film directed by Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala. It’s got two creepy pre-teen twins (well-played by real-life sibs Elias and Lukas Schwarz) dealing with a flawed mom (Susanne Wuest) whose psychological and physical abuse of her sons leads to, well, some deeply disturbing fucked-uppedness. The movie shares DNA with a couple of other horror movies, particularly (modest sorta-spoiler alert if you’re a horror nerd like me) the 1972 shocker The Other–no relation to the Nicole Kidman film–and Audition, but it also carves out (pardon the pun) its own distinctive identity with a languid, dreamlike pace that renders the deeply unsettling bits all the more impactful. Franz and Fiala did such a good job of diverting audience sympathies and focus that the ending genuinely surprised me.
Josh: Google Translate tells me that the original title of the film (Ich Seh Ich Seh) means, “I see, I see”. Which is appropriate, given how early in the film I spotted the “twist”. However, I agree that the glossy style carried it a long way and the immaculate shots and small creepy moment lulled me into such complacence that I was truly repulsed by the horrifying gore of final act. I’m not sure that I would classify my response as “enjoyment”, but I can’t argue that the film didn’t work on its own terms. I’m just glad that it wasn’t part of the midnight program; seeing it in earlier in the evening gave me some time to process before being haunted by the nightmarish imagery. (3.5⭐️)
Tony: Before I elaborate on the rest of the movies I liked or loved, let’s just get my disappointments off the table first. As a rabid midnight movie-holic, I was underwhelmed with SIFF’s second Midnight Adrenaline entry, The Hallow. I was intrigued by the premise (Irish family moves to a house just outside a reputedly-enchanted forest rife with strange beasts), and the mostly-practical effects were surprisingly effective, but it ultimately wore my patience down with its lack of character development and way too much reliance on hand-held camera fuckery.
Snow on the Blades represented another wolf in sheep’s clothing a la The New Girlfriend, thanks to consignment in the Thrill Me! portion of the SIFF Guide. Alas, it’s nowhere near as interesting as the latter. It’s basically Les Miserables samurai-style, as a disgraced samurai chases down the surviving assassins who took out his boss thirteen years previous. You know you’re in trouble when the climactic confrontation between the samurai and his single surviving quarry culminates with both parties blubbering like simpering milksops. And when said samurai meets his dewy-eyed wife for another good cry in the final scene, I was sure I was watching a Funny or Die parody where someone mashed up a Kurosawa film with a touchy-feely chick flick.
I ended up missing a couple of films that were high on my must-see list–Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and the Brian Wilson biopic Love and Mercy. How did those fare?
Josh: I’m sorry that you missed those — they’re currently near the top of my rankings! Love and Mercy was an almost radical take on the Great Artist Biopic in that it seemed to argue that the only fascinating aspect of Brian Wilson was the music that he created. And on this front, it works brilliantly in large part due to the score by Atticus Ross woven together from a hard disk full of recordings from the period surrounding the recording of Pet Sounds. Acoustic limitations of the Egyptian aside, I found the synthesis of these outtakes and the final versions of Beach Boys hits to be revelatory (and somewhat heartbreaking to think of how much less Wilson would’ve suffered if he’d had access to modern computer recording techniques). This is not to say that Paul Dano and John Cusack don’t give interesting performances as an increasingly withdrawn Wilson, but what they’re mostly portraying is a person who’s barely present in his own life. As the only character approaching three dimensions Elizabeth Banks nearly steals the spotlight as a 1980s Cadillac saleswoman, love interest, and advocate; elsewhere Wilson cousins and Paul Giamatti as a nefarious and controlling psychiatrist approach cartoonish levels of villainy. (4⭐️)
I can totally see why Me and Earl and the Dying Girl swept the hearts of Sundance audiences and juries while opening distributor pocketbooks. It’s likely to be an instant classic in the “creative teenage guy navigates perils of high school under the cover of faux disaffection but discovers feelings” genre, one that also happens to be in my wheelhouse / relevant to my arrested development interests. Although the motivating incident of story doesn’t entirely hold up under scrutiny — the parent-prodded meet-up of Greg (the “Me”, played amazingly by Thomas Mann) and “the Dying Girl” is as out-of-the-blue in the script as it is on screen — the other elements of the film are so successful and propulsive that it’s easy to be pulled along by the evocative camerawork, clever humor, an increasingly heart-tugging story, and an amazing soundtrack (a lot of Brian Eno, and some strategically perfect and emotionally devastating deployment of Nico Muhly and Explosions in the Sky). On top of all of that, there’s the matter of Greg and Earl’s filmography: a Criterion-Worthy library of astutely hilarious film-geek parodies of classic films. I’m hoping that when the film hits wide release next month, that their collection gets its own microsite or YouTube channel. They’re too perfect to not deserve more time to savor than the quick flashes throughout the film. (5⭐️)
Tony: There’s a lot of great music-related stuff on the SIFF 2015 docket, but the only music-related movie I’ve seen so far is Breathe Umphefumlo, a South African adaptation of La Boheme (AKA the opera ripped off by Rent). Slow Americans likely won’t be able to get past the mouthful of a title and the fact that, clever title cards and some introductory dialogue aside, it’s in un-subtitled African, but I was captivated. If you’ve seen Boheme or Rent, the plot’s easy enough to follow, with the original’s tragic love story cannily transposed against South Africa’s current TB epidemic. Puccini’s original music is performed by the cast with full operatic singing, only the instrumentation incorporates steel drums, marimbas, and other regional instruments. The weld shouldn’t work but does, wonderfully.
What about the rest of the stuff you saw, Josh?
Josh: Let’s see … I caught a couple of basically OK indie comedies. The first, and slightly more successful was Andrew Bujalski’s Results — loosely structured around a love triangle featuring two personal trainers (Guy Pearce, with dreams of a motivational empire; and Cobie Smulders, his all-business fitness star) and a newly-wealthy, freshly-divorced, marijuana-smoking, dadbod client (Kevin Corrigan). I’m a huge fan of his earlier mumblecore/new-wave/experimental catalog; so it was at least meta-fascinating to see him working in the framework of a more conventional rom-com — vaguely akin to looking at medieval paintings of lions by artists with only secondhand knowledge of the major features of the big cats. (3.5⭐️)
I also saw Manson Family Vacation, in which a successful attorney (Jay Duplass) gets dragged, often against his better judgement, on a makeshift tour of Charles Manson sites on a surprise visit from his adopted brother (Linas Phillips). Fittingly for a Duplass Brothers production, its a bit rambly, but successfully conveys the uncomfortable experience of spending an extended period of time with a semi-estranged family member who’s unhealthily obsessed with a serial-killer. (3⭐️)
In an entirely different genre, John Maclean’s Slow West finds mysterious traveler Michael Fassbender taking payment to escort poorly-prepared teen (Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee plays Scottish) across the dangerous post-Civil War Continental Divide. Scenic New Zealand stands in for Colorado and the initially languid pacing picks up as they encounter various characters on the road and culminates in a high-stakes finale. The whole thing is a fool’s errand, beautifully shot. (4⭐️)
Tony: Both of the docs I saw maintained the festival’s high standards for documentary programming. Personal Gold: An Underdog Story told the involving saga of the Women’s Track Cycling Team in their 2012 quest for an Olympic medal. The movie hits all the requisite inspirational notes that a good sports doc needs, while also touching on the Lance Armstrong doping scandal, the financial struggles endured by most Olympic athletes to compete, and modern technology’s evolving role in human health. Good stuff.
Even better was Listen to Me Marlon, a doc about Marlon Brando constructed from hours of Brando’s own audio-taped musings and decades worth of stock footage. The end result is a haunting paean to the iconic actor in his own words, and the most fully-rounded portrait of Brando that we’re likely to see. You get all phases of the man’s life–from his early-career passion for pursuing unprecedented honesty and realism in his craft, to the actor’s perpetual discomfort with international fame, to his painful issues with his abusive jerk of a father: In a clip from a 1950s TV show, all of the tension and dysfunction between Brando and his dad seethes just beneath the surface, and it’s especially harrowing to watch after hearing Brando’s frank dialogue about their relationship. As deeply as it goes, though, Listen to Me Marlon deftly averts tabloid-style gawkery. If we weren’t already hitting Guttenberg-Bible length on this roundtable, I could kibbutz about this one for hours. It’s that good.
Josh: Listen to Me Marlon was incredible. I’m not quite sure that I’ve ever seen anything like it before. On one hand, it’s almost a counterpoint to Montage of Heck in terms of creating a biography entirely from an artist’s own ephemera. On the other, it reminded me of HBO’s The Jinx, in that the whole thing hung on the impulses of an old man to make a taped confession. But the depth of its ability to interrogate an epic career using almost entirely the artist’s own voice (and digitized head!) puts it in a category of its own, with the director’s pairings of existing footage and subsequent diary entries truly illuminating each other in unexpected ways. I’m hardly a Brando scholar, so many of the clips alone were worthwhile for their ability to chart a career arc and the stuff about his perspective on Method acting and his involvement with social justice issues was definitely interesting. (4.5⭐️)
Tony: The Hallow aside, SIFF 2015’s also been scratching my cult movie itch most ably. Deathgasm, the inaugural Midnight Adrenaline selection, delivers everything you could want from a midnighter and then some. A slacker teenage headbanger happens upon some parchments containing ancient sheet music, and when he and his bandmates play said music, it unleashes, well, Hell on Earth. You get plenty of warped giggles, gouts of blood and pus, and metal up the ass (metaphorically and literally), but filtered through an almost John Hughes level of teenage empathy. Who’da thunk that a movie featuring gut-munching, bloody projectile diarrhea, decapitation, demons, and heavy metal kids beating down zombies with dildos could be so, well, sweet-spirited without losing its punch?
The Old Dark House, meantime, proved that even a 1932 thriller about reluctant strangers trapped in a houseful of oddballs and psychos could maintain satiric bite over 80 years after its original release. Director James Whale went on to hone his MO of mordant chuckles and monstrous chills to perfection in 1933’s The Invisible Man and the 1935 masterpiece, Bride of Frankenstein, but the seeds of that style were already sown here. The cast, including Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, and an archly-funny Ernest Thesiger, take to their roles with relish, and Boris Karloff manages to be unerringly creepy as the house’s scarred and mute manservant. Best of all, the print (restored by the Library of Congress) is clear and darkly lovely. This is one of those rare old horror movies where even a jaded modern audience laughs with it, not at it.
No surprise, SIFF ’15 blazes forward with a stacked roster that’ll make you rue working at all this week. Below are our picks for the best stuff to see before Memorial Day Weekend descends.
The Son of the Sheik Cambridge’s Alloy Orchestra — a three-man band consisting of percussionists Terry Donahue and Ken Winokur and former Mission of Burma guitarist Roger Miller — will be performing a new score alongside a restored print of George Fitzmaurice’s 1926 silent romance/adventure. Featuring Rudolph Valentino in his final role(s), the film includes “moonlit rendezvous, knife fights, kidnapping, horseback racing, betrayal, and love” while the live performance promises instruments native to the Middle East to match the dramatic desert setting. Events like this are one of the niftier features of the festival, making this one-night-only special engagement worth both a look and a listen.
May 19, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival 7:00 PM
Bodyslam: Revenge of the Banana Of potential interest to fans of a very particular slice of semi-recent Seattle dive bar burlesque history, this documentary profiles Seattle Semi-Pro Wrestling’s Ronald McFondle, Eddie Van Glam, and The Banana. Rowdy performances, internal strife, and parody wrestlers going all the way to the state capitol ensues. Directors Ryan Harvie, John Paul Hortsmann scheduled to attend to answer some, if not all, of your questions.
May 21, 2015 9:30 PM SIFF Cinema Egyptian
Listen to Me Marlon Stevan Riley’sdocumentary about the life and times of Marlon Brando sounds absolutely mind-boggling. Fittingly the story is told in the actor’s own voice — via a stash of previously unreleased audio diary entries — and the usual bits of rare photographs and film footage is paired with a digitized 3D image of Brando’s head that the actor himself had crafted [!], making for a haunting post-mortem autobiography.
May 19, 2015 SIFF Cinema Uptown Festival 6:00 PM
The Old Dark House Another rescue/restoration compliments of The Film Foundation, James Whale’s 1932 chiller showcases the director’s mordant streak of black humor, genuinely creepy atmosphere, and a terrific cast including scare king Boris Karloff, Ernest Thesiger, and Melvyn Douglas. Plus, you’ll get to see what Gloria Stuart, octogenarian Oscar nominee for Titanic, looked like as an ingenue (for the record, she was quite the dish).
May 18, 2015 7:00 PM SIFF Cinema Egyptian
Shrew’s Nest Director Alex de la Iglesia’s been responsible for two of my favorite genre offerings from previous SIFFs (2011’s The Last Circus and 2014’s Witching and Bitching). He takes the producer’s desk for this thriller that’s been generating some serious word-of-mouth.
May 19, 2015 9:30 PM SIFF Cinema Egyptian
May 26, 2015 3:30 PM Lincoln Square
The Look of Silence 2013’s The Art of Killing just might be the most mesmerizing documentary that’s screened at SIFF in the last five years (our SunBreak staff was left agog by it in one of our SIFF 2013 roundtables), so the notion of director Joshua Oppenheimer returning to Indonesia’s Killing Fields, this time with the relative of one of the massacre’s victims, can’t help but promise much the same level of emotional intensity and artistry.