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Friday, June 15, 2007

SIFF 2007: Friday Highlights

posted by on June 15 at 12:00 PM

Twenty-one days down, three to go! It seems my capsule review of Cthulhu is drawing consternation from some quarters. To clarify: “recommended” means “worth seeing at SIFF.” Not: “You might as well eviscerate yourself and bleed to death on the dirty sidewalk if you can’t get tickets to this film.” (That’s “Don’t Miss!”, naturally.) Reviewing local films is more political than reviewing theater, I swear. So who saw Cthulhu last night? It’s all gloriously anonymous down in the comments.

The Stranger’s recommendations for every slot in the festival continue below and at


Pacific Place, 2 pm. We weren’t able to review Iska’s Journey, but the Variety review is encouraging. (And by “encouraging,” I mean, “In her dirt-poor village in the Zsil River valley, Iska works in terrible conditions scavenging metal, coal and anything else of value from the rubble. When she returns home penniless after daring to dicker with a buyer, her resourcefulness is rewarded with a sound beating.”)

Harvard Exit, 4:30 pm. Miss Gulag is a smartly executed doc about a beauty pageant at a brutal Russian prison camp.

Miss Gulag

“Emerging Master” Rafi Pitts is in town, though I’m not sure if he’ll be introducing his 1997 movie Season Five (Pacific Place, 4:30 pm). He will introduce It’s Winter (Pacific Place at 7 pm), a film with risqué (for an Iranian film) intimations of extramarital shenanigans.

Another interesting option in the 7 pm slot is a work-in-progress peek at Sweet Crude (Neptune, 7 pm), which is being produced by the fine people at Verité Coffee. The film is a doc about oil and volatile politics in the Niger Delta. And if you’ve always wanted to accost Winona Ryder, she’s in town to promote the world premiere of the feminist revenge tale Sex and Death 101 (Egyptian, 6:30 pm), directed by Heathers screenwriter Daniel Waters.

Sex and Death

Neptune, 10 pm. It’s already out at Scarecrow, but Confession of Pain, from the directing team responsible for Infernal Affairs, should probably be seen on the big screen. Little Book of Revenge (Pacific Place, 9:30 pm) might be worth a look too. It’s the U.S. premiere of a Quebecois black comedy.

Skip the midnight show and get rested for the penultimate day of the festival.

RSS icon Comments


Little Book of Revenge looks sweet.

Dang, wish I'd been able to see Cthulhu!

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 15, 2007 12:08 PM

i saw Cthulhu last night. the lighting and color balance were absolutely horrible. i wish i could convince myself they were artistic choices.

the slightly shaky handheld work and the way bright light sources and the titling flashed gave me a headache.

boring, not scary, started to come together at the end, then just stopped. best part was realizing that i know the actor who played the bartender. i like to think this film was only in the festival because it was local and siff folks were involved.

(overall, Outsourced really was a better "local" movie. it didn't look homemade, and while anyone can complain about the romantic comedy genre, it was a nice romantic comedy. certainly better than Expiration Date.)

Posted by ironymaiden | June 15, 2007 12:42 PM

Cthulhu sucks. Almost all of it. Everything. I really, really don't understand why it's being praised so much.

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 15, 2007 1:15 PM

I want to address two things here - 'Cthulhu' is very unconventional for an American film and opinions on it run a wide gamut - but the review Annie Wagner wrote of the film was not about the final cut: two months and $10,000 worth of editing work on the film passed between the version she saw and recommended in April and the version screening at SIFF this week.

More significantly, the projection - the reddish, overdark color balance and the weird flashing - was a mess as a result of the Landmark Theaters policy of LOCKING THEIR PROJECTORS so they are not adjustable without someone from their headquarters flying in to open them up. Video projection is more sensitive and prone to problems than film. We hope that person will make it here from Houston or wherever before the Sunday screening. Sean Kirby (the film's cinematographer) and I were very upset with the way 'Cthulhu' looked on Thursday night: that wasn't our film. That's all I can say.

Posted by Daniel Gildark, director of 'Cthulhu' | June 15, 2007 1:17 PM


I so wanted to se a good print of Cthulhu.

Posted by Will in Seattle | June 15, 2007 1:23 PM

Cthulhu is pretty awful. It's a sad testament to the state of Seattle filmmaking that local journalists feel compelled to champion such a poor piece of work simply because it is locally produced.

Let's hold the filmmakers to a higher standard and hope they can someday meet it rather than applaud the occasional artist who gets a half million dollar budget and blows it on a half-assed idea.

Posted by Joseph | June 15, 2007 1:29 PM

I guess that there are some "spoilers" in here... but I don't know if this really would spoil anything...

So I was in the audience for Cthulhu last night, and I'll give you a straight-up, honest answer.

It sucked. Hard.

Mind you, there were parts of the movie that were absolutely fantastic. The male lead, Jason Cottle, was great. Amazing. His performance shined through, and really was quite watchable. Humor, drama, pathos, terror. Many of the establishing shots of the coastal Oregon setting were stunning, and expressed the full beauty of the landscape and the water.

The music, too, was great. Really fit with the mood that they were trying to go for, and I thought that it was of a higher quality than what one might find in a typical big Hollywood movie. Hats off to the composer, who really deserves kudos for this work.

And Tori Spelling? Well... she breathed some life into the part that she was given. Her part was more Trick than 90210, and although her character seemed to be quite one-note, she made it work on some level. I enjoyed it, but I wish that it was more fleshed out.

But aside from that, though, it was the first SIFF film that I've ever seen where I thought that I wasted my money. And although I could dissect everything in exhaustive detail, I'll just comment on three aspects: the romantic subplot, sound editing, and the consistency/internal logic of the whole damn thing.

The romantic subplot was hailed on the floor of the theatre before the movie started as being edgy and controversial, but I must say that it was the most boring on-screen romance ever. Aside from the fact that there was little, if any, chemistry between the two characters, there wasn't even any kind of hint as to why Cottle's character was even attracted to his former lover (friend? jerk-off buddy?) in the first place. There were no strong flashbacks to scenes where you could see why they were really even friends in the first place, and the dynamic between Russ and Mike could barely even maintain the illusion that there was some kind of sexual tension between them in the present. Scott Green just kinda sits there like a lump for the entire movie, with very little animation or life to him. It's very hard to think of him as inspiring lust in *anyone*, even if he were the last closeted gay man on the planet.

The second is more of a gripe. Although the music is quite amazing, the sound editing is not. In several scenes (the "sea lion cave", the dinner scene, etc.), the dialogue is largely drowned out, either by the music or the background noise. Quite lousy.

Of course, even the dialogue that you hear is somewhat difficult to translate anyway, which leads into an overall gripe that I have about the movie... the unintelligibility and lack of internal logic with the plot as a whole.

This movie both takes itself too seriously and is too uninspired to be camp or a cult classic, but lacks the consistency to really be anything else. You get the sense that in the hands of more skilled screenwriter / director, this could actually have been a strong and powerful horror movie. I mean, the trailer and summary hinted at real promise! But there is just some complete and blatant lapses of logic by the characters, some things that were not well-explained that should have been covered more in depth, and just some things that were plain stupid, that did nothing to further the plot.

One example is that the filmmakers have done their best to tie in the horror with near-future images of social unrest and environmental catastrophe. Sea level rise, extinction, social unrest, water rationing, etc. However, what does this really mean to the plot? There's no fundamental difference with the actual setting that the movie takes place in, aside from the incessant (and often distracting!) news reports telling stories of disasters in other places. However, the most powerful effect would be to frame the story of Cthulhu with images of environmental impacts resulting from human activity that were actually on the screen. I mean, wouldn't a seaside town in Oregon be affected by sea level rise? Would people still be driving big SUVs? Would life in an apparent fishing port still be the same? Tying the whole Cthulhu mythos to human environmental devastation would be great, but it's handled extremely poorly here.

Another example is in the whole nature of the threat itself. The final scene was unintentionally funny to me ("Hey Dagon! Your ride's here!"), but aside from that, there's no explanation of what's really going on. Why would one of the first stops in your hometown be the place where the Creepy Cult of Random Hooded People hang out? Why were so many people kidnapped? Why were homes being built in a community that never seemed to have any new inmigration? Why would people riot in rural Oregon and all over the US simultaneously, for no apparent reason? What's the deal with the traffic at night? (WTF??? Worst horror plot point ever!) It wasn't clear, and not in a good, audience-has-to-think-for-a-change way, but in a man-we-can't-really-tell-an-effective-story way.

And finally, why wouldn't the main character have an inkling about what was going on anyway? If your Dad's a preacher for a creepy cult that holds services in an old house, wouldn't you get the sense that you'd pretty much know what was going on from an early age? (Especially if he's chatting about it at the dinner table?) Wouldn't weirdness be the order of the day as a teenager? Why would you be confused about many of the things going on? There was no attempt at explanation for any of it.

In all, the movie fell flat. Some cheap scares, some interesting humor, some great moments, but an opaque, amateurish screenplay and almost entirely unrealized potential. A waste of some good (and some not-so-good) actors. Although many people in the audience seemed to be willing to get off just because "Dagon" and "Old Ones" and "Cthulhu" were mentioned in the script, I just can't agree. And the filmmakers can certainly pass it off as being edgy and experimental, but when the only thing I'm contemplating during the movie is how long it is until it's over, I can't really see its merit as a film.

(And I don't think that this was all the fault of the print...)

Posted by bma | June 15, 2007 1:30 PM

@4: Just so you know, Dan, I acknowledged that my review was of the rough cut yesterday. I'm sorry to hear about the projection issues. For my information, were you happy with the projection of the rough cut at SIFF Cinema?

Posted by annie | June 15, 2007 1:32 PM


I'm all about film. Even when I hate a movie, I'll give it credit where I can. Your movie hit almost all-lows on my Richter scale, but that doesn't stop me from recognizing how much of an achievement this must be for you. I know how hard it is to make a movie, and like so understand the work, time and money that it took to accomplish. I congratulate you.

I'd say something about the 'unconventional' remark you just tossed, but I won't bother.

Posted by Mr. Poe | June 15, 2007 1:44 PM

I think that your capsule for Cthulhu was pretty fair. Giving it the coveted "star" might have been questionable, but I guess it's mostly recommendable to Seattleites who want to see a local production on the big screen, where the pretty cinematography and interesting art direction are more likely to compensate for the film's other flaws.

Posted by anonymous coward | June 15, 2007 2:40 PM

It is amazing to me how pretentious some of this movie’s critics are. They fail to see nuances and subtext that speak to their objections, but complain in such ways that even their intellect seems to beg for spoon-feeding the obvious.

If the problem is boredom and disconnect—perhaps “BABEL” would be more suiting. That movie offered nothing, yet has been heralded as one of the most provocative films of late. Talk about boring…

It is not the cinematography. Cthulhu’s was beautiful, despite the apparent projection problems.

Perhaps a little character and plot development in places would have helped, but it all tied together in the end.

What it seems that these critics are missing is the real “horror” of the movie, which is to say that the themes of environmental doom, a warmongering president run amok, religious zealotry, and ignorance and discrimination of all kinds causing insanity on an apocalyptic scale are really fucking scary. Are we too far off from that now?

This film had my head spun for days, challenging my own thoughts about this. Previously, I was a lot more optimistic. I left the film completely pissed off, and not for a lack of entertainment, but that it never occurred to me that we could be closer to the end than I ever imagined.

I was left to think:
Could the consensus in America be so arrogant that we would cause such environmental fallout?

Could the strain of war and inundation of fear cause us to start killing each other?

Could religious zealots of all backgrounds decide to start sacrificing their fellow countrymen “for the cause” (if they haven’t already)?

Can we be so full of ourselves that we allow the discrimination of our own family members to go unchecked?

Have we really lost our freedom?

After answering “yes” to all of the above, I had to ask myself what the hell I am going to do about it. Would I kill my father to end the madness, or kill my lover to rule the world? I am still pondering, as we all should be. Good work!

Posted by They Call Me Bruce | June 18, 2007 12:26 AM

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