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Monday, June 16, 2008

Sunrise on Friday

posted by on June 16 at 11:46 AM


I've been as good as unconscious all weekend, due to the nasty cold that's circulating, but I wanted to write one last SIFF post about the showing of F.W. Murnau's Sunrise at the Triple Door on Friday. The Album Leaf, who Eric Grandy interviewed here, performed a new score for the movie.

Sunrise is amazing--one of the greatest movies of all time, and one of the first to really, completely understand what can and can't be done in a movie. That's about all that I can say about it without going over the top like user Dario P on IMDB:

I have no words. This is cinema. This is not a story, this is not a plot. This is THE STORY, this is THE PLOT...This film holds the tragedy and the comedy, the laughing and the crying. "Sunrise" doesn't belong to the past, but It belongs to the story, to the time. Sunrise, yes...the sunrise of the modern cinema waiting for "Citizen Kane".

But I can talk about the Album Leaf's score. At first, I was unsure; for the first twenty minutes all the band really managed to do with their guitars and keyboards and drums was create an ambient kind of hum that didn't interact with the movie at all. But as the plot (or THE PLOT, depending on who you ask) ratcheted up, so did the score. There were moments of perfect conversation between the band and the screen, where actions were imitated with music, and it was perfectly lovely. There were echoes, too, from the screen down to the band and back up to the screen, where action became sound became action again.

As the movie drew to a close, too, and the ambient hum returned, the whole piece of music really operated as a complete musical work. I have my doubts if it functioned exceedingly well as a score--the first twenty minutes had maybe too much of a disconnect between the music and the movie--but if the Album Leaf ever performs this one again, you should definitely attend. It was a perfect ending for my SIFF experience.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

SIFF 2008: Award Winners

posted by on June 15 at 12:36 PM

The press release:

SIFF 2008 New American Cinema Competition

Grand Jury Prize:
Em, directed by Tony Barbieri (USA)
Jury Statement: "In Em, writer-director Tony Barbieri tackles the timely and original subject of love and mental illness, with the help of his two excellent leads, Stef Willen and Nathan Wetherington. It's a sweet, sad, scary movie that feels completely contemporary."

Special Jury Prize:
Jury Statement: "The Special Jury Prize is awarded to The Bluetooth Virgin and writer-director Russell Brown for his fresh and squirmy script."

The New American Cinema jury was comprised of: Rajendra Roy, Chief Curator, Film Department at MoMA; David Schmader, associate editor at The Stranger; and Kyle Thorpe, Vice President of Publicity at Focus Features.

SIFF 2008 New Directors Showcase Competition

Grand Jury Prize:
Everything Is Fine, directed by Yves-Christian Fournier (Canada)
Jury Statement: "The New Directors Showcase Prize for director of a first or second feature goes to Yves-Christian Fournier from Quebec, Canada, and his film Everything Is Fine, for its skillful avoidance of the nihilistic clichés in its treatment of contemporary youth. The jury would also like to commend the outstanding performance of Marie Turgeon in the role of the mother."

Special Jury Prize:
Mermaid, directed by Anna Melikyan (Russia)
Jury Statement: "The jury would also like to award a special mention to Mermaid by Anna Melikyan from Russia for its entertaining portrait of Russia and its growing pains as it transitions into a capitalist society."

The New Directors Showcase jury was comprised of: Frederic Boyer, programmer for Director's Fortnight, Cannes Film Festival; Oliver Mahrdt, president of Hanns Wolters International, and East Coast representative of German Films; and Charles Taylor, film critic for the Newark Star-Ledger and Bloomberg News.

SIFF 2008 Documentary Competition

Grand Jury Prize:
Derek, directed by Isaac Julien (UK)
Jury Statement: "The Grand Jury Prize is awarded to Isaac Julien's Derek for the strength of both the subject and the filmmaking."

Documentary Competition Special Jury Prizes:
Jury Statements:
Combalion, directed by Raphaël Mathié (France), "...for its artistic integrity and visually arresting composition."
Accelerating America, directed by Timothy Hotchner (USA), "...for capturing the inspiration of the subject and the humanistic heart of the film."

The Documentary jury was comprised of: Ken Eisen, president of Shadow Distribution; Julie Goldman, founding partner of Cactus Three; and Steven Raphael, founder of Required Viewing.

SIFF 2008 Short Film Jury Awards

SIFF 2008 Grand Jury Short Film Award winners receive a $2,500 cash prize, a hand-made glass creation by artist James Mongrain, Movie Magic Screenwriter software, a DVD replication prize package from Discmakers, and an annual subscription to FilmTracker from Baseline Studio Systems.

Documentary Grand Jury Prize:
"Self Portrait With Cows Going Home" and Other Works: A Portrait of Sylvia Plachy, directed by Rebecca Dreyfus, USA

Documentary Special Jury Prize:
The Ladies, directed by Christina Voros, USA

Animation Grand Jury Prize:
The Pearce Sisters, directed by Luis Cook, UK

Animation Special Jury Prize:
Home, directed by Kim Slate, USA

Narrative Grand Jury Prize:
Rewind, directed by Atul Taishete, India

Narrative Special Jury Prizes:
Walnut, directed by Amy Gebhardt, Australia
Dog Altogether, directed by Paddy Considine, UK
A Mate, directed by Teemu Nikki, Finland
New Boy, directed by Steph Green, Ireland

Honorable Mentions for Inventive Filmmaking:
Introduction to Lucid Dreaming, directed by John Grigsby, USA
On the Assassination of the President, directed by Adam Keker, USA

The Short Film jury was comprised of: Scilla Andreen, co-founder of IndieFlix; Seattle filmmaker Douglas Horn, winner of the 2006 Golden Space Needle for Best Short Film; and Jeff Shannon, film critic for the Seattle Times and P-I.

SIFF 2008 FutureWave Jury Award

SIFF 2008 FutureWave WaveMaker Award winner receives a $2,500 cash prize.

Grand Jury Prize (WaveMaker Award):
Disorder, directed by Rose McAleese

Honorable Mentions:
4th Floor, directed by Misami Kubo, "...for excellence in visual storytelling."
Driving to the New Age: American Automobiles and You, directed by Meng Mao, Eli Shalcross, Charlie Shelton, and Matt Yaggy, "...for delivering a serious message through outstanding use of satire."
New Perspective, directed by Dave Riff, "...for clarity of vision."

The FutureWave jury was comprised of the participants in the 2008 Fly Filmmaking challenge: Cheryl Slean, Megan Griffiths, Rob Cunningham, Andy McCone and Joe Shapiro.

SIFF and IndieFlix 2008 MyFestival Winners

SIFF and IndieFlix MyFestival Feature Film winner receives a $1,500 cash prize; Short Film winner receives a $500 cash prize.

SIFF Official Selection and MyFestival Feature Film Winner:
Perfect Sport, directed by Anthony O'Brien

SIFF Official Selection and MyFestival Short Film Winner:
Robbie's Withdrawal, directed by John Burish

MyFestival Special Recognition Awards:
Eternal City, directed by Jason Goodman
Hot Wind: America's Fallout Casualties, directed by Kirsten Alaqidy


SIFF 2008 Golden Space Needle Award winners receive a hand-made glass creation by artist James Mongrain. Golden Space Needle Award Best Short Film winner receives $1,000 of Color Negative Motion Picture Film from the Eastman Kodak Company Entertainment Imaging Division, and an Apple Intel 15" Laptop Computer loaded with the Final Cut Pro Suite of products from IrisInk and The Mac Store.

Best Film Golden Space Needle Award:
Cherry Blossoms: Hanami, directed by Doris Dörrie (Germany)

The remaining top ten audience favorites (in order)
Frozen River, directed by Courtney Hunt (USA)
Fugitive Pieces, directed by Jeremy Podeswa (Canada)
Captain Abu Raed, directed by Amin Matalqa (Jordan)
The Drummer, directed by Kenneth Bi (Hong Kong)
Summer Heat, directed by Monique van de Ven (the Netherlands)
Letting Go of God, directed by Julia Sweeney (USA)
Late Bloomers, directed by Bettina Oberli (Switzerland)
Bliss, directed by Abdullah Oguz (Turkey)
Michou d'Auber, directed by Thomas Gilou (France)

Best Documentary Golden Space Needle Award:
The Wrecking Crew, directed by Denny Tedesco (USA)

The remaining top ten audience favorites (in order)
Great Speeches From a Dying World, directed by Linas Phillips (USA)
Man on Wire, directed by James Marsh (UK)
Accelerating America, directed by Timothy Hotchner (USA)
Creative Nature, directed by John Andres (USA)
Emmanuel Jal: War Child, directed by C. Karim Chrobog (USA)
Trouble the Water, directed by Carl Deal and Tia Lessin (USA)
Stranded: I've Come From a Plane that Crashed in the Mountains, directed by Gonzalo Arijon (France)
Good Food, directed by Melissa Young and Mark Dworkin (USA)
They Killed Sister Dorothy, directed by Daniel Junge (USA)

Best Director Golden Space Needle Award:
Amin Matalqa, for Captain Abu Raed (Jordan)

The remaining top five audience favorites (in order)
Courtney Hunt, for Frozen River (USA)
Nina Paley, for Sita Sings the Blues (USA)
Dorota Kedzierzawska, for Time to Die (Poland)
Nic Balthazar, for Ben X (Belgium)

Best Actor Golden Space Needle Award:
Alan Rickman, for Bottle Shock (USA)

The remaining top five audience favorites (in order)
Nadim Sawalha, for Captain Abu Raed (Jordan)
Andrew Garfield, for Boy A (UK)
Zdenerk Sverák, for Empties (Czech Republic)
Greg Timmermans, for Ben X (Belgium)

Best Actress Golden Space Needle Award:
Jessica Chastain, for Jolene (USA)

The remaining top five audience favorites (in order)
Catinca Untaru, for The Fall (USA)
Melissa Leo, for Frozen River (USA)
Danuta Szaflarska, for Time to Die (Poland)
Melanie Diaz, for American Son (USA)

Best Short Film Golden Space Needle Award:
Felix, directed by Andreas Utta (Germany)

The remaining top five audience favorites (in order)
Sleeping Betty, directed by Claude Cloutier (Canada)
Bailey-Boushay House: A Living History, directed by Terence Brown (USA)
Zoologic, directed by Nicole Mitchell (USA)
Spider, directed by Nash Edgerton (Australia)

Lena Sharpe Award:
Frozen River, director Courtney Hunt (USA)
This award is given to the film by a woman director that receives the most votes from the public.

OK, so Cherry Blossoms was the actual audience award winner--Frozen River was just a runner-up. But since Cherry Blossoms was already scheduled to screen today (albeit during the awards ceremony), SIFF is screening Frozen River tonight in the narrative TBD slot (7 pm at SIFF Cinema).

Good job not picking anything too embarrassing, guys! But no acting prize for Haifsia Herzi (The Secret of the Grain)? Shame. I suppose a César is worth more, anyway.

SIFF 2008: The End

posted by on June 15 at 10:10 AM

It's the very last day of the festival and I, for one, cannot muster a tear. Thanks for reading, anyway. There are no new films today (unless you count Head-On [9:15 pm at Pacific Place], which is making up for the gay Australian-Greek movie of the same name that mistakenly screened in its place earlier in the festival), but you can't have possibly seen all the good stuff, so I'm still doing a slate of recommendations.

Start off Father's Day with Cherry Blossoms: Hanami (noon at Cinerama). We didn't get a chance to review it, but the Variety review sounds very promising.

Next is your last chance to see Alexander Nevsky (2 pm at Benaroya Hall) accompanied by the Seattle Symphony. Don't miss.

In the early matinee slot, we recommend Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God (4 pm at SIFF Cinema). She should be in attendance.

Feel free to stay at SIFF Cinema for... what I assume is the Golden Space Needle audience award winner for narrative film. (That's usually what they fill the final TBD slots with, but the official press release hasn't yet gone out.) Let's hope, at least, it's something as unembarrassing as Frozen River (7 pm at SIFF Cinema).

Frozen River

I'm not quite so psyched about the presumptive doc winner, The Wrecking Crew (9 pm at SIFF Cinema). Better than Be Like Others? Better than Trouble the Water? But it isn't a terrible movie by any means.

Still, we'd suggest that you head to Pacific Place to see that replacement screening of Head-On. Wrap up your festival with a fantastic movie--even if it's not exactly "new" in the starburst sense.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

SIFF 2008: Two Days Left!

posted by on June 14 at 10:00 AM

Technically this is the closing night of the festival (meaning you get to "enjoy" the silly and blithely jingoistic (verging on racist) closing-night gala selection Bottle Shock [6:30 pm at the Cinerama]), but never fear--there's another full day of programming tomorrow.

In the early matinee slot, we recommend The Fairytale of Kathmandu (11 am at Pacific Place). If you've already seen that, you might try The Island of Lost Souls, because if you're going to see a Danish kids' adventure film on a Saturday morning, it might as well be at the Cinerama (noon).

Next, head directly to the inspirational (and tremendously depressing) education doc Accelerating America (1:30 pm at SIFF Cinema). Already seen it? Try Days and Clouds (1:30 pm at Uptown) or Dan Ireland's new movie, Jolene (2:30 pm at Cinerama). I haven't seen it because I can't bear to face a road trip movie called Jolene that doesn't have Dolly Parton on the soundtrack.

Next, skip Lakshmi and Me--but only because it plays again tomorrow morning--and head to the restored Cassavetes film Faces (4 pm at SIFF Cinema).


Next, you should probably eat dinner and discuss ("What's Yr Take on Cassavetes": Best Le Tigre song ever?). There are OK movies in this slot, but nothing stunning, unless you have tickets to Alexander Nevsky (8 pm at Benaroya Hall).

Finally, head back to SIFF Cinema for Emmanuel Jal: War Child (9 pm). It's another world politics doc, but compared to the stunning Trouble the Water, which I saw last night (Trouble My Dreams is more like it), War Child is downright upbeat.

Skip Donkey Punch (midnight at the Egyptian). Seriously? Who calls their movie Donkey Punch?

Friday, June 13, 2008

SIFF 2008: Three Days to Go!

posted by on June 13 at 11:21 AM

Cinerama starts playing SIFF movies today, the third-to-last day of the festival. Boy, are there going to be some annoyed people tonight. Some of the movies that sounded the best on paper are in fact awful, and some of the movies that sounded the worst are in fact fantastic. Here's the scoop:

Skip the first movie of the day, Unknown Woman (1 pm at Cinerama), unless you love the graphic depiction of misery.

Next, pay someone to take your tickets to In Search of Kennedy (4 pm at the Egyptian), which is the worst movie that could possibly be made about John F. Kennedy's popular legacy. The documentary has no facts, and lots and lots of feelings. Yuck. There are at least three other good options, including Salawati (4:30 pm at Pacific Place), American Son (4 pm at Uptown), and Some Assembly Required (4 pm at SIFF Cinema). Did anyone see the film-insidery Pierre Rissient (4 pm at the Harvard Exit) on Wednesday? That sounds interesting too.

Accelerating America

Next, we absolutely adore three competing options, all of whose filmmakers should be in attendance: the major motion picture The Wackness (6:30 pm at the Egyptian), which will open in Seattle in July; the exceptional education documentary Accelerating America (7 pm at the Harvard Exit); and the conversion-to-atheism one-woman-show Letting Go of God (6:30 pm at SIFF Cinema), with Julia Sweeney. This probably is not the night to try to see Alexander Nevsky (8 pm at Benaroya Hall), though admittedly, all our other recommendations are playing again this weekend.

Finally, settle down at the second (and 21+) screening of Sunrise (9:30 pm at the Triple Door) accompanied by an original score by the Album Leaf.

We don't recommend tonight's midnighter, Chrysalis (12 am at the Egyptian). Quel dommage--it's a bit of a tribute to Eyes Without a Face. But you'll be too tired for a midnight show tonight anyway.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

SIFF 2008: Day 22 Non-Recommendation

posted by on June 12 at 11:32 AM

Annie made me watch a biofuel documentary called Fields of Fuel--AKA, according to my boyfriend, "that film with that annoying guy"--for SIFF. Let me reiterate here just how much I don't recommend that you see it. My brief review:

A vanity project by biofuel proselytizer Josh Tickell that fetishizes alternative fuels such as ethanol and soy-based biodiesel while ignoring the many downsides of America’s car-oriented culture. Relying heavily on interviews with Tickell himself (plus cameos by celebrities such as Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson), Fields of Fuel is little more than biodiesel propaganda. Tickell, wide-eyed, asserts repeatedly that biodiesel “could save the world.” But his case is flimsy, and his film—which features numerous long, loving shots of Tickell strolling below the Washington Monument, rolling into fast-food drive-through windows and demanding “all your used frying oil” to general confusion, and delivering supplies to Katrina victims on a biodiesel-powered boat—is more annoying than enlightening. (Tickell scheduled to attend.)

What I didn't get to say in the capsule: Tickell is a professional public speaker—the type who has "a talk" that he delivers over and over again for money—and his film is basically just a long-form version of that (smarmily self-aggrandizing) speech. Tickell's conclusion is basically that, wow, we don't need oil and war is bad (a conclusion he reached, in part, by "discovering" biofuels during a stint slumming it as a farmer in Europe). Oddly, Fields of Fuel (which also completely ignores the food-vs.-fuel controversy) has garnered some pretty positive reviews at Sundance and elsewhere. Don't listen to them. Avoid this one.

SIFF 2008: Day 22 Recomendations

posted by on June 12 at 10:50 AM

Your choices are fairly simple today. See the magnificent The Secret of the Grain (3:30 pm at the Egyptian) in that sweet spot between lunch and dinner. You should be out by 6 pm, when you can either get an early look at Frozen River (7 pm at Pacific Place)--which is probably more suited to this June, weather-wise, than the middle of August, when it's scheduled to open theatrically in Seattle--or take a break to eat (Marrakesh has couscous, though it's obviously not Tunisian).

Fairytale of Kathmandu

Next, head to Seattle Center for the fascinating doc Fairytale of Kathmandu (9:30 pm at SIFF Cinema). Unless you plan to see that Saturday morning, in which case the shot-in-Seattle Visioneers (9:30 pm at the Egyptain) or the low-fi sci-fi epic Apollo 54 (9:30 pm at the Harvard Exit) are acceptable substitutes.

Also, Alexander Nevsky accompanied by the Seattle Symphony starts tonight (7:30 pm at Benaroya Hall)--but there are several performances through the weekend. See the Seattle Symphony box office for details.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On the Fly

posted by on June 11 at 12:44 PM

SIFF’s annual Fly Filmmaking Challenge—in which filmmakers are given 1 hour to choose a location, 7 days to hack out a script, 4 days to prep, 3 days to shoot, and 5 days to edit a short film—has always been one of the festival’s most, um, creative offerings. And today, at 4:30 at the Egyptian, is your last chance to see it at this year’s fest.

The participants for 2008 were:

Megan Griffiths, writer-director of 2002’s First Aid for Choking.

Rob Cunningham, short filmmaker and winner of The Stranger’s first—and only (why the hell haven’t we done this again?)—short short film contest, “Peep.”

The duo of Joe Shapiro and Andy McCone. The former is the editor of Rob Devor’s Zoo,, the latter director of a “poetic black and white eccentric silent film” (according to press notes) called Rent’s Due.

And rounding out the event is a documentary by Cheryl Slean (past SIFF premiere Diggers), which chronicles (kinda) the making of this year’s films.

Of the four films shown, Rob Cunningham’s grimy black & white End Zone, about a robot schooling Death in chess (and other games), was definitely the sharpest. Slean’s doc Creativity in Context, which kicks off the presentation, is funny, and captures the chaos of cooking up a short film on such a tight deadline. And Shapiro’s and McCone’s sorta sci-fi Shut Eye features some inspired office drone choreography, as well as the freakishly talented Basil Harris. The weakest of the bunch, Griffith’s Moving—about put-off dreams and life on the sidelines—isn't quite able to wrangle its ambitions in such a tight format. But star Lynn Shelton (director of this year’s My Effortless Brilliance) has eyes that are hypnotic, and she absolutely nails the challenge of an emotional one-sided phone conversation.

The event is worth checking out—especially since it's one of the shortest offerings at the festival this year.

SIFF 2008: Day 21 Recommendations

posted by on June 11 at 12:22 PM

This afternoon, we unreservedly recommend Momma's Man (4:30 pm at Uptown), but if you saw that yesterday, you should probably opt for the first-person Hurricane Katrina doc Trouble the Water (4:30 pm at the Harvard Exit), where I'll be, since I failed to make it to the press screening yesterday. Manohla Dargis called it "one of the best American documentaries in recent memory."

Trouble the Water

Next up is a drama Charles Mudede loved about race relations in Singapore: It's called Salawati (7 pm at Pacific Place), and the director is scheduled to attend. Or you could chat up Variety film critic Todd McCarthy, who'll be in attendance at his debut documentary, Pierre Rissient: Man of Cinema (6:45 pm at SIFF Cinema), about Cannes Film Festival's ultimate publicist.

Last, we recommend American Son (9:30 pm at Pacific Place), a drama about being deployed to Iraq. Or if you want to follow up on the Katrina theme, you might think about The Order of Myths (9:30 pm at the Harvard Exit), a documentary about racial segregation in a Mardi Gras celebration in Mobile, Alabama.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Like SIFF in Your Apartment

posted by on June 10 at 1:29 PM


I reviewed Heavy Metal in Baghdad for our SIFF Guide. It was a really fine documentary--I gave it a Don't Miss--from the folks at Vice Magazine about an Iraqi heavy metal band. I learned more about Iraq from this documentary than in a dozen reports from legitimate news sources, and it's also a refreshing new take in the kids-really-just-wanna-make-a-band-and-RAWK genre of film.

Today, Heavy Metal in Baghdad is available on DVD, which means that it's available on Netflix or at your local independent video store. I recommend it.

SIFF 2008: Day 20 Recommendations

posted by on June 10 at 10:43 AM

OK, who scheduled The Secret of the Grain (6 pm at the Egyptian) opposite In the Land of the Headhunters (7 pm at the Moore)? So tough! It's making me resort to strategy.

If you're available in the middle of the afternoon on Thursday--and don't want to see the terrible movies Theater of War or Fields of Fuel, or the perfectly decent movie Postcards from Leningrad--then you should see The Secret of the Grain on Thursday. But remember, it's a don't, don't, don't miss! If you're not available Thursday, I say start at the Egyptian today for Abdellatif Kechiche's Games of Love & Chance (3:30 pm, has distribution and has played in Seattle before) and stay for his new masterpiece, The Secret of the Grain (which has distribution, but won't open for a while and probably won't remain in Seattle very long, 6 pm at the Egyptian).

The Secret of the Grain

If you've already seen Games of Love & Chance and can wait till Thursday for Grain, I recommend starting with the sloooow and indifferently photographed and mildly pretentious (but only if you can read the French at the end!) Combalimon (4:30 pm at the Harvard Exit). It's about an old farmer from the Cantal, without wife (well, there was a wife, from the Camaroon, but she left him) or children, who must decide what to do with his farm after he retires. It's pretty great, if you like movies about cows.

Next, head to the Moore for an extraordinary screening of the 1914 feature In the Land of the Headhunters (7 pm at the Moore), by Seattle photographer and ethnographer Edward S. Curtis. The film, which premiered simultaneously at the Moore and a NYC theater, used an all-Native cast from British Columbia's Kwakiutl tribe (now known as the Kwakwaka'wakw). This screening will be accompanied by descendents of the original cast. For more, see the project's webpage and David Jeffers at SIFFblog.

Whichever route you start out on, enjoy a nice bedtime story with the cannibalism documentary Stranded: I've Come from a Plane That Crashed on the Mountains (9:30 pm at SIFF Cinema).

For complete guide, recommendations, and discussion, see

Monday, June 9, 2008

Becky Sharpest

posted by on June 9 at 5:10 PM

Yesterday I saw the restored 1935 Becky Sharp, the first three-strip Technicolor movie ever, for the first time. The flashy lemon yellows hurt my eyes a little, but I kept comparing it--favorably--to the the 2004 version. Back then (wow, I've been at The Stranger a while), I had all kinds of complaints about Mira Nair's reading of the Thackeray novel:

The problem with Reese Witherspoon as Becky is linked to the way this film tries to reinvent her character. Thackeray's secret sympathy for his conniving protagonist--who is so bad she even hates children--always seeps through the cynical narration. Becky Sharp is great because, no matter how much we admire her pluck from the safe distance of the 21st century, she was a terrible bitch.

Mira Nair does not agree. Becky Sharp "was not allowed to be Becky Sharp," she contended. "Women basically were told to stand in the corner and be quiet. It's just that she was not happy with the cards that society had given her, and she wanted to make her own way." This generous view of one of English literature's most notorious antiheroines--that Becky, a pure product of the oppressive class and gender codes of the 19th century, was somehow trapped in the wrong era--mutes the very exceptional qualities that modern readers delight in.

Moreover, this Becky Sharp doesn't scheme and claw her way up to society's most precipitous heights. She's Reese Witherspoon, and we know she belongs there already. Instead, she rises like cream to the top of a pitcher--effortlessly, and without any particular evidence of talent. Witherspoon's Becky does not dissemble; she could never appear to suitors as, in Thackeray's words, "the picture of youth, unprotected innocence, and humble virgin simplicity." Like Tracy Flick or Elle Woods (her equally ambition-soaked characters in Election and Legally Blonde, respectively), she winks, she smirks, and her every thought is written on her face. Nair explained, "You can see all that clickety-clack in her mind, everything going on. All I need is that face, that Reese-thinking face. It's fantastic." But it's also a completely modern notion of femininity, and in this role, it doesn't make any sense.

Well, the 1935 Becky Sharp, as unleashed upon the world by one Miriam Hopkins (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Richest Girl in the World), has an equally modern notion of femininity--and there is much clickety-clack in evidence--but hers is femininity in the depths of the Great Depression.


It's femininity at its most ravenous, its most spiteful, its most unapologetic. And although this Becky Sharp is definitely a bitch, the audience isn't expected to hate her for it. The audience, the studio assumes, is also poor and insufficiently loved and cleverer than they're given credit for. Becky does what she has to do. And she isn't really even punished for her greed at the end.

I recently watched the first American Girl doll movie, Kit Kittredge, which is set in 1934 and purports to educate its young audience about the hardships families faced in the Great Depression and the values that got them through it. It's not a bad movie, for what it is. But I can't help wondering whether Becky Sharp gives a more accurate description of people's real desires, of the tactics they truly admired at the time. (After all, 1934 was the year Bonnie and Clyde were killed and instantly mythologized.) Becky Sharp is the perfect antiheroine for bleak economic times. And she's fashionable, too. Rawr.

SIFF 2008: Day 19 Recommendations

posted by on June 9 at 9:56 AM

Shocking! There's only a week left in the festival.

Assuming you didn't see it yesterday, the matinee slot is all about Baghead (4:30 pm at the Egyptian). If you already saw that or are willing to wait for it to come out in theaters, you might try the well-acted Encarnacíon (6:30 pm at Pacific Place)—but avoid the cheery Disney tribute Walt and El Grupo (4:30 pm at the Uptown) like the plague.

Only free after work, like us normal people? Head to Queen Anne for Momma's Man (7:15 pm at the Uptown), a family drama directed by the son of experimental filmmaker Ken Jacobs, with dear old dad in a leading role.


There's a repeat screening of the excellent Tulia, Texas (7 pm at the Harvard Exit)—which will also be airing on PBS in the upcoming season of Independent Lens.

We've only reviewed two films in the late slot, and can't recommend either whole-heartedly, but neither are they terrible: Sukiyaki Western Django (9:45 pm at Uptown), by Takashi Miike, and Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame (9:15 pm at SIFF Cinema), by Hana, the other daughter of Iran's beloved Mohsen Malkmalbaf. I'm sort of intrigued by Combalimon (9:15 pm at the Harvard Exit), a doc about an old French farmer.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

SIFF 2008: Day 18 Recommendations

posted by on June 8 at 11:10 AM

I'm a little late this morning--got a bit distracted by Meet the Press. But I would've said Mancora (11 am at the Harvard Exit).

Next, Tulia, Texas (1:30 pm at the Harvard Exit) is our first Don't Miss-designated film of the day. The mass arrest of black people in a small Texas town that this documentary describes is the basis for a new Lionsgate film starring Halle Berry and Billy Bob Thornton that's planned for a release later in 2008.

The archival event of the day is the screening of a restored print of a Vanity Fair adaptation entitled Becky Sharp (4 pm at SIFF Cinema), directed by Rouben Mamoulian in the midst of the Great Depression. It was the first film ever to be made with three-strip Technicolor technology.


In the early evening slot, get an early look at the new mumblecore horror-comedy Baghead (6:30 pm at the Egyptian). Directors Jay and Mark Duplass are scheduled to attend; read about the reverse-rollout distribution strategy that's horrifying the New York Times here.

And finally this evening, check out the one-shot Brazilian marvel Still Orangutans (9 pm at Pacific Place).

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Jar City

posted by on June 7 at 10:59 AM

Saw Jar City last night: two thumbs up! An entertaining, chilling, slightly magical police procedural. Made me want to move to Iceland.

But what I want to talk about is the poorly punctuated subtitles. There's nothing more distracting in a film. I was repeatedly ripped out of the thriller's grip by ellipses with two dots rather than three and misplaced quotation marks. Maybe it's an affliction of a former copyeditor; maybe it didn't bother any one else.

What was most galling was the akward typo in the final frame's giant caption: "English sub—titles by [Name Withheld]." Jeeezus. Awful proud of mediocrity. Proofreaders aren't that expensive.

("Subtitles" should be closed up or hyphenated, not interrupted by an emdash. That was obvious, right?)

SIFF 2008: Day 17 Recommendations

posted by on June 7 at 9:43 AM

It's the penultimate weekend at SIFF, and boy are my typing fingers tired.

In the morning slot: We haven't had a chance to review either of them, but the Phillipe Petit doc Man on Wire (11 am at the Egyptian) and and the melancholy Irish drama Garage (11 am at the Uptown) both seem promising.

Next is your last chance to see Be Like Others (1:30 pm at the Egyptian), a fascinating documentary about the contrast between the ways Iran treats its gay and trangendered citizens—and whether that differential treatment might push some young men to make rather hasty decisions. Seriously, don't miss it--it doesn't have distribution and may not be back.

Then, we like two more docs: Derek (4:30 pm at the Harvard Exit), about the experimental filmmaker Derek Jarman, and About Water (4:30 pm at Pacific Place).

The evening slot gives you another shot at Otto, or, Up With Dead People, which has to be the best titled film at the festival. And Charles Mudede liked the movie about "four grannies who decide to sell lingerie in a small Swiss town"! It's called Late Bloomers (6:30 pm at Uptown).

Late Bloomers

Also somewhat unexpected: In the late evening slot, the time-travel movie is actually pretty good: We recommend both Timecrimes (9:30 pm at Pacific Place) and Lars von Trier's semiautobiographical Erik Nietzsche: The Early Years (9 pm at Uptown).

The midnight movie tonight is Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django (12 am at the Egyptian). It's okay.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Recent Additions to SIFF Notes

posted by on June 6 at 3:59 PM

We've recently added reviews of...

The Great Buck Howard (me: "The film is as inoffensive and even-keeled as its protagonist, and the only thing you’re likely to remember a week later is the single character indulgence John Malkovich allows himself: a wild handshake that rolls like an earthquake and lasts so long you’d think aftershocks were involved").

Hidden Face (Charles Mudede: "The movie is in fact a propaganda film for Alcoholic Anonymous").

Choke (Paul Constant: "It’s certainly no Fight Club").

Chrysalis (Bradley Steinbacher: "Director Julien Leclercq (Transit) has obviously spent a lot of time watching Hollywood thrillers—and he has the clichés to prove it—but outside of some pounding action and a handful of interesting ideas, the result is an over-stylized and noisy mess").

Letting Go of God (Jen Graves: "The stage monologue is filmed and performed so smoothly that the live and movie audiences feel united by the end, but more importantly, some of Julia Sweeney's insights reach the heights of the paragon of the form, the great, questing, poetic, one-woman vehicle written by Jane Wagner and performed by Lily Tomlin, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe").

Summer Heat (Bradley Steinbacher: "This overbaked “erotically charged” thriller—in which an oft-shirtless National Geographic photographer finds himself embroiled in a drug deal gone wrong—offers skin to spare, but very little else").

Here's my Suggests for The Secret of the Grain in this week's issue.

And star intern Roxanne Emadi has an interview with Island Etude director (and Hou Hsiao-hsien cinematographer) Chen Huai-en over in the film section.

More to come!


posted by on June 6 at 3:18 PM

I see from the SIFF website that tonight's showing of Be Like Others is not sold out. Unacceptable!

Be Like Others

This is the best documentary at SIFF (I'm pretty sure--though I haven't seen Stranded, and Accelerating America was a very pleasant surprise).

Here's my capsule review:

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, you can be put to death for being a homosexual. But according to a fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomenei over 20 years ago, the Qu’ran says nothing about transsexuals, and so sex changes are permissible—even gently condoned. Without pressing the case, Iranian-American director Tanaz Eshaghian leaves open the delicate, chilling possibility that some young men may be getting their junk chopped off because their parents, doctors, and society are telling them it’s at once okay to become a woman and an abomination to remain a gay man. It’s a riveting study of the way gender and sexuality intersect in a 21st-century theocracy. ANNIE WAGNER

So, take the film still, above. The young trannie in a hijab is dating the young man to the left. They've been dating for a long time, probably since before the hijabi started dressing a a woman. The sexuality of the young man is not what you would call "in question." Not that I want to put anyone's life in danger, but he seems pretty damn gay. Unsurprisingly, when his partner gets a sex change (in part to please mom, who's dying for a normal kid, son or daughter, but also so they can finally get married), he loses interest. It is both hard to watch and utterly fascinating. The concepts of gender and sexuality are tangled together a way that would horrify Judith Butler, but which is so ingrained in the culture that I think you'd have a very time convincing any of the individuals involved that God doesn't necessarily intend for them to be women just because they like cooking and don't want to marry a girl.

According to the Guardian, Iran carries out more sex-change operations than any country except Thailand. The government funds the operations with grants of thousands of dollars.

It's a great topic, and an exceptional film.

Lunchtime Quickie

posted by on June 6 at 1:15 PM

Bruce LaBruce vs. Punks!

LaBruce will be in attendance at his big gay zombie movie tonight! I can't wait to see yet another one of my forever heroes, live in person. Thank you SIFF, you're the best.

About Water: People and Yellow Jugs

posted by on June 6 at 12:03 PM

The Austrian documentary About Water (Über Wasser: Menschen und gelbe Kanister), deftly mimics global travel as it documents three societies whose survival is tightly bound to water. The camera acts as impartial witness; the film refrains from narration or obvious directorial nudges. Even the soundtrack is minimal and stays out of the way, respecting the drumming of a rainstorm, the gurgle of a river lapping its bank, the soft splash of a woman washing her children.
We watch as farmers in Bangladesh survive monsoon season on the banks of an unpredictably rising river; as residents of Aralsk, Kazakhstan, a former port town from which the sea has receded, grapple with livelihoods in the absence of industry; and as a restaurateur in a Nairobi slum relies completely on water from a few unreliable spigots owned by others. The themes are evident and poignant.

About Water plays again on Saturday at 4 pm at Pacific Place.

SIFF 2008: Day 16 Recommendations

posted by on June 6 at 9:16 AM

Lots of repeats in the early slot. Check out the Icelandic policier Jar City (4 pm at the Egyptian), the gorgeous Monica Ali adaptation Brick Lane (4 pm at Uptown), the somber variety show You, the Living (4 pm at Pacific Place), or the not at all mocking documentary Anvil! The Story of Anvil (4 pm at SIFF Cinema).

Next is a bunch of stuff we (reluctantly) didn't love. Try The Wave (6:30 pm at Pacific Place), if only for too hear from a real-life participant in the infamous but ill-documented Wave experiment that turned a bunch of innocent American high school students against democracy. (Ron Jones and Phillip Neel should be in attendance.) You could also opt to see Tom Hanks's spitting image (but for the upturned little nose), his son Colin, in attendance at the lackluster but not unenjoyable The Great Buck Howard (7 pm at the Egyptian). I would avoid Ramchand Pakistani (7 pm at SIFF Cinema). Depressing topics should never be addressed with such colorful cheer.

in the late slot, two Don't Miss! documentaries battle it out: Stranded: I've Come From a Plane that Crashed on the Mountains (9:15 pm at the Egyptian) is about the survivors of the incident that inspired the narrative film Alive!.


And Be Like Others (9:15 pm at the Harvard Exit) is the sex-change-operations-in-Iran doc I've been talking up since the festival began. It's fantastic.

We also love the midnight show: Otto, or, Up With Dead People (12 am at the Egyptian). David Schamder describes it as "a compelling mishmash of zombie drama, art-house pretension, queer theory, AIDS allegory, vegetarian treatise, hardcore porn, faux documentary, and a good, old-fashioned homosexual blood feast."

Complete guide and collected SIFF Slog posts at

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Insert Choke Pun Here

posted by on June 5 at 3:50 PM


In last week's Constant Reader, I wrote an open letter to Chuck Palahniuk, including a little bit about his fourth novel, Choke:

I liked your first three novels quite a bit—Survivor, Fight Club, and Invisible Monsters, I thought, made kind of a trilogy of ridiculous, and somehow bighearted, American nihilism—and while your next novel, Choke, was a misfire akin to other novelists' sophomore slump, you were clearly trying to struggle free from the cynicism that had enveloped your work. You were trying to grow.

I saw the film adaptation of Choke yesterday, and my review is here. The movie is such a studious adaptation of the novel that people who loved the book are sure to at least find the movie inoffensive, if not great. The weirdest part of the whole thing is the casting: Anjelica Huston seems too young to be a woman suffering from dementia in the present-day bits, but she seems too old to be a mother of a young boy in the flashbacks. And Sam Rockwell looks too old to be a passive young man working at a Colonial Williamsburg-type park.

The person I really feel the worst for in all this is Rockwell; he's finally turned out a bland performance. I've absolutely loved him in everything he's ever done--even Charlie's Angels, for crying out loud--but this role, which should be perfect for him, is a flop.

There are great scenes that will please fans of the book by how closely they hew to the novel. Lascivious male viewers will find all the breasts and sex scenes they could ever want in a mainstream American movie. But it doesn't work, put all together. and the soundtrack--so generic that I can't even describe it, really, it just sounds like every generic independent film of the last ten years--doesn't work at all.

Choke screens tonight and on Saturday afternoon.

SIFF 2008: Day 15 Recommendations

posted by on June 5 at 9:25 AM

I have to run to a screening, so I'm going to try to make this snappy. There are a lot of good movies today--check out our full recommendations at

In the 4 pm slot, we recommend Call Me Troy (4 pm at the Egyptian) or Mr. Big (4:30 pm at SIFF Cinema).

Next, both Alexandra (7 pm at SIFF Cinema) and Brick Lane (7 pm at Uptown) are wonderful, but they're opening in Seattle later this year. As an alternative, try Derek (7 pm at the Harvard Exit), about the experimental filmmaker Derek Jarman.

In the late slot, we've revised our opinion on Choke (9:15 pm at the Egyptian)--our in-house reviewer Paul Constant was not enthusiastic--so we're sending you to Anvil! The Story of Anvil! (9:15 pm at SIFF Cinema) instead.

Sounds like you could spend all day at Seattle Center. Not the worst thing that could happen--that new Metropolitan Market has tasty sandwiches.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Mr. Demented and Mr. Big

posted by on June 4 at 1:03 PM

Saw my first John Waters film on a big screen yesterday thanks to SIFF. The director gave a charming pre-film interview, dancing gracefully with a somewhat befuddled interviewer, and made me wish I hadn't turned down a ticket to his appearance at Benaroya last night. Cecil B. Demented is silly fun, as I'm sure you all know. The costumes and vampy makeup (especially on Maggie Gyllenhaal's Satanist) were my highlight.

Then a well-timed Metro 49 whisked me through the downpour to Harvard Exit for Mr. Big, a look at the confession-coercion techniques employed by Canadian Mounties and how they lead Sebastian Burns and Atif Rafay to life sentences for the 1994 murders of the Rafay family in Bellevue. The documentary is chilling and aesthetically stark. It plays again tomorrow at 4:30 at McCaw Hall.

Harvard Exit tip: Theater employees will let you carry coffee in, and Joe Bar across the street makes fantastic foil-wrapped carry-out crepes that slip easily into a purse or pocket.

John Waters is Still The King

posted by on June 4 at 11:29 AM


The John Waters Lecture last night at Benaroya Hall was absolutely inspiring. I can't really find the words to describe it, so here instead, is a list of topics he covered, in chronological order:

Jugglers with hard-ons, vaudeville, junkie strippers, Johnny Cash, Zorro, butch girls, Catholic schools, pig latin, Pootie Tang, auto-erotic stimulation, negative influences, filthy elders, The Tingler, Kroger Babb, Hell, nuns in prison, birth as masturbation, niche filmmaking, Father Bingo, nude ushers, whack stacks, Lysol, Warhol, Larry Clark, mullets, libraries, Freud, parental love, shrinks, blowjobs for school teachers, ebonics, Kenneth Anger, Dogma 95, roman candles, politically correct shoplifting, eating your makeup, Jacqueline Kennedy, Sotheby's, suicide, LSD, seances, instant movies, Micheal Jackson, burn units, Joan Crawford, flaccid penises, Anna Nicole Smith, necrophilia...

Continue reading "John Waters is Still The King" »

SIFF 2008: Day 14 Recommendations

posted by on June 4 at 9:01 AM

It's a weird day--the best movies are all in the matinee slot, and then the evening shows are all strictly for people who have a special interest in the subject matter. It's a good time to catch up on stuff in theaters if you don't see anything that immediately catches your eye.

In the matinee slot, we recommend both Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World (which is opening in theaters soon, 4:30 pm at the Egyptian) and the doc Stalags: Holocaust and Pornography (which is not, 4:30 pm at SIFF Cinema).

Stalags: Holocaust and Pornography

Next, get your Indy or SATC fix or just take your chances on whatever interests you. We didn't love anything, but we didn't get to see all of it either. There's a mediocre but somewhat interesting local food doc called Good Food (7 pm at the Egyptian), a short called Hamdi and Maria and a featurette about living in the Occupied Territories called This Way Up (7 pm at the Harvard Exit), a four-part drama about women's lives in the Indian state of Kerala called Four Women (7 pm at the Uptown), etc.

Next, make sure to avoid Magnus (9:30 pm at SIFF Cinema). The Evangelion remake is playing again, if you're into the TV series (9:30 pm at the Harvard Exit). We weren't able to see the quiet Irish drama Garage (9:30 pm at Pacific Place) ahead of time, but it was very well received at Cannes 2007. And there's always the Johnnie To film Sparrow (9:30 pm at Uptown).

There's plenty of good stuff tomorrow, don't despair.

For complete SIFF coverage and guide, see

Call Me a Naturalist

posted by on June 4 at 9:00 AM

It's rare to come out of a movie feeling both good about the world and that you've been told the truth.

Yesterday I had this experience, with Julia Sweeney's Letting Go of God, the red-headed actress's one-woman show about turning from Catholic to atheist, though she prefers to call herself a "naturalist" (since it's a word tied to the factual life of the world, not to religion).

What Letting Go of God is really about, though, is the awakening of a critical consciousness. Sweeney uses the simple tools of every great thinker—curiosity and books—and the results are revelatory.

Here's a snippet from an early version of the piece, parts of which also aired on This American Life:

For the movie, the stage monologue, which premiered in 2004 in LA, is filmed and performed so smoothly that the live and movie audiences feel united by the end.

But more importantly, some of Sweeney's insights reach the heights of the paragon of the form, the great, questing, poetic, one-woman vehicle written by Jane Wagner and performed by Lily Tomlin, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe. That title could apply here, too.

To find out when and where the movie screens at SIFF, click here.

And here is your daily Pat.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Moby-Dick Fanfic

posted by on June 3 at 12:44 PM

Being a certifiable Moby-Dick freak (custom embroidered throw blankets are involved), I went to see Captain Ahab last Friday night at the Uptown. I was disappointed.

Brendan's review--"the deadly sea pulling Ahab like the moon pulls the tides"--is so much more interesting and lovely than the actual movie, which, in my opinion, is just psychologically shallow, mostly humorless, not-even-pretty-to-look-at Moby-Dick fanfic. Ahab's development moves forward in leaps and lurches, without explanation beyond the vague notion that Nobody Puts Ahab in a Corner. Well, we already knew that. What else've you got? Grown Ahab is too powerful, young Ahab too uncertain, to justify one another. And neither of them comes anywhere close to Melville's Ahab. So why bother?

My friend and I did laugh, painfully and uncontrollably, at the "What Do You Do With a Drunken Sailor" fast-motion whaling sequence (seriously, France, y'all are bonkers).

Also, dude, YOUR PEG LEG LOOKS LIKE AN ALBINO WIFFLEBALL BAT. You should take that shit back.

Before the movie, in the middle of Andy Spletzer's "Blah blah blah, you don't have to have read the book, blaaaaaah..." introduction, the man to our right (who, apparently, has sat through one too many blah blah blah SIFF speeches) muttered, with unrestrained malice, "I wish you would just shut your fucking mouth." That was the most interesting part of the whole night.

It's playing again today at SIFF Cinema, 4:30 pm. It's not terrible. But it's not Melville.

Great Speeches from a Dying World

posted by on June 3 at 12:09 PM

Great Speeches from a Dying World (a documentary about nine homeless or near-homeless people, punctuated by their recitations of speeches by Sojourner Truth, Bobby Kennedy, Hamlet, et al.) is better than Frizzelle's review says it is.


Filmmaker Linas Phillips (in his Genius Award portrait) and Tomey (one of the subjects of Great Speeches).

I know, the conceit sounds a little gimmicky and in grave danger of bring-your-liberal-guilt-and-a-hanky patness.

But Phillips keeps a steady hand, steers clear of didacticism, and portrays his subjects as they are: partly victims of circumstance (child abuse, mental illness), partly victims of themselves (they're all addicted to drink or crack or both), but mostly just folks trying to get it together.

And, deep down, Great Speeches is less a movie about homelessness than a movie about language—its subjects' hard-luck stories aren't just an end in themselves, but a means to understanding the speeches.

A homeless Native American, who spun into alcoholism after the death of his infant, recites Chief Sealth's 1854 speech, with Puget Sound in the background: "when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe."


A guy who has attempted suicide (and failed) seven times, recites Hamlet's "to be or not to be" speech, from his hospital bed: "The dread of something after death/The undiscover'd country from whose bourn/No traveller returns, puzzles the will/And makes us rather bear those ills we have/Than fly to others that we know not of."


This lady, a crack addict who sleeps in a wheelchair in a parking garage, where she's been severely assaulted several times, recites Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?": "That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place!"

And so on.

Great Speeches can be tough to watch—some of its hard-luck stories are pretty hard. But it's a bracing reminder that these speeches articulate, in an immediate, visceral way, the experiences of living people in desperate circumstances.

It strips the crust of history and sterility away from the speeches, making them unsettling—and, sometimes, dangerous—again.

It plays once more, at the Harvard Exit, tonight.

SIFF 2008: Day 13 Recommendations

posted by on June 3 at 9:37 AM

If you're a John Waters groupie, you've already taken off work to see him introduce the matinee of Cecil B. DeMented (4:30 pm at the Egyptian) and have tickets lined up to see him speechify at Benaroya Hall tonight. (Who cares about Hillary Clinton, anyway?)

If not so much, here's what's on:

In the matinee slot, we reommend the gloomy and wonderful Moby Dick prequel Captain Ahab (4:30 pm at SIFF Cinema), starring Denis Lavant of Beau Travail and Tuvalu.

Next, you might like to stick around for a meditation on Christopher Columbus by the 98-year-old filmmaker Manoel de Oliveira: Christopher Columbus, the Enigma (7 pm at SIFF Cinema). It looks pretty:

Christopher Columbus, the Enigma

But we also liked Mr. Big (7 pm at the Harvard Exit), about the shady doings of the Mounties.

Next, the "delicious" midnighter Mirageman (9:15 pm at the Egyptian) gets a slightly earlier showing for sleepy genre fans. And Brendan was telling me that he disagrees with Christopher's assessment of Linas Phillips's Great Speeches from a Dying World (9:30 pm at the Harvard Exit). I'll let him fill you in.

We're over halfway there! Just 12 more days to go. For complete listings and a convenient collection of all SIFF Slog posts, see

Monday, June 2, 2008

SIFF 2008: Day 12 Recommendations

posted by on June 2 at 10:21 AM

SIFF Cinema is finally done with that unpleasant parade of short films, so it's safe to return to SIFF Cinema. And that's what we recommend you do if you can make it to an afternoon show today: Alexandra (4:30 pm at SIFF Cinema), the magisterial new film from Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark).


Next, you might consider peeling off from SIFF and checking out the first (and wildest) entry in the Paramount's Silent Movie Monday series on Douglas Fairbanks. It's called When Clouds Roll By, and it's about hypnotism, an opal ring, and an act of God. I'm totally there.

If you're sticking with SIFF, SIFF Cinema has a great archival screening too: 1961's Night Tide (7 pm), recently restored by the Academy Film Archive, stars Dennis Hopper in a cute sailor outfit and Linda Lawson in a strap-on mermaid tail--or is it in fact fused to her flesh?!?!

In the final slot, your best bet is You, the Living (9:30 pm at the Egyptian), a strange little Swedish film made up of 50 short, loosely interlocking sketches.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

SIFF 2008: Day 11 Recommendations

posted by on June 1 at 7:50 AM

Fairly easy choices, this time around.

Kung Fu Panda opens in theaters next week and will be hard to dislodge till, say, midsummer, so don't drop $11 on a SIFF ticket. Try the cheerily titled Polish film Time to Die (11 am at Pacific Place) instead.

Next up, a very rare chance to check out Josef von Sternberg's über-bizarre final film, The Saga of Anatahan (1:30 pm at the Harvard Exit).

Then stick around for the equally ambitious local film Great Speeches from a Dying World (4 pm at the Harvard Exit), a somewhat-experimental doc by Stranger Genius Award winner Linas Phillips about lofty language and lowly circumstances.

The evening belongs to the Jordanian film Captain Abu Raed (6:30 pm at Pacific Place), which is, according to Brendan Kiley, "just as sweet and slow as molasses."

Captain Abu Raed

And finally—assuming you've already seen the "Don't Miss!" entry Bad Habits (9:15 pm at the Egyptian)—we recommend the distressing Blind Mountain (9 pm at Pacific Place).

Saturday, May 31, 2008

SIFF 2008: Day 10 Recommendations

posted by on May 31 at 7:50 AM

A pretty solid day, I'd say.

In the morning slot, I've been hearing only good things about the Swedish vampire flick Let the Right One In (11 am at the Uptown). If you're already seen it, try the weird but wonderful Ploy (11 am at Pacific Place), or the high-school doc American Teen (11 am at the Egyptian).

Let the Right One In

Next, it's all about the Oscar-nominated Katyn (1:30 pm at the Egyptian).

In the late afternoon slot, we like the local burlesque doc A Wink and a Smile (4 pm at the Egyptian). (Word has it that my review of this play is the source of the nom-de-va-va-voom Waxie Moon. Perfect, because I pretty much despise neo-burlesque.)

Next up is your chance to see Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World (7 pm at Uptown) ahead of its brief stint at the Varsity in July.

The following slot is a little tough--you might consider getting dinner. We haven't seen TBS (Nothing to Lose) (9:30 pm at Pacific Place), though, and it's getting some decent reviews. It's a fear-mongering Dutch thriller about an escapee from a psychiatric hospital meant to rehabilitate criminals.

And the midnight tonight is Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone (Egyptian). You probably already know whether you're interested or not.


Also: Anybody want to buy a Platinum Pass to the rest of the festival? Tika (contact her directly at tikab1[at]gmail) is selling two for $400 each.

Friday, May 30, 2008

SIFF 2008: Day 9 Recommendations

posted by on May 30 at 10:52 AM

Early this afternoon, we've got another three-way contest between Kiss the Bride (4:30 pm at the Egyptian) ("horrible," a reader wrote me, though see also Adrian's gay-Morm-orrific interview with the director), Ask Not (4:30 pm at the Harvard Exit), and Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (4:15 pm at Pacific Place). Another friendly reminder: Avoid SIFF Cinema. They're playing stunted movies—I mean, "short films"—through Sunday evening.

Later, the decision is between the high-school nostalgia trip American Teen (7 pm at the Egyptian)--it's opening in Seattle in August, but on the other hand, it should be a juicy Q&A with director Nanette Burstein--and the saturnine French Moby Dick prequel Captain Ahab (7 pm at Uptown), which is without U.S. distribution.

Captain Ahab

In the late evening slot, Time to Die (9:30 pm at Pacific Place) is definitely your best bet. Yes, it's Polish; yes, it's about an old lady and her doggie; but it's still awesome. Your other options are a creepy Julianne Moore vehicle that'll be out in Seattle theaters promptly, an undoubtedly tedious Bill Plympton feature, and a stupid Flemish bullying tale.

And for once we like the midnight! Proceed to the Egyptian for Mirageman.

SCHEDULE UPDATE: The Disappeared, which was supposed to be the midnight tomorrow night, has been swapped out for Evangelion 1.0: You Are (Not) Alone, a sci-fi anime remake.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Why Can’t They Die Faster?! A Chatty Chat With The Gayest Mormon At SIFF!

posted by on May 29 at 10:28 PM

Tonight is SIFF’s big, um, “Gay-la” (which is, naturally, the festival’s “Big Gay Event”, with a really gay movie and a big gay party afterwards held somewhere tragically gay like Neighbour’s or something) and it features a film by a bright and friendly young fella called C. Jay Cox. Mr. Cox has done things you have heard of, like Sweet Home Alabama, and things you haven’t, like The Nightmare Sisters and The Offspring. His SIFF film tonight, which you haven’t heard of yet, is called Kiss the Bride. It is a tremendously gay little movie that features scads of homosexuals, tons of homosexualia, and buckets of gayness in general. And a gay wedding. And tears. It stars Tori Spelling mostly. And I have not seen it. (I’ll be at tomorrow’s 4:30 screening at the Egyptian.) But Mr. Eli Sanders saw it, and he called it a “bad, bad movie”. Yes, that’s TWO “bads”. Bad squared. But everyone knows how bitchy Eli can get sometimes, especially about things like weddings. (Anything can set him off. He once shot a man for NOT snoring. Believe it.) So I’m withholding judgment. I mean, how can a gay Tori Spelling movie possibly be bad? I ask you.

Anyway. I sat down for a little chat with Mr. Cox at the W Hotel today (and yes, that’s his real name and not a reach at gay irony, thank you), and we explored his twisted childhood growing up gay and Mormon in the wastes of East Nevada, his fear of legalized gay weddings, square-toed shoes, and his death wish for old Republicans everywhere. Oh, and Kiss the Bride. We talked about that a little too.

Mr. Cox had just flown into town. He was just back home in Nevada, he said, visiting his, ahem, “Very Mormony” cousins. The drama inherent in growing up a big gay Mormon has haunted much of Mr. Cox’s recent film work (his 2003 film Latter Days is a “deeply personal” account of homosexuality amidst the LDS) and, apparently, his entire life. This was his first visit with his cousins in 20 years. Mormons and fags are two great tastes that usually fricking hate each other.

“I had to keep telling myself, ‘Remember not to say “Fuck”…Remember not to say “Fuck”…otherwise the visit wasn’t too bad”, he says.

“So, Mr. Cox, tell me about Kiss the Bride.” It’s always wise to skip the family drama and dive right in.

“Well, our timing is excellent. Gay marriage becomes legal in California, what, next month? Kiss the Bride is all about the gays and weddings.”

“Gay marriage is legal for the next fifteen minutes, until somebody overturns it again. Like always,” says I with a sneer. I’m a cynic. Mr. Cox is a cynic, too.

“Thank God. Actually, the second gay marriage becomes legal, my film becomes kind of less relevant. So I don't mind waiting a little longer. But yeah--the gay marriage laws will probably only change permanently when the old generation finally dies off. Newer generations aren’t going to care about gay marriage. It will be a non-issue with them.”

“So you’re saying that the only way to permanently achieve gay rights is for old Republicans to die?”

“Exactly. Yes. God, why can’t they just die faster?!”

I simply love the way this man thinks. But in that direction, madness lays. Lies. Whatever.

“You grew up in Nevada, Mr. Cox. You made your first film when you were eight years old. It was a horror film called Vampire Cave. You’ve made four or so gay-themed films and a couple of horror films. Would you call those your genres of choice? Horror and gayness? Do you consider the bulk of your work mostly just gay and scary?”

“Well, I wouldn’t put it like that. But I do enjoy making horror. It’s fun. And I’m gay, so that comes naturally. And perhaps the two genres aren’t mutually exclusive…”

“Is there a gay horror film in the works?”

“Hmmm, well, it's certainly an idea…”

Yes. A bad idea.

“Mr. Cox, I have a serious question which truly puzzles me. You grew up Mormon and are, indeed, gay. I grew up with a tremendous amount of Mormon friends, most of whom turned out also to be gay. The gay Mormon is almost a cliché. What do you think it is about Mormonism that seems to lend itself to homosexuality? Why are so many Mormons gay?”

“I think it’s totally the missionary situation. It's insanely homoerotic. You send two horny adolescent boys out into the world together, to be around each other constantly--it is the perfect partner training for young homosexuals.”

“There’s a lot of situational homosexuality on missions?”

“Two horny boys, far from home, starved for affection…yes there was a lot of late-night underwear wrestling and that sort of thing…”

“And this reflects your own person experience? As a young Mormon who went on a mission?”


“God damn. I want to be a Mormon. I want to go on a mission. Right now.”

"I understand completely."

Well, that answer didn't really satisfy the true depth of my question: Little mormons are born, not made on missions. Everyone knows that. But my head was dancing with visions of missionary circle-jerks, and it was hardly the moment to argue.

"Thank you, Mr. Cox. Thank you very much."

And that was the end of our interview. Our time together simply flew. And now it’s time for the big party…so I’m off to Neighbour’s, or, uh, someplace tragically gay like that. And then, I’m going on a God damn mission. I don’ t know when. I’m not sure exactly how. But, dammit, it’s going to happen.

Believe it.

A Wink and a Smile

posted by on May 29 at 1:06 PM

Note to Burlesque haters: Stop reading here.

Miss Indigo Blue

A Wink and a Smile follows a group of women through Miss Indigo Blue's Seattle Academy of Burlesque. Cheeky, sexy Indigo Blue is the star of the show, though we don't see her dance much at all. She's charming, intelligent, and comes across as a gifted teacher, but her extensive talking-head monologues, which form the backbone of the film, might have been better as voice-over narration to allow for more images of the students learning to bump, grind, and express their sexual selves. But that and too many visible-pore, way-too-close-ups of interviewees are my only nits to pick.

Generous footage of complete routines from local burlesque darlings like the Shanghai Pearl, Inga Ingenue, and Waxy Moon show the current range of local talent exploring the bleeding edges of the form, and Miss Blue delves a bit into the history of the tradition and her feminist philosophy. The short and sweet (90-minute) movie is loaded with eye candy, and well-chosen music (Circus Contraption, Pink Martini) keeps the mood light.

It's a voyeuristic pleasure to watch women of varying ages, sizes, and backgrounds create a character and then costume and embody her. The story wraps up at graduation night at the Rendezvous Jewel Box, where the lusty ladies debut their routines for an audience. It all goes down well and there is palpable elation and relief on screen and in the theater.
Academy of Burlesque students on their way to graduation. (Hi, Rachel!)

The crowd at the Egyptian last night was full of burlesque-scene queens and kings, friends of the director, friends and families of the cast, and was predictably, joyfully raucous.

A Wink and a Smile plays again on Saturday at 4 pm. If you're at all curious, go.

Poor Lima

posted by on May 29 at 12:20 PM

By what way did I find this image?
The way began with the movie Máncora, which is in SIFF, screens on June 7th, and concerns youth, beaches, and sex. The movie begins in the city of Lima. The next step toward the image of the woman on the chairs was an interest in the city of Lima. Máncora is the source of that interest. The director, Ricardo de Montreuil, captured a melancholy that can be only be cultivated in cities that are old and crowded. I had no idea Lima was so old and so crowded. Wanting to see more of the city, I did a Google search for images. What did I find? Adriana Francesca Lima, a Brazilian supermodel. An image of the largest city in Peru only appears after the model. And the images of Adriana seem to outnumber the images of the city. This one woman is swamping a city of 8 million people.

That was my way to the legs, arms, and brown eyes of Lima.

SIFF 2008: Day 8 Recommendations

posted by on May 29 at 9:27 AM

The early slot is, as usual, relatively weak--good for me, bad for retirees. I'm calling it a tossup between the heart-warming/crushing doc Song Sung Blue (4:30 pm at Harvard Exit) and the sadly ahistorical Mongol (4 pm at Uptown). Song Sung Blue doesn't have distribution, though, while Mongol will be opening in Seattle on June 20th.

In the next slot, we like everything! Nearly. This is the opening night of ShortsFest Weekend (or, as I prefer to call it, the Shorts Ghetto), and that's your cue to avoid SIFF Cinema for the next four days. There are okay little movies scattered throughout the weekend, but it's almost never worth sitting through five or eight other noxious little piles of excrement to get there. Unless you actually enjoy saccharine sentiments, too-clever kernels of plot, and amateurish production values.

If you're not that kind of freak, try the steroids exposé Bigger, Stronger, Faster* (4:15 pm at Pacific Place) or the gays-in-the-military doc Ask Not (7 pm at the Harvard Exit)--which brings me to this burning question: Whose clever idea was it to program the gays-in-the-military doc opposite the Tori Spelling gays-in-the-marriage comedy Kiss the Bride, anyway? (P.S.: If you want to see Tori Spelling, I won't tell--it's 7 pm at the Egyptian, but you have to pony up for the afterparty, because the film-only tickets are sold out.)

Finally, head directly to Bad Habits (9:45 pm at the Egyptian), the only Don't Miss! of the day.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

SIFF 2008: Day 7 Recommendations

posted by on May 28 at 9:37 AM

In the early afternoon slot today, we like both California Dreamin' (Endless) (SIFF's requisite Romanian film, 4 pm at SIFF Cinema) and Patti Smith: Dream of Life (4 pm at the Egyptian). I'd tentatively go with the former, since it doesn't have U.S. distribution, while Patti Smith has been picked up by Palm Pictures (no word on a Seattle date, though). By the way, if you saw Patti Smith Sunday and are curious about Benjamin of the band Smoke, I highly recommend Jem Cohen's beautiful documentary Benjamin Smoke. Put it in your queue.

California Dreamin' (Endless)

In the evening slot, we have seen and recommend both Katyn (7 pm at the Egyptian) and Emmanuel Jal: War Child (7:15 pm at SIFF Cinema). I'm sure Casting a Glance (7 pm at Northwest Film Forum), by landscape filmmaker James Benning (father of the Pixelvision queen Sadie), is worth seeing. And I fell asleep and totally missed Foster Child (7 pm at the Harvard Exit) when it last screened on Saturday, but that looks interesting as well.

After that, I gotta put a plug in for Eat, for This Is My Body (9 pm at NWFF), the wildest experimental film in the festival. It's about an otherworldly plantation manor in Haiti, populated by an old white lady who represents some sort of Mother-Earth/French-colonial-power hybrid, her strange daughter, and the Haitian servant and students (?) who fill the mansion during the day. In one scene, after the daughter has tutored the hungry kids to say "merci" when they're given empty bowls, a gigantic iced cake appears and a food fight breaks out. Cream imagery is also involved. And an albino with Haitian features. Ooh, and a candle-lit dance party with old Haitian lady DJs and no dancers. It's amazing. Pen-ek Ratanaruang's Ploy (9:30 pm at Pacific Place) is also pretty good.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I Totally Fell

posted by on May 27 at 12:00 PM


I had a serious problem with Pan's Labyrinth: the damned movie had no humor in it at all. When you're making a movie about a child, you have to include some levity somewhere or else the whole thing seems artificial. The bad guy was way too irredeemably nasty, the magical stuff was way too self-important, and the whole thing was so dismal that I was praying for a pie fight halfway through.

The Fall has many of the elements of Pan's Labyrinth: a girl in the middle of a serious situation, complex and dark adult events going on all around her, and a world of fantasy that threatens to overtake real life.

I thought that The Fall was superior to Pan's Labyrinth in just about every way. The main character is obviously a child; she is intelligent but still naive. She was funny and weird in a way that only kids can be. And her interpretation of the fantasy story at the center of the whole movie is simply lovely.

I saw the sold-out Sunday screening at the Uptown, and I have to admit that, though Brad's review is spot-on--this is not a perfect movie--I spent the last fifteen minutes completely choked up, in the same way that I get choked up at Jimmy Stewart movies.

The Fall is all done at SIFF, but it opens at the Metro and Uptown on Friday. It's amazing.