[SIFF weekend openings]

Opening Friday are three films that made their Seattle debut at SIFF. Hooray!

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I have a difficult relationship with Lynn Shelton. She’s darling of the Pacific Northwest filmmaking community, but the first film I saw of hers was Humpday, and lo, how I hated it and its typically Seattle faux-edginess and its overwhelming straight privilege. I hated it so much. Flames on the sides of my face! But everyone loved it and her, so I hated her too, just to be thorough. But then, to my surprise, I really liked her earlier film We Go Way Back, which showed in NWFF’s 2010 Arboring Film series. So I had no idea which way it would go for Your Sister’s Sister.

Luckily for all of us, it totally charmed me, so much so that I came back & saw it again at Opening Night. Your Sister’s Sister is the latest entry into my new favorite genre: the development of the unconventional family structure. It’s hard to discuss the plot without sounding like a Lifetime movie blurb writer, so suffice it to say that most of the action takes place in and around a waterfront cabin belonging to the family of Iris (Emily Blunt) & Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt). Iris sends her best friend Jack (Mark Duplass) up to the cabin to clear his head after the death of his brother; eventually all three of them wind up there and relationship drama ensues. Obviously.

In a lot of ways the story is ridiculous, but it’s a story driven by such strong character work that I was sold. It’s funny & sad & awkward & true. Just like life.

The film is also a visual love letter to the Pacific Northwest, full of gorgeous postcard shots. It’s so rare to have films set here that are also shot here, so it was a treat to have several in the festival this year.

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I saw The Woman in the Fifth with friends, and at the end of it one of them leaned over and said they wished there had been more mystery to it. Which was amazing to me, because so far as I was concerned the entire movie was mysterious.

Ethan Hawke stars as Tom Ricks, an American writer & professor who comes to Paris & is promptly relieved of his worldly possessions. This was the first of two films I saw at the festival this year where the action began when the main character was robbed of everything after falling asleep on public transportation. Let that be a lesson to us all.

Anyway. Thus freed, Ricks moves into a seedy hotel run by a seedy guy who gives him a seedy job. Along the way he encounters Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas) with whom he has a mysterious affair. In what little spare time he has left he also has a fling with the Polish barmaid and a feud with his neighbor across the hall. The job gets weirder, people die, he’s possibly having flashbacks… It’s very mysterious. I am still full of questions.

That said, it’s beautifully shot, full of rich color, and everyone is excellent in it. I just sort of feel like I need to see it again. Maybe that’s why SIFF brought it back!

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Keyhole is also mysterious, but a mysterious I can handle. A Guy Maddin, hazy black-and-white, soaked-in-symbolism sort of mysterious. Jason Patric is Ulysses Pick, literally battling his way into his home with a crew of gangsters, then struggling past the ghosts of his family’s history in rooms and hallways to find his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), all the way at the top of the house, a sort of circumspect Penelope.

It’s not my favorite Maddin (that would be Brand Upon the Brain!) nor his most accessible (which is probably the alleged documentary My Winnipeg) but it is the strangest take on loss & memory & fatherhood & The Odyssey that you’re likely to see any time soon.

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Your Sister’s Sister opens Friday at the Egyptian.
The Woman in the Fifth opens Friday at SIFF at the Uptown.
Keyhole opens Friday at SIFF at the Film Center.

Posted in film:2011, maddin guy, shelton lynn, siff 2012 | Leave a comment

[A few friendly notes about SIFF]

This was my 16th year attending the Seattle International Film Festival. I was a volunteer, a ticket holder, a SIFF member, a Secret Festival-goer, and a member of the press. Lots of hats. I saw 70 films total, which is respectable. Yes, I have a lot more of them to write about, but first I have a few logistical observations about the festival itself:

* I love that there was a mobile site this year. I did not love how poorly it worked. For example, deep links need to redirect to mobile versions of the deep link, and not to the mobile front page. I can’t even tell you how many times I clicked on a Twitter or email link, & then backed right out of the site after it dumped me at the main page. Also, the mobile version of the checkout page needs to accept voucher and discount codes.

* I don’t know if it was harder to find how to redeem ticket packages this year, but it definitely seemed harder. Working will call, I printed off a lot of ticket package vouchers for people who could not work out how to redeem them online. This was uncommon in past years. I am relatively clever and I’ve bought discount ticket packages for years, and it still took me yonks to figure out how to find & use mine.

* I love volunteering for the festival. Love it. I absolutely will continue to volunteer in future. I did not experience any of the supervisor issues I heard about throughout festival. I judged audiences by whether or not they clapped for the volunteer program spot before films. However, I felt that the communication with volunteers was lacking this year, from training on the many logistical changes to general appreciation to understanding that people add & drop shifts all the time & reminding folks to check in on Shiftboard for new options.

Changing the voucher policy for the final weekend was a bad call. Either all venue volunteers get double vouchers or no one does. Obviously it’s great that folks swooped in & picked up last minute shifts, but people who sign up for final weekend shifts in advance *and* actually show up should not be effectively penalized for planning ahead.

Finally, where is the post-festival thank you? Is there a volunteer party this year or not?

* That said, it was a great year. I really liked that SIFF played on both screens at the Exit, that it opened and closed with local films, and that they did such great work with social media. I went to my first opening night, my first tribute as a ticket holder rather than a volunteer, and my first film up in Everett. I saw back-to-back cult films at the Egyptian, a four hour Russian musical, a kick-ass performance by Don’t Talk to the Cops, and a number of strong first features. I have recommendations for the Best of SIFF series that will go live on the Facebook page on Thursday, and there are several films that have distribution that I’ll be reminding you about throughout the summer. A good time was had by all, or at least by me. I’d just like next year to be even more SIFFtacular!

Posted in commentary, siff 2012 | 2 Comments

[SIFF 2012 Week One Features]

* Earthbound was the first genuinely terrible movie I saw at SIFF. Billed as a scifi romantic comedy, it’s about a guy who was told at age eleven that he’s an alien, and apparently never got over it. Amazingly, I had actual hopes for the movie because he’s told this by his father, who is played by David Morrissey. Unfortunately, it’s just bad.

The frustrating thing is that the concept has a lot of potential: a dying father tells his son that they’re aliens on the run, and the kid totally buys into the idea as a survival mechanism. But the film wants to have it all the ways — he’s really an alien! He’s really crazy! Wait, maybe not! — and it’s full of terrible jokes that fall flat & tired ideas like that it is a shocking turn of events when a pretty lady likes science fiction. Ugh.

* The story of two deaf teens who run off together, 170 Hz is okay. It’s gorgeously shot, and I found the sound design really interesting (though people seated near me thought it was inconsistent). That said, a solid half of the film is just the couple having sex. Which, whatever. If you’re into that, far be it from me to judge. But I wasn’t that into their relationship in general, let alone into endless close-ups of them expressing their supposed chemistry.

* Cloudburst is one of my favorite features of festival so far. The latest film from Thom Fitzgerald, it follows an elderly lesbian couple as they flee from Maine to Nova Scotia to get married. The film isn’t perfect; it gets occasionally bogged down in some Judge Judy-style family theatrics involving the granddaughter of one of the women.

However, Olympia Dukakis is a force of nature, and most of the picture concerns the accidental forming of an unconventional family with the couple and a young male hitchhiker they pick up along the way, all of which is fantastic. Also, if you’ve never seen a Thom Fitzgerald film, please drop what you’re doing & watch The Hanging Garden. I can wait.

* Finally, week one obviously included a Secret film. It was a lot of fun, as if __________ had directed a __________ take on __________.

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Earthbound plays Saturday 6/2, 9:30 at Pacific Place, Sunday 6/3, 2pm at SIFF at the Uptown, & Thursday 6/7, 6:30 at Pacific Place.
170 Hz plays Thursday 5/31, 9pm at Pacific Place, Thursday 6/7, 7pm at the Uptown, and Saturday 6/9, 2pm at Pacific Place.
Cloudburst has finished its run at the Festival, which figures. I’ll update this if it pops up in a TBA slot or at Best of SIFF.

Posted in brennan alan, film:2011, film:2012, fitzgerald thom, siff 2012, van ginkel joost | Leave a comment

[SIFF 2012 Week One Documentaries]

Holy pajamas, y’all. How are we into week two of SIFF already? So far I’ve seen 32 films, so it’s way past time I tell you about some of them.

First up, let’s tackle the documentaries:

* Dreams of a Life was a heartbreaking meditation on the life & death of Joyce Vincent, whose remains were found in her London bedsit three years after her death. It combines friend & coworker interviews with recreations of scenes from her life, both remembered & imagined. It’s the sort of story that makes everyone ask “how could that happen?”, but I think a lot of us are really asking “could that happen to me?”

The audience I saw it with seemed frustrated by the lack of hard answers, but it’s not as if director Carol Morley hadn’t tried to find them. There’s a great line in one of the official responses, denying the request for information because essentially “what interests the public is not always in the public’s interest”. So we don’t know why it took three years for someone to break down the door repossessing the flat. We don’t know why the utilities were never shut off for lack of payment, resulting in the tv still being switched on. We don’t know why she spent time in a DV shelter, let alone if that was the only time.

We do know, though, that to cut oneself off from the world that completely is at some point a willful act. You can be removed from friends. You can be removed from coworkers. It’s easier than a lot of people think to be removed from your family. But to arrive at a place in your life with zero lasting connections, for whatever reason, is not a thing that just happens.

* Free Throw was a straightforward piece on the 2011 Compton Free Throw scholarship competition, in which seniors who had achieved a 3.0 GPA or higher had their names drawn for one of eight chances to compete for a $40,000 scholarship. The runners-up got $1000, a disparity that I had a hard time with initially, but at the risk of spoilers, it all turns out better than that. (This year, anyway.) In between getting to know the students, there are also interviews with many of their teachers, all of whom speak to what it is to live and work in an area with such a reputation. The kids are all great. Bring tissues, if you are the type. You know who you are.

* The Standbys was a thin but enjoyable documentary on three actors who are standbys for (largely celebrity) leads in Broadway musicals. We learn about the challenges of being standby vs understudy vs swing. I can’t even imagine the tension of being so close to the dream of being on Broadway, the exhaustion of having to be prepared to, at moment’s notice, kick ass in a role, but then possibly never having the chance to go on.

* Finally, Under African Skies is the documentary I can’t stop talking about. I only saw a DVD screener, and I hope it makes Best of SIFF so I can see it with an audience. It’s a revisiting of the creation of Paul Simon’s Graceland album, and it does an impressive job of telling the story of the controversy clearly, and especially of respecting all of the stakeholders. I came out of it pleasantly surprised by Simon. It is not an easy thing to examine one’s own power & privilege and acknowledge where you have been wrong, and I can only suppose that is a harder task when you’re in the public eye.

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Free Throw plays Friday 6/1, 7pm & Saturday 6/2, 2:30pm, both screenings at SIFF at the Uptown.
The Standbys plays Saturday 6/2, 5:30pm at SIFF at the Uptown and Monday 6/4, 4pm at the Harvard Exit.
Look for Under African Skies on A&E.

Posted in berlinger joe, crandall court, film:2011, film:2012, morley carol, riggs stephanie, siff 2012 | Leave a comment

[SIFF 2012 Sneak Peek]

Are we ready for SIFF? I sure am. This is my 16th year attending and, thanks to my new gig at Manga Bookshelf, my first year attending the press launch.

Highlights:

* I’m really digging the Northwest focus this year. Opening night is Lynn Shelton’s Your Sister’s Sister. I have a complicated relationship with Shelton, but I liked this one a lot. Also, it’s just cool that a lady is opening the festival in this year where Cannes didn’t think any film directed by a lady was worth watching. Closing night is Grassroots, which shot literally around the corner from my apartment. You don’t get much more local than that.

* I’m looking forward to the tribute to Sissy Spacek. I am over the moon to have the opportunity to see Malik’s gorgeous Badlands on the big screen. Also screening at festival Carrie & Coal Miner’s Daughter. Tempting!

* Other revival: The Chase (I’ve never gone wrong with noir at SIFF), the William Friedkin stuff (obviously), Only Yesterday, Two for the Road, & more!

* Titles I had hoped desperately would be included: Keyhole, Take This Waltz, Wuthering Heights, & Dragon. YAAAY!

* Titles I hadn’t even known to hope for: Cloudburst (the new Thom Fitzgerald — he was a SIFF Emerging Master a few years back), Trishna (Winterbottom’s Tess adaptation), Dreams of a Life (I read about this woman a few months back, but didn’t know that a film was being made), Hello I Must Be Going, early screenings of Brave & Moonrise Kingdom

…and that’s just one spin through the titles. Just wait til I have the proper guide & the programmer recommendations. I don’t even know what the midnights are yet! And they usually have a strong documentary lineup. Plus Shorts Fest! And *guests*!

It’s all happening!

Full lineup & ticket info will be available beginning May 3rd on the SIFF website.

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[The Five Year Engagement]

Coming out of The Five Year Engagement, my strongest impressions were that it felt like it was about three days long and I was tremendously grateful I hadn’t paid to see it.

It’s just a bad movie. There is no real narrative tension. Tom (Jason Segel) & Violet (Emily Blunt) live together. They (spoiler!) get engaged. They are committed enough that they move across country together when one gets a great career opportunity, and yet this move is presented as an obstruction to an actual wedding ceremony, for reasons that I still do not understand. Have a wedding! It’s not that hard!

Not that it matters, because frankly, I don’t understand why they’re a couple in the first place. We’re shown their meet cute. Repeatedly. And on the basis of that we’re meant to believe that they are Made For Each Other. Maybe they are. They’re both basically jerks

The direction is mediocre, obviously the pacing as aforementioned is terrible, and it’s frequently flat-out offensive (racism & sexual assault are still not funny, sorry to say).

Two things about this movie are good. One of them is Mindy Kaling, obviously. The other is some amazing knitwear. Seriously. You have to be a brilliant knitter to knit things this poorly on purpose. Neither of these things are enough of a reason to see it. (Sorry, Mindy!)

However. If, after The Muppets, you are looking to be cured of a crush on Jason Segel, THIS IS THE MOVIE FOR YOU. Tom is a jackass who thinks he’s adorable, & there are many, many close-ups of him with extremely unfortunate facial hair. I don’t know about the rest of you, but now I’m cured.

Posted in film:2012, stoller nicholas | 2 Comments

[Psychotronic Cinema]

One of the unexpected bonuses of SIFF taking over the Uptown is that it gave them space to run more cult movie fare. Dubbed Psychotronic Cinema, the series is sponsored by Scarecrow Video & features are often preceded by short films selected by MIFFF, which is a treat. I love short film & don’t get to see it nearly enough.

Features I have caught so far include:

* Stunt Rock is the touching story of an Australian stunt man who takes his big dreams to Hollywood. He works on a TV series, he advises a rock band (who seem much more interested in their Merlin vs Prince of Darkness stage show than their music), & along the way he’s interviewed by a magazine writer (which provides him with a great excuse to flash back to his previous stunt work). That’s it. And it is amazing. Terrible, but amazing. You should take two minutes out of your day to watch the trailer

* Norwegian Ninja reminded me a lot of TrollHunter, in that on a very basic level it’s a deadpan Norwegian government bureaucracy movie. If you only have time for one, TrollHunter is better, but Norwegian Ninja is also fun, part propaganda, part newsreel about how a team of ninjas saved Norway during the Cold War. I am pretty sure it is trufax.

* Finally, The FP is a truly terrible movie about gangs that battle out their turf wars via Dance Dance Revolution. I mean, Beat Beat Revelation. It’s mindblowingly sexist, but it also features such a deep commitment to worldbuilding that you have to think…this is not set decoration happening here. This is just where these guys live. I don’t know if I can recommend it, but I am glad I saw it if only for the obligatory training montage.

In fact, I don’t know that I can recommend any of them, but I can definitely recommend the series. Here’s the thing: these are not going to be movies that you seek out to watch on your own, but late at night, with a cult film audience? They make for a great, weird time out at the movies.

Posted in film:1980s, film:2010, film:2011, malling cappelen thomas, trenchard-smith brian, trost brandon & jason | Leave a comment

[The Cabin in the Woods]

All I knew about The Cabin in the Woods going in was what I learned from the poster. And I know people always say this — in fact, I myself always say this — but really. You do not want to read about this movie before you see it, and you definitely want to see it in a theater.

Audience is always important, but especially at a horror movie. We waited in line what might be considered a ridiculous amount of time so we could be sure to see it with a rowdy preview screening crowd full of horror fans, and that was absolutely the right decision.

Here are the only things I knew, and thus the only things you need to know:

  1. It’s a horror movie.
  2. It’s co-written by Joss Whedon & Drew Goddard, so obviously there will be more than a twist; there will be a deconstruction of the genre.
  3. The cast includes Richard Jenkins & Bradley Whitford, which is amazing.

That’s basically all you need to know. But one last thing I didn’t know going in: the third act is really loud. Really. Loud. So if that is a problem for you, and you know who you are, bring earplugs.

It’s funny. It’s scary. It has one greatest cameos of all time, which I will discuss with you after you see it. It has all the elements you expect in a horror movie. It turns them on their head. And did we mention Bradley Whitford? Bradley Whitford! In a horror movie! Hooray!

PS If you see this & enjoy it and have NOT seen Tucker & Dale Vs Evil, please fix that ASAP. Thank you.

Posted in film:2012, goddard drew | Leave a comment

[Look over there!]

* There’s a new Subtitles & Sensibility post up at Manga Bookshelf! It’s the over-the-top action edition, with Let the Bullets Fly & K-20: The Fiend with 20 Faces.

* Want more of me? You should! Like My Socks Are On Fire over on Facebook for Netflix recommendations, weekend film suggestions, photos, film news from around the web, and a growing community of film lovers. I want to know what you’re watching too!

* That is all.

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[Rendez-vous with French Cinema]

I had excellent taste — or excellent luck — this month at SIFF’s Rendez-vous with French Cinema. They selected eight features from the Lincoln Center showcase, I made it to four of them, and I enjoyed them all, despite the middling IMDb ratings. Hooray!

* The series opened with The Screen Illusion, a film directed for television by my beloved Mathieu Amalric. It’s an adaptation of the 1639 Pierre Corneille play, which is actually a meta play. In the original text, a father is told he can see the actions of his missing son through a magical device. In the film, he watches his son as recorded on hotel security footage.

It reminded me of the National Theatre’s recent Hamlet, where the characters were always surrounded by castle security. It’s interesting to me that these plays, centuries old, can so easily be updated to a world of constant surveillance. The walls always have had ears!

The update totally works, & is a lot of fun all the way through. I particularly appreciated the skill of the translator; I’ve never studied Cornielle, but the language of the subtitles felt appropriately stylized.

* Moon Child is a drama about the relationship between a young teen with XP and the doctor who has cared for him. Excellent performances from both the kid (dealing with puberty when his life expectancy is barely into his 20s) & the doctor (who has been appointed to a new position & can’t figure out how to break the news to his patient.)

* Last Screening was described as a cross between Psycho & Cinema Paradiso, & that is exactly what it was. If I were going to remake it for the English speaking audience, I would cast a young Don McKellar in the lead, as the cinema manager slash serial killer. Very spare & static, some parts almost a desaturated Almodovar, to great creepy effect.

* Last in the series was 17 Girls, which reminded me quite a bit of Sofia Coppola’s work, particularly The Virgin Suicides. Inspired by an incident in 2008 when the pregnancy rate in particular school quadrupled & a pregnancy pact among the girls was rumored, this film moved the story from a fishing town in Massachusetts to the coast of France.

The location was an obvious change given the filmmakers, but it really makes it a completely different story to remove it from the particular American debate on sexuality, sex education, abortion, etc. (It was particularly striking in an early scene where teachers complained that they couldn’t force the girls to have abortions!)

However, that transatlantic shift left space to focus on the mysterious motivations of the girls, room for their own contemplation, and the tension of their relationships (largely to each other; in spite of the many pregnancies male characters have very little weight.)

(Side note: according to the SIFF website 3 of the 4 films I saw were meant to be broadcast with filmmaker Q&As which had been recorded at the Lincoln Center screenings. However, no Q&As were shown and no explanation was given. Not a big deal, but it was curious.)

Posted in achard laurent, amalric mathieu, coulin delphine, coulin muriel, film:2010, film:2011, gleize delphine | Leave a comment