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SIFF ’19: ‘LATE NIGHT’ Millennial-splains Entertainment to Baby Boomers

Curmudgeonly talk show host Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson, essential here) has lost her edge over the years, her ratings have followed. So begins the glow up of “old crone gets new voice” that is Late Night. When amateur “diversity hire” Molly (Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the screenplay) is given a seat on Newbury’s white-male-dominant writing staff, the unlikely pair develop a working relationship that promises professional rebirth and a deeper understanding of modern entertainment tastes – to middling, and often safe, effect. The enjoyable, if forgettable, comedy from director Nisha Ganatra doesn’t have a lot of tooth to bare, nor much bold to its protest, and its dramatic impact is dulled accordingly. The film functions much like late night television, lulling watchers into an amused (if hardly impassioned) trance; momentarily entertaining but rabid for whatever upcoming slice of disposal entertainment. (B-) Read More

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SIFF ’19: ’BLINDED BY THE LIGHT’ Proudly Belts Out Familiar Hit, Cheesy Heart Firmly on Sleeve

Against the cynical backdrop of Margaret Thatcher’s UK, Blinded By the Light tells a true-and-true tale of a Pakistani writer finding his voice and independence through the discovery of American heartland rocker Bruce Springsteen. It’s a heartfelt fantasy wherein every problem can be solved with a well-placed Springsteen lyric but one that ultimately does little to distinguish its coming-of-age story from the countless working-class renditions that came before it. Javed’s status as an immigrant in an increasingly racist UK and strain on his relationship with his traditional father are explored to a degree but it all feels cliché, despite its unwavering earnestness and nagging personal touch. Almost giddily cheesy, this feel-good crowdpleaser benefits from its patent sincerity and thoughtful cultural angle, even if it is still much too long. (C+) Read More

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SIFF ’19: Awkwafina Gets Serious in A24’s Cross-Cultural Drama ‘THE FAREWELL’

Ignorance is power in A24’s celebrated Sundance hit The Farewell. The film follows Awkwafina’s Chinese family who, scattered across the globe, assemble when news breaks of the family matriarch’s terminal cancer diagnosis. The skinny is no one has told said matriarch, the family cooking up a ruse to keep that treasured info from her in increasingly heartbreaking and comical ways. The film from Lulu Wang is a rare family film that genuinely speaks to the deep, historied, and complicated bonds that tie while remaining thematically viable and content appropriate for practically all ages. Wang’s is a deeply felt and emotionally sincere film that benefits from its serio-comic nature, if not one that left me entirely moved. (B) Read More

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SIFF ’19: Confident ‘BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON’ Is a Big Fat Crowdpleaser 

Jillian Bell is off to the races as an overweight and under-motivated millennial living in the Big Apple who decides to turn her life around through the transformative power of running. The seriocomic account of seizing power from dark instincts is laced with the ripe reality of self-destruction and lifted by the hopefulness of finding self-love. Writer-director Paul Downs Colaizzo structures the film as Brittany’s rom-com with herself and Bell, who packed on (and lost) quite a bit of weight for the role, is simply fantastic delivering a marathon of darkly-tinged comedy and uplifting pathos. (B) Read More

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SIFF ’19: ‘SWORD OF TRUST’ is Exactly the Undemanding Indie Tailor-Made for Festivals

Lynn Shelton’s most recent foray into feature film stands upon the mumblecore tenement of character reigning supreme above plot. The circular narrative about a couple (Jillian Bell, Michaela Watkins) who enlist a pawn shop owner (Marc Maron) to help sell a Civil War-era sword is a closed loop of somewhat vacuous plotting. Shelton’s breezy, unchallenging story highlights the underlying tension of legacy and the damage of past selves that we’re forced to carry around with us. Maron is stealthily funny even if Sword of Trust is rarely – if ever – laugh out loud comical but Shelton’s barbed dialogue and empathetic scene setting made for a fine pairing of snide and pathos that, when employed in harmony, make this absurdist satire of the American south stand tall and punch back. Softly though it may be. (C+) 

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SIFF ’19: Bone Dry ‘FRANCES FERGUSON’ Demands Acquired Tastes

Bob Byington’s latest sparsely funny dark-comedy is a mannered step back from mainstream appeal. The Infinity Baby director follows a woman (Kaley Wheless, monotonous but arresting) who’s so dissatisfied with her marriage that she throws her life in the toilet by sleeping with a student. What follows is a quirky bureaucratic procedural from the POV of said sex offender that somewhat jumbles its satirical take on the monotony of punishment. At 74 minutes, it’s extremely slight and uses quirky “nomnipotent” narration from Nick Offerman to offer a sardonic birds-eye approach to storytelling. The characters’ apathy is reflected in Byington’s almost narcissistic touch, making his decidedly festival-circuit exclusive more niche than ever. (C+) Read More

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Seattle International Film Festival 2019 Announces Complete Lineup

SEATTLE – Wednesday, May 1, 2019— The Seattle International Film Festival, the largest and most highly attended film festival in the United States, announced today the complete lineup of films, guests, and events for the 45th annual 25-day Festival that runs May 16 – June 9, 2019. This year, SIFF will screen 410 films representing 86 countries and will include: 147 features (plus 4 secret films), 71 documentaries, 12 archival films, and 176 shorts. The lineup includes 33 World premieres (12 features, 21 shorts), 42 North American premieres (27 features, 15 shorts), and 19 US premieres (11 features, 8 shorts). Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT’

Recovery is a marathon not a sprint, not that the snarky wheelchair-bound protagonist of Gus Van Sant’s Don’t Worry would be able to stand for either. Telling the true story of celebrated, irreverent Portland cartoonist John Callahan, from his reckless drinking days to his untimely paralysis to his long tenure at AA, Van Sant’s latest is a hopeful salvation saga sprinkled with un-PC delights lead by a powerful Joaquin Phoenix performance. Lippy but uplifting, Don’t Worry crutches on a jumbled timeline that can make the narrative feel sloppy and untethered but is harnessed by a message of preservation in the face of all obstacles. Jonah Hill is raw as a flowy flaxen-haired sponsor amidst a standout supporting cast. (B) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘HEARTS BEAT LOUD’

Nick Offerman plays a hipster record shop owner/has-been musician/doting father to the talented and driven Sam (Kiersey Clemons in a vibrant coming out party of a performance) as the two start an unlikely band in Brett Haley’s lovely indie musical Hearts Beat Loud. The pair share wonderful screen chemistry – Offerman has never been better – while the movie itself transforms into a warm blast of dreams, acceptance, and growing pains that’s luminously riddled with maturity. This charmed musical crowdpleaser hits all the right notes, delivering a bucket of all-the-feels alongside some delightfully head-bobbing tuneage. (B+) Read More

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SIFF ’18 Capsule Review: ‘TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID’

Not even children are spared in this gritty Mexican fantasy-thriller from writer/director Issa López. Both grounded in dark realities and anchored by larger-than-life fantastical elements, Tigers Are Not Afraid shares DNA with Guillermo del Toro’s Spanish-language horrors movies (think Devil’s Backbone), which smuggle pervasive social commentary in with spooky, mythic thrills. A 10-year old girl joins up with a similarly orphaned child gang, roaming the streets and eluding ill-intentioned adults in this unsettling fable about loss and criminality. Moody and uncompromising, Tigers marks López as a blooming talent to keep a close eye on. (B-) Read More