With this fifth installment, I reach the half-way point of my 40 film stretch. 20 films down, 20 to go. This turning point though was much more of a mixed bag entry as we have some true greats mixed up with some real junk. Towing the line with SIFF procedure, these brief reviews are kept to about 75 words. It’s all about the broad strokes. In my pursuit to oust my opinion without breaking regulation, look out for mini-review after mini-review as I get closer to hitting that magic number of 40 films of SIFF’s 40th anniversary. So, short and sweet reading for you, much more time for movie watching for me. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Willow Creek

dir. Bob Goldthwait star. Alexie Gilmore, Bryce Johnson (USA)


There’s a really strong long-form scene in the midst of Willow Creek, much filler surrounding it and a wholly unsatisfying and unintelligible ending. What ought to be provocatively minimalism isn’t as this lo-fi horror borrows heavily from the book of Blair Witch, but without the novelty of being there first, Bob Goldthwait has little to add to the genre. More padding than substance, Willow Creek is overstuffed with the kind of fruitless scenes that make found footage so grating and lethargic and is only worthwhile for diehard horror/Sasquatch fans. (D+)

Mystery Road

dir. Ivan Sen star. Aaron Pedersen, Hugo Weaving, Ryan Kwanten, Tama Walton (Australia)


Ivan Sen‘s painterly cinematography, marked by brilliant orange sunrises and sweeping casts into endless flatlands, sets the tone for this Australian thinker’s thriller. With a Coen Bros meets Sergio Leone feel to it, Mystery Road is pretty much No Outback for Young Aborigine Ladies, a dark drama that manages to sneak muted undercurrents of racial aggression amongst its larger themes of derelict duty and parental responsibility. Restrained performances from Aaron Pederson and the like set against a manic Hugo Weaving makes for a nice dichotomy of character in a film well worth your time. (B-)

Firestorm (Fung Bou)

dir. Alen Yuen star. Chen Yao, Ka Tung Lam, Andy Lau, Michael Wong (Hong Kong)


Senselessly expensive – especially by Hong Kong standards – overly-stylized and utterly meaningless, Firestorm is a high-gloss crime actioner that throws the kitchen sink in each of its tactless proceedings. With as many explosions as budgetarily possible and a hero who’s more Robocop than anything resembling a living breathing human, this flunky action movie is derivative, laughable and ceaselessly dumb – a combo that actually works in its favor a small fraction of the time. Nevertheless, it should be actively avoided. (D)

10,000 KM

dir. Carlos Marques-Marcet star. Natalia Tena, David Verdaguer (Spain)


Anyone who’s lived through a long distance relationship will find alarming truth in 10,000KM, a bittersweet romance stunningly directed by Carlos Marques-Marcet and brilliantly acted by Natalia Tena (Game of Thrones) and David Verdaguer. In truly all accords, it’s a phenomenal film; real, honest, emotional and poised to hit the nerve of lovers living through the e-generation. How people helplessly grow apart with distance is approached from nearly every angle to create an unfathomable experience so intimate, personal and gutting that you’ll be as wrecked as the star-crossed lovers when all is said and done. (A)


Click through for more recap segments and stay tuned for the next collection of four in this whopping ten part series.

Part 1: JIMI: All is By My Side, Zip Zap and the Marble Gang, Hellion, Fight Church 
Part 2: Cannibal, The Double, Time Lapse, Another
Part 3: Half of a Yellow Sun, Mirage Men, The Trip to Italy, Starred Up
Part 4: Difret, The Fault in Our Stars, The Skeleton Twins, In Order of Disappearance

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2014 SIFF Offers 435 Films, I Offer 25 Must Sees

Update June 3: More reviews added, no standing replacements.

Update May 17: Seeing that some of these didn’t live up to expectation, some prior “Must Sees” have been yanked and new additions have taken their place. After all, who doesn’t love some corrections and omissions?!

For its 40th, the Seattle International Film Festival is again raising the bar on itself, this year offering a whopping 435 films including 198 feature films, 60 documentaries, and 163 short films from 83 countries. Of those, 44 are world premieres, 29 North American premieres and 13 US premieres. All this amongst a slew of festival favorites from this year and last. Let’s just say that the odds of seeing them all just got that much slimmer. 

Kicking the festival off is Oscar-winner (12 Years a Slave) John Ridley‘s Jimi: All is By My Side, a zero frills biopic that chronicles the afro-ed classic rocker’s year in Britain leading up to his iconic Woodstock performance. And all by his side is 12 Years alum Chiwetel Ejiofor who will be in attendance May 19 (6 PM @ The Egyptian Theater) to talk about his new film Half of a Yellow Sun, an African-produced historical drama about Nigerian’s civil war through the 60s. Ejiofor will also take place in a Q&A with an audience eager to speak with the Academy Award nominee that same evening.

The festival will close June 8 at the glorious Cinerama with The One I Love starring Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men) and Mark Duplass (The League) which saw strong reviews opening at Sundance and is said to mix elements of modern romance with “Twilight Zone” twists and turns. Add it to the ever growing “To See” List.

But likely the most exciting and anticipated film of the festival will be found in SIFF’s Centerpiece Gala in Richard Linklater‘s Boyhood on Saturday, May 31 @ 5 PM. I had the great fortune of being amongst the first audience to see this at Sundance and it did nothing short of blow me away. Though I don’t want to be greedy and steal away the seats of those yet uninitiated to Boyhood, I look forward to experiencing it again and may not be able to resist a second viewing.

Since it’s all but impossible to see everything at SIFF, I have a list of 25 must sees that should put you on the right track for this year’s festivities.

The 25 Must Sees of SIFF 2014

Obviously Boyhood is gonna be on the list. I absolutely loved it and could wax said love over this page all day but I’ll spare the gushing and just tell you that of the 80+ films I’ve reviewed this year (!!!) this is the only to have yet received an A+. Sundance review here.

Mood Indigo
Michael Gondry returns to the realm of the weird, this time in his native French language, in what should be equal measures charming, bittersweet, and esoteric. The incredibly alluring Audrey Tatou is Chloe, who becomes wrapped up with a quirky inventor, even though she’s dying (because she has flowers growing in her lungs.)

Grand Central
Blue is the Warmest Color star Lea Seydoux puts in her second turn against A Prophet‘s Tahar Rahim in this French/Austrian production about a risky love affair set at the nuclear power plant where they both work.

Venus in Furs
Carnage wasn’t exactly the prodigal return for Roman Polanski we might have hoped for but it was anything but bad. Polanski continues his recent tradition of adapting lauded plays with Venus in Furs which stars Mathiew Amalric (Quantum of Solace) and is filmed in Polanski’s native French. Venus focuses on a playwright’s battle with his creative side. SIFF review here.

The chilling promo image alone gets me thinking Psycho and added to the fact that this production is in part Spanish, Romanian, Russian and French, gives it the taste of “something new.” Hopefully it brings the scares to the table in a SIFF surprisingly short on them. No longer considered must see, read our SIFF review here.

The Double (new addition)
Jesse Eisenberg stars as two polar opposites in this Orson Welles inspired black comedy. Wickedly weird but quietly potent, The Double might not be the best doppleganger film of the year (that award goes to Enemy) but it’s certainly compelling viewing that’ll leave you oddly fulfilled. SIFF review here.

A brilliantly told German satirical sexploitation/black comedy based on the popular and controversial German novel from Charlotte Roche. Wetlands is ooey, gooey fun that’ll make the hardest of stomachs churn every now and again but fully worth it for anyone up to the task. Sundance review here.

Lucky Them
What better to symbolize Seattle than the Sub Pop music scene? Megan Griffiths, who directed last year’s critically acclaimed Eden, takes on an entirely different subject right here in the rainy city and feel aided by performances from Toni Collette, Thomas Haden Church, and Oliver Platt.

They Came Together
Although the trailer shown seems to suggest a movie so deep in meta that it didn’t know which way was up, They Came Together found loads of fans when it played at this year’s Sundance. The ingredients alone – Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, David Waine (director of Wet Hot American Summer) in a doubly farcical, heavily tongue-in-cheek rom-com – seems primed for success.

How to Train Your Dragon 2
This is a tricky one to really anticipate as sequels are as much of a toss up as one can plan for but if the quality boast of Toy Story 3 and the wild success of the first How to Train Your Dragon are any indication, this could be the best widely-released animated feature of the year.

Time Lapse
Bradley King‘s directoral debut follows a group of three friends who discover a camera that shows events in the future, and looks to combine elements of sci-fi and horror into a thrilling narrative ride. Set for it’s North American premiere at SIFF, Time Lapse looks more promising than most within its field. Not gushing SIFF review here.

The Trip To Italy (new addition)
Four years after The Trip, Steve Coogan may be more clean cut than the shaggy Brit we once was but his and Rob Brydon’s chemistry is as flammable as ever. “Their old-as-they-are relationship paves the way for improvisation prowess so organic its feels more like second natural than performance. More impressions, absolutely stunning vistas, Alanis Morissette’s croon, lazily waxing on life and pasta, pasta, pasta gives intrepid life to The Trip to Italy.” SIFF review here.