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SIFF Capsule Recap #8: FRANK, THE GRAND SEDUCTION, VENUS IN FUR, GOLD

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It’s almost hard to believe that SIFF is winding down to a close but thems the facts. With series eight now closed out, that leaves eight more films to do. Pressure is on. With this capsule reivew series now in the tail end, I can safely say that SIFForty has certainly had a wealth of good stuff to offer but they’re nothing if not hidden amongst a trove of unenviable watches. As always, the good is mixed in with the bad, paper-bagged and drawn at random. But of course, this is why you read reviews. This time around, every film listed is foreign. How critic-y of me. Still keeping within the rules and regs of SIFF protocol, these micro-reviews are sliced and diced down to a brief 75 words so you can read them fast, I can write them fast and the studio’s happy. So, short and sweet reading for you, much more time for movie watching for me. This could be the beginning (or is it getting towards the end now?) of a beautiful friendship.

Frank

dir. Leonard Abrahams star. Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Scoot McNairy (UK)

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With a big, fake head and a Jim Morrison-like access to lyrical poetry, Frank (Michael Fassbender) is as talented as he is prophetic, and potentially disturbed. Joe (Domhnall Gleeson), a talentless hack of a musician, wants to take advantage of Frank’s art; to transform it into a social media-friendly commodity. As Frank attempts to find his magnus opus, Joe dopily tries to package and sell it; a searing metaphor for Gen-X self-inflation en masse. Efficiently experimental, at times sermonist, and always outlandish, Frank is a powerful meditation on mental disease, commercialism and art, and all the brightly lit areas where they intersect. Frank also proves Fassbender can act like no other through a Papier Mâché helmet. (B)

The Grand Seduction

dir. Don McKellar star. Brendan Gleeson, Taylor Kitsch, Gordon Pinsent, Matt Watts (Canada)

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This delightfully moonstruck feature boasts Brendan Gleeson‘s comedian muscles and Taylor Kitsch‘s shtick (which, yes, is an anagram of Kitsch) for being the likable bad boy (Dr. Bad Boy here.) When their once-proud fishing harbor dries up,  Murray’s (Gleeson) only way to ween the town off the welfare checks is to secure a doctor in order to legitimize a bid for an oil repurposing facility. To do so, he and the town’s people unite to spy on Kitsch’s Dr. Lewis, transforming the town around them into Lewis’s own personal fantasyland. The gimmick is cute (without being too syrupy) and at times touching, reminiscent in tone to last year’s equally cheery/droll Philomena, and is an easy recommendation for the masses of moms and pops looking for a feel-gooder. (B-)

Venus in Fur (La Vénus à la fourrure)

dir. Roman Polanski star. Emmanuelle Seigner, Mathieu Amalric (France)

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As much a showcase for its two authoritative leads as it is an illustration of the power of theater, Venus in Fur continues Roman Polanski‘s streak of adapting plays in fearlessly simple terms. While Carnage felt a little forced in its translation to the screen, Furs works wonderfully and the adroit performances matched with the clever subjugation of gender roles present in David Ives‘s drama gives this pre-turn-of-the-century, play-within-a-play, dominatrix tale one to not soon forget. (B+)

Gold

dir. Niall Heer star. Maisie Williams, James Nesbitt, David Wilmont, Kerry Condon (Ireland)

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An ironically named film – even Silver or Bronze would seem somewhat an overstatement – Gold sends up the sports movie by mixing heavy themes and messy family drama amidst the quest for first place. Abbie (Game of Throne‘s Maisie Williams) is pressured by her (adoptive) father Frank, a mustache of a PE teacher, to win win win, so turns to performance enhancing drugs to improve her times, just as her real dad, Ray, enters the picture for the first time in 12 years. While it’s nice to see Williams in a leading role (and she’s never the problem), the resolution comes up short, as does some of the connective tissue getting us from point A to point B. As such, Gold is a film with high aspirations that only periodically hits its mark. (C)

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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
Part 5: Willow Creek, Firestorm, Mystery Road, 10,000 KM
Part 6: Obvious Child, To Kill a Man, Night Moves, The Internet’s Own Boy
Part 7: Canopy, Intruders, The Babadook, Happy Christmas


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2014 SIFF Offers 435 Films, I Offer 25 Must Sees

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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

Boyhood
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.

Cannibal
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.


Wetlands
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.