As SIFF grinds to a halt, I still haven’t reached my (absurd) goal of hitting 40 for SIFForty, but now I’m four closer. Now that there’s only a few days left in which to get ‘er done, I’m feeling the pressure. With this capsule review 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, brown-paper-bagged and drawn at random. But of course, this is why you read reviews. Diving deeper into the oeuvre of international film festival, this segment was to feature only foreign language films but I broke and had to pop on something in English. Ultimately, I was really glad I did as it was the easy highlight of this segment.

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.

Leading Lady

dir. Henk Pretorius star. Gil Bellows, Katie McGrath, Brumilda van Rensburg, Bok van Blerk, Eduan van Jaarsveldt (South Africa)

NOTE: Last year I missed Fanie Fourie’s Lobola which, to my surprise, went on to win the SIFF Audience Award, so my anticipation of Leading Lady (and its inclusion as a shot in the dark pick on my 25 Must Sees of SIFForty list) was mostly to see what director Henk Pretorius had in store. What I witnessed has shaken my faith in foreign film. Frequent abysmal acting populates this cliche fish-out-of-water saga of a precocious actress who heads to South Africa to research a role – a place distressingly drawn as the land of the noble savage (the phrase “adorably primitive” is thrown in). Utterly suffocated by upbeat musical cues, this is the movie equivalent of going to Africa for a week, building a shanty library and believing you’ve reached spiritual enlightenment. It’s racist, sexist, and xenophobic on top of its even worse offensive of being boring, predictable and just all around stupid. (D-)

Tom at the Farm

dir. Xavier Dolan star. Xavier Dolan, Pierre-Yves Cardinal, Lise Roy, Évelyne Brochu, Manuel Tadros (Canada)


A psychosexual genre flick that sees Dolan use his ferociously queer eye for something that doesn’t entirely add up to the tense and sexy (in a masochistic, bondagey kinda way) picture he’s trying to paint. Tom’s a gay Canadian man grieving his lover’s death but unable to tell the family of the man he’s lost the truth of their relationship. Whilst visiting, Tom falls under the spell of his would-be brother-in-law’s threatening ways, unconscious of his growing Stockholm Syndrome. But the transformation that plays out feels too forced for something that ought to be more organic and free-range. (C+)

Grand Central

dir. Rebecca Ziotowski star. Tahar Rahim, Lea Seydoux (France)


Rebecca Ziotowski spells out a slow-moving tale of woebegone happenstance in Grand Central; an economical, downbeat drama in which unskilled worker Gary (Tahar Rahim) lands a job at a nuclear power plant and begins an affair with Karole (Léa Seydoux), one of his co-workers and wife of his superior. The downtrodden narrative shows an unseen side of middle class drudgery and features stinging performances from the abundantly talented cast but its overtly contemplative movement makes Grand a stuffy and borderline pretentious experience. (C)

The One I Love

dir. Charlie McDowell star. Mark Duplass, Elizabeth Moss, Ted Danson


Like stepping into a long-form Twilight Zone episode, The One I Love explores whether we would trade out our loved ones for more idyllic versions. Mark Duplass and Elizabeth Moss occupy the entirety of the film (with a brief appearance from Ted Danson) with palpable magnetism, fleshing out two sides of the same coin: the bumbing and the suave; the bitchy and the demure. The mechanisms are left intentionally vague so that our focus is left on the characters, and not the how or the why of it all. This thirty little indie film might not fix easily into a box but that’s what makes it all the more special. (B+)


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
Part 8: Frank, The Grand Seduction, Venus in Fur, Gold

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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