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SIFF Capsule Recap #4 (DIFRET, FAULT IN OUR STARS, SKELETON TWINS, IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE)

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Things just keep on picking up over here in SIFF-land with four mostly great new movies, including two early standouts of the fest. Still following SIFF procedure, these brief reviews only span about 75 meaning-laden words so short and sweet is the word. In my pursuit to oust my opinion without breaking regulation, look out for mini-review after mini-review as I seek to hit that magic number of 40 films of SIFF’s 40th anniversary. So far, I’m at 16. 40 is looking closer by the day. So, short and sweet reading for you, much more time for movie watching for me. This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Difret

dir. Zeresenay Berhane Mehari star. Meron Getnet, Tizita Hagere (Ethiopia)

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Difret, or Ethiopia Kidnap Weddings: SVU, beams a chilling political reality where tradition clashes with human rights, courts with all-male elder tribunals. A young girl, Hirut, is kidnapped by a gaggle of men on horseback, locked up and raped before escaping and killing the captor intent on marrying her. Difret, which loosely translates to “raped”, then sees a politic system condemning this child to death and the human rights lawyer who come to her aid. The performances impress but Mehari’s amateur hand leaves much to be desired in the directing department. Hirut’s story will have you up in arms but the story is disappointingly one-sided. (C)

The Fault in Our Stars

dir. Josh Boone star. Shailene Woodley, Ansel Elgort, Nat Wolff, Willem Dafoe, Laura Dern (USA)

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Charmed performances can’t overcome the schmaltzy, melodramatic cancer porn that is The Fault in Our Stars. Pegged as a weepy drama, Josh Boone‘s film is ready to serve up tragedy by the ladle-full. Willem Dafoe stops by for a show-stopping scene but it’s Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort who keep us grounded in this otherwise-borrowed Walk To Remember path. It is however decidedly better than its leads’ previous project: Divergent. Stars is not outright bad so much as fundamentally flawed. (C-)

The Skeleton Twins

dir. Craig Robinson star. Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell (USA)

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Bill Hader just had his coming out party. He may not be gay, but he’s a star. The Skeleton Twins is unabashedly entertaining; a darkly comic, tactfully told dramedy that probes the darkest of places with the funniest of people. Kristen Wiig and Luke Wilson join Hader to round out a cast of unsung heroes taking the spotlight, each firmly on their mark and spontaneously hilarious throughout. For a film that circles suicide, it is the funniest of the year (so far) and the cast’s effortless deadpan will have you in absolute, ROFL stitches. (A-)

 In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten)

dir. Hans Petter Moland star. Stellan Skarsgård, Kristofer Hivju, Bruno Ganz, Peter Andersson (Norway)
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Kraftidioten (or In Order of Disappearance) is a Norwegian black comedy that sees a snowplow man/upstanding citizen take justice into his own hands after his son is wrongfully murdered. Featuring a standout performance from the multilingual Stellan Skarsgård, this wintry take on everyman vengeance mixes doses of bleak internal battles in with blood-stained snow and murderous vegans for a darkly satisfying product, further improved by ponderous cinematography and unexpected giggles. Even though the second act loses the adroit pacing of the first, it all adds up to something sickly sweet. (B+)

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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

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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.