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


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


SIFF ’17 Capsule Review: ‘BAD BLACK’

This ultra-ultra-low-budget Wakaliwood effort (reportedly made for 200 bucks), which won the audience award at Fantastic Fest (constant nods to Austin probably didn’t hurt), has the same look and feel as the flicks you and your friends made on camcorders back in high school. This nonsensical, irreverent and totally batshit “action” “movie” borders on being unwatchable, ushering in an in-film hype-man narrating/overdubbing/ad-libbing throughout the entirety of the film. Men, women, children, cars, guns, cows; he dubs all. His omnipresent droning will either drive you mad or make you crack a smile at just how fucking ridiculous this whole endeavor is but probably a bit of both if you actually make it through the whole thang. There’s no acting, narrative or directorial choices to speak of as Bad Black is just a DIY home project making an impressive run at festivals for crowds too drunk to realize how what they’ve gotten themselves into. You probably shouldn’t waste your time and money. You’ll probably walk out. (C-)

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SIFF ’17 Capsule Review: ‘COME, TOGETHER’

A potent familial eye-opener probing the fierce competitiveness in various corners of Korean life, Come, Together from Shin Dong-il circles a nuclear family on the brink of collapse; company man Beom-gu has just been fired from his job of 18 years; credit card saleswoman Mi-young battles an esteemed and spoiled co-worker for a prized family vacation to Thailand; and daughter Han-na hovers on the waitlist for a prestigious college, her entire self-worth caught up in her admittance. All second-guess themselves and their place in their family and the world at large in this humanist drama that’s sympathetic, revealing and rather depressing; one that delicately paints an emotionally distressing portrait of the trials and tribulations of one shell-shocked middle class Korean family contending with rather mundane hardship. (B) Read More


The 5 SIFF ’17 Good to Great Movies We’ve Already Seen

It’s nothing short of ironic that the 5 films featured in SIFF ’17 that I’ve already seen, I haven’t actually written anything about yet. So, in hopes of getting you all up to speed on as many of the SIFF features as possible, I’ll fill you in on the likes of those that I’ve already digested, complete with grades because, this is 2017 and you won’t tolerate a lack of grades. Spoiler alert: they’re all good. Also be sure to check out The 8 SIFF ’17 Films We’re Dying to See. Read More


The 8 SIFF ’17 Films We’re Dying to See

As is always the case, gazing upon the list of 400 entires to the Seattle International Film Festival can be daunting for even the most knowledgable of cinephiles. Cutting through that list to cull a selection of desirables is an unwieldy task that demands more research than should be dedicated to a pleasure activity but to simplify the process for you dear reader, we’re trimmed that list of 400 down to a mere 8 films at SIFF ’17  (a clean 2% of their offerings) that we’re dying to see.  Read More


Talking with Matthew Heineman of CARTEL LAND

With unprecedented access to an evolving cartel v. vigilante situation on the US-Mexican border, director Matthew Heineman found himself on the front lines of a war that’s been brewing for decades in Cartel Lands. Told through the lens of two vigilante group leaders, Dr. José Manuel Mireles of the Mexican Autodefensas and Tim “Nailer” Foley of the US Cartel Resistance force. Both men arm themselves and work outside the confines of the state and Heineman finds himself in close quarters with these outlaws, probing their victories and defeat. His ultimate victory is in leaving the door open for his audience to assess for themselves what is right and what is wrong. Read More


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.