Tonight in Seattle:  

SIFF Take: How to Train Your Dragon 2

It feels a bit unseemly to trumpet such a mainstream movie during this Festival of the Wonderfully Obscure, but How to Train Your Dragon 2 is absolutely wonderful and deserves trumpets. It opens 5 years after the events of the first film. Berk is now an idyllic, gravitationally precarious but architecturally impressive hamlet with a thriving population of dragons. The biggest issue is that Stoic wants Hiccup to be the next Chief, and Hiccup is ambivalent at best. This very quickly becomes not the biggest issue when a Very Bad Guy enters the picture, bent on enslaving all dragons.

All of the battles are exciting and suspenseful, and the dialog is snappy and funny, but this film is special because of the strength of the story. The plot isn’t merely a series of set-ups for set-piece battle scenes. It wrestles, sincerely and unironically, with issues including family, loyalty, duty, free will, and the pursuit of peace. Peace! Punchline of hippie skits and Miss America parodies. The movie declares peace an achievable concept, worth striving for. By the end, I wanted to stand and salute.

{How to Train Your Dragon screens one more time at SIFF on Sunday, 6/8, 10:30am at Pacific Place} 

SIFF 2014: Closing Weekend Highlights

The Great Museum

The end of this year’s cinema mega-thon is nigh, and if you've slacked on your SIFFage there's still time to do something about it. Here I present to you seven sure-fire hits that I personally guarantee will provide you some major cinematic enjoyment, all unspooling (digitally) over the next few days.

DON'T MISS:

The Great Museum
{screens June 7 at 2:30pm at the Uptown}
Absorbing year-in-the-life documentary following directors, preservationists, curators, and general staff of Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum during a major renovation and re-brand. The film offers fascinating visual treats aplenty – art and artifacts in various states of exhibition, decomposition, and restoration – with new (old) surprises constantly being unwrapped and unveiled.

La Mia Classe
{North American premiere. Screens June 7 at 8:30pm at the Uptown, and June 8 at 4:30pm at the Harvard}
A group of aspiring Rome-based immigrants take a mandatory Italian language class and encounter shared grief, social integration, and humanity. This is actually a movie about itself – the students are real, the teacher is an actor, and we see fourth-wall ruptures via shot setups and off-script developments that inform the third act. Do see it, and when you find yourself unsure of what’s fiction and what (if anything) is not, don’t worry: it’s all saying the same thing, and the point is a profound one. Director Daniele Gaglianone is scheduled to attend these SIFF screenings, and I wonder if Q&A sparks will fly here like they did in Venice.

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Rigor Mortis (Geung si)

{Rigor Mortis opens in Seattle on Friday, 6/6, and is screening at AMC Pacific Place}

I was pretty psyched to watch Rigor Mortis (especially since I’d just missed it at SIFF), mostly because I knew that Takashi Shimizu was involved as a producer, and I love all incarnations of his Ju-On films—including the American remake that he also directed—beyond any acceptable level of reasoning.

What I didn’t know, and probably should have going in, is that Rigor Mortis is actually one big in-joke, specifically related to the 1985 horror-comedy Mr. Vampire (which I have never seen). Mortis shares several actors with Vampire, and makes reference to both the hopping vampire at its center and the priest who’s tasked with stopping him.

Watching it without that lens, I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on—only that it was a LOT, and I wasn’t sure how any of it was connected.

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Latest comment by: imaginary embracey: "

I still haven't forgotten those twin ghosts crawling up the damn walls! They were very CGI, but still (imho) pleasantly disturbing.

"

SIFF Take: God Help the Girl

God Help the Girl

Prior to seeing God Help the Girl, I’d only been a somewhat-interested fan of Stuart Murdoch and Belle & Sebastian—hearing their most popular songs in passing. Sure, I listened to plenty of friends rhapsodize about The Boy with the Arab Strap and agreed with them that it sounded great; I just never cared enough to scrape up enough pennies to buy it in the pre-download era 90s.

But ALL THAT HAS CHANGED now that I’ve seen the glory of Murdoch’s directorial debut, based on his 2009 album of the same name, in which he wrote a story-telling album about a troubled girl and hired a bunch of relative unknowns to sing his words. Wait. What? Why I had never heard of this before? I am clearly WOEFULLY out of touch and desperately un-hip. Liz Riley, I am sure this must be something you have a copy of on vinyl, correct?

But anyway, let’s get to the film. Murdoch wins the award for best casting ever in everything, because Emily Browning is PERFECT. Man, that girl can SING. And also ACT, which is equally as important, given the multi-layered performance required. Browning plays the title “girl,” Eve, who escapes the boredom of her treatment facility to attend a rock show one night and falls into friendship with adorable guitar player James and his piano student Cassie. Summer fun times lead them to form a band together, but Eve’s fragile mental state threatens her relationships with the only people in her life who have ever provided stability.

Olly Alexander & Hannah Murray also do an excellent job as James & Cass, and the trio’s hipster-perfect outfits and video-cammed antics make you want to jump in and join the fun. But don’t be fooled: what looks (and sounds) like a twee pop rock musical actually dives into some seriously deep issues. Look past those bright pop montages, watch Browning emote 1,000 things with just her eyes, and really listen to the lyrics to get the full picture. Short story: God Help the Girl is simply gorgeous, and I can’t wait see it again.

{God Help the Girl screens one more time at SIFF on Tuesday, 6/3, 7pm at SIFF Cinema Uptown} 

SIFF Take: Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter

Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is based on an urban legend that a Japanese woman mistook Fargo for a documentary and came looking for the treasure so cleverly buried by Steve Buscemi under an inch or so of snow. Director David Zellner and his brother and co-writer Nathan imagined what might have driven someone to seek something so ephemeral and came up with Kumiko.

At first it seems that Kumiko is disaffected in a Daria-type way, layering herself under a comfortable blanket of disaffected cynicism to protect herself from the shallow drudgery of her days and the ceaseless disapproval of her mother. But it becomes clear after a while that she probably suffers from some serious mental and emotional problems, including depression, social anxiety, and disassociation. Knowing this makes it harder to root for her as her quest becomes increasingly quixotic, if not thoroughly hopeless—she’s clearly in danger she simply doesn’t, won’t, or can’t comprehend, no matter how many well-meaning people try to help her. Rinko Kikuchi does some impressive heavy lifting keeping us interested in her journey, and the cinematography is unwaveringly gorgeous, with shades of Kubrickian symmetry boxing everything in in Japan contrasting with an almost claustrophobic vastness of the frozen North country, but ultimately the movie gets buried under the weight of Kumiko’s delusion, like the unconquerable snows of the Minnesota fields. 

{Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter screens at SIFF 6/2, 4:00pm at SIFF the Egyptian. Director David Zellner scheduled to attend.}

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