Tonight in Seattle:  

Festivals

Timber! Outdoor Music Festival is happening this weekend!

{Timber! Outdoor Music Festival poster}

Looking to get out of town this weekend and check out some great music while you’re at it? We’ve got just the festival to suit your needs. The same lovely folks from Artist Home who brought us Doe Bay Fest and Slackfest (among other events) introduced The Timber! Outdoor Music Festival last summer and have come back this year with an equally exciting lineup of fantastic established and emerging artists. Headlining this year’s festival are local singer songwriters Rocky Votolato and Damien Jurado, indie guitar legend and founding member of Dinosaur Jr. J Mascis, and one of soul music’s best live performers, the impossible-not-to-love Charles Bradley.

The festival covers three days, starting this Thursday, July 24th and going through Saturday, July 26th. It all goes down over on the east side at Tolt-McDonald Park in Carnation. It’s far enough to still be out of the city, but close enough that you don’t have to fill up your gas tank just to get there.

The lineup features tons of great local talent, from recently emerging acts like The Comettes, to other indie favorites that are gaining a lot of traction in the local scene like Hounds of the Wild Hunt, Cumulus, and Smokey Brights. There are also some great acts making their way up from Portland, like The Shivas and the softer, folk-based Horse Feathers, who should sound just about perfect in the outdoor, intimate setting. Fans of hip-hop won’t feel left out either; the self professed “king of Ballard” Grynch will be there, as will one of Seattle’s finest hip hop groups The Physics. The Seattle Rock Orchestra is even going to be performing the legendary Beach Boys album Pet Sounds, and you know that’s going to sound amazing. Did I mention that kids under 12 get in free, because they do.

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Beyond the Fest: SIFF films that will (hopefully) open soon

The Babadook

With over 400 films playing the 40th Seattle International Film Festival, there was NO WAY I was going to be able to watch and write about what got me into those theater seats before the festival was over—or, more importantly, before they screened for the last time during it.

Here’s a quick list of films that I recommend tracking down for viewing. Fingers crossed they will ALL show up at Seattle theaters soon! 

The Babadook {tentative release date: October 2014}
Holycrap, you guys. HOLYCRAP. I was not prepared for how awesome this Australian horror film would be. I mean, how scary can another spin on The Boogeyman actually be, right? The answer, though, is REALLY F’ING SCARY. The basics: grieving mom, out-of-control son, creepy book, unleashed creature, possession, and some really amazing imagery. The Babadook is a non-stop ball of tension from beginning to end, the acting is freaking amazing, the creature F/X are great. I can’t even express how surprised I was by this movie, and how utterly terrified I was while watching it. Bonus: The Babadook pop-up book featured in the film is so goddamn cool! I hear the filmmakers are considering a kickstarter to produce it for real, and I am prepared to throw my money at them as soon as they do.

Fight Church
Bryan Storkel brings us another tale of the secret lives of Christians, but instead of showing us pastors who gamble, this film dives into pastors who moonlight on the mixed martial arts/cage fighting circuit. Wait, what? Let’s just say it’s a lot scary than Holy Rollers—particularly when you realize these guys are teaching their beliefs about beating the crap out of other guys being a “spiritual” thing to their kids, and even moreso when it extends beyond the arena to the gun range.

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Best of SIFF 2014 series {6/12-6/19}

Dior & I

If for some reason over the past month you’ve missed the TIG SIFF team's extensive coverage, overlooked the 'round-the-block queues at some of our fine local movie houses, and/or remained oblivious to the palpable cinematic energy felt throughout the 206 and surrounding area codes, you've been at least vaguely aware that our local cinema megathon was going on at some point between opening night mid-May and closing night Sunday.

On Thursday SIFF Cinema kicks off a ‘best-of’ series that whittles down the gargantuan festival lineup to 18 programs (17 features and a shorts package) of festival award winners and audience favorites, all screening at the Uptown and Film Center through Sunday, with a few multi-screening engagements through next week. Perfect opportunity to see what all the buzz was about if you missed out on SIFFing altogether for some reason, or if the insane schedule made you pick a certain film over something else you really wanted to see, or if the #SIFForty SIFFatigue got to you early and just caused you to give up.

Or maybe none of those scenarios applies and you're just interested in checking out some good films. In any case, you're in luck, because there are some genuinely fine cinema experiences to be had. Here’s the lowdown on the lineup.

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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} 

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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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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: Time Lapse

Time travel movies, particularly lower budget ones, are starting to be so prolific at festivals that it’s easy to get jaded, or to at least to have lowered expectations. I still try to check almost every one of them out, only drawing the line at the new Ethan Hawke film at SXSW this year. Understandable really, as it’s a pretty terrific genre to work within, and many of us are constantly looking for the next Primer (or perhaps Timecrimes). Time Lapse may fall just shy of those, but it’s a heck of a good time and smart enough  to satisfy the secret inner nerd in me. OK, giant obvious nerd - but who’s counting. Run, don't walk to add Time Lapse to your SIFF to-do list this year.

The setup is straightforward as it is new (to me) - what if you had a camera that could take a picture of the future? More specifically, what would you do if you discovered giant, immobiile camera that took a picture of your front window once a day and the inventor of that machine was nowhere to be found. Now throw in three roommates with questionable life goals of their own (art, money, domestic bliss, and a bit of shopping) and you’ve got yourself a movie. A really darn entertaining one at that. 

It’s probably not going to be a surprise to anyone that confronted with a magical machine that seems like it could make all your dreams come true things will inevitably go very, very bad. Especially if that “making all your dreams come true” part involves a bit of ethical flexibility. Confronted with the paradoxes inherent in time travel, the easy life, and a dash of jealousy things get complicated quickly for roomies Finn, Jasper, and Callie. But it’s the sort of complicated that’s fun to watch and twist your brain about - even if you may want to hit one of them over the head at times. Things degenerate for our heroes at a rapid rate in the well-calibrated film, ratcheting up the intensity over what feels like a brisk 104 minutes.

Bottom line: Time Lapse is one of my favorite SIFF experiences so far. The sort of thing I turned on too late in the evening and couldn’t stop watching until it was over. Which frankly is my amongst the highest praise I’ll give a film most days.

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SIFF 2014: Week Three Highlights

Boyhood

SIFF 2014 is lurching along into its final week, and there's still time to catch up on your cinema (over)consumption if you've yet to partake. I can't protect you from the well-meaning but terrible pre-film bumpers imposed on audiences at each screening -- the membership and Egyptian ones are particularly egregious, more so when viewed more than one time -- but I can help steer you in good directions for feature presentation choices.

Here are some hits, misses, and in-betweens coming up in the fest's final ten days (May 30 - June 8).

DON'T MISS:

Boyhood
{screens May 31 at 5pm at the Egyptian, and June 1 at 8pm at the Harvard}
Boyhood is a quiet triumph, though you may not fully realize it for a while. In tracking the evolution of a young man named Mason and his family -- shot over 12 years, using the same cast throughout -- Richard Linklater has achieved something quite unlike anything I've ever seen in cinema. It consists of 164 minutes that don't necessarily fly by: like life, it's sometimes boring and imperfect, and change can reveal itself so gradually that you only notice it in aggregate.

Seeds of Time
{screens June 1 at noon and June 2 at 6pm at the Uptown}
It should come as no surprise that global food production in its current state is unsustainable, and that a decrease in crop diversity is a key factor. Seed banks around the world preserve long-uncultivated plant varieties in an effort to ensure food security for future generations; the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Arctic Norway is the most unique and perhaps the most important. It's the brainchild of conservationist Cary Fowler, and both creator and creation are explored in this nicely-done doc, which is good for foodie types and enviro-types alike as it reveals some very inconvenient truths about the disintegration of the world's food supply.

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SIFF Take: Born to Fly

Born to Fly at SIFF 2014

If Evel Knievel had been into dance, a bit LESS risk averse, and had a borderline cult-like following then Born to Fly would be about him. Instead, it's about Elizabeth Streb, the founder of "pop action" dance: a mash-up of stunt work, acrobatics, dance, and general disregard for the laws of physics and good sense. Oh, sometimes with giant mechanical apparatuses thrown in for good measure.

The dance is truly something to behold onscreen as company members throw themselves at walls, dodge rotating I-beams, and generally make dance look more suicidal (or at least more masochistic) than I'm used to seeing. The picture alternates between Streb's history, performances, and interviews with her dancers. It's hard not to note the bordering on deity worship that has the young men and women literally risking life and limb to aspire to Streb's punishing esthetic ideals while barely making ends meet. But then again, they seem to be having a hell of a lot of fun with their extreme take on motion arts. I just wouldn't want to foot the bill for their post career medical coverage.

It's hard to believe I'm enthusiastically recommending a dance documentary outside the Step-Up* series - yet here I am. This is an interesting documentary both somewhat about why people do irrational things and the wow of watching them. I hope people will notice it amongst the multitude of other options during the festival this year.

* No - I'm not interested in being told those aren't documentaries. They just seem so reasonable and realistic all the way through.

{Born to Fly screens at SIFF 5/26, 5:30pm and again 6/6, 1 pm at SIFF Cinema Uptown, and 5/28, 4:30pm at AMC Pacific Place}

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SIFF 2014: Week Two Highlights

Difret

Capitol Hill (both the 1960s and 2010s varieties), a freaky alt-reality Paris, and dear ol' Sesame Street are among the cinematic destinations awaiting you during SIFF 2014's second week (5/23-5/29).

DON'T MISS:

Difret
{screens May 24 at 3pm in Renton}
After being abducted and raped, a rural 14-year-old Ethopian girl (Tizita Hagere) shoots and kills her attacker in an act of self-defense, pitting herself and a tenacious human-rights attorney (dazzling Meron Getnet) against long-standing tribal traditions. Writer-director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari's debut feature is a compelling and devastating adaptation of an extraordinary true story. Wonderfully naturalistic performances (by mostly non-pro actors) lead viewers into the characters' worlds, and into the tense legal drama that grows from it.

Fasten Your Seatbelts
{screens 5/23 at 4pm at the Egyptian and 5/25 at 7pm at Lincoln Square}
Refreshing, frequently surprising Italian comedy-melodrama with touches of the exquisiteness of my favorite of director Ferzan Ozpetek's films, Facing Windows. This one follows another beautiful young woman who gets with another loutish (but hot) love interest and who ends up looking at her life from some existential outside place. The score is gorgeous (when it's not trying to be lite), the narrative surprising (even when the twists are Lifetimey). I really did laugh, and I really did cry.

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