Tonight in Seattle:  

Festivals

SIFF double take: Muse of Fire and The Search for General Tso

Examine, if you will, two documentaries very similar in tone and structure: upbeat, pleasant, and curious. One asks a very large question: How do you make Shakespeare relevant to contemporary audiences? The other asks a small one: Where did General Tso’s chicken come from? One is populated with some of the most talented actors of our time. The other, with restaurant owners, fortune cookie manufacturers, and one dedicated menu collector. Both had impressive animated interstitials and charming interviewees. The crowd loved, loved both of them. But only one was an effective documentary. The Search for General Tso, directed by Ian Cheney (King Corn), was unwaveringly fascinating and unexpectedly suspenseful from titles to curtain. What a great question: who did create this bizarrely ubiquitous dish? The surprisingly satisfying answer is unveiled after first exploring things like who the historical General Tso was and what he was famous for, the history of the American immigration policy towards China, regional variations between American Chinese menus, and what it looks like to manufacture take-out boxes.

There was no suspense and far less revelation in Muse of Fire, directed by and starring struggling actors Dan Poole and Giles Terera. Poole and Terera are funny and winning, but the film is at least as much about how hard it was to make the film as it is about Shakespeare, relevant or otherwise. 

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Latest comment by: imaginary rich: "Yep - Search for General Tso was really satisfying. Frankly I was sort of shocked by how interesting I found it - hope lots of folks take your advice and discover it during the fest or later. "

SIFF Review: Mirage Men

You may want to believe - but in what exactly? That aliens are among us and engineered the creation of our species through DNA experiments on early primates? Or maybe that the government has been running a focused disinformation campaign to spread stories of UFO's to distract the public, flummox the Soviets, cover up advanced technology programs, or perhaps just to goose Hollywood box office numbers? And don't forget about the possibility that these government coverups are muddying the waters - hiding our dealings with the aliens by spreading half truths about aliens. 

Yep - if you thought the final years of the X-Files was all over the place, brace yourself for Mirage Men. This documentary delivers access to the players - from UFO researchers telling tales of good men turned mad by the NSA, to the OSI agents who told the lies.

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SIFF Review: Monsoon Shootout

"The law is what it is. If you can't use it to get justice then you're the ass!" - Rookie officer Adi addressing his superior.

Monsoon Shootout from director Amit Kumar is a tight and satisfying take on first day on the job dramas such as Training Day, while layering in a metaphysical treatment of the power of choices we make each moment of our lives. Clocking in at a fast 88 minutes, a lot gets packed into this one.

The film kick offs with Adi's first day on the job as a cop. He's teamed with Khan, a beyond pragmatic lawman who believes in justice but not upholding all the details of the law. That's made pretty clear when within minutes of reporting for duty Khan executes a group of suspects in the extortion murder of a real estate developer. Adi's asked to crash their car to cover up the "escape" attempt, and his moral dilemmas begin. Before long he's making choices that are all over the shades of grey spectrum as they try to put away Shiva (aka the "Ax killer"), who's just the tip of the bloody spear wielded by local gangster "the Slum Lord." In the meantime, corruption is all around in what could just as easily serve as a scathing indictment of Indian society as it could a hard-nosed police thriller.

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SIFF 2014: Week One Highlights

40 Days of Silence

Our local month-long movie megathon struck again Thursday with Jimi: All Is By My Side, a Jimi Hendrix biopic devoid of Jimi Hendrix music. But even if you missed the opening night soiree there's plenty more to feast your eyes and ears and emotions on before the cinematic smorgasbord unspools its final reel projects its last digital file on June 8.

The TIG SIFF staff will be here for the duration to help you make sense of the typically mammoth schedule, and as in years past I'll bring you a roundup of brief capsule previews for films to be screened the coming festival week. I'm happy to report that, so far, the joy-free staleness of Jimi isn't at all the deal for upcoming offerings. (Many of them, anyway.) In fact, of the SIFF 2014 films I've seen to date, the shining gems far outnumber the out-and-out stinkers.

Here are ten features to queue up for, one to avoid outright (yes, only one so far!), and six to be cautiously optimistic/pessimistic about, all screening at some point during the festival's first week (May 16-22). You're welcome.

DON'T MISS:

The Case Against 8
{screens May 16 at 6:30pm at the Harvard, and May 17 at 11:30am at the Uptown}
A moving and highly entertaining documentary following the six-year battle between California's same-sex marriage ban (2008) and the Supreme Court declaration of its unconstitutionality (2013). The film makes its revelations beautifully, peppering usual doc elements with legal intrigue and turning tides. I knew very little about the counsel team (led by Republican Theodore Olson and Democrat David Boies, who had been opponents in the Bush v. Gore recount case in 2000), and even less about the plaintiff couples (Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo), but was very happy to spend time with them all. Sure, the film preaches to the choir -- but what a beautiful sermon it is.

Difret
{screens May 17 at 6pm at the Uptown, May 18 at 3:30pm at Pacific Place, and 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.

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SIFF Take: The Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton Twins Bill Hader Kristen Wiig SIFF 2014

A film with Kristen Wiig AND Bill Hader? This should be HILARIOUS, right?!?! Right. Except, it isn’t. I mean, it is and it isn’t. The Skeleton Twins casts these two former SNL cast mates as twins Maggie & Milo: a very broken set of siblings who haven’t spoken to each other in over 10 years until suicide attempts on the same day bring them together again. HAHAHAHA. Oh, wait.

Speaking of “skeletons,” both of them have plenty in their closet, only Maggie is obsessed with hiding hers while Milo displays his right out in the open for everyone to see. As they try to navigate their messed up lives and renewed relationship while also dealing with Maggie’s clueless husband, and Milo’s former … lover (?) things get more and more and MORE f**ked up, but hey! At least they have each other. Director Craig Johnson (True Adolescents, SIFF 2009) provides plenty of humor to balance out the dark times—my favorite involves the theme song from 1987’s Mannequin—but credit for this film blowing me away really goes to its two leads. This one is a must-see; I highly recommend purchasing your ticket for its only SIFF screening on Friday NOW.  

{The Skeleton Twins screens at SIFF on 5/16, 9:30pm at The Egyptian. Director Craig Johnson is scheduled to attend} 

SIFF Review: Miss Zombie

Miss Zombie cannot be the first zombie movie with such an intense art house esthetic, but it's the first I've seen. More importantly this quiet but disturbing Japanese family horror film brings a level of sympathy unusual to the genre, creating one of the few zombies where you care about their backstory and what happens to them. And no, Warm Bodies does not count.

The story starts with the delivery of a female zombie to a doctor's country home. Sent by a friend trying to create a new business around "low grade" zombies, the box comes with two instructions: 1) Don't feed her meat, and 2) Use the included pistol if things get out of hand. Zombiness in this universe is a viral condition of sorts. Lower grade carriers tend to be docile and not considered a large danger ... of course, things can change pretty fast under the right circumstances.

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SIFF 2014 Preview: NW Connections

I honestly feel like the SIFF NW Connections programming gets better every single year! The 40th Seattle International Film Festival has an impressive roster of documentaries and features with local directors, actors, writers, and locations. ALL of this makes me incredibly happy! Let’s take a look at what’s happening this year.

My first thought when I spied the new Megan Griffiths film in this year’s line-up was, “AWESOME!”  And awesome it is. Lucky Them stars Toni Collette as a Seattle music journalist (for fictional magazine STAX) who’s never quite gotten over her famous and handsome musician beau’s disappearance. It’s packed with great acting from Collette and her co-stars, lots of recognizable Seattle scenery, and more introspection than you usually get from a “dramedy.” GO SEE IT! It’s great. {Screens 5/22, 7pm at the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, and again 5/23, 9:15pm at The Egyptian}

Raging grannies seems like a thing I’d like, so I’m planning to check out Two Raging Grannies, a documentary about Seattle residents and best friends Shirley & Hinda, who ride around on their scooters with megaphones shouting suggestions about solving the global economic crisis. I LOVE IT. {Screens 5/28, 7pm at SIFF Cinema Uptown, 5/29, 4pm at Lincoln Square Cinemas, and again 5/30, 1:30pm at AMC Pacific Place}

And this one should be ... funny? Maybe? Local director Brett Fetzer’s first feature My Last Year with the Nuns involves Seattle monologist Matt Smith’s 8th-grade coming-of-age story set in 1966 … with Smith playing ALL the roles. Whoa. {Screens 5/21, 6:30pm and 6/26, 11am at The Egyptian}

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First bands announced for Capitol Hill Block Party {July 25-26-27}

{Capitol Hill Block Party}

The festival announcements just keep on comin'!

As you may have already heard this morning on KEXP, the first bands for this year's Capitol Hill Block Party are live, and they're looking like a good start to a killer party -- we'll be spending a long weekend in July with the likes of A$AP Rocky, Spoon, Chromeo, Matt and Kim, The War on Drugs, Odesza, Sol, Beat Connection, Star Slinger, Budos Band, Tanlines, XXYYXX, Angel Olsen, Poolside, Cymbals, Shy Girls and many, many more still to be announced.

We can't wait to hear what local bands will be taking up the rest of the slots, and who KEXP will have live from the Bean Room -- as we get more information, we'll be sure to share it with you! In the meantime, keep an eye out on the official Block Party website for updates. Three-day passes are on sale today at the lowest price ($99.00), the full lineup will be out on the 29th, with schedules and single-day tickets available on June 3rd.

Is it summer yet? Pickathon 2014 lineup announced {8/1-3}

Hoo-wee, friends! Adding Pickathon to our summer festival circuit schedule two years ago might have been the best, sunniest, dusty-boots-est move we've ever made, having spent long hot weekends steeped in performances by Andrew Bird, Dr. Dog, Langhorne Slim, the Mynabirds, Neko Case, Sharon van Etten, Thee Oh Sees, King Tuff, Phosphorescent -- just to name a few. And looking at this year's lineup, our time spent at Pickathon 2014 is going to be no exception.

In case you're not familiar, Pickathon is an intimate, homegrown, multi-stage festival out on a farm (Pendarvis Farm, to be exact) in Happy Valley, Oregon that takes place every year in August. But contrary to popular belief, it's not all banjos and stardust -- although there are a little bit of both, in good and appropriate amounts. Pickathon showcases a wide spectrum of bands, with this year's lineup hosting gems like X and Blind Pilot next to indie bands Warpaint and Courtney Barnett. There really is something for everyone, and with each band playing multiple performances on different stages over the weekend, your chances are better-than-good to get a glimpse of all the music you'd like to take in.

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2014 Seattle Jewish Film Festival kicks off this Saturday!

While during March a lot of attention in the film world focuses on Austin and SXSW there are still some great cinematic adventures to be had right here in Seattle. First among them is the Seattle Jewish Film Festival which kicks off this Saturday night. This year’s theme is “The Good, The Bad, The Funny.” Though I expect if you asked the organizers they’d tell you that “the bad” part of their slogan isn’t intended as a critical assessment of any of the choices on offer. There’s something to be had for all interests with events running all the way through March 9th. 

Opening night is The Zigzag Kid which sounds akin to a Hardy Boys caper, if they Hardy Boys knew what a bar mitzvah was and included trips to the French Riviera and Isabella Rosellini. The opening night film includes a dessert reception post film. I could make more jokes about the super-gentile nature of the Hardy Boys, but frankly none of them would be especially funny expect to me. But if you want to experience some old school Jewish comedy that actually lands the punch you might be interested in the festival's signature Sunday matinee event. 

This year’s Sunday Brunch and film pairing (which I’ve always wanted to attend but never quite get to) includes a screening of the Catskill’s comedian documentary When Comedy Went to School. Perhaps more inmprtantly it also includes a spread of Jewish comfort foods. The film itself catalogs the key role that Catskill Mountain resorts played in the development of the comedy we enjoy today. I cannot say this is the greatest documentary of all time, frankly cheesy CGI production value of the non-interview footage and narration of Robert Klein is pretty groan worthy. But it’s still worth it for the broad set of vintage footage and contemporary recollections about the Catskills. I still chuckle to myself at some of the jokes when I recall them months later. So, add in the promised brunch spread and I think this one will be a winner.

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