Tonight in Seattle:  


Recommended SIFF: The Whisperer in Darkness

Filmmakers Sean Branney and Andrew Lehman have kicked some serious ass once again with their stylish interpretation of HP Lovecraft's short story, The Whisperer in Darkness.

Their previous effort, The Call of Cthulu, was done as a classic silent film. This one is shot in B&W and set in the 30s, with the creators took this period piece one step further by making it look and feel like it was MADE in that era--complete with snappy noir-ish dialog, dramatic lighting and sets, and all the elements of an entertaining vintage sci-fi.

Professor Albert Wilmarth is onto something big, the discovery of an entire town caught up in a legendary myth about monsters inhabiting the hills behind them and abducting people who venture too close to their lair. After receiving a letter from one claiming there is proof that the beings exist, Albert is drawn into a sinister plot involving brains in jars, body snatching, and an ancient ritual to open the gates of hell!

I cannot express how absolutely RAD this movie is. And I can't really do it justice by describing it here. I just know it was some of the most fun I've had watching a film, and I recommend you get out to see it play at SIFF.

{The Whisperer in Darkness screens at SIFF tonight, Friday 6/3, midnight at The Egyptian, and again on Sunday, 6/5, 9pm at The Neptune}

Latest comment by: Imaginary Amie: "

I hope you did, Rich! I loved it - and have an interview to post with the very nice guys who made it (soon!). ;)


STIFF Take (No, That's Not a Typo & I Am Happy to See You...)

The final (sniffle) week of SIFF approaching portends the beginning of another annual Seattle film tradition, STIFF.  This Friday {6/3} the Seattle True Independent Film Festival opens it's doors to go mano-a-mano with their more established counterpart SIFF.  Yeah, yeah - I get that there's a tradition of counterprogrammed fests, more voices are good, yada yada yada.

When the Charlie Brown style adult voices end all I'll I've heard is that I'm gonna have to make some choices (i.e. miss some films) because the two events overlap. But that doesn't mean one should stick their head in the sand and ignore the extra bounty. STIFF is here and worth paying attention to. Focusing more on english language independent that on international fare, it's different enough to make some sense (see, I can be nice).  Plus it's hard for me to be too critical about MORE film choices. So in the spirit of hey it's here, all-access passes are only $50 (and include more films all year) parties are included and all venues serve alcohol - let's peruse the schedule together ...



Latest comment by: Anonymous: "Hey Three Imaginary Girls, Thanks for the Little Blue Pill mention. I'm glad it's on your list of films you are curious about. See it and let me know what you think! Aaron (el director)"

SIFF Double Take: Detective Dee & Marrow

Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame
I have two SIFF recommendations today at the complete opposite ends of the cinematic spectrum. Detective Dee and the Mystery of the Phantom Flame is a non-stop Chinese action fantasy involving spontaneously combusting diplomats, masters of disguise, a whip-weilding female warrior, and so much CGI it looks like the characters are walking around inside a video game. Still, watching how it all unfolds is nothing short of delightful - if this is the kind of thing you like, that is.

After a few dudes catch on fire (from the inside!) while building a giant buddha, the evil empress of China gets clued into the fact that someone is probably trying to kill her. Naturally she decides to let her greatest enemy out of prison - the formidable Detective Dee (yay, Andy Lau!) to help her solve the case. There are sword fights and horse chases and over-the-top battle scenes, but what's really thrilling is the way the plot twists and turns to throw your suspicion in a different direction every 5 minutes. LOVED this and highly recommend.

{Detective Dee screens at SIFF Wednesday 6/1, 7pm at the Neptune and again Monday 6/6, 9:30pm at the Egyptian}


Latest comment by: Ismael: "nice writeup! I saw Marrow last night & agree with what you wrote. much like the father's memory stays with the daughter, this movie should stay with one for a long time."

SIFF Take: Vampire


{Vampire screens at SIFF on Wednesday, June 1, 6:30pm and Thursday, June 2, 4pm at the Egyptian; and again on Sunday, June 5, 8:30pm at the Admiral Theatre}

I hereby claim Vampire as a fine example of modern psychological horror (for its own category, the Seattle International Film Festival 2011 puts it in its "To The Extreme" canon, which is a good way of telling people it's probably going to shock you but not necessarily scare you, and avoids being punchy with genre tags).

It's about a shy, scruffy, but charming high school biology teacher who has a brain-sick mom (Amanda Plummer! I was just watching her hold up the restaurant with Tim Roth again at the beginning of Pulp Fiction! Weird timing, where's she been in the meantime?) who has to be tied up with big white balloons by her offspring whilst he's working. She's a piping hot mess expresso! That's some creative home-care health solutions there, sonny boy, but then like most mother-son relationships in horror movies it's less than DSM-V ideal. That of course spills over into his dealings with the ladies.

Four words to blood-boil it down: First date suicide pact!


Latest comment by: Imaginary Rich: "

Great writeup Chris.  I think it's dead on (no pun intended).  I was sitting farther back and would put the leaving population at about 1/4 to maybe 1/3 of the audience.  I'd heard 1/2 as well but I don't think that's ...

SIFF Take: Finisterrae

The other day I was talking to a fellow festival attendee on line at a SIFF press screening.  When he heard I'd seen Finisterrae it came up that they'd shown the trailer for it at the SIFF members' preview. He explained it was basically three minutes of two guys walking around in white sheets, occasionally with a horse - but there was really not much going on. In exchange for this information, I replied that the film in its entirety was very much the same, only about 77 minutes longer.

For the right audience Finisterrae is likely a masterpiece of experimental cinema that perhaps has hilarious allusions to The Seventh Seal and likely deep commentary about the nature of death and life. However, to this viewer, it really did boil down to two ghosts (portrayed by men wearing white sheets) on the most boring road trip of all time. From the short festival description "High art meets low comedy in this absurd road movie where two ghosts, clad in bed sheets with eyeholes cut out, seek rebirth by traveling to Finisterrae, the end of the earth" I guess I was expecting a different movie. Some of the humor I think I caught (for example you'll notice the sheets get dirtier and dirtier as time goes on), but I've got to say the EXPERIMENTAL component really is the key thing here.  Go knowing that with my best wishes. This one just reminded me that I am not an experimental guy - in the cinematic regard at least.

{Finisterrae screens at SIFF on May 31, 9:15pm and again on June 5, 9pm at The Harvard Exit}



SIFF Take: Surrogate Valentine

Surrogate Valentine @SIFF 2011

{Surrogate Valentine screens at SIFF on May 29, 9:30pm at The Harvard Exit and again on May 30, 3:30pm at the Admiral Theatre}

Goh is San Francisco musician Goh Nakamura, and he is living the life you are, your comrades, or your indie singer-songwriter heroes are. Creating songs and getting cut-rate studio time to record them; playing small venue and living room gigs between Seattle and Los Angeles; still awkwardly and desperately in love with one childhood crush back home, and having a romantic friendship with a fan somewhere else. Because of his DIY status, and being in debt to his mother and pals, he takes on a weird job: helping Danny, a hack young soap opera, star learn guitar to star in an independent movie written by Goh's old friend Amy.

Director Dave Boyle has done similar work about young people of different races trying to find their place in the world with previous films Big Dreams Little Tokyo and White On Rice. This explains why Surrogate Valentine is so well-written, excellently cast, and wonderfully shot in Seattle, San Francisco, LA, and points in-between. But what makes this a can't-miss selection for Seattle music fans are the broad but informed characterizations of people in the music business. One meeting with a Seattle rack jobber (distro guy who places product in stores) who's a veteran of the pre-grunge rock scene here rings true, as he diminishes Goh's own work while showing off his fancy gear and gun collection.


Latest comment by: Chris Estey: "

Thank you, sir! And yes I really do think it's worthy of distribution. As I watched it, I was really thinking of many friends who would mutually enjoy it, even with some of the rough edges on the acting, it being B&W, etc. 


SIFF 2011: Week Two Highlights

On the Ice

We're nearing SIFF's halfway point, and if you've attended more than a few screenings this year I congratulate you on surviving the queues, tolerating any less-than-pleasant fellow moviegoers you may have encountered therein, dealing with the venues' unique quirks (lavatory-related and otherwise), and making it through the unnerving amount of trailer/bumper clutter in front of each film. If you've yet to attend SIFF 2011, ignore the first sentence and get crackin'! (Because it only seems like it lasts forever.)

Wherever you are on your SIFF journey, I have for you some guidance on films that are worth the pain, and ones that should be avoided like the Egyptian men's room, screening during the fest's action-packed second week (May 30 - June 5).


{screens May 31 at 4pm at Everett Performing Arts Center, June 2 at 6:30pm and June 4 at 1:30pm at Pacific Place}
The remarkably unenthused Marcela, a young immigrant living on the outskirts of Madrid, learns that she's pregnant, questions her hand-to-mouth boyfriend's intentions, and discovers that the (vaguely Leonard Nimoy-ish) elderly man she's been caring for has died -- but for a number of reasons she decides to keep it all secret. And this is before the film's halfway point! Magaly Solier, the wonderful Peruvian actress who you may remember from Madeinusa or The Milk of Sorrow, is a mesmerizing guide through the story's nifty twists and Marcela's gradual transformation.

{screens June 4 at 6:30pm at the Harvard Exit, and June 6 at 4:15pm at the Egyptian}
Teen besties Atafeh and Shireen explore Tehran's underground scene, fantasize about lesbian bars and the relative freedom of Dubai, and take the occasional road trip with Atafeh's family (at the beach, the gals must remain covered head-to-toe while the guys' asscracks and bulges hang out for Allah and the world to see). And Atafeh's brother, a once-promising musician home from rehab, has replaced his substance addiction with something more sinister. A languid but gripping film that will make your blood boil.


Latest comment by: dee: "OMG loved On The Ice and yes totally like Marilyn on Northern Exposure!!!"

Recommended SIFF: Saigon Electric

Saigon Yo!

{Saigon Electric screens again at SIFF on May 30, 3pm at Pacific Place and on June 1, 6:30pm at the Everett Performing Arts Center}

I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Asian Crossroads Celebration last night (Saturday 5/28), where I got to see Saigon Electric (Saigon Yo!) - which is honestly the most fun I've had watching a film in forever. This fast-paced drama is filled with tons of amazingly-shot breakdancing scenes (backed by a pretty sweet hip-hop soundtrack), and really does an excellent job of melding that excitement with a script that works.

The hip-hoppin' action is built around two story arcs: Mai -  a shy country girl whose just moved to Saigon in hopes of scoring a sought-after spot at a popular dance school with her ribbon dancing skills, and Kim - a tough street teen who hangs with her dance gang "Saigon Fresh", as they train to beat hoodlums "North Killaz" at the big Samsung-sponsored breakdancing showdown for a spot in an international competition, and band together to teach troubled kids at the local youth center. After becoming close friends, both girls find romance, and have to navitage the complications of new love amongst  other coming-of-age trials .


SIFF Take: A Cat in Paris

A Cat in Paris

{A Cat in Paris screens at SIFF on May 30th, 1:00pm at the Everett Performing Arts Center, on June 5th, 1:00pm at the Kirkland Performance Center, and on June 11th, 11:00am at the Egyptian Theatre}

I sometimes like to play a little game while watching animated films called “Why Is This Movie Animated?” Animation is not a genre—we can all agree on this, yes? There are roughly as many genres of animated films as live-action ones, and all sorts of reasons to animate besides getting kids in a theater. But especially as the price of special effects goes down, I’m sometimes curious why someone would decide a story is best told with drawings rather than actors.

A Cat in Paris was good for this game. Though the style of animation isn’t photorealistic at all (it’s much more stylized and primitive), it conveys the feeling of reality faithfully, with subtle details like moonlight shadows on the folds of clothing. Very few things happen that couldn’t as easily be filmed as drawn—a couple of minor script tweaks and you’re there. And finally, the plot feels so familiar that I’m surprised I can’t think of a particular film with the same story. It goes like this: Zoe is a girl who’s stopped speaking since her father was killed. Her mother is a police officer intent on catching the killer. And a cat burglar, who’s accompanied by Zoe’s cat while she sleeps, gets mixed up in the case.


Latest comment by: Chris Estey: "

Such a great review, it's really going to get my wife and I to see it for sure, too. And BTW a brilliant opening assertion. I do this with graphic novels all the time: "Would this have been better as a short story or indie film?" Thanks for ...

SIFF Preview: Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure

Shut Up Little Man!

{Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure plays the Seattle International Film Festival Saturday, May 28, at 10:00 PM at the Neptune; and Monday, May 30, at 9:00 PM at the Egyptian.}

Usually "outsider art" begins consensually. Sometimes people find a certain enjoyable quality about something crafted by people a bit off the grid, perhaps in a variety of ways. The desire to experience extremely altered points of view vicariously can have many reasons, one of them being identification with either the creator or the subject of the work. In this case,  it could mean moving into very affordable housing, being thankful but perhaps confused for the low rent, and then realizing you're paying so little for your new abode after hearing your neighbors for the first time. If you can more than sympathize with such a plight, this pitch-black humor wince-fest documentary may be for you.

Shut Up Little Man! is a cottage industry based on overhearing a wallowed-in Schadenfreude. It begins in 1987, when two art-punks move to San Francisco and into the horrid-pink "Pepto Bismal Palace," where they find they have to sort of make artwork out of the damage that's being done to them, to stay sane. Listening to Peter and Raymond, their alcoholic neighbors, fight in the most horrible way every night. It may not sound like entertainment, but these inebriated, sexually deviated co-dependents really know how to charge up each other (and everyone within the vicinity having to listen to them). They're the kind of fellow tenants you hide from when you take your garbage out, for fear they'll either scream at you too or that you will punch them for the hell they're making of your life. Thus, empowerment by poor people with a tape recorder who helped create the idea of the human meme in the shitty 80s.