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SIFF 2011: Week One Highlights

Ewan McGregor in Perfect Sense

A quirky Southern road-trip comedy delight, a harrowing political thriller, and a haunting sci-fi disaster flick (featuring a nude Ewan McGregor!) are among five gotta-see films, eight fair-to-ok offerings, and six must-avoid duds unspooling at SIFF through May 29.

DON'T MISS:

An African Election
{screens May 26 at 7pm and May 27 at 4:30pm at the Harvard Exit}
This gripping, well-crafted and fast-paced documentary offers an unprecedented view into the political and social forces at play in Ghana's 2008 presidential election. The west-African nation is often viewed as the continent's barometer of democracy -- it was the first sub-Saharan nation to achieve independence -- and director Jarreth Merz provides unique insight into its people and processes. Two leading political parties, the conservative NPP and the more leftist NDC, battle out a very tight race with the threat of violent protest looming (the NDC's chief proponent is take-it-by-force military commander and former president Jerry Rawlings), with a very narrow outcome in doubt until the nerve-jangling final moments. A fantastic documentary, and a fine political thriller.

Bicycle, Spoon, Apple
{North American Premiere. Screens  May 26 at 4:30pm at SIFF Cinema and May 28 at 10am at the Harvard Exit}
Charismatic former Barcelona mayor and Catalonia president Pasqual Maragall was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2007. This touching and informative film documents his decision to go public with his condition, his steadfast determination to beat the disease, and the strength and support of his awesome family over a fateful two-year span. The title comes from three words used to test patients' recall ability; the film provides glimpses of treatments in other parts of the world -- Holland, India, USA -- where the cues vary but the therapeutic principles are remarkably similar. Like many documentaries this could have been a bit tighter, but the Maragalls make it worth the while.

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Latest comment by: imaginary embracey: "

And all the credit for that glorious quote goes to Kim! Oh how I wish it were my own...

"

Recommended SIFF: Proof that sci-fi and emotional drama are NOT mutually exclusive

For whatever reason, this year has had some great films that use a science-fiction premise to tell a story mainly about the human experience. Think Moon, but with even smaller budgets. Thankfully two of them are playing at SIFF! Between May 21st and 24th, I’d strongly suggest trying to put together a double feature of Another Earth and Womb. You'd be investing time on some of the best low budget dramas with sci-fi themes in a while.  Plus, you’d get a chance to spend some time watching Brit Marling onscreen. The breakout star of this year’s Sundance (also staring in the amazing Sound of My Voice, which unfortunately is not at SIFF this year but will get a theatrical release) is quite simply amazing. Even without knowing she co-wrote both Another Earth and Sound of My Voice, she’s truly one to watch.

Womb - Solid execution of a marvelously fucked up premise. Girl meets a boy - then girl moves away in a heartbreaking fashion. Years later, she returns and the soulmates resume - this time with a physical relationship. Then he dies, so she clones him...and gives birth to him. Yep, as you would imagine everything goes totally fine. No, not exactly... Beautiful backdrops, limited dialog, and a story told without smashing your face into things. Womb screens at SIFF on May 22nd, 8:30 pm at the Admiral Theater and again on May 24th, 7pm at the Egyptian Theater.

Another Earth - One night brings the discovery of a parallel earth in our solar system and a horrific traffic accident. The “reality” of this mirror-image planet is revealed as the driver works to make amends. Does this new world pose a second chance for her or the father who survived the event? This fantastical device is used to explore bigger issues in what’s really a small, personal story. An extremely well executed one. Don’t miss it. Another Earth screens at SIFF on May 21st, 6:30pm at the Egyptian theater and again on May 23rd, 4:30pm at the Neptune.

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Latest comment by: imaginary embracey: "

I was disapointed in Another Earth -- mainly due to the expectations set by the film's marketing, which sold me on something that the film never delivers. A nice story and a strong execution, but I really wish I'd gone in blind; I'm sure ...

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

On Stranger Tides

{Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides opened in Seattle on Friday, 5/20, and is playing at the Majestic Bay, the Metro, the Meridian, and the Cinerama}

Well thank god Disney for a swashbuckling return to form after the last two abysmally long and confusing PotC movies. Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has cast off the dead weight of Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly's complicated romance in favor of focusing solely on the star of the show: the scruffy, drunken, and hilariously awesome Captain Jack Sparrow (obvs. played by Johnny Depp).

After seriously botching an attempt to break first mate Gibbs out of jail, Sparrow discovers the nefarious Barbossa (Geoffery Rush - now one-legged) has joined sides with the royal guard, and is now seeking legendary Fountain of Youth--which only Sparrow knows the way to.

What follows is a kick-ass adventure involving a very sultry Penélope Cruz as Angelica, the former scorned lover of Sparrow, and the recently reunited daughter of the evil and ruthless Blackbeard--played by Deadwood's Ian McShane with heaps of Al Swearengen swagger, if Swearengen had a foofier outfit, a magic sword, voodoo dolls, and the power to raise the dead that is.

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Latest comment by: Imaginary Amie: "

Thanks Chris! I really enjoyed it. So much fun!

"

SIFF Take: 12 Paces Without a Head

12 Paces Without a Head

Sexy German pirates in period costume? A soundtrack that includes The Clash, T-Rex, Johnny Cash, and The Thermals? Oh hellyes.

Rockin' music aside, this (somewhat true) tale of two 14th century pirates is well worth the price of your SIFF admission. It's got a little bit of everything: humor, action, and of course, romance...with the title coming from a legend about a certain pirate walking 12 Paces Without a Head.

After many years of sailing the Baltic Seas, Klaus Störtebeker suffers a near-mortal wound and after being treated by a buxom, beautiful tavern maid feels an urge to give up the pirate life and settle down, while partner Gödeke Michels is anxious to return to the sea and raise some more hell. But when the two  accidentally discover a new-fangled weapon that blows large holes in ships, Klaus' interest is renewed...for awhile, at least.

Right as Gödeke realizes his best bud might be ditching him for good all because of a chick (which causes his already unstable temper to skyrocket), the authorities make it their mission to capture the duo and end their life of fun-filled crime. A nicely done, action-packed film that's just the right length, and just right for those seeking something fun.

{12 Paces Without a Head screens at SIFF May 20, 4:30pm and May 21, 7pm @the Neptune, and again May 23, 8:30pm at the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center}

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Latest comment by: Charlie J: "12 Paces without a Head did a great job showing the dirt and filth of the early 15th century, but it become monotonous after the main character's 100th fight or so. The action and pacing seemed noticeably interrupted by their continued squabbling which made the ...

13 Assassins

13 Assassins

{13 Assassins opens in Seattle on Friday, 5/20, and is screening at the Varsity}

Gore-master Takashi Miike’s latest Samurai epic 13 Assassins is so much fun, I’m finding it hard to even start describing.

In 1844, an arrogant sonovabitch lord commences with all kinds of raping and killing—including gruesome shit like cutting the arms and legs off a young lady after killing her whole family, and oh, cutting out her tongue too (the visual was almost as bad as "the thing in the bag", re: Audition).

So anyway, the leaders of other royal families are committing harakiri all over the place due to the shame of both what the evil lord has done, and what their country has become, when one guy decides he’s had enough and hires a gang of assassins to take the bad guy out.

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SIFF Opening Night is TONIGHT {5/19}! Do you have your tickets?

SIFF 2011

Tonight is the official kick-off for SIFF's 2011 Film Festival! Join TIG at tonight's Opening Night film and Gala for as we nerd out over favorite films seen (so far), what we're excited about seeing, how many drinks we plan to consume at Boom Noodle, and our strategy for stalking in-town celebs (jk, Ewan!). You'll see SIFF coverage appear on Three Imaginary Girls almost every day from here on out - and all our gabbing about it will be contained on the SIFF 2011 page.

Also: CONGRATS to our ticket giveaway winner! Enjoy!

See y'all in line.

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SIFF 2011 Opening Weekend Highlights

Venice

Yep, it's time for the 2011 edition of the Seattle International Film Festival. Can you feel the excitement? Have you carefully perused the printed schedule and SIFF website? Do you have a fresh bottle of Visine on hand? Are you standing in queue already?

Ready or not, the action gets underway this Thursday 5/19 with the usual big Opening Night Gala at McCaw Hall (featuring the not-great film The First Grader, details below) and continuing through 6/12 with 189 feature films and 150 shorts (most grouped into 18 themed shorts packages) from 74 countries. The action takes place at 19 venues around and outside town, covering Renton, Everett, Kirkland, Ballard, West Seattle, Cap Hill, Queen Anne, Downtown, and the U-district (where the beloved Neptune becomes a movie palace one more time, complete with new seats and a bar [!], before re-launching as a music venue this summer). Whew, I'm exhausted already.

Amie filled you in on ticketing last week, then gave you a peek at the Northwest Connections and Face the Music programs. Should you find yourself having trouble navigating all the other cinema-rific offerings  from this year's schedule (which can be found at siff.net or in printed form at the ticket counter at Pacific Place, or at your nearest Starbucks, or at a variety of other spots around town), take note of this year's ten program "pathways", which divvy up the features and shorts programs into themed groups, hopefully making things easier for the overwhelmed potential SIFFer: Creative Streak (imaginative, inventive, innovative), Face the Music (mentioned previously, music or musician-centric), Love Me Do! (lovey stories in their many forms), Make Me Laugh (comedy, duh), Open My Eyes (expanded horizons, via world vistas and the like), Sci-Fi and Beyond (speculative fiction to sciencey nonfiction), Spellbinding Stories (provocative plots), Take Me Away (get transported), Thrill Me (shocks and chills aplenty), and To the Extreme (avoid if you are on psychotropic or heart meds).

General festival how-tos and FAQs can be found here.

So are you ready now? We of the TIG SIFF crew sure are, and while we won't be able to alert you about everything before it comes to a theater near you, we'll be keeping you current on a good number of selections that are unmissable, skippable, or somewhere in between. Because, let's face it, not everything can be a masterpiece.

Let's get started with fifteen of the films coming up opening weekend (May 19-22), shall we?

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SIFF Preview: Shortsfest

{SIFF's 2011 Shortsfest Weekend screens between 5/27 and 5/30 at SIFF Cinema}

There are lots of ways to make your own personal festival out of SIFF. Maybe you only want to see German films, love stories, or animated escapades. One niche that SIFF carves out into its own show-within-a-show are short films. While some shorts will screen before features, a collection of the really good stuff has been grouped into a weekend of mini-film festival goodness. Beginning on May 27th with Shortsfest Opening Night and concluding on May 30th with Shortsfest Closing Night, you can spend your entire four day memorial day weekend watching these bite sized pieces of cinema. And at $100 ($75 for members) it's one of the most inexpensive pass options going this year (individual tickets also available at SIFF.net or the box office).

The films are grouped up into rough themes and screened in sets of 5-10 per 90 minute (or so) block. I've been lucky enough to watch five of the packages so far. I always enjoy throwing a few shorts sets into the SIFF mix, as you're almost guaranteed to like a few of them. Watching shorts to me is akin to Seattle's weather. Don't like it at present?, that's OK, just wait 15 minutes. As someone who has traveled specifically to shorts festivals such as the scorcher that's Palm Springs Shortsfest in late June, I can happily report that this year's Seattle offerings are some of the strongest I've seen to date. The hit to miss ratio is very satisfying. Even if you don't normally like shorts, I'd really encourage you to pick a package that sounds good and give it a try. Odds are you won't be disappointed.

Below are some brief notes of the packages I've seen with callouts for some of the most positively memorable contributions. All the packages have more films than I'm mentioning - it's likely your highlights may be different than mind, which is a big part of the fun.

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Win tix to SIFF's Opening Night Gala! {5/19}

The First Grader

Calling all fellow SIFFers! The generous folks at the Seattle International Film Festival have offered us two tickets for this year's Opening Night Gala (which happens this! Thursday! May! 19!). Wanna put on some nice duds and hobknob with Seattle cinephiles at McCaw Hall?

Send an email to tig {at} threeimaginarygirls dot com with the subject line "SIFF Rulez" by Wednesday, 5/18 at noon for a chance to win. We'll choose a winner using our imaginary randomness method, and email them back with a confirmation! Your free tickets get you and a friend in to kick-off the festival in style with a screening of The First Grader, as well as two complementary drink tickets and tables of delish appetizers from local restaurants at the post-film party. If you've never been, I HIGHLY recommend it (bring your camera for photos on the red carpet!).

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SIFF Preview: Face the Music

Backyard

It goes without saying that most of us imaginaries get more PSYCHED about the Seattle International Film Festival’s Face the Music program than anything else at the fest. There’s always a ton of great films and events that feature music, from documentaries to re-imaginings of a famous musician’s life.

This year, there are quite a few that we’re excited about. Backyard is a story about a guy that wanted to put on a small show for his friends with bands he was truly passionate about that grew into kind of a big deal. This intimate doc showcases Reykjavik’s up-and-coming indie music scene. Hit So Hard details Hole drummer Patty Schemel’s tumultuous life—reportedly including some never-before-seen video of Kurt and Courtney—while Who Took the Bomp? follows electro-pop group Le Tigre (YAYYYYY!) on tour from 2004-2005.

Over on the fiction side of things, Mario Van Peebles’ latest: Black, White, and Blues, takes us on a road trip with a bluesman hoping to recover his mojo, Funkytown details late-70s disco debauchery, and Killing Bono tells the story of two brothers in a band hoping to break into super stardom in late 70s Dublin, but get eclipsed by another fast-rising band called U2 (yup, it's that Bono). Roadie is about a middle-aged dude who doesn’t know what to do once his dream job hauling gear for Blue Oyster Cult (!!!) ends, and Surrogate Valentine is a sweet tale about a San Francisco musician (Goh Nakamura) teaching a musically-challenged TV star how to play—and also features some great Seattle scenery. And of course, I have to mention Moulin Rouge!, in which Ewan McGregor makes me all swoony by singing mashed-up 80s and 90s tunes in the most adorbs way possible. 

Once you’ve had your fill of cinematic glory, grab a date and head to The Triple Door to see Damien Jurado and the Russian Avant-Garde, wherein one of TIG’s favorite singer-songwriters provides a unique soundtrack to Russian filmmaker Dimitri Kirsanoff’s shorts. For those that crave some down-home gritty folk music, the musicians behind the music from Winter’s Bone are performing live, and you can also indulge in what is sure to be the trippiest event at SIFF this year—Douglas Fairbanks’ 1924 silent film The Thief of Bagdad, married with the music of E.L.O. (that's Electric Light Orchestra, kids) by popular DJ Shadoe Stevens (um. what).

Basically, the Face the Music program this year rocks as hard as always, and there’s plenty to see for music-lovers of every genre. Make a schedule of your must-sees, buy some tix, and go go go!

Photo from: Backyard

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