Tonight in Seattle:  


Recommended SIFF: Damien Jurado and the Russian Avant-Garde {6/8}

Damien Jurado

Dearest Imaginaries - I can't tell you how excited I am that the SIFF event I have been waiting for is FINALLY almost here! Our beloved Damien Jurado is taking the stage at The Triple Door on Wednesday night (6/8) for a special peformance: he'll be providing a live musical soundtrack to Russian filmmaker Dimitri Kirsanof's avant-garde shorts!

The Damien Jurado and the Russian Avant-Garde show starts at 7pm and is all-ages. So to recap, you get to listen to Damien peform while watching gorgeous vintage short films made from the 20s-50s. At $15 a ticket, this qualifies as a total steal.

Latest comment by: imaginary liz: "This just in from our Facebook friend Jill: the 9:30pm show has been cancelled. Go grab your tickets for the 7pm show now!!! {thx for the tip Jill!!!}"

SIFF Take: The Off Hours

The Off Hours

Pretty waitress Francine (doe-eyed Amy Seimetz) sleepwalks through diner shifts and time spent playing video games with her foster brother/roommate Corey (Scoot McNairy, Monsters), and an unfaithful boyfriend. Enter truck driver Oliver, whose ease, friendliness, and kindness spark an instant connection, and a desire for something that may be beyond her reach.

Two side-plots—one involving alcoholic diner owner Stu and heart-breaking exchanges between him, his ex-wife (played expertly by Lynn Shelton!), and teen daughter, and the other focusing on a second waitress: a widowed Russian mail-order bride—enhance the viewers' wish for Francine to break free of her static, lonely life.

Seattle-based director and writer Megan Griffiths' shooting style and script both command strong performances, complemented perfectly by cinematographer Benjamin Kasulke's Hopper-esque diner shots and dusk-colored landscapes. The Off Hours is a rich, emotionally charged slice of cinematic goodness that shouldn’t be missed.

{The Off Hours screens at SIFF June 6, 7pm and again June 7, 4:30pm at the Neptune Theatre}


Latest comment by: Imaginary Amie: "

Chris, I know, right??? Lynn absolutely rocked it - as well the rest of the actors. So perfectly cast, shot, and directed! A really nice job, and I can't wait to see what Griffiths does next.


SIFF 2011: Week Three Highlights

The Sound of Noise

SIFF 2011's concluding week is upon us, and the festival's wily programmers have saved some of their best cinematic treats for last. Tickets will move fast in the final days, but there's still ample opportunity to catch several incredible documentaries, a Dutch financial-collapse drama, or (if you must) a Northwest Bigfoot tale; all are set to unspool between now and June 12's closing night brouhaha.


{screens June 8 at 7pm at SIFF Cinema and June 9 at 6:30pm at Kirkland Performance Center; both screenings are on standby status}
Moving documentary about wise Montana cowboy and real-life "horse whisperer" Buck Brannaman, whose humane training methods counter medieval "breaking" practices in place for most of America's history. The film effectively takes us from nightmarish childhood experiences (terrifying parent, rodeo circuit, '70s Corn Pops TV-ad appearances) to a current-day personal and professional life of gentleness and grace. Buck demonstrating his legendary skills at "helping horses with people problems" is wondrous to behold, and his simple strive-to-be-better actions and attitude are superbly inspiring.

{screens 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: shimmy: "I have enjoyed these weekly roundups so much. I never would have given Buck a thought without your endorsement but I got to see it last night and (as a former resident of a Wyoming ranch) it has really changed my life. Venice and African Election were also excellent ...

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!). ;)


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 .