Tonight in Seattle:  


SIFF Take: The Dragon Pearl

{The Dragon Pearl screens at SIFF June 9, 1:00pm at the Kirkland Performance Center.}

There are scores of truly great children’s movies, and then there are other heaps of movies that are great movies for children, and this is of the latter class. You probably loved movies just like this one when you were between the ages of 8 and, say, 11. Or so. It has the loose, pleasantly formulaic feel of, say, Free Willy, or High School Musical, or The Parent Trap.

The plot goes like so: Josh comes from Australia to visit his dad (Sam Neill, playing Alan Grant, more or less) for the first time in some long amount of time, since The Divorce. Dad is an archaeologist working in China, and he’s on to Something Big. The lead archaeologist is Chinese and her daughter Ling is roughly the same age as Josh. Despite his pristine hoodies, adorable haircut, and mad puzzle-solving skillz, Ling thinks he’s boorish and impolite. But they become allies when they stumble on a Mysterious Mountain Temple guarded dynastically by a (genuinely) hilarious dude named Wu Dong. Turns out he’s protecting, with Indiana Jones-esque rube goldberg mechanisms, a glorious dragon who’s been waiting all this time for someone to return his magic pearl. The dragon, really, is extra cool. But the only grown up who believes them is the sinister Philip, who really, by rights, ought to have been granted a moustache to twirl.

Now, since you are reading this, I’ll wager a fair bet that you’re too grown up to enjoy its pleasures as fully as your youngsters will. You’ll likely have to supress an air of bemusement at the pre-teen acting skills. You might be slightly buffeted by the haphazard pacing. Josh, really, that hoodie? But it does pick up steam once the dragon makes an appearance, and the final chase at the end is well played. Plus, the cross-cultural sub-story is a really nice addition to the formula. If you’re a kid-haver you can feel really good about taking your progeny to see it.

SIFF 2012: Closing Weekend Highlights

Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present

Time's a-wastin', procrastinators: time to turn off the Netflickery and get yourselves to an actual cinematic event. SIFF 2012 comes to a close on Sunday, and here I present to you a handy list of six sure-fire hits -- some archival favorites, most recently-screened standouts -- all unspooling this weekend as the festival prepares to bid adieu for the year.

You'll notice that the Closing Night selection Grassroots, which chronicles Grant Cogswell's 2001 Seattle City Council bid (on a tenacious pro-monorail platform), isn't on this list; I got an early look and I can tell you it jumps the rails pretty early on, veers into unpleasantly manic territory and finally wobbles its way to a very silly finale. Not terrible, but far from great, and definitely not worth the gala-ticket pricepoint. I actually doubt the film will have much interest outside the 206 and adjacent area codes, and -- fun though it can be to see our Space Needle and our evergreens and our neighborhood haunts on the big screen -- a gigantic world-cinema celebration like SIFF reaffirms for us all that Seattle actually isn't the center of the universe. Right?


Best of SIFF 2012 shorts
{screens June 10 at 7pm at the Egyptian}
The full roster for this late-breaking collection of Audience and Jury favorites from the shorts programs won't be announced until day-of, but assuming the Shortsfest award-winners are prominent this should be an entertaining and enlightening package. I'm partial to Nudist Beach (from the Keep Calm and Carry On set of Brit shorts) and Paradise (from the Over The Edge program), the latter of which won the Documentary Short Grand Jury prize and will likely be screened here. Amie picked a nice roundup of standouts a couple weeks ago that just might get their second shots too.

Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present
{screens June 8 at 4pm at the Uptown}
This outstanding examination of the remarkable life and groundbreaking work of the 60something Belgrade-born performance-art sensation documents the conception of her ultimate self-portrait -- a three-month 2010 MoMA retrospective whose centerpiece was the artist herself looking intently at whatever museum visitor sat facing her, every damn hour of every damn day MoMA was open -- and its glorious culmination. This is a smart, perceptive, beautifully assembled film that manages to make challenging art accessible, and to give us the sensation of gazing into Marina's eyes ourselves. It's my documentary best-of-fest pick, and one of my favorite films of any genre so far this year.


SIFF Take: Future Weather

{Future Weather screens at SIFF June 9, 5:30pm and June 10, 10am at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Director Jenny Deller is scheduled to attend}

Both Future Weather and I Am Not a Hipster are also part of the inaugural Catalyst program at SIFF, and are eligible for the FIPESCI New American Cinema juried prize award! As part of the program, SIFF is offering a full day of public panels and discussion around co-cretion and community in the new digital space. Panels start at 10am and run through 2pm on Saturday, June 9, at the SIFF Film Center -- and are FREE to attend.  

Future Weather, which I was mainly excited about because the writer and director is female and HELLO WE NEED MORE WOMEN IN FILM, was an interesting spin on the usual coming-of-age story.

Perla Haney-Jardine (who you may remember as the adorbs BB Kiddo in Kill Bill Vol. 2) plays Lauderee, a 13-year-old in a small town with a pretty terrible mom. Seems mom has a dream of becoming a Hollywood makeup artist, and so you know, she just leaves to do that, as moms do. And Lauderee’s hard-drinking, miserable grandma Greta (yay, Amy Madigan!) isn’t much more help. She tries, but uh. Let’s just say the apple clearly doesn’t fall far from the tree. The only person for this neglected teen to turn to is science teacher Ms. Markovi (Lily Taylor), who encourages Laurderee’s obsession with schoolin’.

And that’s where the spin comes in. Rather than focus on the whole "troubled teenage girl who runs around sleeping with everybody, drinking, doing drugs, and godknowswhatelse," Lauderee throws herself into environmental studies and obsesses over Global Warming—right down to how much oxygen trees can create, and how she can save a rare mollusk that’s barely surviving in the town’s rivers.

Sure, there’s a love interest—kind of—that results in one very chaste kiss. But in the long run, it’s not about that, and man was it was refreshing to see a teenage girl portrayed as something more than a wild, out-of-control monster blindly trying to imitate what she’s been taught. The only thing I wish the movie had more of was Lily Taylor’s character, but Haney-Jardine and Madigan were so good in their roles, I was okay with what ended up on film. Overall, it’s a nice, solid film, and I’m excited to see what Jenny Deller does next. 


SIFF Take: The Source

{The Source screens at SIFF June 8, 8:30pm and June 10, 11:30am at the Harvard Exit. Director Jodi Wille and subject Charlene Peters are scheduled to attend}

“That’s not pot. It’s the sacred herb.” I like to imagine Father Yod said this right before posing in his big pimpin’ suit with all his ladies for this photo. 

Before I saw The Source, the only thing I knew about this trippy 70s cult was the name of its founder, Jim Baker (or Father of Light, or Father Yod, or YaHoWha), and that it derived from a popular organic, vegetarian restaurant on the Sunset Strip. Now I feel like I know WAY too much about The Source Family, but it’s all very interesting, so I don’t mind too much.

Baker made a boatload of money doing various and sundry things in the 50s and 60s, and then has this idea to create a hippy dippy restaurant in L.A. with his beautiful 19-year-old wife (he was something like 53 at the time) that made him boatloads MORE money. Then he took a bunch of drugs and did a bunch of kundalini yoga—and the restaurant evolved into a cult. At which point, Baker officially changed his name twice and went from “I’m here to deliver the word of God” to “I AM God” to “As God, I’m telling all y’all that I need 13+ wives. And we all need to have crazy sex orgies and blood rituals and smoke the sacred herb and have visions and deliver our message to the world."


Latest comment by: Imaginary Amie: "Yay! So excited you're both excited to see it - and thank you for the compliments, Chris. I should have known you had their albums!!! :) Hopefully the documentary will be as interesting/strange/hilarious to you as it was to me. "

SIFF Take: I Am Not a Hipster

{I Am Not a Hipster screens at SIFF June 7, 9:30pm and June 8, 3pm at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Director Destin Cretton is scheduled to attend}

Indie Rocker Brook (Dominic Bogart) spends a lot of time and energy avoiding fame and super fans of his self-recorded debut album. He’s not very nice to his friends, he throws public tantrums about his ex, and he uh, doesn’t want to do any publicity. Okay. Dude? In other words, he’s kind of a dick. Who is apparently NOT a hipster. That much we know.

And then his trio of beautiful sisters comes to visit him in San Diego and we learn why he’s kind of a dick. His mom died. And his dad and him had a fight about it. And he left.  And he has in no way dealt with his feelings about it, except for through his music. And then oh man. I guess that means we can’t hate him anymore, huh?

Though it's not a perfect film, there’s an authenticness to I Am Not a Hipster that I can’t quite pin down—I think it’s because it’s layered with lots of severely amazing music. The tunes are by Joel P. West, who created an entire album for the fictional character of Brook (Bogart does actually sing them in the movie), called Canines, which you can listen to for free! I’m sort of wishing West would tour with these songs. I like them that much.

Recommended, even though it’s pretty depressing. Just because it feels so real—and the music is so, so, so great. 

SIFF Take: Innocence (Nevinnost)

{Innocence screens at SIFF June 4, 8:30pm, SIFF Cinema Uptown, and June 6, 6:30pm & June 8, 4pm at The Harvard Exit}

Handsome rehabilitation doctor Tomas’ world is shattered with a 14-year-old patient, Olinka, accuses him of molesting her. Oh, and his wife Milada’s ex-husband is the cop assigned to the case. WHOOPS. Shit just got complicated!

I wasn’t sure about this one, but it turns out Innocence goes beyond the “is he guilty or not?” plot point that usually carries these kinds of films. The story starts with an interesting premise, and then dives into multiple layers of lies and deception involving Tomas’, his wife, her sister, and the teen girl he may (or may not have) abused.

I was continually surprised by the acting and direction. The actresses who play Lida (Anna Geislerova) and Olinka (whose name I can’t track down) are AMAZING, and both men, Tomas and the jilted ex, play their parts perfectly.

Innocence winds up with a satisfyingly twisted, unsettling ending, and is definitely worth your SIFF dollars.

SIFF Take: The Family Picture Show

Martian Picnic

The Family Picture Show played to a packed house of smallfry and bigfry last Sunday afternoon, with 12 family-friendly shorts both animated and live-action. Here's my stack-rank, but feel free to quibble freely! I found links to at least a few of 'em so you can play along at home.

The Bestest

Zebu and the Photo Fish

This live-action short from Uganda is suspenseful, sweet, educational, and very satisfying. Zebu, the son of a fisherman, inserts himself as middleman between his father and his father’s creditor, single-handedly moving the family from a barter economy to capitalism with the help of basic arithmetic and a great deal of moxie.

The Vacuum Kid

A short biopic about a kid who really, really, really loves vacuum cleaners. Especially in the Age of YouTube, a movie about a preteen genuinely fixated on vacuums (and also a fan of musicals) could far too easily turn into a point-and-laugh-fest, but Kyle himself refuses to be an object of ridicule and instead leaves you wishing you were more like him.

Fresh Guacamole

Another gem from PES with ordinary objects masquerading as other ordinary objects, this time in the service of making guacamole. This one’s possibly even better than Western Spaghetti, which blew my mind at the Family Picture Show 2 years ago. If you’re looking for a rabbit hole, treat yourself to more at the website.


SIFF 2012: Week Three Highlights

Moonrise Kingdom

One week remains of this year's movie gorge-fest -- which means if you have access to Seattle (or Kirkland) screens and you haven't yet partaken in the cinematic gluttony, it's not too late. Here's the intel on six films to see, three to avoid, and five to consider, all screening during SIFF 2012's final full week (6/4 - 6/10):


{screens June 4 at 9:30pm at the Harvard Exit}
Devastating French bloodboiler based on the memoir of Alain Marécaux, who, along with his wife, was wrongfully accused of involvement in a child sex ring in 2001. This is certainly not a feel-good film -- we see Marécaux endure the effects of false testimonies, horrific legal blunders, and several years of incarceration before he gets a proper day in court -- but the first-person travails pack this account of one of France's greatest judicial scandals with a shattering punch.

Hello I Must Be Going
{screens June 8 at 6pm at Pacific Place, June 9 at 3pm at the Harvard Exit}
Thirtysomething sadsack Amy (Melanie Lynskey), newly jobless and husbandless, reluctantly moves in with her high-achieving parents (Blythe Danner and John Rubenstein); an unexpected guest arrives arrives in the adorable form of her dad's client's 19-year-old son (Christopher Abbott, aka Charlie of HBO's Girls), and what follows is alternately charming and squeamy. The cast is wonderful and the Laura Veirs soundtrack is perfect for the material. A few silly, shticky missteps in the final third threaten to knock the story of the rails, but in the end the film's many charms win.

Moonrise Kingdom
{screens June 5 at 7pm at the Harvard Exit}
Wes Anderson's new film -- about troubled twelve-year-olds Suzy and Sam, who conspire to run away from their respective homes, and accordingly turn a New England island community upside down -- has many of the auteur's trademarks: it's drolly deadpan, visually controlled, and frequently wonderful. Whenever and however you see it (the single SIFF screening or in general release beginning June 8), be sure to stick through the closing credits for a perfectly thematic tribute to composer Alexandre Desplat. Delightful.


Latest comment by: Imaginary Amie: "I wanted to see THALE so bad! But I missed the screening. Hoping it gets picked up after SIFF and plays somewhere in Seattle. Also on my list: EVERYTHING on your must-sees. :) As usual, your wrap-ups rule, my friend. "

SIFF Take: The Crown Jewels (Kronjuverlerna)

{The Crown Jewels screens at SIFF June 2, 8:30pm at the Harvard Exit and June 10, 4:30pm at the Egyptian Theatre}

In a small Swedish town, two fathers wait in a hospital delivery room for news of their children’s birth. From that moment on, a boy and girl are linked despite the financial gap in their families. Frangancia Frenandez, whose father is a poor inventor convinced he can chemically recreate gold, and Richard Persson, whose father’s wealth and power rules the town.

As they grow up, Richard develops an obsession with Frangancia, who (sadly) does everything just a little bit better than he does, including playing hockey. Enter Peterson-Jonnson, who attracts attention on the ice—and wins Fragancia’s heart. As Mr. Persson ups his cruel behavior towards his son, Richard’s mind deteriorates further leading up to frightening mix of creepy, misguided behavior that includes the disappearance of Frangrancia’s little brother Jesus.

Told in flashback, The Crown Jewels is a twisted, modern fairy tale with lush imagery so gorgeous, it will take your breath away. Both Amanda Jenegren and Alicia Vikander rock the part of tomboy’ish Frangancia as a teenager and a young woman, and Jonathan Bokman and Bill Skarsgard (another genetically-perfect offspring of Stellan)’s expressions convey the million and one emotions Richard is feeling every minute.

Despite a few moments of extra cheese near the end, I really loved this film. Recommended for filmgoers who love dreamy romanticism mixed with murder mystery—and uh, gazing at beautiful Swedish people.

SIFF Take: The Glass Man

{The Glass Man screens at SIFF June 1, 9pm & June 3, 11am The Harvard Exit, and again June 5, 9:15pm at Pacific Place}

When this movie started playing, I was like “Hey! That’s Neve Campbell with a British accent! Weird.” And then I totally forgot about that, because The Glass Man starts out as a depressingly awkward thriller that nosedives into Crazytown.

Martin Pyrite (Andy Nyman) is REALLY into appearances, which means he can’t tell his beautiful wife (Neve) that he lost his job weeks ago, and he owes shit-tons of money to everybody. Nope. Martin prefers to just get dressed in the morning and drive to work anyway, because he promised to protect and take care of his wife when he married her, and bygod that means he can’t tell her the truth about them possibly losing their fancy house or having access to expensive jewelry and designer duds. So when a grizzled stranger shows up on his doorstep and offers him a way out, he takes it—even if it means driving the dude around on mysterious errands in the middle of the night.

The Glass Man is kind of a mess, but what sells it is Nyman’s panicked and sincere portrayal of Martin. You FEEL for this guy; you really do. As for the Crazytown part, I don’t want to give anything away, but I’m still processing how it happened and why. One further note: if I had to stick a genre on this movie it’d be “depressing thriller”, because it punches you in the gut at the end. Nicely done, but likely not for everybody.