Tonight in Seattle:  

SIFF 2012: Week Two Highlights

Welcome to Doe Bay

Has the SIFFatigue gotten you down? Or (worse) have you not partaken of the SIFFtacularness at all yet?

Either way, don't fret, because there are plenty of worthy offerings unspooling soon. I know of six films scheduled to screen next week that are absolutely worth the exertion required to face the neverending queues, the redundant pre-film bumpers, and the passholes. Eight more flicks get honorary mentions, and I'd be remiss in not bringing a couple to your attention that are more irksome than an average visit to the Egyptian Theater men's room.

Highlights for Monday-Sunday, 5/28 - 6/3:

DON'T MISS:

170 Hz
170 Hz{screens May 31 at 9pm at Pacific Place, June 7 at 7pm at the Uptown, June 9 at 2pm at Pacific Place}
Dark, absorbing, ferociously visual Dutch flick about two very attractive deaf post-adolescents who fall hard for each other and -- rebelling against their parents' various encroachments on their lives, of course -- cook up a plan to run away together. The leads' performances, the atmospheric handiwork, and the not-quite-linear storytelling are spot-on in the most purely sensual film I've seen in quite a while.

Countdown
{screens June 2 at 6pm and June 4 at 3pm at the Uptown}
This Korean pulse-pounder asks the viewer to take many leaps of faith; I suggest you strap in and just go with it. The wild yarn commences with a badass debt collector who finds himself with terminal cancer and 10 days to live. (Remember what I said about the leaps of faith? Keep reading.) He seeks out a viable liver-donor candidate with issues and drama and action-movie potential of her own, and has to work hard at keeping this potential savior safe. The ticking clock charges the film's first half with breakneck narrative thrust, and a midpoint revelation adds unexpected emotional depth to the frenzied proceedings; by the (unnecessary) tear-jerkin' final coda you realize you've ended up with a completely different film than you started with. Countdown is all over the place, but wow, it works.

The Imposter
{screens May 29 at 9pm at the Harvard Exit}
Spellbinding, infuriating, beautifully executed documentary thriller about a French Algerian mystery-man who in 1997 passed himself off as a missing San Antonio teen, fooling international officials and (most astoundingly) the boy's actual family. Queasiness in the first half ends abruptly when an awesomely old-school local P.I. rolls in (complete with Johnny Cash fanfare) and gets the show on the road, leading to an edge-of-your-seat climax. The film satisfies, even if the real-life outcomes do not.

Las Acacias
{screens May 28 at 5:30pm at the Uptown}
Naturalistic performances and a heartrending sense of discovery make for a sweet, poignant South American road movie. A gruff truck driver has agreed to let a young woman ride with him from Paraguay to Argentina; he's not thrilled when she shows up with a baby in tow. But he gradually eases up as the trip progresses and as a connection forms, to the mom and the kid, and there's an understated loveliness in beholding these characters revealing themselves and coming to life.

The Story of Film: An Odyssey
{screens May 29 [part 3], May 31 [part 4], and June 5 [part 5] at 7pm at the SIFF Film Center}
Stimulating and extremely ambitious eight-part, fifteen-hour documentary that ran on Britain's Channel 4 last fall and is presented at SIFF in five three-hour chunks. Director Mark Cousins charts cinema history in a way I've never seen before, setting the record straight on commonly held notions about the century-old medium, the innovations and evolution (and redundancies) that have formed its very DNA. I've seen the first two chunks and I'm utterly riveted. It speaks to diehard cinephiles and more casual movie-lovers alike, and if you check out one of the remaining installments with me you'll surely be illuminated.

Welcome To Doe Bay
{World Premiere. Screens June 3 at 9:15pm at the Egyptian, June 5 at 9:30pm at the Uptown}
This nicely-assembled, big-hearted documentary about the adored Orcas Island music fest features some astounding performances by the likes of Champagne Champagne, The Maldives, Campfire OK, Pickwick, and Damien Jurado. I personally have never sipped the Doe Bay Kool-Aid and therefore I must report that there's some major PNW hippity-earnestness going full tilt here -- depending on your state of mind and your frame of reference you could very well think you're watching Portlandia at select moments. (There's footage of a communal makeshift Slip-n-Slide, OK?) But being a TIG reader you'll surely find much to enjoy in the sounds; Champagne Champagne's segment alone is worth the time and ticket.

TAKE OR LEAVE:

Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best
Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best{screens June 1 at 9:30pm at the Harvard Exit, June 6 at 4pm at Pacific Place}
A lovesick indie singer-songwriter (director Ryan O'Nan) big on melancholia and short on cash reluctantly agrees to a spontaneous cross-country 'tour' with a delusional self-proclaimed musical revolutionary (Michael Weston) who wants a taste of the traveling-band life. One of the many eccentric characters encountered on the road describes their sound as "The Shins meets Sesame Street", and he's kinda right: the music charms and sometimes even delights. But the superfluous, patchworky story around the performances doesn't offer much magic.

Gimme the Loot   
{screens May 28 at 4pm at Pacific Place}
Two graffiti-writing NYC teens attempt a complicated challenge -- to tag the Home Run Apple at Shea Stadium -- after one of their rooftop works is defaced by a rival gang. The film has very appealing leads, a pleasing urban energy and a nice youthful vibe overall. It often feels like a debut feature, but I predict we'll see great things from director Adam Leon in years to come.

Golden Slumbers
{screens May 30 at 6pm and May 31 at 3:30pm at the Uptown}
Pre-Khmer Rouge Cambodia had a prolific entertainment industry that produced 400 films between 1960 and 1975, but only a handful of these have survived. Documentarian Davy Chou takes the viewer on a very leisurely walk down memory lane with notable filmmakers and actors of the period; unfortunately, he shows us very little of the (tragically tiny) fraction of films that did endure. What some will find reflective and meditative, others will find boring and, well, slumber-inducing. Caffeinate and proceed with caution.

Hemel
{screens May 30 at 9:30pm at the Uptown}
Nicely stylish Dutch film about, per the SIFF description, "a young woman's longing to connect with her elusive father and her compulsive and transgressive sexual route to emotional maturity." The dark subject matter may've seemed more daring and original pre-Shame. Performances are good, but the execution feels shaky and fragmented -- and maybe that's the point.

How to Steal 2 Million
{screens May 29 at 3:30pm at the Uptown, May 31 at 8:30pm at the Harvard Exit}
Our antihero Jack emerges from a five-year prison sentence to discover that his loyalty to his ex-partner-in-crime has been rewarded with betrayal, leading him to pursue one last lucrative heist. Aside from the Johannesburg setting, there's not a lot here that you haven't already seen in crime drama -- double crosses, stashed loot, femmes fatales, cigar-cutter mutilations -- but if this is your kind of thing, you could do much worse than this South African noir lite.

The Standbys
{screens June 2 at 5:30pm at the Uptown, June 4 at 4pm at the Harvard Exit}
This short-n-sweet documentary peeks backstage at three Broadway performers who've worked as standbys -- actors who don't have a regular supporting role in a major production (as understudies do), but who must be ready to fill in for an absent star on a moment's notice. Two of the performers are very likeable, and the film is put together well -- despite a few squeamy musical numbers staged specifically for the project. But with the 75-minute runtime, they're no dealbreaker.

Starbuck
{screens May 31 at 8pm in Kirkland, June 1 at 6:30pm and June 7 at 9pm at the Egyptian}
A middle-aged Québec fuckup named David is confronted with a class-action lawsuit by 142 of the 500+ twentysomethings who resulted from 600+ (!) sperm donations he deposited way back when. As much affection as I have for the movie, and for David as he finds these kids and helps them out in small ways, My Name Is Earl style, the frustrating broadness (and often flat-out ridiculousness) that surrounds it all keeps Starbuck from my full endorsement.

Step Up to the Plate   
{screens May 29 at 6:45pm at the Egyptian, June 1 at 6:30pm in Kirkland}
Smart and poignant despite its unfortunate English title, this mouthwatering documentary follows famed restaurateur Michel Bras as he prepares to hand over the reins of his three-star eatery in remote Laguiole, France to his son Sébastien. The film doesn't have the emotional heft of Jiro Dreams of Sushi, or the narrative drive of Kings of Pastry, but the Bras' spectacular creations make this a solid bet for food-doc fans.

SKIP:

Earthbound
Earthbound{screens June 2 at 9:30pm at Pacific Place, June 3 at 2pm at the Uptown, June 7 at 6:30pm at Pacfic Place}
British sci-fi romcom about a manchild who believes that he's an intergalactic alien, and that he must find a human girl with whom he can travel through a wormhole and propagate his dying species. Or something. The eccentric and seemingly delusional hero is a bit like the Mark Duplass character in (the much better) Safety Not Guaranteed, but Earthbound's broad, silly story and irritatingly obtrusive soundtrack ultimately keep it from approaching orbit.

Keep the Lights On
{screens June 1 at 6:30pm and June 2 at 12pm at the Harvard Exit}
I'm not tryin' to hate on the gay-themed offerings at SIFF this year, but where are the good ones? This glum, inefficient flick follows the tumultuous, fragmented, decade-long relationship of two NYC guys (played by Zachary Booth, who looks like a younger, gayer Adam Gehrke, and Swede Thure Lindhardt). They make incomprehensible choices, refuse to heed wise advice, and are generally unpleasant to spend time with.


More from me next Friday. Hope to see you out SIFFing in the meantime!

I meant what I said, sir: You're the Robert Christgau of the capsule film review. These are absolutely exquisite, and you have tipped me to some movies I desperately want to see now (almost everything in the first section, which I have somehow missed!); and shared the valleys of the festival in a very funny way (the Egyptian Theater men's room; the gruesomely exaggerated soundtrack and sentimental meandering of Earthbound; and those awesome passholes, bless their hearts). Thank you, this was fantastic!

I second that e(motion)!  Embracey is my Robert Christgau for everything!!!  Is there a 33 1/3 series for film?  If so, can we get him on that?

Thanks for all these- totally agree with Chris and Liz. Has anyone else seen the Charles Bradley doc "Soul in America" playing at Siff? I saw it last night at Harvard Exit, and it know it played again this afternoon. It's fantastic for both music lovers (of great soul in particular) and for those who are captivated by a feel good story (who isn't?!).

I went mostly because I loved Bradley's album from last year No Time For Dreaming, and because his live performances from both Bumbershoot last fall and Sasquatch this past Saturday were amazing.

Haven't seen any other blurbs on it yet so I'm curious if anyone saw it and loved it as much as I did.

You're definitely not alone in your admiration for Charles Bradley: Soul of America I've heard very positive buzz and plan to attend its final screening (June 6 at 9:15p at Pacific Place).

I confess I really loved Starbuck, despite the fact that it got turned up to Ludicrous Speed for a good chunk of it. It was such a satisfying fairy tale. Why can't life be like that, with good-natured slackers suddenly turning into semi-responsible guardian angels for a bunch of attractive young hipsters in a totally un-creepy way?

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