Tonight in Seattle:  

The Admiral Theatre

SIFF Take: Holy Rollers - The True Story of Card Counting Christians

Holy Rollers: The True Story of Card Counting Christians

{Holy Rollers is screening at SIFF Saturday, 6/11, 6pm at the Admiral - which is on standby, so be prepared to wait in line if you don't have tix yet! - and again on Sunday, 6/12, 3:30pm at SIFF Cinema}

Thus far, I'd been blissfully unaware of this young, hipster group of Christians who do things like start their own churches so their band can play hymns, drink frothy microbrews and whiskey, and bankroll their lives by hooking up with two other hip young Christian dudes who started a card counting business. But - no more. After watching Holy Rollers, I sadly (SADLY) know way too much about these guys.

That photo above is of Ben, the co-founder of "Chuchteam" (the nickname given to their blackjack business since almost all the players are Christians), and I feel like it pretty accurately portrays what you're in for when you sit down to watch this film. But that's okay - you don't have to like these guys (in fact, if you're similar to me and Embracey, you'll loathe them), because watching them do what they do is still pretty damn fascinating.

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Latest comment by: stephy: "Hell. Yes."

SIFF Double Take: 2 for the environment tonight - Sushi & Revenge {6/8}

Sushi: The Global Catch

It's been a great year for documentaries at the 2011 Seattle International Film Festival. I just saw probably one of my favorites of the year, Errol Morris's Tabloid, which is a off the recent (brilliant) war train for the director, The Fog of War and Standard Operating Procedure, to focus on a narcissistic, psychopathic sex worker who enlisted a bunch of dupes to dominate a missionary in the 70s and then, well, I'll let Embracey take it from there.

Meanwhile, the two SIFF documentaries that have made the most impression on me otherwise are both playing tonight {Wednesday, 6/8}: Sushi: The Global Catch (USA, 2011, directed by Mark Hall, 75 minutes), at the Admiral Theatre, 7pm (and then Friday 6/10, 4:30pm at the Harvard Exit); and Revenge of the Electric Car (USA, 2011, directed by Chris Paine, 99 minutes), premiering in Kirkland at 8:30pm (and then 6/10, 7pm at the Egyptian, and 6/12 at 4:30pm at the Harvard Exit).

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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}

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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

{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!

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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: 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.

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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 Take: Karate-Robo Zaborgar

{Karate-Robo Zaborgar screens at SIFF on May 27th, 11:59 pm at the Egyptian Theater, on May 30th, 8:30pm at the Admiral Theater, and once more on June 1st, 9:30 pm at the Neptune}

In the case of the latest film from the director of Mutant Girls Squad and RoboGeisha, the description from the SIFF guide is quite accurate:

Police officer Yutaka Daimon and his motorcycle-transforming karate robot partner Zaborgar fight the evil super-crime organization Sigma. But when Daimon meets Miss Borg, a sexy cybernetic agent, their love affair threatens not only his partnership with Zaborgar, but the entire free world as well.

I haven't seen any of his earlier films so I can't really compare this to those. This one did feature the cheesy visuals and ridiculousness I expected having seen the trailer from RoboGeisha last year - but what surprised me at times was the over-the-top soap opera melodrama at work. While I laughed at some of the characters (I'm looking at you Diarrhea Robot) and got into some of the action, I also felt suitably outraged at the gender discrimination face by Miss Borg.

 

 

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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 ...

SIFF Take: Rapt

Yvan Attel in Rapt

I try to avoid using the phrase "taut thriller" but if any movie has earned that label, it’s Rapt.

This glossy French film focuses on Stanislas Graff, a filthy rich CEO who gets kidnapped for ransom. The first demand is sent with one of Stanislas fingers and a request for $50 million, or more body parts will follow.

While the board of directors decides whether or not they want to pay to have him released, the story jumps between two months of torture at the hands of his captors, and his family disintegrating as scandalous news is leaked to the papers. Seems Mr. Graff had several mistresses and amassed huge gambling debts – some of which he used company money for.

This is one of those films where everyone has their own motive, and no one can be trusted. Beautifully acted and shot, it definitely had me on the edge of my seat until the end.

{Rapt screens at SIFF May 22, 4pm & May 23, 6:30pm at the Neptune, and again May 25 at The Admiral Theater, 9:30pm}

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Three Imaginary Films to see: SIFF Edition

This is kind of cheating, since there’s obviously more than 3 films I think you should see at the Film Festival this weekend – but I thought I’d hit you with these and then recommend some more via SIFF Takes for full-on movie madness!

Off Season: SIFF Shorts Package Pandemonium Boulevard

Shorts Package: Pandemonium Boulevard: My favorite shorts collection this year, because it focuses on the spooky, creepy and just plain bizarre. The standouts: I was surprised and PLEASED to see Wil Wheaton in the twisted comedy In the Dark, about a man planning the perfect murder who forgets the most important part, and Off Season, about a burglar who steals from lake houses during the winter and stumbles upon a terrible secret in one of the cabins. SUPER creepy with a great haunting ending.

{Pandemonium Boulevard screens only once at SIFF Cinema, 5/22, 9:30pm}

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West Seattle gets new venue and starts rockin'

The Admiral Theatre has reinvented itself from an old silent movie haunt into a 400-person show venue.

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Latest comment by: rdm: "Old silent movie haunt? Huh?? Y'all are thinking of hokum hall on 35th.... One thought...if they can't get 50 people to go to the skylark on any given night, does the admiral's booker really believe the bands she books can get 400 people there for rock shows? (myspace ...