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film

SIFF Take: Teddy Bears

Melanie Lynskey and David Krumholtz in Teddy Bears

Reading the description of Teddy Bears made me think that maybe I didn't want to see it. A movie about a guy trying to convince his friends to sleep with him so he can cure his depression over the death of his mother? I mean, what. This sounds like one of my ex-boyfriend's brilliant ideas (jk! kind of). COME ON.

But! The cast. Ohman the cast. The amazing Melanie Lynskey (I still obsess over her guest spot on The Shield ... among other things), instantly likable David Krumholtz (Mr. Universe!), hilarious Gillian Jacobs, wide-eyed cutie Jason Ritter, the only good thing about Flashforward: Zachary Knighton, and Ahna O'Reilly?!?!? Whoa. And I also took note that it's co-directed by Thomas Beatty and Rebecca Fishman. A male/female team, sharing directing duty? That pushed me over the edge from "maybe" to "YES." 

And boy am I glad I said YES. 

Krumholtz plays Andrew, the aforementioned guy who just can't seem to shake the depression that's settled on him after this mom's long, painful death. Focused on the idea that only a "wave of love" all at once will heal him, he invites his best friends out to a house in the middle of the desert and proposes that the three women (his girlfriend, Hannah, played by Lynskey -- and his other friends' girlfriends) have sex with him. Everyone laughs it off initially, but as the evenings and days go on and Andrew doesn't let up, it starts to affect the group in unexpected ways. 

And this is where having a kick-ass cast makes the difference between a forgettable dark comedy and a great one: every single person in Teddy Bears is acting the hell out of every scene. You can see each emotion play out clearly, and yeah: you really, really, really, get to love these characters -- and in some cases, hate them. Even the small parts are awesome (French Stewart! Dale Dickey!). 

I also love that the proposal never becomes a "will they or won't they" thing; instead, the film moves from character to character, exploring how the it affects each one and their relationships with the others. It's equal parts funny and sad, and it's beautifully done. Nice job, guys. 

{Teddy Bears screens at the 39th Seattle International Film Festival on Saturday, 6/1, 9:30pm, and again on Sunday, 6/2, 3:30pm at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Directors Thomas Beatty & Rebecca Fishman, and actors Gillian Jacobs, Zachary Knighton, David Krumholtz & Melanie Lynskey (!!!) are scheduled to attend both showings} 

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SIFF Take: Computer Chess

(n.b. Very little in this trailer is actually in the final cut of the film...)

It’s well-travelled territory to discuss how hip it is to call one’s self a nerd, meaning “I like superheroes or sci-fi,” “I wasn’t explicitly popular,” or “I like one thing a lot more than other people I know personally,” but pure nerds—socially inept people blissfully immersed in some sort of technical pursuit, with questionable grooming skills—remain decidedly unhip. Computer Chess is about those kind of nerds. I love those kind of nerds.

I think the director, Mumblecore-originator Andrew Bojalski, does too. He shot the whole thing on vintage equipment with mostly non-actors, and although there is plenty of chatting in rooms in a Mumblecore sort of way, the film also builds some interesting tension along the way. The film follows, Office-documentary-style, two conventions overlapping at the same crappy hotel over one 1980 weekend: a chess tournament between computer programs run by their developers and a Couple’s Encounter Group.

The movie isn’t especially brilliant or moving, but it’s funny. And it gets at some interesting ideas. The hero is so incredibly nerdy he’s all but inert, but he’s the only one with enough acuity to recognize that the computer he’s working on may be developing something like a personality. Meanwhile, the Encounter Group participants go around spreading their inner harmony and good will and socially inappropriateness all over everything like lawn sprinklers. Bojalski treads a wee bit closely to making fun of his ragtag group at times, but mostly he stays on the affectionate side.

{Computer Chess screens at the 39th Annual Seattle International Film Festival on Friday, 5/31, 4:30pm at the Harvard Exit. Actor Myles Paige is scheduled to attend.} 

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SIFF 2013: Week Three Highlights

The Wall

Two speculative-fiction films (one good, one terrible), a buzzy doc about backup singers, and a purgatory-set Amélie are among the highs, lows, and in-betweens of SIFF 2013 week 3 (May 31 - June 6).

DON'T MISS:

The Wall
{screens June 1 at 6:30pm and June 2 at 12:45pm at the Harvard Exit}
I had mixed emotions viewing this odd, slow, science-fictiony film, but it's stayed with me and my appreciation has grown. The premise is clearly metaphorical -- a woman visiting a remote Alpine homestead finds herself trapped and alone behind a mysterious invisible wall -- and if you're ok with that you're in for a beautifully contemplative experience. The landscape photography is stunning, and the German actress Martina Gedeck amazes in the lead role; her character's narrative voiceover is filled with eloquent ruminations on solitude, connectedness, and the natural world.

TAKE OR LEAVE:

Fatal
{screens June 5 at 4pm at the Uptown and June 6 at 9:45pm at Pacific Place}
A kind of revenge drama from South Korea centering on a very uncomplicated young man who is bullied into participating in a despicable act of violence against a classmate. Attempting to atone ten years later, he forms a relationship with the victim, who is oblivious to his role in the crime. The film is engaging throughout, with the exception of a few clumsily-executed dream sequences, and it doesn't seem micro-budget at all (it was reportedly made for $3000). I just had a really difficult time connecting with this protagonist.

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SIFF Take: Mutual Friends

Mutual Friends SIFF 2013

Ensemble romantic comedies aren't really my favorite, but there's something about Mutual Friends that makes the genre feel fresh. 

I think that's mostly due to Caitlin Fitzgerald, who plays the confused Liv with equal parts frazzle and adorableness. Liv is engaged to Christoph (Cheyenne Jackson, who I guess used to be on Glee, but I mainly know him from 30 Rock), but she had a fling with her tousled hair-BFF Nate (Peter Scanavino), whom she may or may not sorta kina be in love with. Determined to forget about Nate and his flaky-non-commitment ways, she decides to throw Christoph the best birthday ever -- but there are some complications (aren't there always?).  

Christoph's ex, Annie, is in town and trying to get him back; friends Sammy & Adele are going through some rough times (mainly due to Adele getting naked in the woods with another man), Paul & Beatrice are having a baby -- but Paul might not be quite ready for that; Liv's drifter brother Thomas decides to "help", and ends up decorating the party with a mish-mash of kindergarden games and terrible snacks, AND hires a stripper to bartend (OOPS); and Liv's strange ex, Cody, shows up at the last minute. Oh, and all of them are dispensed pretty solid relationship and life advice by the happiest, most together couple: the constantly pot-smoking, ultra laid-back Chernus & Lucy. 

Even though the resolution for each couple is mostly predictable, there are a few surprisingly good jokes sprinkled within that don't regurgitate the same old-same old. It's a nice, light evening at the cinema that'll still provide you with room to think. 

{Mutual Friends screens at the 39th Annual Seattle International Film Festival on Friday, 5/31, 6:30pm, and again on Saturday, 6/1, 3pm at SIFF Cinema Uptown}

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SIFF Takes: ShortsFest Family Picture Show

I always worry that it may be a bit impolite to recap the Shorts Fest films, since it’s not always easy to catch them outside of that one showing, but I so sincerely hope that you run across a chance to see them some time (for example, if any of them get nominated for Academy Awards and make the rounds before the ceremony) that I'll offer a rundown anyway. They showed 14 at this year's Family Picture Show on Saturday. And I’ve included links to trailers or to the full thing whenever I could dig them up.

My favorites

Hop Frog
My very favorite of the shorts this year was this little gem that shows how little it takes to generate a compelling narrative. Brightly-colored creatures hop in and out of holes in the ground (rather like the Nowhere Man from Yellow Submarine), establishing crystal-clear personalities with just one or two hops. One mutating magenta fellow hops blissfully alone until a green Philly-Phanatic-lookalike joins him in the hole adjacent. “Is there room in this world for both of them?” quickly gives way to “can they live without each other?” If I can ever manage to find a link to it anywhere I’ll be sure to post it for y’all later.

Hedgehogs in the City
A poignant social commentary smuggled in by adorable woodland creatures who hatch a genius plan to recapture their homeland after it’s paved over. Everybody wins!

Hannah and the Moon
This sweet fable about a girl seeking solace from the moon when she can’t seem to get it from her busy mom tells its own tale with written words woven into each scene. It has a dreamy, Etsy-drawing quality that suits the mood beautifully. Trailer here! 

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Photo Essay: SIFF Rock Doc Red Carpets! The Punk Singer & Her Aim is True

Imaginary Rich has done it again! His red carpet coverage is UNSTOPPABLE. This time he captured the arrivals for both The Punk Singer and Her Aim is True: two rock-related documentaries that screened at SIFF this past weekend.

We ♥ the spirit showing in these! Thanks, Rich.

{more photos after the jump} 

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SIFF Take: Peaches Does Herself

You gotta love Peaches to love this film; and I do. Her music makes me wanna dance all night, get pissed, be fierce, make out, jump up and down, and do a ton of tequila shots. 

In Peaches Does Herself, the rock star/punker/electronic Goddess takes her stage antics to new performance art levels; directing herself, dancers, and other musicians through a storified-approach to her songs involving hot pink underwear, spage-age costumes (which she peels off to reveal hot pink underwear), and simulated sex. Lots and lots and lots of simulated sex. Oh, and a little bit of blood too. OF COURSE. 

Everyone's legs seemed continually splayed; and Peaches particular brand of art includes more representations of boobs, vaginas, and cocks (+ a few real ones) than most people are probably comfortable with. But that's the point, isn't it? Peaches is always trying to throw this stuff in your face in order to make a statement about it.

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Latest comment by: Imaginary Amie: "If you had to sum up Peaches in one word, it would probably be "controversial". Or maybe "what." "

Imaginary Rich's Recommendations for SIFF Weekend #2

Out in the Dark

There's a lot of stuff going on every day at SIFF between now and June 9th. To try and cut through some of the clutter, I wanted to share some recommendations for this long Memorial Day weekend. I've only seen a small fraction of the SIFF films (hard as that may be to believe), so likely there are some gems I'm missing. But based on what I've seen here are some interesting, quality choices worth staying inside for. A few picks that I haven't watched yet but am really looking forward to catching are: The Spectacular Now, Her Aim is True, Drug War and, of course, some of the shorts packages playing.

And don't forget, if you're having difficulty navigating the SIFF website it's probably not you. I'd written up some snarky instructions on how to get around that folks keep mentioning have proved helpful to them.

On to the suggestions...

Nightmare Mystery Theater - Speaking of shorts, I recommend checking out as many sets from this ShortsFest weekend as much as you can. Specifically,  I highly recommend the Nightmare Mystery Theater session in order to see The Quiet Girls Guide to Violence and The Sleepover. The former is one of my fave shorts of the past year. The latter is just bloody, fun and rather clever. Don't miss this set for those two reasons.

OK ... now on to the feature length stuff.

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SIFF Review: The Punk Singer

For those lucky enough to catch Who Put The Bomp?, the sizzling Le Tigre tour documentary shown at SIFF a couple years back, the new Kathleen Hanna biography The Punk Singer will be an answer to Pussy Riot-like prayers. (The two music movies would make a delicious double feature.) The fanzine artist, riot grrrl comrade-avatar, Bikini Kill co-founder, fourth-wave feminism fearless bellwether, Le Tigre musician and more just blazes away in this Kickstarter-funded fiesta of fiery rock and fiercely loving social commitment.

Directed by Sini Anderson, a sparkplug-member of the awesome radical-poetic Sister Spit collective and Chief Curator for the The National Queer Arts Festival, The Punk Singer puts you right in the middle of everything as it happens through the early days of punk girl revolution early 90s style. You're there in the pit at a house show, making the decision to commit to revolution with Bikini Kill. You're there in Kathleen's bedroom with she and her friends, using scissors and paste to manipulate clip art and appropriated text to juxtapose images of female passivity with phrases evoking the tortures of being watched and judged daily by patriarchy. You watch as she puts on provocative, prick-kicking fashion shows even though peers remind her that "we're only in high school, Kathleen!"

And then get blown away again as she takes to the mic like a natural, snarling and screaming and shouting passion for her ideal "rebel girl" and telling the boys to "move to the back (be cool for once)" and "girls to the front!" Her bandmates (Tobi Vail, Katji Wilcox, Billy Karren) have as much verve as X-Ray Spex or The Ramones, and though all the musicians are different from each other in many ways, as a mystical shred-unit of focused protest, the footage of them makes The Punk Singer an essential rock documentary. 

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SIFF 2013: Week Two Highlights

The Spectacular Now

A twisty political thriller, a surprisingly good high-school movie, and a shockingly bad David Sedaris adaptation are among SIFF's highlights and lowlights in week two (May 24-30).

DON'T MISS:

Camion
Camion{screens May 29 at 6:30pm and May 30 at 4:30pm at the Uptown}
A truck driver nearing retirement age gets in a head-on collision on the job, and his two sons come home (somewhere in rural French Canadia) to help him out of the ensuing funk. The story then takes an interesting detour into childhood-regression territory, focusing on the brothers: one's a funny fuckup who looks kinda like Dave Grohl and the other is a straighter-lacer who looks like I dunno who but definitely not Dave Grohl. Despite any casting questions or POV unevenness, this is a beautifully-crafted film with a gorgeous ending.

Paradise trilogy: Love, Faith, Hope
{screening back-to-back May 25 beginning at 10am at Pacific Place}
A captivating series of films focusing on three women as they confront themselves and search for some version of happiness. Love travels with full-figured, fiftysomething hausfrau Teresa as she becomes a "Sugar Mama" sex tourist in Kenya; in Faith we get to know Teresa's sister, a fanatic Catholic missionary whose summer is disrupted by the sudden return of her paraplegic Muslim husband; then there's Teresa's sullen 13-year-old daughter Melanie, making unexpected new friendships at a fat camp and flirting with a much older camp doctor, in Hope. All three feature intriguing photography (director Ulrich Seidl has a fondness for static symmetrical shots, mainly of characters in small rooms) and audacious, often ruthless storytelling (he also has a fondness for challenging the viewer to look directly at unpleasantness). Paradise is well worth your while.

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