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SIFF Review: Monsoon Shootout

"The law is what it is. If you can't use it to get justice then you're the ass!" - Rookie officer Adi addressing his superior.

Monsoon Shootout from director Amit Kumar is a tight and satisfying take on first day on the job dramas such as Training Day, while layering in a metaphysical treatment of the power of choices we make each moment of our lives. Clocking in at a fast 88 minutes, a lot gets packed into this one.

The film kick offs with Adi's first day on the job as a cop. He's teamed with Khan, a beyond pragmatic lawman who believes in justice but not upholding all the details of the law. That's made pretty clear when within minutes of reporting for duty Khan executes a group of suspects in the extortion murder of a real estate developer. Adi's asked to crash their car to cover up the "escape" attempt, and his moral dilemmas begin. Before long he's making choices that are all over the shades of grey spectrum as they try to put away Shiva (aka the "Ax killer"), who's just the tip of the bloody spear wielded by local gangster "the Slum Lord." In the meantime, corruption is all around in what could just as easily serve as a scathing indictment of Indian society as it could a hard-nosed police thriller.

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SIFF 2014: Week One Highlights

40 Days of Silence

Our local month-long movie megathon struck again Thursday with Jimi: All Is By My Side, a Jimi Hendrix biopic devoid of Jimi Hendrix music. But even if you missed the opening night soiree there's plenty more to feast your eyes and ears and emotions on before the cinematic smorgasbord unspools its final reel projects its last digital file on June 8.

The TIG SIFF staff will be here for the duration to help you make sense of the typically mammoth schedule, and as in years past I'll bring you a roundup of brief capsule previews for films to be screened the coming festival week. I'm happy to report that, so far, the joy-free staleness of Jimi isn't at all the deal for upcoming offerings. (Many of them, anyway.) In fact, of the SIFF 2014 films I've seen to date, the shining gems far outnumber the out-and-out stinkers.

Here are ten features to queue up for, one to avoid outright (yes, only one so far!), and six to be cautiously optimistic/pessimistic about, all screening at some point during the festival's first week (May 16-22). You're welcome.

DON'T MISS:

The Case Against 8
{screens May 16 at 6:30pm at the Harvard, and May 17 at 11:30am at the Uptown}
A moving and highly entertaining documentary following the six-year battle between California's same-sex marriage ban (2008) and the Supreme Court declaration of its unconstitutionality (2013). The film makes its revelations beautifully, peppering usual doc elements with legal intrigue and turning tides. I knew very little about the counsel team (led by Republican Theodore Olson and Democrat David Boies, who had been opponents in the Bush v. Gore recount case in 2000), and even less about the plaintiff couples (Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo), but was very happy to spend time with them all. Sure, the film preaches to the choir -- but what a beautiful sermon it is.

Difret
{screens May 17 at 6pm at the Uptown, May 18 at 3:30pm at Pacific Place, and May 24 at 3pm in Renton}
After being abducted and raped, a rural 14-year-old Ethopian girl (Tizita Hagere) shoots and kills her attacker in an act of self-defense, pitting herself and a tenacious human-rights attorney (dazzling Meron Getnet) against long-standing tribal traditions. Writer-director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari's debut feature is a compelling and devastating adaptation of an extraordinary true story. Wonderfully naturalistic performances (by mostly non-pro actors) lead viewers into the characters' worlds, and into the tense legal drama that grows from it.

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SIFF Take: The Skeleton Twins

The Skeleton Twins Bill Hader Kristen Wiig SIFF 2014

A film with Kristen Wiig AND Bill Hader? This should be HILARIOUS, right?!?! Right. Except, it isn’t. I mean, it is and it isn’t. The Skeleton Twins casts these two former SNL cast mates as twins Maggie & Milo: a very broken set of siblings who haven’t spoken to each other in over 10 years until suicide attempts on the same day bring them together again. HAHAHAHA. Oh, wait.

Speaking of “skeletons,” both of them have plenty in their closet, only Maggie is obsessed with hiding hers while Milo displays his right out in the open for everyone to see. As they try to navigate their messed up lives and renewed relationship while also dealing with Maggie’s clueless husband, and Milo’s former … lover (?) things get more and more and MORE f**ked up, but hey! At least they have each other. Director Craig Johnson (True Adolescents, SIFF 2009) provides plenty of humor to balance out the dark times—my favorite involves the theme song from 1987’s Mannequin—but credit for this film blowing me away really goes to its two leads. This one is a must-see; I highly recommend purchasing your ticket for its only SIFF screening on Friday NOW.  

{The Skeleton Twins screens at SIFF on 5/16, 9:30pm at The Egyptian. Director Craig Johnson is scheduled to attend} 

SIFF Review: Miss Zombie

Miss Zombie cannot be the first zombie movie with such an intense art house esthetic, but it's the first I've seen. More importantly this quiet but disturbing Japanese family horror film brings a level of sympathy unusual to the genre, creating one of the few zombies where you care about their backstory and what happens to them. And no, Warm Bodies does not count.

The story starts with the delivery of a female zombie to a doctor's country home. Sent by a friend trying to create a new business around "low grade" zombies, the box comes with two instructions: 1) Don't feed her meat, and 2) Use the included pistol if things get out of hand. Zombiness in this universe is a viral condition of sorts. Lower grade carriers tend to be docile and not considered a large danger ... of course, things can change pretty fast under the right circumstances.

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SIFF 2014 Preview: NW Connections

I honestly feel like the SIFF NW Connections programming gets better every single year! The 40th Seattle International Film Festival has an impressive roster of documentaries and features with local directors, actors, writers, and locations. ALL of this makes me incredibly happy! Let’s take a look at what’s happening this year.

My first thought when I spied the new Megan Griffiths film in this year’s line-up was, “AWESOME!”  And awesome it is. Lucky Them stars Toni Collette as a Seattle music journalist (for fictional magazine STAX) who’s never quite gotten over her famous and handsome musician beau’s disappearance. It’s packed with great acting from Collette and her co-stars, lots of recognizable Seattle scenery, and more introspection than you usually get from a “dramedy.” GO SEE IT! It’s great. {Screens 5/22, 7pm at the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, and again 5/23, 9:15pm at The Egyptian}

Raging grannies seems like a thing I’d like, so I’m planning to check out Two Raging Grannies, a documentary about Seattle residents and best friends Shirley & Hinda, who ride around on their scooters with megaphones shouting suggestions about solving the global economic crisis. I LOVE IT. {Screens 5/28, 7pm at SIFF Cinema Uptown, 5/29, 4pm at Lincoln Square Cinemas, and again 5/30, 1:30pm at AMC Pacific Place}

And this one should be ... funny? Maybe? Local director Brett Fetzer’s first feature My Last Year with the Nuns involves Seattle monologist Matt Smith’s 8th-grade coming-of-age story set in 1966 … with Smith playing ALL the roles. Whoa. {Screens 5/21, 6:30pm and 6/26, 11am at The Egyptian}

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SIFF 2014 Preview: Face the Music

Hello, Imaginaries! I can’t believe that the 40th Seattle International Film Festival starts THIS THURSDAY! (what. the. what.) Anyway, if you haven’t had a chance to check out the Face the Music line-up this year, let me moonwalk you through it, because there’s a lot of really rad stuff I don’t want you to miss!

First up, let’s take a look Keep On Keepin’ On, a tribute to jazz legend Clark Terry, who taught Quincy Jones and Miles Davis, and who helped blind pianist Justin Kauflin realize his dream. There are two special events happening around this spectacular documentary: An Evening with Quincy Jones, in which the Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Jones at the premiere screening of the film, and The Justin Kauflin Trio is playing at The Triple Door as a companion performance with a special introduction by Quincy Jones. Sounds like a 3-day jazz-lovers extended dream date! {An Evening with Quincy Jones Special Presentation Screening & Tribute 6/4, 7:30pm at SIFF Cinema Uptown; Keep On Keepin’ On screens again 6/6, 4pm at SIFF Cinema Uptown; Companion show with The Justin Kauflin Trio, June 5 at The Triple Door, 7pm}

And of course, Opening Night is the premeire of Jimi: All is By My Side, a story about Jimi Hendrix before he was Jimi Hendrix. Sure. Okay. Why not? Outkast's André Benjamin stars as Jimi, a rising musician caught in a sticky love triangle between Linda Keith and Kathy Etchingham. SCANDALOUS. {Screens on SIFF Opening Night, 5/15, 7pm at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall} 

Nick Cave fans, check it: get a peek into the enigmatic musician & writer’s everyday life—sort of—with a fiction-mentary by Directors Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard. 20,000 Days on Earth is described as “blending fact, fiction, and fantasy” and the trailer looks AMAZING. Can’t wait to see this one. {Screens 5/16, 10pm at Lincoln Square Cinemas, and again 5/21, 9:30pm at SIFF Cinema Uptown}

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Imaginary Interview: Cockneys Vs Zombies director Matthias Hoene

Cockneys Vs Zombies Directed by Matthias Hoene

One of the most fun films I saw at SIFF this year was the Adventure/Horror film Cockneys Vs. Zombies, and I got to sit down and talk to Director Matthias Hoene (my people!) about the making of the film, which was REALLY AWESOME. Really, really, really awesome. Like, I could talk to this guy all day about horror films awesome. Why don't you live here, Matthias? SERIOUSLY. 

Anyway, Cockneys Vs. Zombies was released on VOD August 2, so you can still find it there -- and Matthias said he "hopes" the DVD will be out by Halloween. Fingers crossed! 

TIG: Let's get into your inspiration for the film! Did you grow up loving zombie films? 

Matthias Hoene: Well, my love of zombie movies started when I was given a grubby old VHS tape, which only had "Dead Alive" written on it … 

TIG: YES!!!! 

Matthias: ... And it was a film at the time that was sort-of banned, so I watched it "illegally" in my living room after my parents had gone to bed. And I was just so blown away by how gory, yet funny, it was. And I really loved the film! 

And of course, Evil Dead 2 was one of my big influences. I loved all the Sam Raimi films -- even Army of Darkness, I thought was great. So I think it was those films that inspired me and made me really want to do a zombie film. So those were my early influences, and then later on I really loved films like Terminator and Aliens, and Delicatessen … which had sort of this quirky meets big blockbustery thing. But when it came to making this film, I was more thinking about the Dead Alive and Evil Dead-type movies. 

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DEAL ALERT: Imaginaries can save $3 on music films at SIFF!

Dearest Imaginaries, 

We are super-pleased to announce that we've just partnered with SIFF to get a not-so-imaginary discount for our readers on music-related films!

SIFF Cinema Uptown is screening the rockumentary about 70's band Death, A Band Called Deathon 6/28, 6/29, and 6/30, and a special one night only presentation of the Low Movie (How to Quit Smoking) on 7/17 -- and you can save $3 on tickets for each film with our super easy to remember code: 3IMAGINARY. Just use the code when purchasing tix over the phone, at the box office, or on siff.net.

Pro tip: the Mecca has $4 well drinks during Happy Hour (4-7pm). AND IT IS RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET. Saving $3 on tix means you get a drink for $1. Amirite? (but + tip, because, don't be cheap.)

Anyways, we love you! And SIFF loves you! So go love them back.

PS: Our own Chris Estey saw A Band Called Death during this year's festival, and had a lot of praise for it over at KEXP.

Monsters University: A dual review by Imaginary Amie and Roxie Rider

{Monsters University opens in Seattle on Friday 6/21 is playing at the Majestic Bay, AMC Pacific Place, Sundance Cinemas Seattle, and Oak Tree Cinemas}

Usually we stick to the usual around here with movie reviews: one person per movie, but since we break that mold a little with SIFF, we decided to throw it out the window for Pixar's Monsters University (a prequel to Monsters, Inc.), because two of our film-loving writers both adored it equally. If you need a bit of background on the plot: Monsters U is about Mike Wazowski attending Monster college to learn the ways of being a top Scarer. He meets Sully there, but their friendship is not instant. Mike has to battle distractions against studying, a doubting Dean, Sully's ego, and a bullying jock (voiced by Nathan Fillion, naturally) and figure out how to turn his sad nerd frat into winners so he can get the education and degree he needs to work at Monsters, Inc. 

Here's a transcript of what both Imaginary Amie and Roxie Rider thought about it! (Warning: MILD spoilers ahead, but we tried not to go into too much detail)

Amie: Let's talk about that beautiful short at the beginning of the film The Blue Umbrella! What were your impressions? Did your kids like it? There was a little girl in back of us saying "Oh no oh no oh no" during a tense moment. So much emotional pull packed into a little short. I loved it! 

Roxie: I liked it very much too. I thought the story was very sweet, but I was more impressed by the extraordinary realism. Pixar movies and shorts have always have a really cartoon-y look, which is smart—it sidesteps the whole uncanny valley question neatly. But it honestly took me well into the short to figure out that it wasn’t a mixture of live-action and animation. Can you think of another digital movie that seemed so realistic?

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Imaginary Interview: talking about peer pressure, excess, and music with The Bling Ring's Katie Chang and Israel Broussard

{The Bling Ring opens in Seattle on Friday, 6/21, and is screening at SIFF Cinema Uptown, The Guild 45th, AMC Pacific Place, and Oak Tree Cinemas} 

Sofia Coppola's new film, The Bling Ring, screened at SIFF for this year's Closing Night gala. The film is about the real life "Bling Ring": a group of teens who robbed celebrity houses and then flaunted their scores all over the Hollywood club scene and Facebook. It's a story steeped in excess, and Coppola based the screenplay heavily on a Vanity Fair article called "The Suspects Wore Loubitons" by Nancy Jo Sales, and footage from the E! reality show Pretty Wild, which featured two of the ring members, Alexis Neiers (played in the film with eerie attention to detail by Emma Watson) and Tess Taylor. 

I was lucky enough to get an early peek at the Director's take on what happens when a group of spoiled rich kids takes their love of celeb culture and designer duds to a new level, and even luckier to get to sit down with the film's stunning leads,Katie Chang (Rebecca) and Israel Broussard (Marc) to chat about teen peer pressure, the culture shock of L.A., and working with Sofia. 

The two young (goodlord does spending time with an 18 and 19-year-old make me feel like an OLD lady!) actors were remarkably composed, polite, and accommodating. They even indulged my request for a Bling Ring-style selfie at the end of the interview! Hey, Katie and Israel? I LIKE YOU. And I hope I get to see you in more stuff soon. 

TIG: First off, I was curious if you two grew up like the characters you play in this film. Or, if not, did you know kids like that? Basically, how familiar were you with that world? 

Katie Chang: Well, I grew up in a pretty affluent part of Northern Illinois, right north of Chicago. So the way that I grew up was very much mid-western small town, but you go a couple minutes East and you're on the lake, and I knew a lot of kids on the lake. So I wasn't unfamiliar with kids who were both rich and bored. 

Israel Broussard: No, I grew up about a block from the trailer park in Mississippi, so I was not at all familiar with it until I first got to L.A. 

Katie: NOTHING can prepare you for L.A. 

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