Tonight in Seattle:  

SIFF

A Very Imaginary “Best of” 2012 Movie List

I am terribly behind on this, I know! But it wouldn’t really feel like the start to a new year if I didn’t make some kind of list about the movies I fell in love with. It’s way too tough for me to make a traditional Top 10—so I’m going with the imaginary format I used last year. 

Best EVERYTHING: The Cabin in the Woods (Director: Drew Goddard)
I can’t even tell you how much I love this film. And sadly, I can’t even really tell you what this film is about without running it—short of saying that it’s about 5 college kids who go to a cabin for a weekend of fun only to have it turn into a screaming night of terror—which would be doing it an injustice. After watching this 5x (so far) and listening to the commentary twice, I’m convinced that the Whedon/Goddard pairing is a match made in horror heaven. I cannot wait to see what these guys do next! And I hope it’s soon. Really, really, really soon.

Best romantic comedy/drama that felt like it could really happen: Your Sister’s Sister (Director: Lynn Shelton)
Shelton’s finest film to date features a killer cast that folds you right into the story, with Mark Duplass working equal parts charm and stupidity, Emily Blunt emoting one-million different things with just her eyes, and Rosemarie Dewitt being as fabulous as she is in everything. Talking too much about the plot would give it away, so let’s just say it’s full of great surprises and sharp dialog. And I especially loved the completely unconventional ending.

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Elena

{Elena opens at the Landmark Varsity Theater on Friday July 13th}

Elena is a slow moving but extremely well made film that details the choices people can make for their family when their back is against the wall. Or maybe it's an allegory about post-communist Russia and how everything is just business, even marital relations. Perhaps simply an advanced exercise in producing an effective noir mood onscreen. It's one or many of those, but not an entirely satisfying experience. I saw all those pieces in play, each rendered precisely -- even memorably. But without a hook that truly engaged me in the experience, so I was left admiring the craft but not the overall film.

There are far, far, FAR worse film choices to be made out there. Surprisingly, in some ways, Elena simply didn't stand out as much as I would have hoped from the crime and (maybe) punishment type description I'd heard of the work.

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'Best' of SIFF 2012 series begins Friday at the Uptown

King Curling

A true 'best-of' SIFF 2012 program, IMHO, would include gritty French drama Polisse, Russian chiller Elena, Argentine road movie Las Acacias, French-Canadian melodrama Wetlands, Dutch sensuality experiment 170 Hz, and a number of exceptional documentaries (How to Survive a Plague, The Imposter, Wonder Women, and especially Marina Abramović: The Artist is Present).

And while I've never really claimed to be tuned to the collective frequency of the SIFFgoing public, it's still tough to fathom the dreary Any Day Now winning 2012's top audience award. But win it did, and it's among 18 features and one shorts package playing at SIFF Cinema's 'Best' of SIFF 2012 series unspooling this weekend. None of my personal favorites will be there, but some are indeed coming (again) soon to a theater near you.

Of SIFF's 'best of' films I've seen (75% of them, in fact, if you include the three which begin regular week-long runs at SIFF's cinemas on Friday), I only posted a solid-ish recommendation to one: Welcome to Doe Bay. But had I seen a few others earlier -- Extraterrestrial, King Curling, The Invader -- I'd've given them my version of a thumbs-up too and notified you about them before they screened. I'm glad I can give them some love now.

But I'm realistic about how much my opinion really counts for here, so proceed with cautious optimism as you leverage the opportunity to see some audience- and jury-award honorees (alongside a few non-winners that SIFF programmers apparently just saw fit to screen again), explore a few flicks the intrepid TIG film staff didn't make it to, and catch up on some of the general SIFFiness you may've missed out on over the past month. All screenings are at the Uptown unless otherwise noted.

DAILY, June 15-21; see siff.net listings for showtimes:

Extraterrestrial
{Runner-up: Best Director Golden Space Needle Award}
Julio wakes up in Julia's bed, after a night neither of them remembers very well; their awkward, hungover morning-after grows even stranger when they discover that colossal alien spaceships have appeared over Madrid. This is a quick and pleasant little romp by Timecrimes director Nacho Vigalondo, who did a charming and funny Q&A at the SIFF screening I attended. I can't promise Extraterrestrial will be quite as magical in his absence.

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Latest comment by: brandish: "Sliiiii-ip! Slip and Slide!"

SIFF Take: The Mirror Never Lies

{The Mirror Never Lies screens at SIFF June 10, 2:30pm at the Harvard Exit.}

I’m going to bang this out really quickly in the hopes that we can get it in front of your eyeballs in time for you to consider going to the last showing of this today. The Mirror Never Lies is a stunner. The story is lovely and moving, following a young girl and her mother who are both struggling, in different ways, to accept that the girl's father may have been lost at sea. It’s set in a place I knew nothing whatsoever about: a fishing village that quite literally stands, upon stilts, in the shallows of Wakatobi Sea (in Indionesia), so just observing the sets and the culture is, if you'll forgive the armchair tourism vocabulary, enlightening.

The movies follows the story with a quiet patience that’s all but unheard of, really in any medium, without ever being boring. It reminds me of the first half of The Black Stallion, where Alec and the Black are stranded on the desert island and your heart breaks with the beauty of it. The Mirror Never Lies is quiet and measured and it’s hard to know, when it begins, where any scene will go, but the film is unflaggingly mesmerizing for all that.

I’m not sure how to dole out credit for the pacing—probably the director, writers, and editor all deserve a share—but the most extraordinary achievement is the cinematography. Every shot, every frame, is breathtaking. You could fill a gallery just with frames from the movie. It’s also nuanced and varied. Some scenes have a filtered, Instagrammish quality, other parts are lush and saturated, and others are muted and soothing. I wanted to make an Oscar and send it to Rahmat Syaiful on the spot.

So forgive the untidiness of this post, but do yourself a favor and go catch this this afternoon. It’s a special one.

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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 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. 

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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."

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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 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.