From May 21st to June 14th, The SIFF will screen 268 features and 124 shorts from 62 countries over 25 days, with 31 World Premieres, 45 North American Premieres, and 13 US Premieres. SIFF is the largest film festival in the US.
Once again the Seattle International Film Festival has invited us back to help them spread the word and to help our readers discover some new films. We canâ€™t possibly preview nearly 400 films for you, however we have seen some good, bad and ugly films. Below is ourÂ second round (here’s the first) of previews and click on each link so you can learn more information about the film and when/where to see its release. We havereviews from screenings published with actor/director QnA’s, and more reviews and interviews on the way so be sure to check back with Randomville often over the next month!
And just because you can’t be in Seattle for the film fest doesn’t mean you’re left out. You can keep an eye out for these films (or demand your local theatre to get them!) and you can also support the SIFF here and even register to win a free trip to the Hawaii International Film Festival!!
The Clone Returns Home – (Japan/dir. Kanji Nakajima)
Kohei (an astronaut) agrees to let scientists try to clone him if he were ever to die in an unforeseen accident. Well, he dies in space. His wife struggles to give consent to bring Kohei back, but eventually she allows it to happen. Unfortunately, Kohei’s memory (though backed up through machines) is not as they expected and all he can remember is the tragic death of his brother Noboru when they were children.
The clone eventually escapes and he’s delusional, but the scientists just want him back (and to die) so they can cover up their “mistake” to the public. So they make Kohei #3 and he’s perfectly fine, though he sets out to find the body of Kohei#2. During this trip, he becomes delusional as well, though he discovers some truth along the way. Any sci-fi fan who couldn’t wait for the recent Star Trek movie will love this film.
The Dark Harbor– (Japan/dir. Naito Takasugu)
This low-key tale of a lonely fishermanâ€™s search for love starts out on a surreal note, as 38-year-old Manzo tries the usual routes to meeting that special someone â€“ bars and singles mixers â€“ only to find his true love hiding, along with a young boy, in his living room closet. How they ended up there, and how they will change Manzoâ€™s life, are gradually revealed over the course of this leisurely, very visual comedy.
SIFFâ€™s write-up compares the filmâ€™s style to Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton, but I was reminded more of the Finnish master of deadpan visual humor Aki Kaurasmaki (The Man Without A Past). I enjoyed the restrained storytelling approach, with lots of long takes and static camerawork. The content is less successful than the style, though, as a story that could have been told in half the time is stretched to 100 minutes, and doesnâ€™t say anything new.
3/5 ~Pam Inglesby
The Escape – (Denmark/Kathrine Windfeld)
A Danish journalist, working in Afghanistan, is taken hostage by the Taliban. The young terrorist assigned to guard her instead helps her escape, making her promise she wonâ€™t give him away. So she tells the world she escaped on her own (which, we are repeatedly told, is unheard of), and her career blossoms as a result of the publicity.
You know what comes next â€¦ her savior flees the Taliban, ends up in Denmark, is in danger of being extradited, and calls upon the journalist for help. The question is not will she do the right thing (of course she will), but how long will it take her to realize it, and will someone need to die at the end? This is pure Hollywood plotting; I can already envision a remake with Angelina Jolie, or Nicole Kidman, or who cares.
The Escape is an OK political thriller. I canâ€™t find particular fault with any aspect of it other than the fact that I felt like Iâ€™d already seen it before it even began. Director Kathrine Windfeld and actress Iben Hjejle expected to attend both screenings.
Everything Strange and New–(USA/ dir. Frazer Bradshaw)
Wayne is a working class construction worker growing more and more disconnected from this wife. Having a wife, house and kids is becoming boring and he’s quietly depressed. This film has many camera shots of quiet land and the run-down homes brings the viewer to the stagnant mind frame of Wayne and how he feels trapped.
Wayne is surrounded by negativity with his friendsÂ but there really are positive things around when he looks for them. They all seem to think that their married lives aren’t turning out to be what they signed up for. The dialogue in this movie is terrible and the naive conversations are too plain. Even the poorly educated in our society don’t speak how they are portrayed in this movie. Director Frazier Bradshaw and producer Tony Liano expected to attend both screenings.
Fruit Fly– (USA/dir. H.P. Mendoza)
This old-fashioned musical about young artists and gays in bohemian San Francisco is the stalest piece of pop culture Iâ€™ve seen in recent memory. Drawing for inspiration on the highly superior Tales of the City and Rent, as well as every bad cabaret show youâ€™ve ever seen, one-man band H.P. Mendoza (writer, director, producer, editor, composer) has wasted a lot of decent production values on a story that has already been told many times and much better: Straight girl comes to the big city to pursue a career in the arts, meets a lot of wacky gay people, sleeps with the wrong guy, and â€¦ whatever.
I suppose there might be a worse movie at SIFF this year, but I canâ€™t imagine what that would be. This has it all: cringe-inducing dialogue, cardboard characters, decades-old stereotypes, and gratuitous offensiveness. To be honest, I canâ€™t tell you exactly what happened in the last half hour or so, as I was reading my email. (No, not in a theater! I watched it at home). I did keep an eye on the screen just in case there might be a happy ending, like a meteor crashing into the Golden Gate Bridge and wiping the whole mess out. There wasnâ€™t. Director H.P. Mendoza expected to attend both screenings.
Involuntary– (Sweden/ dir. Ruben Ã–stlund)
This film contains a tour bus guide pissed about a broken curtain rod, a local movie actress who was a mother of four, giggly teen-aged girls, partying teenagers, an elderly father who injured his eye in a fireworks accident, a teacher stressing out at school, and 20-something guys on a weekend get away trip dabbling into homosexuality.
Forty-five minutes into the film, I had no idea what the hell the plot was about. You sporadically jump in and out of their lives experiencing what is happening to them that day. Terrible movie.
Kanchivaram– (India/dir. Priyadarshan)
As the film begins, the protagonist Vengadam is ashamed that he cannot afford to buy the silk which tradition requires he bury his dead father in. The irony is that he is a silk weaver, and an excellent one â€“ in early 20th century India, though, weavers were literally alienated from the products of their labor.
Soon after, Vengadam marries and produces a daughter. He vows that when she marries he will present her with a silk sari, although required by tradition. This seemingly impossible dream leads him to both triumph and tragedy; he bravely organizes his fellow workers to strike against the mill owner, but is also driven to compromise his own beliefs, and his daughterâ€™s future, to obtain the treasured silk.
Kanchivaram, a Tamil-language film set in rural India, is tragic, funny, thought-provoking, and beautifully constructed. I highly recommend it.
Â Little Joe– (USA/ dir. Nicole Haeusser)
Â Andy Warhol made “Little” Joe Dallesandro famous buy plastering Joe’s muscular, teen-aged body image anywhere he possibly could in the late 60s. He’s the Little Joe from Lou Reed’s song “Wildside” and Warhol director Paul Morrisey casted Dallesandro in tons of films that ranged everywhere from a cowboy to dracula. Though mostly naked. Yes, if you enjoy looking at penis often, this is your film. If not, then maybe not so much (but I guess it’s only fair since naked women is almost a norm in films these days).
Joe has some amazing stories (mostly sex-capades) from that time frame and you hear plenty in this documentary. Repetitive roles and low pay eventually drove Joe out of the Warhol camp and unfortunately that’s about where the excitement really ends in what was a very promising film up to that point. Although he ended up in about forty to fifty (mostly B-side) films, Joe did end up on Miami Vice and worked with Frances Ford Coppola. But ultimately, he was just another B-side actor.
Â Manhole Children– (Japan/ dir. Taro Yakahashi)
In 1998 it was estimated that over 4,000 children were homeless and on their own in the povertyÂ suppressed land of Mongolia. This documentary follows a few select children in the city of Ulan Bator off and on for a span of ten years. The kids often lived underground in manholes to absorb the heat put off by hot water pipes. It’s humbling watching children dig through trash for food and parents of kids like Boldoo hope their kids will learn a trade.
By 2004, most of these manholes had been closed up by theÂ government and we catch back up with Boldoo who has built himself a house and worked hard as a carpenter. But by 2008 Boldoo (now an adult) has lost everything again (mostly due to alcohol) including his wife, daughter and best friend (who “stole” his wife). As Mongolia slowly gets back on its feet, it seems these children who had to fend for themselves can not. The audience will surely absorb the real tears, as well as the physical and mental neglect. I only wish they would have profiled a few more kids in this movie and it’s not exactly a “feel-good” film.
The Market – A Tale of Trade– (United Kingdom/dir. Ben Hopkins)
Although The Market was directed by an Englishman, it is essentially Turkish. Writer/director Ben Hopkins, who was already familiar with the country and the language, chose it as the ideal setting for this cautionary tale about capitalism.
The main character is Mihram, a young and likable black market trader who wants to buy a cell phone franchise but lacks the capital. He cooks up a scheme to raise it that involves leveraging money he has been given to purchase childrenâ€™s medicine. There are risks involved, including border crossings and card games, and of course things go wrong. Because we care about Mihram â€“ he is a family man, more-or-less ethical, and engagingly ambitious â€“ we care about his goal and his soul, both of which are in jeopardy.
The film making style is energetic, as befits the story and Mihramâ€™s character. Mihram is played by Tayabc Ayadin, a young Turkish actor of great charisma and emotional depthwho is in every scene of the film. The supporting characters – a loving wife, a cranky uncle, and an evil crime boss â€“ are less complex but fun to watch. And although the film is entertaining, the viewer is also left at the end with something to think about.
The Missing Person– (USA/dir. Noah Buschel)
This is a moderately successful attempt to update the old-fashioned private eye movie. Michael Shannon (the â€œis he crazy or isnâ€™t he?â€ neighbor in Revolutionary Road) plays John Rosow, a Bogartesqueex-cop hired over the telephone by a stranger to follow a man who is travelling with a boy clearly not his son. The case takes Rosow across country by train, to Mexico by car, and to New York by plane. He encounters a cast of oddball supporting characters along the way, and struggles with bureaucracy and technology. The story is resolved in Manhattan, where it turns out Rosow and the man he has been pursuing have a shared connection, which is a pretty good plot twist I wonâ€™t reveal.
The Missing Person is OK, but I kept wanting it to be better. Some of the acting and editing is amateurish. Shannon is fun to watch, but the usually excellent Amy Ryan (of Gone Baby Gone and The Office) doesnâ€™t make much of anÂ impression. The tone veers back and forth between comedy and pathos, which is unsettling. It might have worked better as a straight comedy (ala the Coen Brothers), but I am guessing that writer/director Noah Buschel didnâ€™t have the confidence for that, or maybe he just ran out of one-liners.
My Dear Enemy– (South Korea/ dir. Lee Yoon-ki)
This film has thatÂ “I want my two dollars” theme from Better Off Dead written all over it, except that Hee-su wantsÂ her $3,500 instead. So she tracks down her fast talking ex-boyfriend that she loaned the money to, Byung-woo, who claims he could sell an air conditioner at The NorthPole. Resentful and mean to him, of course he’s broke so she’s forced to drive him around town so he can hustle some people for money.
Of course she lightens up on him and Byung-woo was mildly entertaining at times, but I kept hoping for a big pay-off at the end of this movie and it simply never showed up. And at over two hours, the film seemed like an eternity.
Rain–(Bahamas, dir. Maria Govan)
Rain is a young teenager who has been raised by her grandmother and kept from her mother for unknown reasons. After her grandmother passes away, Rain re-unites with her mother and discoversÂ that sheÂ doesn’t exactly live a prim and proper lifestyle.
At her new school, Rain’s track coach takes her under her wing because Rain is a phenomenal runner. However at night she returns to the drug infested slums that visitors to the Bahamas don’t usually get to see. While learning life lessons, she does learn values from her mother. With all of this happening, the shy childÂ turns her focus to her best ability: track competition. Director Maria Govan expected to attend June 12 and June 13 screenings.
Swimsuit Issue– (Sweden/dir. Mans Herngren)
Back in the day, Christopher Guest made a very funny short film for “Saturday Night Live” about two hapless brothers struggling to become competitive synchronized swimmers. (You can see part of it here.) A quarter of a century later comes the Swedish comedy Swimsuit Issue, with a suspiciously similar premise. I thought the Swedes were supposed to be way ahead of us?
The protagonists in this version are a group of middle-aged friends who were once champion floorball players. (Donâ€™t ask â€“ itâ€™s a Swedish thing). The hero is an unemployed single dad who organizes an all-male (and, as the movie takes pains to tell us several times, completely non-gay, not that thereâ€™s anything wrong with that) synchronized swimming team, first as a goof, then as a way to make money, then in earnest pursuit of the sportâ€™s World Cup. The endeavor allows the hero to bond with his adolescent daughter, who ends up becoming the teamâ€™s coach, and lets all the men get in touch with their feminine sides (pedicures play a big part in the story). Some contrived obstacles are overcome, too, and I think someone learns something at the end.
Swimsuit Issue borrows a lot from similar comedies about ragtag groups of men trying to achieve a goal:Â think The Full Monty meets Dodgeball. Itâ€™s less authentic than the former, though, and not as funny as the latter, but thereâ€™s definitely an audience for this kind of silly, feel-good comedy. And you can leave the theater feeling smug that us Americans thought of the idea first.
Telstar– (United Kingdom/dir. Nick Moran)
Iâ€™ve loved the song â€œTelstarâ€ since I was a kid, and in fact Iâ€™m listening to it right now. As it turns out, a song is not enough to hang an entire movie on, nor is the life of Joe Meeks, the legendary British pop music producer who (literally) dreamt up the #1 hit.
This 1960s biopic has a lot going for it. Its central character (played by Con Oâ€™Neill) was an eccentric prima donna who ruled his homemade recording studio witha stern hand. He had a good eye for young male talent, which he fostered, abused and sometimes seduced, and was a pioneer in the field of novelty acoustic effects (he made great use of his bathroom). On the flip side, we find out he was also paranoid, possessive, and not very good with money. The first half of the movie chronicles his success, with â€œTelstarâ€ and other projects; the second half charts his downward slide, as his bad behavior costs him both his lover/protÃ©gÃ© and his business partner (a very British former military officer played well by Kevin Spacey, who is popping up all over SIFF this year â€“ this is the third film Iâ€™ve seen him in).
I loved the music and art direction, and the performances were fine, but at some point I found the movie tedious. Watching someone with talent slide into madness and self-destruction isnâ€™t much fun, and if there was something to be learned from this story, I missed it.
Wind Blows in the Meadow– (Iran/dir. Khosro Masoumi)
I canâ€™t remember why I put this movie on my list (probably an effort at geographic diversity), but I am thrilled I did. The only word I can think of to describe this melodramatic love story is â€œShakespearean,â€ which I mean in the best possible way.
Set in rural Iran, sometime between the invention of mopeds and the present day, Wind Blows in the Meadows is a love story about Shooka, a poor girl who has been promised in marriage to Shokrollah, the wealthy village idiot (who actually has Down Syndrome, though this is never discussed), and Jalil, the visiting tailorâ€™s apprentice who is working on her wedding dress. Initially, Shookais concerned only with getting out of her impending marriage, but once the smitten Jalil presses his case, we know they are meant to be together.
The village is quickly divided into two camps, those who want Shooka to be happy, and those who believe it is her fate, as a woman, to do as her male elders determine. The supporting characters, including Shookaâ€™s father, the spoiled Shokrollah, and the tailor Jalilworks for, are complex and well-acted. The young leads are attractive, fiery and likable. The story moves along at a fast pace, and builds to a powerful and terrifying climax. I loved every minute.