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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 16 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 20
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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2014 SIFF Preview - An Interview with Carl Spence
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

40TH ANNUAL
SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL
FILM FESTIVAL
MAY 15-JUNE 8


Featuring 198 features, 60 documentaries and 163 shorts from 83 different countries, the 40th annual Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) began with a bang last night with an all-star screening of Academy Award-winning screenwriter John Ridley's (12 Years a Slave) Jimi Hendrix drama Jimi: All Is By My Side. Running through June 8, and featuring a cavalcade of high profile guests including Quincy Jones, Richard Linklater, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Laura Dern, the festival celebrates its past, while bolting proudly into the future, embracing cinematic exploration and all it imaginatively entails.

'It's 40 years,' laughs SIFF Artistic Director Carl Spence. 'There was definitely pressure to have a great festival. But there's always pressure to have a great festival, the anniversary is nice, but it doesn't really change that fact.'

This was the fifth year in a row I had the opportunity to sit down with Spence the day before the opening night film was set to screen, and in that time it's never ceased to amaze me how genuinely excited the longtime SIFF programmer, staffer and executive is to see things get going. 'We had such a great festival last year,' he says with a broad, genuine smile, 'and as such, there's always that question of how we're going to top ourselves, how can we make the festival even better. But I think we have a pretty solid program [this year]. I'm particularly proud. For our 40th? Yeah. This is a good program. I think the audience will be pleased.'

This is the festival number 21 for Spence, almost a decade of which have involved him in the position he has now. In all that time, he's never lost sight of the bigger picture, keeping things in perspective even as SIFF has grown in both prominence and importance on the worldwide film festival stage. 'You have to remember to try and put together a festival that people will want to attend,' he admits candidly, 'that you program films that they want to come see. The pressure is putting a lineup together that mixes in all the elements we hold near and dear to both our hearts and to the history of the festival. We have such a big audience and we're dependent upon them. The pressure is to engage with that audience, all corners of it, because if we don't, then we haven't lived up to the mission we set before ourselves.'

The fun part in sitting down with the longtime SIFF stalwart is discovering which titles get his pulse racing, which ones he's energized for the audience to take a look at, especially when there are over 400 different cinematic programs of one sort or another to choose from. 'There's lots I'm excited about, but I'm thrilled we get to show Boyhood, Richard Linklater's latest film,' states Spence. 'It's so good. Just great. But there are so many more, like The Way He Looks from Brazil. It's one of my favorites, like a Gay-themed John Hughes movie with a South American twist.'

'I'm really excited people get to see Jimi: All Is By My Side. I always love André Benjamin, and he was here for Battle in Seattle, and this is such a better film, and I think he's phenomenal in it as well. Dior and I is one I made a point to track down the filmmaker for, because I'd heard such great things. He sent me a copy to watch and I just absolutely loved it, so that is one film I'm particularly proud we are getting to showcase.'

'But most of all, I was surprised, and am now so honored, that Quincy Jones is attending the festival. I didn't think it was going to happen. I love the film, Keep On Keepin' On, and the thing about that film is that Clark Terry isn't just a phenomenal musician, but that his interaction with other musicians, his mentoring, giving back to the community at large - he was the main mentor to artists like Quincy Jones, Miles Davis and others - is what he thrived on. It's what he still thrives on. The fact we have him here, Quincy Jones here, and that his latest [student], Justin Kauflin, who is blind, will be here and will perform live at the Triple Door, that's just magic.'

Speaking of Jones, he's just one of the amazing talents being recognized for their achievements by SIFF in 2014. Not even six months after receiving his first Academy Award nomination, Chiwetel Ejiofor brings the Nigerian drama Half of a Yellow Sun to the festival, while Hollywood icon Laura Dern shows up with one of the summer's most hotly anticipated titles, the young adult cancer melodrama The Fault In Our Stars. Fresh off its Sundance debut also comes Richard Linklater with Boyhood, the chronicle of a youngster's transition from adolescence to young adulthood featuring a single set of actors, filming taking place over a 12-year period of time.

'We really wanted to have some marquee names to help us celebrate our 40th,' admits Spence. 'But just as much, we wanted their films to run the spectrum of big Hollywood features to small independent productions. The Fault In Our Stars is a big studio melodrama, but it's also just a really good film. Chiwetel's film, meanwhile, is this really small independent effort about two sisters living through the independence movement and civil strife in Nigeria, and in many ways it couldn't be more timely. It gives good background as to why things are the way things are there [in Nigeria].'

'I put a lot of effort into making sure we had a lot of great films and great guests. With Boyhood, we had to have it. We debuted Richard's Slacker way back when, so having him back for this groundbreaking effort just made sense. But it's all interconnected. Laura Dern is here this year, and she starred with Kyle MacLachlan in Blue Velvet, a movie we showed at SIFF. Chiwetel Ejiofor just worked with our opening night writer/director John Ridley on 12 Years a Slave. None of which was on purpose, but all of which makes sense when you take it all in, when you look at the bigger picture.'

One of the biggest pieces of news was the announcement that SIFF would be returning to Capitol Hill's iconic Egyptian Theatre, even though it has been closed for almost a year. 'It's a flagship venue,' says Spence. 'The festival has been screening there since 1980, so it was important to us to get those doors back open. We have a deal to use it for the festival, and we're currently hammering out details to, hopefully, use it year-round. We've made an offer and are hoping for the best.'

'It's just a great theater. We've had to do a few things to get it ready. We've put in new speakers. We've cleaned things up quite a bit. Everything looks and sounds terrific at this point but we'd like to do a lot more. Hopefully, if our lease gets accepted, we'll be able to do just that. There's a nostalgic and a historic connection to that building I don't want to see come to an end.'

With their current situation at the Uptown Cinemas, with a venue at the SIFF Film Center at Seattle Center, if the lease for the Egyptian does go through, the fact Spence and his team would suddenly be running five different screens in the city isn't a thing that worries him. 'It's been a metamorphosis, for sure,' he proclaims. 'We went from an organization that had a theater, to one that had a theater and a festival as a centerpiece. We then went to being just a festival, and as part of that we sold off the Egyptian.'

'But I've always loved having theaters. When I was at the University of Washington, I helped spearhead the installation of the 35mm projectors in the HUB Auditorium. That's where I first started programming films for exhibition. So it made sense to my mind to start programming year round when we first moved into McCaw Hall and, subsequently, when we took over running the Uptown. And, the thing that's really important about that, is that had we not assumed the lease, that venue would still be closed. There wouldn't be a movie theater in the Queen Anne neighborhood.'

It is the preservation of those neighborhood venues that seems to excite Spence the most and is without a doubt one of the driving forces behind his push to get the Egyptian back into working order. 'Neighborhood movie houses are disappearing,' he states. 'I don't think that is up for debate. So, with that in mind, one of the great things about our doing year-round programming is that it preserves these neighborhood theaters and treats them with the respect they deserve.'

'But, selfishly, they also preserve festival venues. SIFF is right in the middle of the blockbuster movie season, so getting screens from the big chains is understandably difficult. Giving up screens in the middle of May and June is understandably counterintuitive to the industry, so by our running the Uptown and the Egyptian we ensure that those screens will always be available come festival time. We've shown with the Uptown that you can revitalize a theater and you can bring the audience back into the neighborhood. That has given us the confidence to consider the idea we can maybe continue to do this on a larger scale. We're making our own rules.'

[EDITOR'S NOTE: At the Opening Night Gala in McCaw Hall, the Seattle International Film Festival announced that it has purchased the SIFF Cinema Uptown (with the 'Angels of the Uptown') and has also signed a lease for the Egyptian Theatre (thank you, Seattle Central Community College), securing these two neighborhood landmarks as year-round SIFF Cinema and Festival venues.]

With our time coming to an end, our attention turns back towards the festival itself, in this case the broad and impressive list of LGBT-themed motion pictures screening during the festival. 'It's an impressive selection,' says Spence proudly. 'The Case Against 8 is a great film and is definitely a documentary I think people should go out of their way to see. There's Me, Myself and Mum from French director Guillaume Gallienne, which isn't remotely politically correct and is about a guy who's really effeminate and everyone thinks is Gay, including his mom, but isn't; I think it's terrific. There's our Gay-la film Helicopter Mom with Nia Vardalos, about a mother who pushes her son to come out so he can win a college scholarship, even though he's still in the process of assessing his sexuality.'

'That movie's particularly interesting. It's groundbreaking, because it's basically saying it is okay to not know your sexuality. That it's okay to experiment, to figure things out. There's neither a here or there and everyone around them is okay with that, they're fine with the thought that their friend or loved one might be Gay but hasn't yet come to any sort of conclusion whether or not they actually are.'

'There's the great documentary To Be Takei about the Star Trek icon George Takei. I think people are really going to like this one. And there's that film from Brazil, The Way He Looks, that I've already talked about. It's one of my favorites. But there are number of exciting titles to choose from, including The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Bringing that one back for our anniversary for a midnight screening just feels right.'


Moderately charming Night Out a faith-based surprise
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

MOMS' NIGHT OUT Now playing

Allyson (Sarah Drew) needs a night to herself. While her marriage with successful architect Sean (Sean Astin) is a good one, the pressures of motherhood have been stressing her out more than normal of late. She's longing for a night of adult conversation, meals not prepared in a microwave, feminine dresses and sparkly high heels, and if she doesn't get one soon, the young mother might just end up having a nervous breakdown.

Allyson gets her wish. Sean will watch the kids for the night while she spends an evening on the town with her best friends from church, fellow moms Sondra (Patricia Heaton) and Izzy (Andrea Logan White). But things fall off the rails right from the start - dinner reservations made incorrectly and worry about whether or not their husbands are up to the task of taking care of the children weighing on all of them. Yet it isn't until the trio run into Allyson's sister-in-law, Bridget (Abbie Cobb), herself a single mom, that things truly fall to pieces - the discovery that her baby's father has carelessly left the kid in untrustworthy hands sending all of them on a mad quest to remedy the situation.

Moms' Night Out is the latest in a long string of faith-based cinematic productions to hit the local multiplex. Just this year we've seen the more blatantly Christian fundamentalist Son of God, God's Not Dead and Heaven is for Real make major box office dollars. Heck, even Noah, not without controversy over whether or not it was 'Biblically accurate' (whatever the heck that's supposed to mean), has managed to make major hay as far as ticket sales go, the Darren Aronofsky directed effort making over $330-million worldwide.

That movie aside, as financially successful as the rest of that list might be, that doesn't make any of the other features particularly good. Each of them beats the viewer over the head with their didactic points of view, not allowing for anything close to a dissenting opinion, looking at things like debate and discussion as facets to be avoided, as if they were the plague. They are annoyingly judgmental, having preciously little to do with 'Faith' and instead remain perfectly content to preach to the converted leaving everyone else to wonder what the fuss is about.

Funny thing, while Moms' Night Out doesn't follow a different game plan or come up with a new way to get its points across, it still, somehow, someway, manages to produce smiles, earn a couple of gentle tears and even generate a fair bit of laughter. Because it refuses to take things deathly seriously, because it allows for flaws, foibles, missteps and mistakes to be a part of the always ephemeral (and almost certainly ubiquitous) 'God's Plan,' gosh darn it all if the movie doesn't have its own gentle, winsomely distracting charms. While not a film I'm going to be talking about much in the future (let alone remembering in any sort of great detail) I can't say I didn't have a moderately decent enough time watching it, a fact I'm admittedly more than a little bit shocked to be admitting.

Make no mistake, this thing is really nothing more than an extended sitcom (not a surprise considering former 'Everybody Loves Raymond' star Heaton is listed as a producer), brothers Jon and Andrew Erwin (October Baby) directing with a perfunctory exactitude that's hardly subtle. As for the script written by Jon Erwin and Andrea Gyertson Nasfell (Escape) it is a model of 'Modern Family' meets 'Full House' meets 'Growing Pains' simplicity, any connection to real life and actual parental problems more accidental than they are thoughtfully composed or intelligently planned.

But, unlike most films cut from a somewhat similar fundamentalist cloth, there is little that's preachy or overbearing about this comedy, the filmmakers and the cast treating these travails as casually and as naturally as they can most of the time. Allyson's trials and tribulations are at least cut from a recognizable cloth, and while many of the parental interactions feel more of the 'Leave It To Beaver' generation than they do the Facebook and Instagram one, for some gosh darn reason that doesn't make events less affecting. More, when the movie does decide to preach, it does so in a rather surprising, comparatively charming ways, a quiet moment between a frazzled mother and a tough-as-nails biker (nicely underplayed by country music superstar Trace Adkins) containing droplets of truth deftly intermixed inside the sermonizing.

Say what you will about the picture's point-of-view and hard-line opinions, neither of which I have the heart or desire to defend, bash or anything in-between, it goes without saying I'd have a much higher tolerance for this sort of faith-based stuff, if it was presented in anything close to the same vein as this. I don't agree with much of the subtext or thinly veiled politics not-so-cleverly hiding within the narrative's layers (no shock there), but that doesn't make it a total waste of time, either. Moms' Night Out is a family-friendly sitcom masquerading as a feature film with more laughs than expected and enough heart to make the majority of the odious aspects borderline tolerable. For what it is, if taken with a grain of salt, it's not too bad, and while not the greatest of recommendations, considering the alternative, it's going to have to do.


Unrelenting Locke a real time sensation
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

LOCKE
Now playing


In many ways Locke is the thriller of the year, a real time, ticking clock masterwork of tension and suspense that's as unrelenting and unmerciful as anything likely to see a release in all of 2014. In others, it is nothing more than a quickly paced melodrama of responsibility and regret, focusing entirely on a single character, the choices he has made and the price he is forced to pay, when the bill for his self-centered actions come tragically due.

Academy Award-nominated screenwriter Steven Knight's (Dirty Pretty Things, Eastern Promises) second film as director is a revelation, detailing a single 90-minute slice-of-life as a mild-mannered, elegantly reserved and highly intelligent construction foreman makes a choice that changes his life forever. Set inside a car making an evening trek to London, the whole thing is a series of phone conversations, nothing more, certainly nothing less, each one detailing a string of problems the protagonist is desperately, yet calmly, trying to find ways to overcome.

The action centers on Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy). The night before the biggest construction job of his life - he's supervising one of the largest non-governmental concrete pours in recent history - he makes the decision to drive to London. It's a trip that will take roughly an hour and half, yet the repercussions of going will last a lifetime. On the way there he must contact his wife and come clean with a startling revelation, speak with his boss and let him know what is going on, while also communicate with his second-in-command in order to get him ready to handle the job without him. He will have conversations with his children. He will speak with random local politicians to erase last second problems. He will even talk with the nurses and the doctors at a London hospital about the reasons he's rapidly heading in their direction.

That is the movie.

There is no bomb. There is no despicable villain holding a loved one at gunpoint. No one is dying. The traditional tropes around which these types of scenarios typically surround are nowhere to be found. Knight has crafted an innately personal story of a man coming to grips with his mistakes and doing what believes is the right, consequences be damned. This is a stream of consciousness drama where so many little things - the score of a soccer match, local police remembering to cordon off the correct streets, the density and thickness of the concrete before it can be poured, and so on and so forth - all end up being more than the sum of their parts; and as such, I found myself inching closer and closer to the edge of my seat the nearer Locke came to his preordained destination.

Hardy is brilliant. Channeling the ghosts of Richard Burton and Alec Guinness, his Ivan Locke is a paragon of British stiff upper lip-ishness, cool and confident under pressure, doing all he can to make it sound and seem like nothing happening is actually getting to him on a visible level. But Hardy allows the emotional maelstrom to rumble and course through every pore, the frosty demeanor sheltering unspeakable turmoil - hearing his timber waver as his youngest recaps the televised soccer match or watching him clench as he tries to remain composed as he lets his wife know exactly what is happening and why is unimaginably painful.

The rest of the cast consists of voices on the phone, but that doesn't mean Knight doesn't give them due respect. Brit character actors like Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Danny Webb and Tom Holland all make appearances, their impact throughout undeniable. Wilson, in particular, has a handful of spectacular moments, her final conversation with Hardy sending shudders through my system I was feeling hours afterwards.

Knight understands and realizes it is the everyday that can be the most suspenseful, that the choices we make second-to-second and hour-to-hour are oftentimes more thrilling than anything our most fanciful imaginations can conjure up. Locke is an extraordinary adventure that takes the mundane, twists it into knots, and magically transforming it into something mesmerizing and masterful, the journey it ultimately took me on one I almost didn't want to see come to an end.


2014 Summer Preview - May & June
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

Even though Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a summer movie shrouded in April clothing, the real silly season at multiplex as far as major Hollywood studios are concerned begins today with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It's the first in a rather large, and admittedly expected, collection of big budget sequels, remakes, spin-offs and reboots hitting theaters between now and the end of August, all of them hoping to match the $1.2 billion worldwide gross of 2013's Iron Man 3.

This year's crop of tent pole sequels includes X-Men: Days of Future Past (which culls cast members from both the original X-Men as well as X-Men: First Class in an Avengers-style superhero team-up), Transformers: Age of Extinction (with Mark Wahlberg stepping in for Shia LaBeouf), the animated How to Train Your Dragon 2, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (which takes place after a worldwide apocalypse has left humanity in a seemingly hopeless state of disrepair), 22 Jump Street, The Expendables 3, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Other big budget enterprises hoping to bring new life to old standbys include Godzilla, Disney's live action Maleficent, a Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson assuming the mantel of Greek hero Hercules.

On the comedy side of the equation, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore team up for the third time in Blended, Melissa McCarthy hopes to see her star continue to rise with Tammy, Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel reunite for Sex Tape, Kevin Hart and company return for Think Like a Man, Too, Seth Rogen and Zac Efron are a pair of extremely unfriendly Neighbors and Seth MacFarlane tries to prove Ted wasn't a fluke with the Mel Brooks-like western A Million Days to Die in the West. As for the original properties, Disney tosses out the baseball drama Million Dollar Arm, Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the Broadway smash Jersey Boys steps onto the stage, Tom Cruise goes sci-fi Groundhog Day-style with Edge of Tomorrow, Andy and Lana Wachowski return to their interstellar roots with Jupiter Ascending while Twister-wannabe Into the Wind storms into theaters eager to blow away the competition.

For those wanting more serious (or at least more independent) fair, as always there's plenty to choose from just as long as you're willing to put forth the effort to see it. There's Richard Linklater's 12 years in the making Boyhood, Jon Favreau's star-studded dramedy Chef, the faith-based gross-out female-driven comedy (make sense out of all of that, I dare you) Mom's Night Out, Jim Jarmusch's fascinating vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive, the UW-set Decoding Annie Parker, the spooky sci-fi shocker The Signal, real-time (and real world) thriller Locke with Tom Hardy, and Australian director David Michôd's unsettling looking The Rover, while the late Philip Seymour Hoffman pops up twice appearing in both May's God's Pocket and July's A Most Wanted Man.



The following is a small sampling of films and events hitting Seattle screens between now and the end of June. (I'll work up a separate preview for July and August in a few weeks.) As always, release dates are subject to change so make sure and check with local theaters to make sure the movie you're aching to see is actually going to be playing.

May 2
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Decoding Annie Parker, Hateship Loveship, Only Lovers Left Alive, Watermark

May 2-12
Seattle Cinerama Sci-Fi Film Festival - The Cinerama stages it's second-ever Science Fiction Film Festival and not only is the lineup itself extraordinary, so are the guests: Sam Jones (Flash Gordon), Tom Skerrit (Alien), Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: First Contact) and legendary visual effects wunderkind Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Brainstorm, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) all scheduled to attend.

May 8-11
Translations: The Seattle Transgender Film Festival - Three Dollar Bill Cinema presents its ninth annual Transgender Film Festival, a full weekend of flicks spanning the gender spectrum on display including the North American premier of Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger as the closing night selection.

May 9
Fading Gigolo, Fed Up, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, Locke, Mom's Night Out, Neighbors, Teenage, Young and Beautiful

May 15-June 8
Seattle International Film Festival - It's baaaack & Seattle's favorite film festival returns for its 40th big screen cinematic adventure, kicking things off with director John Ridley's highly anticipated Jimi Hendrix biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side starring Outkast megastar André Benjamin in the title role.

May 16
Chef, God's Pocket, Godzilla, Million Dollar Arm

May 23
Belle, Blended, Cold in July, The Double, X-Men: Days of Future Past

May 30
A Million Ways to Die in the West, Chinese Puzzle, Filth, The Grand Seduction, Maleficent

June 6
Edge of Tomorrow, The Fault in Our Stars, Gore Vidal: the United States of Amnesia, Obvious Child, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, Trust Me, Words and Pictures

June 13
22 Jump Street, Evergreen: The Road to Legalization, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Lucky Them, Palo Alto, The Signal

June 20
Jersey Boys, The Rover, Think Like a Man, Too, Venus in Fur

June 27
Snowpiercer, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Yves Saint Laurent




SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Here she is Boys! Here she is World! Lily!
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Steven Knight interview re: Locke
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Upcoming Exhibit: 'Gender Personal' explores Trans identity at Kirkland Arts Center
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Body Diversity Photo Project Call for Art
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Center on Contemporary Art (CoCA) presents 21st Century Glam Art
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Northwest News
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LETTERS
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Lily Allen adds Seattle to U.S. tour
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2014 SIFF Preview - An Interview with Carl Spence
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Moderately charming Night Out a faith-based surprise
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Unrelenting Locke a real time sensation
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2014 Summer Preview - May & June
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