All film ratings are based on four stars best.

This is my fifth SIFF and I tend to be obsessive about seeing as many films as I can.  This year the schedule leaves little time for such fripperies as festival journals, since there are usually movies playing from 10AM to midnight every day.  Scheduling is often a nightmare taking lots of pre-planning.  But fortunately this is such a user-friendly festival for the passholders such as myself that coping with the complexities of scheduling is part of the fun.

I arrived in Seattle after a leisurely drive up the coast on Wednesday, May 22, easily obtained my passes and managed with only about 10 mis-turns to find the venue for the press screening, which was held at a very out-of-the-way museum.  What follows are my mini-mini reviews of films seen organized by day.  All films are rated on a four star top rating system.

Wednesday, May 22
GIRLS CAN'T SWIM (Dir:  Anne-Sophie Birot.  France)
Sort of the female equivalent to Nico and Dani...namely the coming of age story of two 15 year old girls on vacation and how they adjust to the budding sexuality of one of them.  The film will find its admirers; but I'm not one of them.  I just couldn't get engaged in the plight of the main characters.  However I was into the story enough to be shocked by some of the plot developments.  Competent acting and direction help a rather diffuse script.  **

Thursday, May 23
READ MY LIPS  (Dir:  Jacques Audiard.  France)
This film, by an exciting and original talent, will certainly be one of the highlights of the festival for me.  It's a thriller combined with an ugly duckling off-center love story.  The story held together beautifully, even though it was totally original and unpredictable.  The actors, Vincent Cassel and Emmanuelle Devos, were truly remarkable, never better.  I really like the directorial style stressing very revealing close-ups and a top-notch sound design to show the lead characters deafness.  This one is a winner!  *** 3/4

BIGGIE AND TUPAK  (Dir:  Nick Broomfield.  U.S./U.K. documentary)
Somehow I've never seen any of Nick Broomfield's documentaries until now.  He has a very filmmaker involved documentary style where he is a main character interviewing his subjects on camera.  He's also witty and confrontational in a style similar to Michael Moore, but quite a bit more British and reserved.  His topic, two famous rap singers who were murdered in strangely connected circumstances, was very unsettling...especially since it turns out that the Notorious B.I.G. was killed within a block of where I grew up and still quite close to where I live today.  Also the film uncovered a great deal of fascinating information that seems to be in the process of being suppressed by the Los Angeles Police Department which may be up to its eyeballs in corruption in this case.  Not a pretty picture for an L.A. resident.   The film was very unpleasant to watch; but an important and fascinating documentary in any case.  ***

Friday, May 24
Finally the festival itself starts after the first two press screenings.  Most of the first day's screenings are well attended, which is a good sign.  The festival has down-sized a bit this year, apparently due to budgetary necessities.  But all the theater venues are the same as they were at  last year's festival.  Mostly good theaters with adequate sightlines and sound systems.  But one of these days the main theater, the Egyptian, has to get more comfortable seats!

THE COCKETTES  (dir: Bill Weber and David Weissman.  U.S. documentary)
The Cockettes were a collective of drag/hippie characters in San Francisco during the early '70s.  I actually had some peripheral connection with some of the people shown in the film, and also attended some of the events shown (incidentally, with a lot of remarkable footage taken at the time).  The subject was fascinating; but the filmmaking was somewhat straightforward, mostly the stills and amateur films made at the time mixed with talking heads of some of the present day survivors (too few have survived drugs and AIDS, unfortunately.)  It had its moments when the film dragged a bit (both senses of the word).  Still, it was fun to see the remarkable vintage footage and re-live some of the events of my own past and get an insight into what was really going on.  It's also nice to see John Waters interviewed...he's very perceptive, eloquent, and amusing.  ** 3/4

PARALLEL WORLDS  (dir: Petr Vaclav.  Czech Republic)
Film about a breakup of a marriage.  Good acting, but the plot was told in an elliptical, fragmented way which kept taking me out of the story.  Just not my cup of tea, though it was a quality effort.  **

BUNGALOW (dir:  Ulrich Kohler.  Germany)
This one was my cup of tea, though I'm sure I was one of the few in the sparse audience who enjoyed the film.  The story is a slice of life/coming of age about a middle class youth who more or less deserts from the modern German army and returns home, where his parents are on vacation in Italy and his older brother and his hot girlfriend are also visiting.  The young man (beautifully played by Lennie Burmeister)  is truly at an existential crisis of depression and self-destruction, avoiding the army or running away, feeling sexually frustrated and desiring his brother's girlfriend.  It doesn't quite gel as a story, and was directed in a slow straightforward style.  But the lead actor was eye candy for me...in an early scene he whips it out and jerks off out of boredom; but it is all part of a mysterious opening montage where one is not quite sure what is happening or where we are.  The pleasures of this film, such as they are, are limited if one doesn't like the main character.  I did despite his unremitting sullen demeanor; so I found it riveting.  Most will think he's a real jerk and be totally turned off to the film.  ***

LAST CALL  (dir: Henry Bromell.  U.S.)
This film went straight to Showtime; but it was good to see it on a big screen.  Jeremy Irons, in one of his best performances, plays F. Scott Fitzgerald at the end of his life when he's struggling with alcoholism and trying to write The Last Tycoon.  Neve Campbell, in a one-note performance which was one of the movie's weaknesses,  plays a young secretary he hires to help him write the book and whose recollections were the basis of the movie.  Sissy Spacek is wasted as a spectral Zelda who haunts Fitzgerald's DT episodes.  All in all pretty pedestrian except for Irons' outstanding performance.  **

CQ  (dir:  Roman Coppola.  U.S./France/Italy)
One thing is for sure, Roman hasn't inherited the filmmaking gene...at least as evidenced from this weirdly self-indulgent amalgam of home movies and  Dolce Vita in-group frolic.  Set in Paris in the late '60s, about a film editor (played by Jeremy Davies as his usual bemused schlub), the film alternates in tone between a 16mm black & white film within a film that Davies is making to explain his life without compromises, and color scenes of the making of a SF exploitation flick vaguely reminiscent of Barbarella which come off as unfunny comedy.   The film does have some amusing cameos by Gerard Depardieu and Jason Schwartzman as respectively a washed up auteur director and a totally blitzed out filmmaker wonderkind and Giancarlo Giannini playing Dino de Laurentis as over-the-top producer to a tee.  But it totally wastes Elodie Bouchez as Davies' girlfriend.  The star of the exploitation flick was played by Angela Lindvall, who is a sexy and interesting actress and maybe the only good thing to come out unscathed by this wasted effort.  *

Fighting a cold...the first one I've had at a film festival.  Everyone where I'm staying (at my step daughter's home in Kenmore) seems to have this Seattle cold, so it comes as no surprise that I do too, even though I haven't run myself down at all.  I sure hope I can kick it quickly.  We'll see if I can keep up with the schedule and do my web page, too.   I already decided to skip the 9:30 movie tonight, instead having a good Mongolian Barbeque meal and working on my festival schedule for the next week.

SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THIS  (dir:  Saso Podgorsek.  Slovenia)
A truely fine coming of age story of a 13 year old boy from a totally disfunctional Slovenian family in 1973.  His grandma is a religious freak, his mother a schizophrenic, his gym teacher a physical child molester, his neighbor a dope smoking hippie and he's never known his father.  Egon is something of a nerd; but over the course of the film he progresses and grows.  Nice acting, especially Janco Mandic as Egon.  The film is a fairly straightforward narrative, nothing special.  But it is clearly autobiographical, and the writer-director has a wonderful memory for novel and amusing details.  All in all a well made film which works.  ***

A SELF-MADE HERO  (dir:  Jacques Audiard.  France 1996)
I'd seen this one when it came out, and it was one of my top 10 films that year.  Time has only enhanced its charms.  Mathieu Kossovitz, one of my favorite actors, has the role of his career here, that of a rogue who invents his life.  The film is structured as a mockumentary, one of the first of that breed.  Jacques Audiard is truly one of the "emerging masters", he has a visual flair and a gift for directing actors.  This film is quite special.  ****

CHERISH  (dir:  Finn Taylor.  U.S.)
Taylor is one of the American indie directors who show some promise, though you wouldn't exactly know it from this film.  Ostensibly a thriller about a young woman who is first stalked and then carjacked and framed for a drunk driving manslaughter.  She spends the movie in pre-trial home arrest, tethered to 57 feet from a modem that is connected to a device on her leg.  There are some interesting characterizations, especially Tim Blake Nelson as the uptight technician who tends her ankle bracelet.  Robin Tunney is also fine as the girl in jeopardy.  But the film falls apart at the end, filled with logical flaws.  It looks good, though, and the director is obviously talented.  ** 1/2

KHALED  (dir:  Asghar Massombagi.  Canada)
A super low-budget digital film from Canada about a young kid in heavy jeopardy.  I'm not even going to hint at the plot, although chances are nobody is ever going to see it.  The story rings true, although unlikely; and the kid does a very fine job.  I wasn't as involved as usual with this kind of story for some reason.  The film just plodded along for a lot of its length.  But all in all a good effort.  ** 1/2

Sunday, May 26
I seem to be coping well with the cold, despite the fact that the Egyptian Theater has lost its air-conditioning and conditions there were quite stuffy for 4 of the 5 films I watched today.  It was a good day for films.  The weather has remained quite nice...the forecasted rains never arrived.  This festival is shaping up quite nicely.  But the hard drive on this computer is increasingly flaky, so any moment it's possible that I'll have to curtail this commentary.

Not even a hint lest I be drawn and quartered by the festival powers that be.  But it was an oldie that somehow unaccountably I'd missed when it came out though I remember stories about its production; and I've always wanted to see it.  It has aged quite well, incidentally.  ***

LOVELY AND AMAZING  (dir:  Nicole Holofcener.  U.S.)
This one joins the growing genre of meandering slice of life films about three sisters (e.g.. Wonderland and Happiness), though it isn't really comparable to those films.  Brenda Blethyn sporting an American accent plays the mater familias, who has adopted a black crack-baby child who has trouble relating to being black.   And Catherine Keener does her patented sarcastic persona  as the eldest sister whose marriage is on the rocks.  Emily Mortimer is also good as the middle daughter, an actress with self-esteem problems.   Actually, the film has moments where the farce works and we care about the characters.  Nothing special about the direction, except that the acting is uniformly fine.  ** 3/4

THE TRIP  (dir:  Miles Swain.  U.S.)
A genre gay film about life in the 1973-83 era.  This one is above average, for a heartfelt script which actually has something to say about gay history (though mostly through the device of changing hair styles and the use of  familiar historical stock footage);  and for a touching love story fairly well acted (Steve Braun was particularly good, I thought.)  Jill St. John, playing Braun's mother, has remained young at heart and was quite wonderful.  I found the film to be affecting, with moments of comedy and pathos which worked for me.  But overall, the pedestrian direction, a lead actor (Larry Sullivan) whose acting wasn't able to ping my gaydar,  and a somewhat contrived plot, especially during the set-up, worked against the film breaking through the gay genre ghetto.  ** 3/4

HAPPY TIMES   (dir:  Zhang Yimou.  China)
The director is one of the all-time greats, in my opinion.  But lately, either because of political problems in China or a mid-career slowdown, his films just don't seem to be as special as they once were.  This one takes place in contemporary China, which might also be one of the problems.  Anyway, it is a heart-tugger comedy about an older man and a young blind girl (sounds like Academy bait to me), thrown together by circumstances.  I was diverted in spots; but the film seemed derivative and flat without any visual panache.  Not a bad film, but a disappointment.  ** 1/2

OUTPATIENT  (dir: Alec Carlin.  U.S.)
I almost skipped this film since it sounded so pretentious and unpromising in the festival catalog.  But I'm glad that I went.  Turns out that this is one of those thrillers which really thrill, with a complex plot which mostly holds together and a payoff worthy of  Hitchcock.  Justin Kirk is fine as a mental patient coping with his disorder by writing a novel and confronting his past.  Catherine Kellner, who is one good role away from movie stardom, is equally up to the task of the therapist who helps to unravel the mystery of her patient's psychosis.  The film is spectacularly well photographed in digital HD (most likely 24P since it looked so flawlessly like real film).  Shooting in digital allowed the director to use very different looks for the various levels of reality (past, present, fantasy), which helped to anchor the viewer and keep all the complex story threads together.  Special kudos must go to the cinematographer, Andres Garreton, who has mastered the tricks of making digital look great.  I guess I may be overselling the film, which had its hokey moments too, especially towards the end.  But all in all this one deserves wide distribution and has hit written all over it (though with a no-name cast the odds are long that it will ever find its audience.)
*** 1/4

Monday, May 27
DOOR TO DOOR  (dir:  Stephen Schachter.  U.S.)
William H. Macy gives the performance of his career in this modest cable-tv movie (for TNT) shown in video format.  Macy plays a real-life, mildly disabled cerebral palsy victim who is encouraged to go to work as a traveling salesman by his mother (another great performance by Helen Mirren with a flawless American accent...are all the Brits going American now?)  This one goes into the "truth is stranger than any possible fiction" category.  The film alternates in tone between uplifting and moving, and sappy and predictable.  But overall, due to an excellent supporting cast (except for  Kyra Sedgwick who has some acting mannerisms which really annoy me), this one works.  ***
The short playing with it, Silent Beats, out of the USC film school, was one of the most outstanding shorts I've seen in a while.  Done silent, to a tap dance beat, the film shows a series of racial encounters in a convenience market store.  Nicely directed.

LAST WEDDING  (dir:  Bruce Sweeney.  Canada)
Three friends, young Vancouver yuppie guys, each in a dysfunctional relationship, though for differing reasons.  One decides to marry his JCP (Jewish Canadian Princess), and this bitter comedy develops from there as we watch everything fall apart.  The script was good enough to keep one interested in the proceedings.  The guys were all immature and deserved their various fates; but I found myself drawn into the film, identifying with all the participants.  Good acting, competent direction, this one is well above average.  ***

FIREFLY DREAMS   (dir:  John Williams.  Japan)
An achingly slow and for me boring story of a young girl, coming of age in Japan, who starts out a city rowdy, and then when banished to the oh so picturesque countryside, and under the spell of an ancient woman who was an actress in the '30s, progresses.  It was a "well made film."  And I wanted it to end with all my might.  **

WRITTEN ON THE BODY OF THE NIGHT (dir:  Jaime Humberto Hermosillo.  Mexico)
Funny, humanistic comedy about the youth of a film director.  It starts out with a draggy film-within-a-film which echoes the themes which later turn out to have been part of the film director's life.  The plot is somewhat tricky, with most of it being a lengthy flashback which turns out to be the real story.  The film could have benefited by some pruning of some sequences which went on too long.   It also seemed rather stagy and constrained to a couple of obvious sets.  But the film was charming and well observed.  The actors varied all over the place; but Hermosillo found a boy of extraordinary presence to play himself (or the film director) as a youth.  Despite some obvious flaws, this one worked for me.  ** 3/4, but I enjoyed it more than that.

Tuesday, May 28
Some days are better than others.  This one was a good one, even though I missed the first screening at 10AM and then decided to do a leisurely lunch at Pike St. Market instead of viewing Sex and Lucia at the press screening for a second time.  When I saw the Spanish film at the L.A. Cinematheque last March, it was by far my favorite film of the fortnight, a good *** 1/2.  So I expect to obtain the DVD and watch it again on video in the future.  Life at a big 3 1/2 week festival is hectic enough and hard on the eyes as it is, so re-watching films I've seen recently just isn't in the cards.

RAIN (dir: Katherine Lindberg.  U.S.)
This is an example of American Country Gothic, not my favorite genre.  I suppose as far as it goes this one was a well constructed example of the genre.  But I was sort of surprised that I seemed to be the only one in the audience to laugh out loud at the  ridiculous goings on.  Certainly the acting and direction were fine...my complaint was with the script.  To say these characters' motivations were murky would be understating the facts.  **

LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONEY  (dir:  Peter Mattei.  U.S.)
This one was a winner.  I quickly deduced that it was a modern adaptation of Schnitzler's La Ronde, set in New York with a roundelay of characters so aptly described and played as to be almost miraculous in such a low budget film shot on digital and transferred to film.  I had the pleasure of chatting with first time director Mattei, who sat in the audience to watch the next film.  Nice guy.  I guess I can understand how such outstanding actors as Steve Buscemi, Michael Imperioli, Carol Kane and Adrian Grenier (who is going to be a major star) would choose to do his little film.  *** 1/4

YELLOW ASPHALT   (dir:  Dan Verete.  Israel)
Wow!  Another winner, this one a powerful depiction of the interface between the desert Bedouins and the Israelis in modern day Israel.  Using three unconnected incidents (I do wish that the stories had somehow been more integrated with each other), the film examines the differences in attitude between the antagonistic cultures as to death, sexism, justice, and lifestyles.  The third story of an Israeli farmer and his two Bedouin employees take up most of the film; and I got swept up in the drama of exploitation, infidelity and revenge.  It isn't a perfect film; some of the acting seems amateurish (or maybe just naturalistic).  But overall, this is a fine effort.  *** 1/4

BRITNEY BABY, ONE MORE TIME!   (dir:  Ludi Boeken.  U.S.)
Funny and fun, this one is a mockumentary which both gently mocks the American pop culture and says a lot about celebrity, sexuality, media, schlock news etc. seemingly effortlessly.  Britney Spears is never shown...this one was about an ad hoc news crew (made up of the jokers from American Movie, certainly an inspired bit of casting!) following a transvestite Britney look-alike winner around on tour pretending she's the real thing in order to bilk the network news out of money to make the film crew's dream movie project (if this seems unlikely:  run, don't walk, to see the aforementioned original documentary about these guys, a wonderful film which is fully evoked by the current film.)  Robert Stephens, a real-life Britney look- and sound- alike,  is wonderfully authentic and personable in the lead role.  But some of the minor characters, especially the ones playing the real Britney's entourage, were lousy actors.   This movie is a real crowd pleaser...but for me it was slightly marred by a series of jarring miscuts in the middle which took me out of the film, a very strange technical glitch which I hope the filmmaker solves before release.  ** 3/4

Wednesday, May 29
One theory of heavy duty festival going is that the quality of the film can be measured by how far into the film one gets before one looks at one's watch.  By that test, this was a great festival day since I didn't look at my watch once during any of the films until 3/4 of the way through the last film of the evening.  Nary a boring moment.

TADPOLE  (dir:  Gary Winick.  U.S.)
Coming of age comedy with a vengeance.  Actually, 15 year old Oscar (formerly Tadpole), is the most mature 15 year old in the history of movies.  As portrayed by newcomer with a future Aaron Stanford, he's also appealing and cool, with a thing for older women including his step mother (a strangely unappealing Sigourney Weaver) and his step-mother's best friend played by Bebe Neuwirth, who just about steals the movie.  The characterizations are spot on as is most of the dialog.  This one was a pure pleasure to watch, though it had a couple of flaws:  Oscar's French accent was abysmal for a boy who was half French and spends time with his mother in Paris.  And the digital video photography was unattractive and occasionally disrupted the reality of the piece.  Nevertheless, this crowd pleaser pleased me greatly.  *** 1/4

LIBERTY STANDS STILL   (dir:  Kari Skogland.  U.S.)
A claustrophobic thriller about a rogue CIA terrorist/sniper/bomber/assassin loose in downtown L.A.  Fairly good acting, and the tension keeps ratcheting up, which would normally make for a good thriller.  But somehow the film loses steam with its lengthy expository speeches and absurd story line.  Still, it was never boring.   ** 1/4

13 CONVERSATIONS ABOUT ONE THING   (dir: Jill Sprecher.  U.S.)
Like the film Love in the Time of Money screened yesterday, this is a roundelay of various interconnected stories, though this one plays mind games with a non-linear timeline.  This film, too, has an excellent cast and a wealth of detail and interesting character development.  Alan Arkin was especially good as a sour mid-management functionary who connects most of the stories together.  And even the often maligned it-boy of years past, Matthew McConaughey, is good here.  It's hard to imagine a more satisfying script for this kind of film:  adult, unpredictable, ironic, relevant.  A truly bravura first film.  *** 1/2

QUITTING  (dir:  Zhang Yang.  China)
This film has a unique premise:  a real actor who was a movie star 10 years ago but has fallen on bad times (mainly drug addiction psychosis) and his real father, mother, sister and friends are brought together to stage a replay of the actor's redemption.  It works quite well, even though the film is at pains at times to break the fourth wall and make sure that the audience knows that this is staged.  I thought it went on a little too long, and was a little too unremittingly bleak for most of its length.  But the acting was so realistic (it ought to have been since it was a replaying of real events), and the direction so assured that it somehow overcomes the problems.  Unfortunately, this one was a step down from the director's previous effort, Shower.  ** 3/4.

Thursday, May 30
SECRET BALLOT  (dir: Babak Payami.  Iran)
By the looking at watch test, this one failed big time.  I probably checked out the time on four occasions...the film was that slow and boring.  The film followed a woman election agent, accompanied by a stolid soldier, around a rural island on election day as she collected votes from the peasant inhabitants.  The incidents themselves were interesting and occasionally genuinely amusing; and the mystery of Iranian culture continues to amaze this filmgoer (these characters might be Martians, for all I can understand their actions and interactions.)  But the film was flawed by intolerably lengthy long-shots and sequences which have a great set-up and then peter out with no resolution.   **

LAWLESS HEART  (dir:  Tom Hunsinger.  Great Britain)
I loved this film.  It follows an extended family in, I believe, one of the Channel Islands, as they mourn the accidental death of gay restaurateur Stuart.  It starts at the funeral, following one character, and then twice more starts at the same point focusing on different characters through a slightly extended period of time.  This structure leads to a gradual disclosure of the undercurrents of the various relationships, rather like peeling an onion and finding a deeper level of meaning each time.  The characters are interesting, especially for me Stuart's committed lover Nick (a complex portrayal of grief and goodness under trying circumstances by Tom Hollander).  I got into these characters' heads and hearts, a tribute to the maturity and excellence of the script and direction.  *** 1/2

PUMPKIN  (dir:  Tony Abrams, Adam Larson Broder.  U.S.)
This one is a rather audacious comedy and satire, sort of this year's Ghost World, though a lot less tasteful and subtle.  It stars Christina Ricci as a gung ho sorority girl at a fictitious L.A. campus who spurns her handsome and athletic boyfriend and unforgivably falls for a "retard" in a wheelchair (well played by Hank Harris with just the right amount of gimpiness and enthusiasm).  The satire is rather overbroad, the entire film seems to constantly be on the brink of lurching out of control into tasteless anarchy.  But somehow it keeps its focus and ends up a satisfying and wildly amusing film.  ***

MALUNDE  (dir:  Stefanie Sycholt.  Germany/South Africa)
A straightforward film about an 11 year old black street kid who is thrown by circumstances into a road trip movie with an older white guy whose life is a mess.  It sounds like such a cliché: Kolya with racial overtones.  Yet the film, done in splendid wide screen with particularly high production values, somehow overcomes its inherent sappiness.  Both actors are good, the chemistry genuine.  It went on a bit too long (one look at the watch about an hour into it); but all in all this worked a lot better than I expected, and I ended up feeling that I had an illuminating and realistic experience of modern day South Africa.  ** 3/4

Friday, May 31
I had a horrible bout of food poisoning after lunch today which seemed to come on during the 2nd movie.  I was really uncomfortable all through the third movie today and had to go home where I was up all night sick as a dog.  Finally I got some sleep; but I'm missing the first Saturday movie and these reviews are going to be a day late.  It sure puts a crimp in my moviegoing - I think I'll miss at least 2 to 3 movies because of it.

AGITATOR   (dir:  Miike Takashi.  Japan)
I once said that after Audition, which freaked me out for its ultra violence, that I'd never watch another Miike.  Yet, even with Audition, Miike showed an ability to amaze on film, which isn't a quality to be taken lightly.  Agitator is a much more straight ahead film, a 2 1/2 hour gangster epic about a rogue Yakuza action cell in a gang war where the chiefs are fighting to dominate the syndicate.   He wasn't in the film; but this could easily have been a Beat Takashi against the Godfathers movie, or a remake of a Hong Kong movie called The Mission which I saw a couple years ago.   In other words, it seemed overly familiar ground.  It was slightly too long and repetitative; but at least the violence was traditional and something I could deal with.  Miike is a prolific filmmaker, and he doesn't stick to any one genre, so I imagine I'll watch his films in the future.  ** 3/4

TURNING PAIGE   (dir:  Robert Cuffley.  Canada)
Maybe it was the start of the food poisoning episode; but I slept through about 20 minutes of exposition in this turgid family drama from Canada.  Actually, when I did awake, the drama took hold and I did get involved...especially with the acting of the guy who plays Paige's brother, who was quite good.   Life in the Maritimes in mid-winter has never looked bleaker.  **

THE INHERITANCE  (dir:  Daniel Filho.  Brazil)
I had trouble concentrating on this trifle about 4 sisters who get together to divide up their recently deceased mother's property.  Occasionally humorous and entertaining, it was also completely predictable.  The audience seemed to be enjoying it...I could easily imagine the Hollywood remake.  **

Saturday, June 1
THE WAY WE LAUGHED   (dir:  Gianni Amelio.  Italy)
Amelio is one of my favorite directors, and his star, Enrico Lo Verso one of my favorite actors.  In addition, the film introduces an extremely attractive young actor, Francesco Giuffrida, who is one to watch.  But the film was butchered by a poor projectionist at this performance (which may be the only one here), as we were treated to a repeat of one 20 minute reel and the skipping of another, which made the story (which was fragmented to begin with) absolutly opaque to understanding.  Crucial explanatory elements seemed to be left out and nothing made sense.  In any case, it was a bleak and darkly photographed story stretching over 7 years of two brothers, one a manual laborer who moves from Sicily to join his scholarly younger brother in abject poverty in  Northern Italy in the late '50s.  I'm not sure I would have liked this film even if it were projected in the right order...but this film was not meant to be Momento...and I don't know of many films which would have worked under similar conditions.  ** 1/2

EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES  (dir:  Alan Taylor.  Great Britain/Germany)
Ian Holms plays the real Napoleon who escapes from prison on St. Helena, replaced by an imposter who then doesn't relinquish his role leaving the former Emperor stranded in Paris.  Pretty ordinary film, though it did look authentic.  ** 1/4

Sunday, June 2
Back in the swing of things, the effects of the food poisoning mostly gone.  The day was marred by some vandals in downtown Seattle who tore off my radio aerial (but I guess it could have been worse).  On the other hand, the Lakers beat the Kings in an exciting game which I mostly watched at a restaurant in place of the 6:30 film.  My waiter had recently moved up to Seattle from L.A., so we rooted together for the Lakers, screaming with every point.  After all that, my dinner companion, Susan, and I missed out on the 9:30 screening as we went to the wrong theater!  Two heads are definitely not better than one.

Not even a hint.  But this French film was one of my 5 top films that I wished for at this festival and was disappointed that it wasn't scheduled.  Not fabulous, but I was glad to see it!  ***

Wild Bees  (dir:  Bohdan Slama.  Czech Republic)
This Czech film falls in the earthy small town comedy genre, with lots of interactions between a diverse set of characters including one fellow with a huge Michael Jackson hangup (who actually does a pretty fair imitation...but, why bother?)  It centers on two brothers and their search for love and/or sex.  Sort of pointless and aimless; but like many Czech films of this type, an amiable and fun experience to watch.  ** 3/4

MAP OF SEX AND LOVE (dir:  Evans Chan.  Hong Kong)
This was an overlong, but extremely interesting (at least to me) video blown up to 1:33 aspect film which takes place in Hong Kong and Macao (a lovely former Portugese island which isn't filmed enough.)  It's the story of a young, gay, native-Chinese New Yorker who returns to his homeland for a visit the year after his mother died.  In Hong Kong he picks up a long-hair dancer who cruises him on the street, and they become a vacation romance.  He also befriends a girl who he's been corresponding with in a computer chat room.  They form an odd threesome, and the film meanders around as each does his or her thing.  The videography was quite nice, with some unique effects and a lot of pretty, but extraneous shots of the locales.  This one isn't going to be popular, even for the gay crowd, despite some steamy and artfully composed sex scenes.   Still, I found it charming and quite involving.  ***

Monday, June 3
Something of a disappointment, as I expected to like this film, based on the cast and the original novel.  The story of two mischievous 14 year old Catholic school boys and their feud against their nun teacher (a miscast Jody Foster) works up to a point, since the observations are acute and the events interesting.  Kieran Culkin did his usual fine underplaying of the odd, lost kid, and newcomer Emile Hirsch had presence as the more normal kid.  It also had some very fine original super-hero animation to illustrate the characters' obsession with that medium.  But the total didn't add up to a satisfying film, and this strange, R-rated teen flick isn't going to go far.  **

HAPPINESS OF THE KATAKURIS   (dir:  Miike Takashi.  Japan)
Miike is one of the worlds most uneven directors.  This was his attempt at a Bollywood musical about a family guesthouse and some gruesome occurrences which happen there.  Done partly with claymation and not a little fantasy, the film was too weird for me.  I slept through parts of it and disliked it thoroughly.  But I'm sure the film will have its admirers, though it's hard to imagine why.  * 1/2
Note written June 11th:  This film had its first public screening yesterday, and apparently got a rousing reception...roaring laughter etc.  In other words, a hit.  I must have left my funny bone at home when I watched it.  I have this problem with most films which end up playing as midnight movie classics, which is undoubtedly this film's fate.  I must have a low tolerance for silliness.

NO NEWS FROM GOD   (dir:  Agustin Diaz-Yanes.  Spain)
Another disappointment for somebody who likes Spanish films in general.  This was an over bloated heaven and hell allegory about two angels (Victoria Abril playing a character named Lola for the umpteenth time, and a ballsy Penelope Cruz) fighting over the soul of a useless boxer.  Even Gael Garcia Bernal, an actor I really like, was totally miscast as the devil.  * 1/2

HERENCIA  (dir:  Paula Hernandez.  Argentina)
On the other hand, here was a little gem of a movie from Argentina...sort of similar to another Argentinian film this year called Son of the Bride.  Like that film it was about a restaurateur in a mid-life crisis...only in this case it was an Italian lady of a certain age who had immigrated years ago and started a neighborhood trattoria, and now was nearing retirement and longed to return to Italy.  Into her life drops a 24 year old East German boy,  naive, romantic:  he's searching for the girl he had a short affair with in Germany...but he's arrive almost penniless and then immediately gets ripped off of what he has.  The odd couple bond, and it's fun to watch.  Rita Cortez was wonderful as the Italian mama mia.  And Adrian Witzke, slightly cross-eyed behind glasses, had a nerdy, appealing presence.  Maybe this film was particularly welcome after 3 straight bombs...but I would have liked this film any time.  ***

THE SAFETY OF OBJECTS  (dir:  Rose Troche.  U.S.)
I'm not even going to attempt to summarize the plot of this complex drama about 4 suburban American families, coping with life size problems.  I was totally absorbed by all the stories.  The fine acting and high production values make this a winner, despite a script which occasionally went off the rails and somehow ended up not being as moving as it could have been.  ***

Tues, June 4
HER MAJESTY   (dir:  Mark J. Gordon.  New Zealand)
A kid's movie about a 13 year old girl in the 1950's who worships Queen Liz II and wants to meet her during her visit to New Zealand.  I wouldn't even recommend that my 12 and 13 year old step-daughters see this one it is so predictable, clichéd and retro.  * 1/2

LA ROUTE  (dir:  Darezhan Omirbaev.  France/Kazakhstan/Japan)
I walked out of this (first time at this festival) after 40 minutes of interminable nothingness.  I sincerely doubt I missed anything.  W/O

GREEN DRAGON  (dir:  Timothy Linh Bui.  U.S.)
Bui tries his hand at a more traditional Hollywood movie after the arty and gorgeously composed Three Seasons.  It's basically the story of the Camp Pendleton camp set up for the South Vietnamese refugees in April of 1975 as Saigon was falling.  Featuring some good performances by unknown Vietnamese actors along with American actors such as Forest Whitaker and Patrick Swayze (looking like a dead ringer for Robert Heinlein in the '50s and curiously subdued here).  Overlong and sentimentalized,  the film still managed to move me in the end.  ** 3/4

GOOD HANDS   (dir:  Peeter Simm.  Estonia)
An interesting film which shifts in tone constantly from crime caper to road movie to madcap comedy to ironic social commentary and back again.  Ostensibly about a woman thief on the run, a Latvian escaped to a small town in Estonia who is tamed by the extraordinary mixture of oddball types she encounters, including a warped policeman who falls for her and an intelligent kid whom she just about adopts.  Rezija Kalnina is quite a find as the thief, a waif of an actress with a comic touch reminiscent of a slavic Carol Lombard.  ***

ME WITHOUT YOU   (dir: Sandra Goldbacher.  U.K.)
I'm still processing this film.  It's either the best romantic comedy I've ever seen, or I need some distance to put it in perspective.  In any case I was blown away by the sheer scope, bravura style, and clever resolution of this film;  and also Michelle Williams' mostly spot-on British accent (whether she can pass as a Jewish character who must range from age 17 to around 42 is another matter entirely).  Also completely outstanding were Anna Friel as the double dealing shiksa best friend and Oliver Milburn, playing Friel's older brother and Williams'  life long love interest whose timing is never quite right (reminiscent of my previous favorite romance film of this type, And Now My Love.)  Any film which can use the line "If God had meant for Jews to do gardening, then he wouldn't have invented gentiles" is my kind of film.  *** 3/4

Wed. June 5
A short day of films since I'm going to my step-grandaughter's birthday party tonight.

THE REUNION   (dir:  Mans Hemgren, Hannes Holm.  Sweden)
A film which brings back all the universal, neurotic memories of high school.  Magnus is facing a mid-life crisis as he's invited to his 20th reunion.  The film is done in flashback and present day, using the younger ghostly version of Magnus as a character in today's story.  All in all a very well done and inventive comic drama, with a particularly good performance by Bjorn Kjellman as Magnus.  ***

WHO THE HELL IS BOBBY ROOS  (dir:  John Feldman.  U.S.)
An absolutely unexpected delight.  Screened as a video, this is a mockumentary satire about a stand-up comedian/mimic whose characterizations have taken over his own personality, a la Andy Kaufman, only more benign.  Roger Kabler as Bobby Roos is truly phenomenal.  His impersonations of Robert De Niro, Robin Williams, and Peter Falk, among others, are some of the finest pieces of facial and vocal makeover that you'll ever see.  He truly does become these characters.  Watching his act as the various alter-egos take over his body and talk to each other is uncannily like watching a split personality crazy person in action.  And the film's premise is brilliant:  that this is a true story; and that there was a video crew documenting this washed up comedian as he self-destructs. *** 1/2

MARIAGES   (dir:  Catherine Martin.  Canada/Quebec)
Dark, sloooooow, dramatic film about a traditional, but screwed up 19th Century rural matriarchy in Quebec and how the youngest daughter falls in love with her younger niece's arranged betrothed against her family's wishes.  Languorous, lugubrious, overwrought...the film still has enough beautiful images to keep one awake, almost.  ** 1/2

Thurs. June 6
THE ANARCHIST COOKBOOK   (dir:  Jorday Susman.  U.S.)
A highly enjoyable lark of a movie about a cell of generally ineffective anarchists/hippie throwbacks led by an old line hippie (played by a very well preserved John Savage) and through the eyes of a wannabe rebel (played by one of my favorite young actors, Devon Gummersall, who was Brian Krakow on "My So Called Life".)  The story changes to a black comedy when a real activist criminal, Johnny Black, played with menacing charisma by Dylan Bruno, takes over the group.  The film pegs the Texas right wing anarchy factions pretty well, I thought.  Only a relatively weak people story kept this one from being one of the hits of the festival.  ***

THE GREY ZONE  (dir:  Tim Blake Nelson.  U.S.)
A powerhouse Holocaust drama about the Sonderkommandos, in this case a group of Hungarian Jews who were given special privileges to cooperate with the Nazi death machine at Auchwitz and then automatically exterminated after four months.  Told from the reminiscences of a Jewish doctor who assisted Josef Mengele in his experiments and lived to write about it.  The film is very graphic...makes the viewer feel that he's actually in Auchwitz experiencing all the horrific experiences of the showers and crematoria.  It is mostly a directoral tour de force...this is the film Nelson should win the best director award for.  He's incorporated a few big-name actors in his cast (David Arquette was particularly good; but Harvey Keitel's weird German accent is one of the few false notes of the film.)  But it is his mis-en-scene:  the dark claustrophobic interiors, the dead bodies used as props, the utter hellishness of the world he creates, which is so strikingly well done here.  An amazing achievement.  ****

PIPE DREAM   (dir:  John Walsh.  U.S.)
This one was a pleasant enough romantic comedy/farce about a plumber who cooks up a scheme to get pretty girls by pretending to be a film director.  First it was Woody Allen who speculates that a blind man can direct a film in Hollywood Ending.  Now this film where an everyman (played with restraint by Martin Donovan) can do it with the aid of a smart, ambitious screenwriter wannabe (played winningly and without her usual neurotic shtick by Mary-Louise Parker.)  The film works brilliantly and hilariously up to a point, then fizzles out with a poor resolution.  But the trip was fun.  ** 3/4

WILD FLOWERS   (dir:  F.A. Brabec.  Czech Republic)
A gorgeously mounted series of fairy tales which bored the ass off me.  This kind of film just isn't my thing.  ** 1/2

DADDY & PAPA    (dir:  Johnny Symons.  U.S. documentary)
Funny, warm, important, informing, this documentary about various single men and couples who are raising children was the best documentary I've seen this year.  *** 1/2

TEMPTATIONS   (dir:  Zoltan Kamondi.  Hungary)
A forgettable film about a young man on the make who buys a young gypsy girl and rips off ATMs.  There is more to it; but I wasn't much engaged by the film, even though Marcell Miklos was one of the more attractive actors in the films this year.  * 1/2

Fri. June 7
I was asked a couple of times today if my filmgoing spirit is flagging.  Truth be told, I've only managed to watch 65 films up to this point, with nine days to go.  Yesterday, Bill, a fellow passholder, told me that he was at his 100th film of the festival.  Now that is dedication to the obsession.  Maybe it's because I've been sick part of the time; but I don't feel I've overdone it at all.  I'm still absolutely energized by the processes of this festival:  careful scheduling to maximize the films I want to see; planning my strategies for getting to the venues, either walking or driving based on time and parking availability (part of the game is never paying for parking); finding places to eat quickly and well.   It helps that Seattle is fecund with wonderful ethnic food places and coffee is readily available...about 3 coffeehouses for every block.  I've even managed to put on a few pounds here, even though I'm doing a lot of fast walking.

Also today I had my first indication that people are actually reading this web page.  Two guys introduced themselves to me out of the blue, Dan and Garth, and told me they're reading and enjoying these reviews.  What a high that gave me.  I think what distinguishes this festival more than anything is the camaraderie of the passholders.  I keep getting into film oriented discussions with strangers while standing in queues or walking to other venues.  And festival friends from years past, Susan, Howard, a second Bill (whom I met here in either 1991 or 1994), and John are around regularly to talk about film or accompany for a quick meal.  It's no wonder I'm nowhere near ready for this festival to end, even though unfortunate events in my personal life in L.A. are forcing me to think outside of the festival box.

DARK WATER  (dir:  Hideo Nakata.  Japan)
Why is it that the Japanese make so many of these depressing horror thrillers?  Is it possible that there is some sort of psychic malaise in their society that so many of their films are focused on alienation and terror?  Or is it just that the films that are exported are mostly like that.  Anyway, this director reminds me of  the Kiyoshi Kurosawa of Seance and Cure, only with a more straightforward narrative style.  This film is about a recent divorcee with a 7 year old daughter who moves into an apartment with a growing water leak in the ceiling.  At first I thought it was going to be a replay of Ming-liang Tsai's The Hole; but the film develops in an entirely different and more serious direction.  Like the aforementioned Kurosawa, the director makes masterful use of sound...here a chillingly effective musical and effects track.  Still, my reaction to this sort of film is usually more of laughter at the ridiculous goings on than of nail biting terror.  At least with this film I could tell what was going on throughout, even if I remained skeptical and felt that it was all pretty predictable.  ***

TWO TOWNS OF JASPER  (dir:  Whitney Dow, Marco Williams.  U.S.  documentary)
I had a couple of free hours to fill, and my friend Howard happened to be passing by while I was getting a haircut on Broadway to remind me that this film was playing.  It's a documentary about the town of Jasper, Texas, and the repercussions of the horrible murder of a black man by three whites who dragged him for miles behind their pick-up truck.  The film was shot by two separate crews, one for the white areas of town and another for the black sections.  Still, it is apparently easier to make a film of this type when the filmmaker is exposing some sort of failure of the justice system.  When the criminals on trial are obviously guilty there isn't as much of a story there.  Still, the film managed to find interesting people to interview (though very little about the three trials was shown.)  The film was well constructed; but I just didn't find that it had all that much of interest to say.  ** 1/2

BROTHER  (dir:  Yan Yan Mak.  Hong Kong)
This is one of those voyage to self discovery films, a rather aimless road film about a young Hong Kong man who travels into the interior of China to find his brother who has been out of touch for three years.  He arrives at the town where the final postcard from his brother had been sent, and he gradually discovers traces of the life his brother led there through the people he had known.  The film had a certain charming naivety of style, although the video photography wasn't very good.  All in all, it was a step up from the similar La Route, since at least the main character was engaging and the scenery was interesting and novel.  But the film dragged and amounted to little.  **

13 MOONS   (dir:  Alexandre Rockwell.  U.S.)
How bad can a movie be?  Let me count the ways.  This one contained every possible sin of digital video...messy hand held camera, bad sound, undirected actors (some good ones, too) allowed to wing entire scenes...all in all an apparently impossible task to bring together in post and this editor didn't manage to do it.  Nobody comes out unscathed from this disaster of a film, even Steve Buscemi who has survived other indie lows.  In fact, this film made me re-assess my previous low point of the festival, Happiness of the Katakuris, since at least that film was competently made, and even if its absurdist attitude didn't touch me, I can recognize that a good filmmaker was involved. 13 Moons was a comedy where every joke fell flat (the audience silence was eerie), the direction was non-existant, and it's hard to fathom what in god's name the people are doing up there on the screen.  0*

MEN WITH BROOMS   (dir:  Paul Gross.  Canada)
What a pleasure after the previous disaster to see a simple little movie comedy which provides real laughs, with recognizably real characters and more than competent filmmaking skills (including a disciplined camera.)  The story is about a team of curlers (an old Scottish game where a round, smooth stone is thrown on ice and sweepers clear the path to affect its travel towards a bulls eye on the ice.)  The personal stories are pretty well observed, and actor-director Paul Gross is charming as usual in the lead.  It's a minor triumph, but a good comedy is hard to come by at this festival...and this one is that.  ** 3/4

Sat. June 8
SPOOKY HOUSE   (dir:  Willian Sachs.  Canada)
A children's movie which isn't all that bad for an adult viewer.  Ben Kingsley plays the Great Zamboni, a magician who lost his wife in a disappearing act which went all too well.  Eleven years later he's a reclusive ex-magician inhabiting this weird, spooky witches house somewhere in Canada.  Some good towns kids get involved with him when they break into his house on some pretext or other.  The villains are a trio of older bullies led by a Fagan type boss played with a very strange accent by Mercedes Ruehl (who was rather wasted in this small role.)  The super cute kid in this film was a 10 year old named Matt Weinberg, who has a future in films.  Silly, but kids should like it.  **

THE LAST KISS   (dir:  Gabriele Muccino.  Italy)
This film was vaguely reminiscent of an earlier Canadian film at this festival called The Last Wedding, in that it was the story of a group of late-20 something guys who are having trouble growing up and coping with adult life and relationships.  Stefano Accorsi (so good in last year's Ignorant Fairies) was especially attractive as the main character who is thrown into a state of panic by his girlfriend's pregnancy to the point that he embarks on an affair with an 18 year old girl.  The film also tells the story of the girlfriend's mother (in a superb performance by a dumpy Stefania Sandrelli)  who is having a life crisis of her own about staying in an affectionless 30 year relationship with her psychiatrist husband.   The film is fast paced and extremely well edited...combining stories in a clever pattern of intercuts and resolving quite satisfactorily.  It's soapy; but smartly so.  *** 1/4

THE ORPHAN  (dir:  Sun-fung Lee.  Hong Kong, 1960)
The previous movie went so far overtime in a short segment, that this movie was half over by the time I arrived to watch it.  The venue manager let me into the theater anyway.  What I saw was a very early Bruce Lee film, made when he was 19 and still living in Hong Kong.  No martial arts, here.  Instead, Lee is playing a juvenile delinquent orphan, somewhat similar to the James Dean character in Rebel Without a Cause.  I had the feeling that Lee had seen Dean's portrayal, or in any case was the Asian equivalent to the American actor.  He was very attractive and charismatic, even at that age.  This film still looks good; but from what I was able to gather from the last half, the story was sort of dated.  **

SEX AND LUCIA   (dir:  Julio Medem.  Spain)
I finally broke down and decided that I simply had to see this film again on the big screen.  It was every bit as good, or even better, than it had been at its first screening in L.A. last March.  Actually, the second viewing helped to resolve some of the time confusion of the first cold viewing.  This is the sexiest (to the point of porn, if erect penises define that genre) film that has come down the art film pike in years.  It's also one of the best films of the decade so far, a complex multiple character study and examination of the way fiction and life intertwine.  Paz Vega was stunning as Lucia; and Tristan Ulloa (a dead ringer for David Duchovny) was equally good as the author who gets his life and his fiction confused.   Ultimately, it is the brashly original story and the brilliant photography and direction which make this a stand-out film for our age.  ****

Sun. June 9
After a spate of cloudy, drizzly days, this was an absolutely perfect day weatherwise in Seattle...sunny, clear and crisp.  I overslept, over 9 hours of sleep; but I had no trouble making the festival in time.  I feel great.  It helped that the Lakers won a close NBA final game (I skipped the 6:30 movie in order to have a leisurely dinner and watch the 2nd half of the basketball game.)

No hints.  This time for real.  If I even hinted at the genre somebody would guess correctly.  Wonderful film, though.  I suspect it will be an Academy award nominee come next year. *** 1/2

THE ZOOKEEPER  (dir:  Ralph Ziman.  Czech Republic etc.)
A story of a functionary in some unspecified Eastern European country during an episode of ethnic fighting.  Sam Neill played the ex-Communist who has become a lowly animal keeper at the municipal zoo.  He wants to stay out of the fray; but a young boy who narrowly escaped a firing squad where his father was brutally killed, shows up half dead and the two bond (along with the boy's mother, played by Gina McKee, from Wonderland.)   I wish the country would have been specified, as the main flaw of the film was believing in the reality of the story.  Were it specified that it was Chechnia, for instance, that would have grounded the film in a reality which I needed.  In any case, it was an intense film, and well made.  Javor Loznica, who played the young boy scarred by war, was particularly good.  ***

HUSH!  (dir: Ryosuke Hashiguchi.  Japan)
An overly ambitious film with too many themes.  One, a gay love story, another a crazy girl fixated on a gay man, another (the main story) a wanton girl who wants to have a child with the gay couple.  And complicating all this, the families of the two men are also involved in side plots.  The characters and stories were hard to differentiate at first; but after a while it clicked and the story was involving enough to carry for its 2 1/4 hour length.  The gay couple were attractive and remarkably normal.  ** 1/2

LAN YU   (dir. Stanley Kwan.  China/Hong Kong)
Another gay film, this one as perfectly plotted as the previous one was messy.  The story of a 30-something Beijing businessman who hires a virgin student for an evening of sex...and the young man turns out to be passionate and gay and they commence a beautiful love affair which spans several years (with some obvious hiccoughs which threaten to turn it into a gay Back Street type of melodrama, a fate which the script nimbly avoids.)   Shot and acted beautifully, with subtlety and quiet dignity, the film overcomes the obvious pitfalls to become a truly moving drama.  The two leads are phenomenal, underplaying beautifully, and completely convincing as a sexy and loving couple. The film  is destined to become one of the classics of the gay genre.   *** 1/2

Monday, June 10
SYMPATHY FOR MR. VENGEANCE   (dir:  Park Chan-wook.  South Korea)
Finally a film which puts me at a loss for words.  The film is a Grand Guignol gore fest of which the complex plot (about illegal transplants, deafness, a kidnapping, unfeeling capitalism, bumbling cops, and horrible vengeance) defies summary.  It would probably take two viewings to sort it out.  But this director is so good, his visual sense so original, his use of sound and music so amazingly spot on, that the film simply worked for me.  I couldn't predict what was coming next, and just watched the entire enterprise unfold with mouth agape.  Definitely not a film for the squeamish; but a rewarding film for anybody else.  *** 1/2

BLUE GATE CROSSING  (dir:  Chih-yen Yi.  Taiwan)
Two high-school girls...one shyly has a crush on a boy, the other may or may not have a crush on her girlfriend...but she's not shy about approaching the boy in aid of her friend.  The kids are good, the boy especially, I thought.  But I didn't connect with the film, although it was well made.  ** 1/2

AMERICAN GUN   (dir:  Alan Jacobs.  U.S.)
James Coburn has a great role as a father trying to find out about the murder of his daughter by tracing the ownership of the hand-gun which killed her.  The film was a lot better than I thought it would be, due to a nicely crafted script and some good performances.  But it's pretty straightforward and filmmically flat.  ** 3/4

MOSTLY MARTHA   (dir:  Sandra Nettelbeck.  Germany et.al)
This was one of my favorite films of the festival.  It's the story of Martha, a 30-something super-chef at a 3-star Hamburg restaurant, who has to raise her pre-teen niece when her sister dies in an auto accident.  Not a film to see when hungry...the food is a big part of the film, and it is to die for, probably the best foodie film since Babette's Feast or Big Night.  This is a director to watch.  *** 1/2

I'M GOING HOME   (dir:  Manoel di Oliveira.  France/Portugal)
From the director's other recent works, all snorefests for me, I was prepared to hate this one; but I'd heard good things so I went.  And I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked the film.   The film was about an aging French stage actor (beautifully played by Michel Piccoli in one of the best roles of his career) who is cast at the last minute in a film of Ulysses in English (directed by John Malkovich in a very subtle performance where the entire film depends on his expression in a lengthy close-up.  Bravo!)   It could have been much shorter, as the director spent far too much time on the Ionesco play-within-a-play at the start.  But as a character and mood study it is well observed and well done.  ***

HI, TERESKA  (dir:  Robert Glinski.  Poland)
Another one of those films which engender mixed feelings.  This study of a teenage girl who starts out sweet and religious and somehow goes bad is manifestly not my cup of tea.  Yet the film was so well done, the black and white photography so bleakly fitting, the acting so good, the scenario so unsparing and realistic, that one can't help but admire it as a film while hating what the film was saying.  ***

Tues., June 11
ASOKA  (dir:  Santosh Sivan.  India)
This 3 hour film (the intermission was cut out) is one of those Bollywood historical epics about an emperor who succeeded in uniting much of India in the 200 BC time period.  However it is also an intimate love story about doomed lovers (which comprise most of the obligatory musical numbers).  The film was truly wide screen epic in scope, and it was great to be able to watch it on one of the world's great movie theater screens at the Cinerama, where every aspect of the presentation is state of the art.  All I can say is that if you cut out the musical numbers (my big objection to Indian films in that they invariably stop the action while adding little that isn't obvious), probably only 20 minutes of screen time, then what would be left is a better historical epic than just about anything Hollywood has done in recent years.  Shah Rukh Khan has amazing presence as Asoka.  ***

TOKYO NOISE  (dir:  Kristian Petri, Jan Roed, Johan Soderberg.  Sweden doc.)
Nice sound track.  Some insights into the Japanese society.  But I was bored and kept looking hopefully at my watch.  **

TEKNOLUST  (dir:  Lynn Hershman-Leeson.  U.S.)
Tilda Swinton plays four roles in this technological mishmash about a woman biogeneticist who creates three clones of herself which become "self-replicating automatons"  that need male sperm to survive.  One of the clones (Tilda as Ruby, color coordinated all in red) becomes a sexual predator who seduces men to steal their semen and transmits a computer virus to them.  If that isn't weird enough, then this film finds more ways to be strange and illogical.  Shot and projected on the big screen in 24P Hidef video, the results are mixed...colors and fidelity are great; but the film shows its pixels in long shots.  Even 24P isn't quite up to film on the huge Cinerama screen.  Even though the goings on are absolutely ridiculous, the film still has some pleasures.  Jeremy Davies refines his dreamy schlub character, and Josh Kornbluth almost steals the film as one of the unlikely seduced victims.  The art direction is also first rate, as are the computer simulations.  If only the story worked...** 1/2

GOD IS GREAT, I'M NOT  (dir:  Pascale Bailly.  France)
Typical French romantic comedy.  This one is about a Catholic girl (winningly played by Audrey Tautou in a much more real fashion than her acting in Amelie) who falls for a secular Jewish guy (Edouard Baer) and is determined to become more religiously Jewish than thou to keep him.  I enjoyed it; but the film was overlong and peters out when it simply runs out of new things to say.  Still, the actors' charms were enough to carry the film for me.  ** 3/4

Wed.  June 12
ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU CHOU  (dir:  Shunji Iwai.  Japan)
I guess that all of my 60 years are showing as this tone poem to Japanese teenage disaffection, horrendous schoolyard bullying, and obsessive musical fandom went almost completely over my head.  Sure, it is a ravishingly beautiful film with an original and unique visual schema; and the music is hypnotic and pretty amazing.   I can even tell already that many of my cineast acquaintances are going to jizz their pants in adoration of this film.  But for me it was a narrative mess with characters I had trouble differentiating (the frequent resorting to internet chat room banter to show the inner life of the characters didn't work for me), and whose motivations I found inscrutable.  I found myself longing for the lucid narratives of such similar Japanese teenage angst movies as Isao Yukisada's Go or Shinji Aoyama's Eureka Lily Chou Chou wasn't at all boring, I'll say that for it.  I recognize many of its virtues while remaining totally uninvolved and unmoved by what was up there on the screen.  **

RISOTTO   (dir:  Olga Malea.  Greece)
Battle of the sexes, Greek style.  Two couples, each comprised of two working professionals with children.  The men were traditional Chauvinist pigs and of course the women were expected to subsume their careers and be nurturing partners (risotto, comfort food par excellence, being the metaphor here.)   The film devolves to a gentle farce when the women leave their husbands and take up living together in a half-hearted lesbian relationship.  The film is intermittently entertaining, but something of a trifle.  ** 1/2

MONKEY LOVE  (dir:  Mark Stratton.  U.S.)
Shot in Pal-DV and shown somehow in an NTSC digital projection on the big Cinerama screen, this one looked terrible, soft focus with little detail in the long shots.  But it's a good example of how, when a film is working narratively, it hardly matters what it looks like.  The story of a college age girl and how sleeping with her two best guy friends to get out of a lifestyle rut just doesn't make it.  The film looks like pure amateurville.  But the three main actors were good, showing genuine chemistry; and the story was a refreshing bit of romantic fluff.  This film demonstrates the value of super low budget DV, in that some entertaining films which never would have seen the light of day heretofore are now capable of being shown theatrically.  ** 3/4

WALKING ON WATER  (dir:  Tony Ayres.  Australia)
The day was saved by this extraordinary drama out of Australia.  It is the story of Gavin, father figure of an extended gay family in Sidney, who is dying of AIDS related lymphoma, and how his family (both his real one of mother and straight brother, and his gay one of lover, sex buddies, and fag hag business partner) cope with his death and the varieties of grieving.  I can't remember a film which affected me more deeply, which clicked into my personal reality so closely, and that I found every aspect of which to be so perfectly right on.  Some will find it depressing and dark.  For me it was so unsparingly truthful that it was ultimately uplifting.  ****

Thurs. June 13
Only two films today.  Am I movied out?  By no means.  No more press screenings and a film I'd already seen at the one afternoon screening, so I had time to catch up with life:  do my laundry, fill out the Fool Serious ballot, visit a great bookstore on my route into town (Third Place Bookstore), do a leisurely shopping and lunch at Pike Place Market.  It was also 91 degrees in Seattle today, a rarity I'm told.   Too much like L.A. in midsummer for my taste!   And since the Q&A went so long after THE FLATS, I didn't have time to get to my next venue, so I enjoyed a nice sit down meal at a Korean restaurant near where my car was parked.

SUPPLEMENT  (dir:  Krzysztof Zanussi.  Poland)
This one was particularly interesting for me as I had the eerie feeling that I'd seen it before, even though I knew darn well that I hadn't.  Turns out that this is a parallel story to another film that I watched and admired  a couple of years ago:  Life as a Fatal Sexually Transmitted Disease, taking place simultaneously and following different characters with a different point of view of the same events, sort of a "supplement" to the original film (which explains the title).  Talk about deja vu!  Anyway, this is the story of Filip, a medical student in the midst of an existential crisis, who was only slightly touched on in the previous film (which was about the dying of his mentor, Dr. Berg).  Filip is played moodily by the devastatingly attractive Pawel Okraska.  Even though I could hardly personally relate to Filip's religious, career and relationship problems, the film resonated for me and overcame its slow and deliberate pacing by the depth of  meaning of the character's inner lives.  Zanussi is one of the more interesting directors making films...his At Full Gallop  remains my favorite of his; but the two films which make up this story combine together to a fully rounded experience.  ***

THE FLATS   (dir:  Kelly and Tyler Requa.  U.S.)
At the last minute I decided to try this local indie film, since its description in the catalog (which I finally read) made it seem like a likely winner.  I had no idea what a treat I had in store.  This is the story of Harper, a screwed up, self-destructive Skagit Valley boy and how he and his life-long best friend Luke fall out over a girl and grow up.  Harper is played by Chad Lindberg, who I'd put down on my list as an actor to watch based on his memorable second banana friend roles in such films as October Sky and The Fast and the Furious.  I had no idea that he was potentially a movie star leading man, and this film looks like a breakout role for him...he lights up the screen with enormous likability and magnetism in every scene he's in (and since he plays most of the film realistically drunk, he turns out to be a fine actor, too.)  The film looked good, too...projected in DV on the big Cinerama screen, the imagery held up quite well...fine cinematography and direction helped. This is the sleeper hit of the festival, in my opinion, and deserves a wide release.  *** 1/4

Fri. June 14
Sick again...another spot of food poisoning?  I think I'm going to have to be more careful where I eat!  Also, today I met another internet film bud, James Callan, and enjoyed rapping film with him.  One of the best things about the Seattle festival is how friendly people are in line and in the theaters.  I'm constantly getting into film discussions, which certainly helps to pass the time while waiting for the next film to start.

THE SMITH FAMILY   (dir: Tasha Oldham.  U.S. documentary)
One of the best documentaries of the year by any metric.  About a Mormon family where the dad, a closet gay, transmitted HIV to the mom...and how the people involved (grandparents, two sons, twin brother, the Church) mostly coped.  Very well made...the structure and editing were particularly fine.  The filmmaker stayed out of the film and let the family do all the talking and acting; and these people were interesting, smart, articulate, and sympathetic...and very brave to tell their story with such truthfulness.  It was difficult watching Steve waste away on film.  The contrast with his healthy straight identical twin brother was amazing to see documented:  Steve's limbs were literally half the size of his brother.  But ultimately the strength of faith and love of the family was uplifting and moving.  ****

THE RULE OF THE GAME   (dir:  Ho Ping. Taiwan)
The film starts out of the blue with two guys carrying a body through a forest to bury it.  Then it blithely goes into three other seemingly unconnected stories.  I had trouble comprehending what was going on, so my mind involuntarily shut off and I slept through the middle of the film, finally waking up when the violence started.  I think the filmmaker drew all the plots together by the end; but nobody I talked to seemed to understand what went on either.  Some of the scenes were interesting; but ultimately a complete waste of time for me.  * 1/2

NO REGRETS  (dir:  Benjamin Quabeck.  Germany)
Just yesterday I saw a film The Flats with an eerily similar scenario.  I don't know what that proves, maybe that there really are only 7 plots.  This one, too, worked...mainly because the main character, played winningly by Daniel Bruhl, led such a quirky inner life of post-adolescent turmoil.  Not a great film by any means, it looked dark and monochromatic and the technique of narration breaking the fourth wall was overused; but there was a wealth of original and amusing details which kept my interest.  ** 3/4

LJUBLJANA  (dir:  Igor Sterk.  Slovenia)
Named after a city in Slovenia, this was a rather aimless look at the various youthful denizens of that city as they live lives of alienation and anomie, going to ecstasy enhanced raves, dropping out of school, variously coming to not much.  The film looked GREAT...arguably the best cinematography of the entire festival (and what a treat to see a movie actually shot on film, something of a rarity here this year!)  And the musical score, which comprised loud, driving techno-rock for the several raves intercut with cello symphonic music (one of the characters was a serious cellist), was superb in all aspects.  If only there was a story that drew all these elements together.  Alas, if there was one, it wasn't apparent to me.  Still, if only as a slice of life, it was a strong effort.  ***

Sat. June 15
SASS  (dir:  Carlo Rola.  Germany)
One of the pleasant surprises of the festival, as this film didn't have nearly the buzz it deserves.  The Sass brothers were safe-cracker burglars in Weimar Germany who became something of folk heroes.  The production is as sumptuous as foreign films get, at least it looked like a big money film with huge sets which filled the wide screen and an accurate period feeling.  Only some schlocky special effects (a CGI zeppelin comes to mind) mar the look.  The musical score was particularly evocative of Morricone's score for Once Upon a Time in America (to the point that it almost seemed like a blatant rip-off.)  But, maybe because of the music, the film resonated for me with some of the same feelings engendered by the Leone masterpiece.  The film was apparently based on two real characters, and was somewhat predictable.  Yet the plot did hold together...even the policemen were not caricatures (though the Nazi villains were.)   An entertainment which worked for me.  ***

BUTTERFLY SMILE  (dir:  He Jianjun.  China)
Yet another interminable and boring Asian film...however at least this one had a plot which made sense and I managed to stay awake for the entire length.  An amateur photographer obsesses over a beautiful woman model/designer and witnesses her commit a hit and run automobile accident.  The plot thickens from there.  But it takes so much time to get through each repetitive incident that I couldn't get engaged.  I should have known better and gone to see the screening of Sweet Smell of Success playing at the same time.  I hope that next year the festival won't be so top-heavy with Asian films.  We're getting far too many run of the mill potboilers (or maybe I'm just missing the good ones.)  * 1/2

JUST A KISS   (dir:  Fisher Stevens.  U.S.)
A clever bit of fluff about a group of New Yorkers whose various relationship permutations run riot.  Sort of a black romantic comedy, its success depends on the skill of the actors, which varied here (Ron Eldard, Patrick Breen and Marisa Tomei were particularly good; while Kyra Sedgwick, Taye Diggs and Marley Shelton didn't hold up their ends.)  I found the use of rotoscoped animation a la Waking Life to highlight details and transition between scenes to be mostly annoying rather than useful.  And the writing, though original and occasionally funny, failed to hold together for the entire film...the peculiar playing with the time line and some of the unlikely happenings stretched this watcher's credulity past the breaking point.  Still, it's an interesting effort and I enjoyed the film.  ** 1/2

24 HOUR PARTY PEOPLE   (dir:  Michael Winterbottom.  Great Britain)
A sui generis film from this always interesting director...is it a mockumentary?  a Manchester travelogue?  a punk group biopic?  a personal puff piece?  Actually, it's a clever re-creation of an era of musical history through the eyes of Tony Wilson (wonderfully reproduced by Steve Coogan), legendary club owner, record label entrepreneur, and schlock tv journalist in the Manchester punk scene.  It's a fascinating roller coaster ride through an important, but obscure, part of '70s and '80s pop music history.  I found it riveting; but it is certain to be controversial.  I never liked the music of these punk bands (Sex Pistols, Joy Division, Happy Mondays) when they happened.  But for some reason, now it all looks interesting and sounds great.  I wish the sound system at the Egyptian theater were up to snuff.  A lot of dialog was lost to the muddy acoustics, which has marred other films at that venue.  Too bad it wasn't played at the Cinerama.   *** 1/2

IGBY GOES DOWN  (dir:  Burr Steers.  U.S.)
I'd heard bad things about this film and didn't expect much.  But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked the film and how affected I was by the character of Igby (well played by Kieran Culkin...much better here than in Alter Boys which also played in this festival.)  This is a coming of age story of a kid who as his mother (wonderful Susan Sarandon) says  "was conceived in spite...so no wonder he lives that way".   It's also a black comedy about a certain type of rich Waspy family that could have been conceived by Whit Stillman (though the writing here is not nearly as clever as Metropolitan, for instance).   The acting throughout was spot on, and the film just worked for me.  The only thing is that I wanted to know more about what happens to Igby...it seems like the film ends too soon.  ***

Sun. June 16
The festival ended well, with a good, popular closing night feature and a balls to the wall dinner party gala at the beautiful new Hyatt.  I chatted with several people, made some friends here at the festival, and hope to be back for the entire thing again next year.  Thank you SIFF, and thank you Seattle for being such a great city.

Two documentaries in the secret festival are two too many.   No more hints...but I suppose I'll do it again next year despite the fact that I was a little disappointed by the group of films this year. ** 1/4

SEE YOU OFF TO THE EDGE OF TOWN   (dir:  Ching C. Ip.  China)
A Chinese family touring the California desert prior to the younger daughter's graduation from college.  A sort of road movie combined with a family saga, told with a light touch.  The film had heart, and was occasionally moving and funny.  ** 3/4

BANG BANG YOU'RE DEAD  (dir:  Guy Ferland.  U.S.)
Ben Foster, along with Ryan Gosling, is the best actor of his generation just approaching their 20s.  If you don't believe me, just watch one of the episodes of Freaks and Geeks  where he plays Eli the crippled spastic and contrast it to this film where he plays an alienated high-schooler proto-bomber in the mode of Kip Kunkel (Oregon schoolboy mass murderer).  The script is a brilliant amalgam of an Internet play within a play and a drama of modern high schools where the bullies are the jocks and soches, and there is an aura of repressed and acted out violence despite the school's attempts at zero tolerance and metal detectors at every entrance.  This film is one of the best of the festival, great script, superb acting throughout, and a feral strength and relevance.  It's going to be on Showtime in October, and it's worth subscribing to that pay-tv channel just to see this film!  *** 3/4

PASSIONADA   (dir:  Dan Ireland.  U.S.)
The final film was a lush romance taking place in New Bedford, MA among the Portuguese fishermen of that village.  It's the story of a ne'er do well card counter who falls in love with a lovely widow, who is a Fado singer at a popular restaurant in town.  Sofia Milos is spectacular as the 40-something mother of a teenager who still is one hot tamale.  And this was another film with food to die for (this time I *was* hungry, not having been forewarned, and the Portuguese dishes shown were too delicious looking to ignore.)  I also thought Jason Isaacs had enormous appeal as the gambler.  The film lives or dies on its casting, since the story was pretty standard boy meets girl/boy loses girl etc. plot.  And this casting was perfect, and the film left a very nice feeling to end this festival with.  *** 1/4

The sum of it was that this year wasn't quite as good as last year in terms of percentage of good to excellent films.  Too many clunker Asian films for my taste.  I'm sorry I missed some of the winners, but 104 films beat last year's total by two.  My choices for best picture (Sex & Lucia),  actor (William Macy), actress (Isabell Hupert) and director (Julio Medem) either won, or came close to winning the major prizes here.  The only surprise was that one of the films I thought was pretty awful, Her Majesty, came in 2nd for the Golden Space Needle (can't argue with the winner, Elling, which I saw at the Academy in January.)  Now it's back to the grind in L.A.  I'll miss Seattle!  See you next year.

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