2013 Seattle International Film Festival

A Totally Subjective Journal

Films rated on a 4-star scale: **** (A+), *** 3/4 (A), *** 1/2 (A-), *** 1/4 (B+), *** (B), ** 3/4 (B-), ** 1/2 (C+), ** 1/4 ( C), ** (C-) , * 3/4 (D+), * 1/2 (D), * 1/4 (D-), * (F), W/O=walk-out

The 22 festival films that I've already seen and reviewed at other venues can be found here.

July 5, 2013
I received my personalized "Fool Serious" ballot results in the mail today.  For those who might not know:  Seattle is unique in that a large group of Full Series Pass holders band together every festival to rate the films they've watched which is then collated into a group vote and a computerized, personalized record complete with interesting statistics.  What really interested me the most was my "average likability" score for the 2013 SIFF edition, a score which I feel allows me to compare objectively the festival experience from year to year.  The ratings are calibrated from +4 (masterpiece) to -4 (dreck), so that a likability rating of zero is just about average.

This year, I'm able to repeat verbatim what I wrote last year, which was that I was under the impression that for me this year's SIFF was above average, even if there was a paucity of really great films.  In fact, many of my highest rated films were among those that I watched at previous festivals (however, if I watched them within the past few months I do count them as SIFF films.)  From the figures, this seems to be my best SIFF since it tied with 2006...but frankly it doesn't seem to have been that good.

The bottom line is that when I include all films that I'd seen during and before the festival, this did turn out to be an objectively above average SIFF compared with prior years.  Of course the real danger in making comparisons like this is that my tastes do shift and I'm getting older.  The festival is more of a physical ordeal for me these days than it used to be, which probably affected my reaction to the films.    But I'm gratified to see that my overall good impression of SIFF 2013 is borne out by the computer.

Here are the figures:

2013    134 films    0.74 likability  (and only 8.9% of my personal ratings agreed with the FOOL'S average.)
2012    124 films    0.64 likability
2011    144 films    0.24 likability
2010    153 films    0.50 likability
2009    155 films    0.58 likability
2008    153 films    0.45 likability
2007    149 films    0.56 likability
2006    133 films    0.74 likability
2005    149 films    0.78 likability
2004    146 films    0.84 likability
2003    132 films    0.81 likability
2002    115 films    0.64 likability
2001    123 films    1.00 likability

Thanks are in order to the Fool Serious organization, which provides plenty of companionable people to discuss films with.  It enhances the SIFF experience and helps to make it the best festival I attend year after year.

June 15,16, 26
I put off watching three films because I could schedule screenings this month back home in L.A.  But I feel I should review them here.
(d. Ziad Doveiri)
A respected, secular Palestinian surgeon working in Tel Aviv has a rude awakening when his Christian wife is suspected to be a suicide bomber.  What follows is a convincing drama which seems to accurately portray the emotional realities behind the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as it plays out today.  Ali Suliman plays Amin, the doctor, with sensitivity as he progresses through the various stages of grief and political awareness.  But the central mystery is kept ambiguous, which may be good drama, but is vaguely unsatisfying.  *** 1/4

THE BLING RING  (d. Sofia Coppola)
I hated the youthful, based-on-real-life characters in this flick. Vapid, consumerist, sociopathic celebrity worshipers: the female versions of Patrick Bateman in "American Psycho", just lacking the homicidal urges. The token guy with self-esteem issues is such a patsy; but as played by Israel Broussard, he at least came off as a well rounded personality whose character progression was symbolized by his increasingly stylish wardrobe (kudos to the production design team!). But, I have to admit that despite lacking any central focus to empathize with, Sofia has made a biting satire that never failed in its objective to be a punch in the gut to apathetic L.A. Westsiders such as myself. Final note: Emma Watson continues her successful attempts to de-Potterize herself with a spot-on Valley Girl accent. Hated the characters and their activities, loved the film.  *** 1/4

THE ACT OF KILLING  (d. Joshua Oppenheimer, Anonymous)
A documentary about the banality of evil as an Indonesian version of Laurel and Hardy reminisce and re-create a film about the good old days of the mid-1960's. 
The two men featured here are comic creations...except they actually personally killed over 1,000 "communists" in the mid-1960's, as part of a state-sanctioned extermination of millions; and these monsters remain unpunished heroes in their country.   The film is overlong, the dialogue drones, the film-within-the-film ridiculously amateur;  but the back story is so powerful that the cumulative effect is repulsion and amazement in equal measure.  *** 1/4

June 9, 2013
(d. Cécelia Rouaud)
Here's a question:  why do so many French romantic comedies suck these days...and why does this one work?  Quick answer:  the usual battle of the sexes farces are played out, almost impossible to come up with anything new.  But add kids, make them the focus, and if it is deftly done, as it is here, it's possible to take a fresh approach.  Denis Ménochet, in a breakthrough role, plays Yvan, middle school teacher still hung up on his flaky ex-wife, who has left 3 children behind, not all of them Yvan's, to be cared for by variously preoccupied family members.  Yvan meets cute and tentatively relates to a quirky woman (Vanessa Paradis); but this is a side issue compared to his relationship with his two natural daughters and one little boy that was the son of his ex-wife's discarded next boyfriend.  OK, it sounds more complicated than it is.  This is really a well observed story of the curative power of love.  And it is deftly written, with characters that ring authentic in unpredictable ways.  That defines a successful French comedy in my view.  *** 1/2

THE MOMENT  (d. Jane Weinstock)
Jennifer Jason Lee plays a war photographer who is cracking up and thinks that she might have murdered her missing lover (bearded Martin Henderson).  That's the set-up for a psychological mystery which overplays the unreliable narrator card to the point that no matter how slick the presentation, the whole thing adds up to bull pucky.  IMHO.  ** 1/4

BITCH HUG  (d. Andreas Öhman)
This is a Swedish comedy about a ditzy blond recent high-school grad whose creativity gets her a job writing a newspaper column about the experiences of a young Swedish girl visiting New York City.  Only she gets involved in a series of deceptions that escalate in complexity.  On the way she meets and mentors a shy 16-year old girl and gets herself in humorous situations.  It's all good fun; but I never really connected to the characters.  My bad.  ***

CIRCLES  (d. Srdan Golubovic)
A horrendous event happened in Serbian occupied Bosnia in 1993.  Twelve years later, the repercussions of that event still affect the people involved like circles expanding in disturbed water.  I can't possibly describe all of the complexities of this story...some of them I'm still mulling over.  But the subtlety of the character development and the way the film continues to raise the stakes for all of the people involved makes for a fascinating examination of human nature at its best and worst.  *** 1/2

June 8, 2013
(d. Donovan Marsh)
I watched the original Spud at the 2011 SIFF.  It was a pleasant enough South African teen comedy about a group of eight first term schoolboys at a tony, mostly English and white prep school at the period of time when apartheid is failing.  The sequel takes place a year later with the same group of boys.  "Spud" (again played by wanly youthful Troy Sivan) has finally achieved puberty (defined by 3 pubic hairs at the start of the film).  This time out the adventures and mischief seem more forced, and Spud's favorite English teacher (John Cleese) more melancholy than amusing.  But the series remains an amiable and fairly inventive rehash of all the schoolboy bullying clichés.  ** 3/4

9 FULL MOONS  (d. Tomer Almagor)
This pure example of the American indie film takes place at the fringe of the L.A. music scene:  Silverlake, Echo Park, where the grungy hipsters reside and work.  Frankie is a mess...alcoholic, prone to falling for abusive men.  At the start of the film she's even brutally raped in a drunken stupor.  Into her life falls Lev, a taciturn "good guy" who is an itinerant, but talented recording engineer finally given the break of producing a record for an almost washed-up, but still famous C&W star.  Frankie is played by the beautiful Amy Seimetz, and she's quite good here, like an exposed raw nerve.  Lev is played by Bret Roberts, an actor who has been around for a while without making this kind of impact as the strong, silent leading man type.  Finally, Donal Logue shows some real music chops playing the aging singer-songwriter.  The film is a downer; but also a quite realistic depiction of its milieu that I found absorbing and affecting.  *** 1/4

PORT OF SHADOWS  (d. Marcel Carné)
I'm not usually into watching restored classic films at SIFF; but this 1938 B&W melodrama by the master filmmaker Marcel Carné enticed me.  Jean Gabin plays an army deserter who served in Indochina, but whose travels westward bring him finally to the fog shrouded port of Le Havre where he hopes to catch a boat to South America.  He finds himself in the middle of a gang war, and falls for a young siren (played by Michèle Morgan whose blue eyes are startlingly vivid in B&W.)  The film features some remarkable cinematography and beautiful camera moves that would stand out even today.  But the turgid love and gangster story was simply too old-fashioned to pique my interest.  ***

DRINKING BUDDIES  (d. Joe Swanberg)
The setting is a Chicago brewery, where Kate and Luke are work buddies.  Each has a partner; and this mismatched foursome become friends who drink (lots of boilermakers and tons of beer) and vacation together.  The foursome are comprised of some fine actors:  Olivia Wilde is tentatively paired with Ron Livingstone; and Joe Johnson has a more serious involvement with Anna Kendrick.  But I couldn't care at all about these characters and their drunken relationship problems.   **

(d. Stephan Lacant)
Marc has a steady girlfriend and a kid on the way.  He's a dedicated policeman in modern Germany who starts the film taking a strenuous training course.  But he's out-of-shape and falls behind in running exercises.  So he starts jogging every day with a fellow officer, Kay, who is gay and closeted.  One day Kay comes on to Marc who responds...discovering a side of himself that he despises and desperately needs to keep secret, but can't deny.  That's the set-up for a beautifully realized drama of obsessive attraction and the messiness of the closet.  Hanno Koffler and Max Riemelt are totally convincing as the attractive, macho gay couple.  The film gets all the nuances exactly right...the stifling atmosphere and deceit of the closet and the fractures of family and workplace when the closet is breached.  This is an altogether fine gay themed film.   *** 1/2

June 7, 2013
DIE WELT  (d. Alex Pitstra)
A young Tunisian man at the dawn of the Arab Spring revolution loses his job in a DVD pirating emporium.  At loose ends, he wanders around, tries and fails to work for his middle-class father, yearns to escape by boat to Italy.  The film is shot semi-documentary style, with a hand-held camera.  We get a good idea of our hero's state of mind...but only a narrow, side-wise glance at the world around him from his point of view.  This was an interesting enough character study to keep me involved; and the ironic ending made the film for me, even if I had seen the exact same ending in a previously watched film.   ** 1/2

LOVE IS IN THE AIR  (d. Alexandre Castagnetti)
This is a stale French romantic comedy not much different from dozens of others.  He's a "player", she's an artist.  They once had an affair, it ended badly, they meet again on a plane flight, rehash old times.  You know what is going to happen (but hope in vain that somehow the film will go someplace novel like they all die in a plane crash).  Still, the characters are attractive (Ludivine Sagnier is lovely and perky as usual; but Nicolas Bedos as the guy lacks the necessary chemistry.)  It isn't enough.  ** 1/4

WISH YOU WERE HERE  (d. Kieran Darcy-Smith)
Something dire happened to an Australian foursome on vacation in Cambodia.  One of their party has disappeared mysteriously.  The film is comprised of multiple flashbacks to the Cambodian trip intercut with a family melodrama after the remaining three return home.  The mystery of the Cambodian trip is interesting enough; but the film gets bogged down in histrionics when it tries to deal with the aftermath.  It's hard to fault the acting.  Rising star Joel Edgerton is especially good playing the surviving husband racked with guilt.  But the film takes too long to get to the point.  ***

June 6, 2013
(d. Chris Mason Johnson)
The year is 1985, the place San Francisco, the venue a modern dance troupe.  This is the year that the first HIV blood test was released, the year AIDS really started to decimate the gay populace.  Frankie (played by skilled dancer Scott Marlowe in his first film role), is an understudy who gets his big chance to dance the star role when a fellow dancer bows out.  However, this isn't an All About Eve sort of film.  His dancing career, although it takes up probably too much of the film in extended performance pieces, is secondary to his life as a gay man facing the little understood scourge and angsting over taking the new blood test.  The film did get the feelings of the period exactly right:  the fear of the unknown disease, the trepidation of waiting two weeks for the test results etc.  What it lacked were characters interesting and novel enough for me to care much about.  ***

INVADER  (d. Daniel Calparsoro)
A Spanish platoon, supporting a Red Cross convoy in 2004 Iraq, is almost wiped out by a roadside bomb.  A military doctor survives, and becomes a wounded witness to a Mai Lai type massacre involving Spanish and American troops.  What follows is a political thriller and potboiler chase film, where unseen powers are determined to cover-up the event.  The action is excitingly presented; and Alberto Ammann makes a strong presence as the courageous whistle-blower doctor.  But as it develops, the film degenerates into unbelievable hokum.  ** 1/2

G.B.F.  (d. Darren Stein)
Hollywood has just about abandoned the teen comedy, relegating it to television.  G.B.F. stands for "Gay Best Friend", and harkens back to the halcyon years of John Hughes high-school comedies like The Breakfast Club and, more recently, Clueless.  The setting is a suburban high-school today, one where the nascent Gay Straight Alliance club is lacking only one thing:  an actual "gay".   Tanner (a wonderful performance by Michael J. Willett who played the gay best friend in the tv series "United States of Tara") is accidentally outed, and becomes the play toy of the three girls who head the school's ruling A-list cliques.  That's the set-up for a delightful and inventive teen comedy which is both funny and insightful.  The casting is immaculate, with too many sparkling performances to mention.  But Paul Iacono as Tanner's closeted, if blatantly obvious, best friend, and Megan Mullally as his overly gay-supportive mother, do stand out.  The film was apparently made on a minuscule budget; but it looks glossy and big league.  This film deserves to find a wide audience.   *** 1/2

I'm not even going to attempt to describe the plot of this Taiwanese, Ming Dynasty period piece about pirates and prostitutes (called "courtesans" in the film), and leprosy.  It got so plot heavy, with characters that I had trouble keeping straight, that my mind simply checked out while I waited for its interminable (although only two hour), multi-climactic story to end.  I should have walked out; but the film was just too enervating to allow me even that.  I do have to give it credit for some high production values, beautiful costumes and sets.  But the repetitive martial arts sequences and the insipid love scenes never rose above banal.  Defying my opinion, the film did get some generous applause at the end.  However, I  could only wonder what the master of this genre, Hou Hsiao-hsien would have done with this film.  * 1/2

FLICKER  (d. Patrik Eklund)
A major employer in the small Swedish city of Backberga is a forward-looking, but economically failing telecom company called Unicom.  That's the setting for a successful and laugh-out-loud office centered farce, where just about everything goes wrong for employees and management.  The film is brilliant in its skewering of the foibles of modern technology.  I got the feeling that the Seattle audience, home of Microsoft and Clear Wire, was a particularly fertile ground for the film's satire.  But I really enjoyed the insightful characterizations and deft, uproarious comedy schtick.   *** 1/4

June 5, 2013
(d. Brian Spitz)
Patrick Moote is an L.A. based stand up comic.  One day the video of his girl friend turning down his marriage proposal at a sports event went viral...supposedly because she felt that Moote's penis was too small.  So this documentary tells of Moote's worldwide travels to explore whether this was true, and if so what he could do about it.  Moote is a very personable guy; and this film is full of tongue-in-cheek humor.  It also elicits its share of embarrassed laughter from the audience despite its PG rating teases.  Still, this is one fun documentary to watch thanks to its nicely shot and edited production values.  *** 1/4

YOU WILL BE MY SON  (d. Gilles Legrand)
The owner of a large St. Émilion grand cru estate in Bordeaux holds his own wimpy son in contempt despite the son's college degree in winemaking.  Instead he prefers the "nose" for wine of the son of his dying master vintner employee to take over the family held vineyard.  That's the set-up of this testosterone dominated "Dynasty" like, high gloss soap opera of a film.  Niels Arestrup, the gruffy, portly actor who is fast becoming the modern Jean Gabin of French cinema, plays the hell out of the role of wine king.  This film, with its elegance and lush vistas of grape harvest, was thoroughly entertaining.  I even was able to overlook some, shall we say, plot contrivances since I was enjoying the film so much.   *** 1/2

(d. Samit Kakkad)
This Bollywood extravaganza takes place in a detention center for criminal boys.  The warden is a sadistic martinet; but a couple of the employees are trying to rehabilitate the boys through dance therapy.  Some of the boys escape to compete in a dance contest; and the story becomes a slender pretext for presenting dozens of excitingly edited and performed dance routines with scantily clad young boys.  The dancing is an acknowledged, over-the-top tribute to the style of Michael Jackson, quite athletic and suggestive.  When the music and dancing are being performed the film soars.  But the clichéd story and the either stolid or wildly exaggerated acting style of the adults is about as bad as I've ever seen on film.  By the way, the title according to the subtitles apparently means "Victory will be ours", which is the constant mantra of the escaped boys.  ** 3/4

June 4, 2013
(d. Paco R. Baños)
Ali is a teenage girl...and an insufferable brat.  Sure, maybe she has reasons:  her needy mother (a lovely nuanced performance by Verónica Forqué) is half crazy and prone to short-term affairs with abusive men.  Her job in Madrid as a market check-out girl is unsatisfying; and she can't commit to a relationship with her handsome fellow worker boyfriend.  That's the set-up for a slickly produced family dramedy with a plot so predictable that I could have written the entire screenplay myself within the first five minutes.  That isn't to take anything away from the unfamiliar actors, apparently Spanish tv luminaries:  Nadia de Santiago as Ali is beautiful and feisty, an Ellen Page type with real star quality.  And Adrián Lamana is quite good looking as her put-upon boyfriend.  I'm spending more time on this review than the film deserves, mainly because the film had so much going for it except for its clichéd scenario.  * 3/4

This is an inherently interesting documentary about the process that went into the eventual passage if I-502, a Washington state initiative that more or less legalized one ounce of marijuana possession despite federal laws.  The film depends too much on "big head close-up" interviews.  On the other hand it does make clear the issues of why the very people most likely to use marijuana were against the initiative as written, a seeming paradox.  *** 1/4

A RESPECTABLE FAMILY  (d. Massoud Bakhshi)
An Iranian college professor returns to Iran to teach after 22 years of living in Europe.  From the start of the film there's a feeling of menace as unseen forces seem to be lurking around the man and his mother.  Gradually we learn about his family's history involving his father and half brother who have made a fortune by shady means ("respectable" in the title is ironic).  The film is a complex family and political thriller which hides its secrets well until the truth behind everything is eventually revealed.  It's also uncompromising when it comes to the implicit involvement of the state apparatus in complicity with the conspiracy against the professor.  Director Bakhshi seems to be an Iranian Costa-Gavras...which doesn't bode well for his continuing career in Iran.   ***

RED OBSESSION  (d. Warwick Ross, David Roach)
This is a fascinating documentary about the ascendency of the red wines of Bordeaux to the level of stored-value commodity, mainly due to the Chinese who have in the past couple of years bid the prices up to bubble proportions.  It's also an intriguing look at the huge and increasing middle class in China which is replacing the U.S. as the predominate economic commercial power.  The film is beautifully shot and edited, with tremendous scope as it travels from France to China and finally to the steppes of Western China where the vineyards of the future are being literally hewn from the unpromising landscape.  This was also one of the first Q&A sessions I've seen using Skype projected on the big screen for a fascinating chat with the director in Australia.  I hope this becomes a film festival standard in the future! *** 3/4

(d. Emir Baigazin)
Aslan (an interesting, emotionless performance by young Timur Aidarbekov) is a student at a small town Kazakhstan high school, being raised on a sheep farm by his grandmother.  We first meet him as he brutally slaughters a sheep (this isn't a film for the squeamish).  It then becomes clear that the school he's attending is a hotbed of bullying, where the upperclassmen are extorting money from the weaker students.  What follows is a startling and disturbing (but immaculately shot and acted) story of brutality by students and authorities.  However, what makes this film so affecting and interesting is the way the film transitions from reality to a kind of fantasy revery in Aslan's mind.  I'm still not entirely sure what was real and what was imagined...but it hardly matters since the film's impact on at least this viewer was like a punch in the gut.  In a good way, since rarely have I felt such emotional catharsis watching a film.  *** 3/4

June 3, 2013
(d. Nabil Ayouch)
Two brothers
and a couple of their friends bond as kids playing soccer together in a slumlike shanty town in Casablanca, Morocco.  This is 1994, and the film progresses gradually to 2003 when the now grown boys are swept up in Muslim religious fervor.   The film is a startlingly revealing look at the Arab underclass, explaining through well written character development how families get swept up in revolution and terrorism.  The film's flaw is an episodic structure which never quite clarifies motivations and actions.  However, ultimately this is a powerful statement.    ***

 Atang is a young South African man living in Johannesburg whose father dies indicating his desire to be buried back in his homeland of Lesotho.  What ensues is a road trip where Atang returns to his roots and finds himself.  The film is beautifully photographed, the vistas of canyons and hill country literally breathtaking.  But the simplistic story, slow to unfold, also put me to sleep during a crucial transition moment; and when I could pay attention again, I had missed a crucial bit of exposition which made what followed difficult to understand.  Still, the film elicited some applause from the audience...so the fault is mine.  **

SHORT TERM 12  (d. Destin Daniel Cretton)  The talented young director of last year's I Am Not a Hipster  avoided the sophomore jinx with this affecting and beautifully acted drama.  "Short Term 12" is the name of a home for abused and neglected kids.  The film focuses on a couple of 20-something caretakers who are developing their own loving relationship, played by Brie Larson and John Gallagher, Jr., a favorite actor of mine from the HBO tv series "Newsroom".   But it also features a group of young actors who are totally in sympathy with their roles as troubled teenagers.  There is nothing particularly original in this familiar plot; but the film has a feeling of authenticity that is a tribute to its fine writing and perfect casting.  *** 1/2

NORTHWEST  (d. Michael Noer)
The northwest of Copenhagen is apparently a crime-infested ethnic enclave, at least as implied in this dark thriller.  Caspar is a young skinhead and skilled burglar on the make who gets involved (along with his younger brother) over his head with two rival Northwest gangs, one Arab and the other native Danish.  The film is a tough, occasionally brutal trip through the Danish underworld of drugs and prostitution.  One feels sympathy for the main characters despite their reprehensible activities.  But I have to mention that rarely has a film ended in so unsatisfying a manner.  ***

June 2, 2013
BLACKBIRD   (d. Jason Buxton)
A 16-year old Canadian boy from a recently broken home is the unconventional new kid at a suburban high school.  He dresses goth, paints his nails black and plays at nihilism, although he's obviously a smart and sensitive boy.  He gets bullied by the school hockey team and publishes a revenge fantasy on the internet.  In a development reminiscent of the West Memphis three (particularly the plight of Damien Echols), he gets into legal trouble defying the principles of prior restraint and freedom of speech (he didn't actually do anything, just threatened to, sort of.)   The boy is played by the outstanding young Canadian actor Connor Jessup, so strong as Noah Wyle's youngest son in the tv series "Falling Skies". 
The film is a totally absorbing character study and perverse legal drama which blew me away even though some aspects of the plot didn't ring true.  *** 1/2

WHEN I SAW YOU  (d. Annemarie Jacir)
After about 1 minute this film looked familiar.  Then after about 5 minutes I was certain that I had already seen it (meaning it wasn't all that memorable).   Sure enough, it was the Palestinian Territory submission to the Academy foreign language film competition.  I thought it was a fairly interesting and competent film at the time, and my opinion is still that.  ** 3/4

VALENTINE ROAD  (d. Marta Cunningham)
This is a documentary about a famous Southern California murder, which dominated discussion in my world for several years while it wended its way through the legal system.  Larry King, a brave, diminutive middle schooler with gender issues, asked the macho jock, Brandon McInerney, to be his Valentine in front of friends.  This so enraged McInerney that he brought a gun to school and shot King twice in the back of the head, ultimately killing him. The legal hassles went on for years, heavily covered by the press.  Director Cunningham has collected a great deal of material about the two boys and the world they lived in (fellow students, teachers, families, lawyers, jury members etc.)  She and her editors have woven a fascinating, eye-opening tapestry which really does give an even-handed insight into the wrecked lives that surrounded this case.  There's no muckraking here, no falsely accused innocent.  Just a horrible tragedy, both for the original act and the integrity of the legal system itself.  *** 3/4

BETWEEN VALLEYS  (d. Phillippe Barcinski)
A part-owner of a Brazilian garbage company has his life blown apart by a series of tragic events.   The film exists in two simultaneously intercut sequences, featuring two very disparate men:  one living a middle class family life, and another who is a grungy garbage scavenger and homeless person.  Are they the same person?  Twins?  Is this an alternate universe story?  It's unclear and confusing for a while.  The film is well acted enough; but the predictable outcome left me disappointed.  ** 1/2

June 1, 2013
UNFINISHED SONG  (d. Paul Andrew Williams)  now SONG FOR MARION ?
Terrence Stamp and Vanessa Redgrave are wonderful in this English version of "Glee" for the geriatric set.  I found myself tearing up despite myself, at its predictable, sentimentalized story of an old, emotionally locked geezer brought out of his shell by music.  ** 3/4

COLD WAR   (d. Longman Leung, Sunny Luk)
This is a Hong Kong thriller about a conspiracy within the various echelons of the police departments.  It started out with a nice flow chart of all the relevant department personnel which flashed by too quickly to comprehend.  That was emblematic of the whole film.  I wanted to be able to play it back in slow motion to try to understand what was happening...not a good sign.  The action sequences were violent and explosive enough; but if you can't tell the good guys from the bad ones (admittedly the apparent theme of the film) it's all gobbledegook.  **

AFTERNOON DELIGHT  (d. Jill Soloway)
 Rachel is a 30-something, frustrated house-mom (played with ditzy intensity by Kathryn Hahn) who gradually goes off the rails in this well observed, intimate and occasionally raunchy comedy-drama.  She's married to a relatively successful good guy (Josh Radnor), and the couple lives in Silverlake, an east-Hollywood area of L.A. known for its upscale, arty types...in this case a sub-set of Jewish yuppies that I'm very familiar with personally.   One of Rachel's girlfriend suggests spicing up her life by going with her husband to a strip club, where she befriends a young hooker (a spitfire role for Juno Temple).  What follows is a melancholy farce which rang about as true as any film I've seen lately.   *** 1/4

PRINCE AVALANCHE (d. David Gordon Green)
Based on an Icelandic film which I didn't watch at last year's SIFF because the trailer looked dumb, this is the story of two young men working at painting the center yellow stripe on a mountain road in a burnt out Texas forest.  Paul Rudd plays the older and wiser loner type, Emile Hirsch the prototype slacker.  There's not much plot, just endless interplay between the characters.  The actors are skillful enough that the film isn't precisely boring.  But director Green is back making one of his quirky, slightly off-kilter slice-of-life films (like George Washington); and the whole film felt somewhat pointless.  ** 1/2

May 31, 2013
THE ALMOST MAN  (d. Martin Lund)
Henrik (played by Norwegian actor Henrik Rafaelson, a young version of Liam Neeson) is having an early mid-life crisis at age 35.  He's afraid to commit to his pregnant girlfriend, uncomfortable with his unfriendly new co-workers, and dissatisfied with his immature locker-room buddies.  What ensues is a semi-comic crackup, which, unfortunately, is just not memorable or inventive enough to make this gentle comedy more than a diversion.  ** 1/2

IT'S ALL SO QUIET  (d. Nanouk Leopold)
The late Dutch actor Jeroen Willems, who died in late 2012 at age 50, gives a superbly nuanced performance as Helmer, a middle age, single man taking care of his aging and infirm elderly father while singlehandedly managing his small dairy farm.  The film is a slow paced, closely observed story of an emotionally blocked man who is in the process of gradually coming out of a shell made up of sexual denial and a profound sense of duty above desire.  However, all of this is conveyed to the viewer with subtle (and finally not so subtle) cues which exist mostly in subtext.  This isn't an easy film to like; but if one is sensitive to its simple message, it is a beautiful, earthy, revealing, humanistic story.   *** 1/4

COMPUTER CHESS  (d. Andrew Bujalski)
Director Bujalski is mainly associated with the mumblecore film movement:  low budget American films with naturalistic, amateur actors.  But with this film he is combining that aesthetic with the mockumentary in a film about a 1984 play-off conference to determine the best chess program of the day.  It is shot entirely with vintage video cameras in black & white with all the imperfections of video at that time (streaking lights, soft focus, lo-fi sound).  The film is peopled with a collection of computer nerds, all of whom got the '80s look and attitude exactly right (Patrick Riester was especially good playing a sexually innocent programmer attacked by a New Age couple attending a competing conference.)  The film is wackily inventive and simply a lot of good fun, proving that even using the most primitive of equipment, a fine filmmaker can make a very watchable film.  *** 1/4

HAUTE CUISINE  (d. Christian Vincent)
Catherine Frot is wonderful playing Hortense, a superb French cook, restaurant owner and truffle farmer from the Perigord region of France who is called out of the blue to serve as personal chef to President Mitterrand in the late 1980s. The film covers her adversarial adventures against the entrenched male palace kitchen and the bureaucrats who surrounded the President, aided by her able sous-chef (nicely portrayed by Arthur Dupont).  It's also about her later life serving a year in Antarctica as cook for a scientific station.  This is mainly a beautifully shot foodie film, based on a true story, and certainly not to be watched on an empty stomach!   *** 1/2

May 30, 2013
I USED TO BE DARKER  (d. Matthew Porterfield)
A runaway Irish teenage girl drops in unannounced on her American aunt's family.  It's not an ideal time, as the Baltimore family is in splitsville mode.  That's the set-up for this lugubrious look at modern American family life.  The aunt is a moderately successful folk singer, her husband no longer part of the music scene.  Lots of live singing of unfamiliar songs, scenes that go on too long with nothing happening.  The family drama is interesting enough; but this is a low-budget indie film that looks it.  ** 1/2

COMRADE KIM GOES FLYING  (d. Anja Daelemans, Nicholas Bonner, Kim Gwang-hun)
A North Korean girl is raised to be a proud coal miner.  But her aspiration from childhood is to fly above the crowd as a trapeze artist (hardly a Communist virtue, but somehow ok since she's so gung-ho and winning.)  The film is an earnest (and seemingly not a tongue-in-cheek) story of her ultimate triumph.  It was made by westerners with the cooperation of the North Korean government; and therefore has some of the most transparent Worker Paradise propaganda seen recently on film.  It also is photographed in exaggeratedly vivid hues (except for heavily processed exterior shots), which adds to the unreality.  The film isn't boring.  It's fast paced and obvious...just a so-bad-it's-almost-good curiosity that one has to see to believe.    ** 1/4

EVERY BLESSED DAY  (d. Paolo Virzi)
An Italian couple have been living together in Rome for several years.  She is a Sicilian singer-songwriter, once part of a famous band, now semi-retired.  He is a Tuscan former Latin scholar now working as a hotel concierge.  They are contemplating marriage; but have been unsuccessfully trying to have a child.  The film is about the fractures in their relationship as they try every way they can to conceive.  The actors in the two central roles, Luca Marinelli and Thony (a real-life, apparently famous Italian singer) are quite good, very real in portraying their frustratingly unfruitful sex lives.  The film is an involving, issue oriented love story that works...director Virzi is a talent to watch for.   *** 1/4

THE ARTIST AND THE MODEL  (d. Fernando Trueba)
The time is 1943 in occupied south France.  The wife of an aging, famous sculptor, herself a former model, discovers a new muse for her work-blocked husband:  Mercè, a lovely young Catalan girl resistance fighter.  The film is eerily similar to the recent film Renoir, also about an elderly artist in a forest retreat who uses an unclothed girl discovery as model.  But the differences are also profound.  This film was shot in strikingly lovely black & white.  Sculptor Marc Cros (apparently fictional, although a completely convincing creation) is played by the remarkable Jean Rochefort, in a role which fittingly caps his career.  Claudia Cardinale (I didn't recognize her...how is that possible?) plays his wife and former muse.  And lovely Aida Folch is perfect as Mercè, the current muse.  Director Trueba has never struck me as profound before (Belle époque is one of my least favorite foreign film Oscar winners).  But this film is a deeply satisfying look at an artist at work.  One scene especially is to be treasured, where Rochefort deconstructs a simple Rembrandt drawing and expresses an appreciation of art which is almost breathtakingly illuminating.  This is a superbly written, directed and acted film.  *** 3/4

FUCK UP  (d. Oystein Karlsen)
This is a complicated Swedish caper film, noirish...but also done for comic effect.  Four friends from childhood get caught, almost by accident, in a cocaine smuggling web.  The plot spins amusingly out of control as all the characters bumble through their unlikely attempts at making things right.  About mid-way through the film I started to lose the plot thread, it all got so surreal.  But the audience seemed to be enjoying the inventive chaos of the story which lived up to the film's title.  ** 3/4

May 29, 2013
YESTERDAY NEVER ENDS  (d. Isabel Coixet)
The year is 2017 (why?  nothing in the film indicates it needs to be set in the future except for references to the collapsing Spanish economy which doesn't really affect the central narrative).  A man and a woman meet in a deserted venue and it turns out that they were once married and lost their 7-year old son five years earlier.  They talk.  And talk.  And talk some more.  It's all so tedious.  If it weren't for the splendid actors (Javier Cámara and Candela Peña) trying gamely and mostly succeeding in expressing the trauma that wrecked their lives, this would be a total waste.  As it is, by the time I found out the why and the where, the final pieces of the puzzle, all the emotional impact had been leached out of the film.  * 3/4

FULL CIRCLE  (d. Zhang Yang)
The setting is an old-folks home in northern China.  A group of spry oldsters (mostly men, which runs counter to my experience of such places in the U.S. which are predominantly filled with women) hatch a plot to sneak off on a road trip.  Much like in the recent Dustin Hoffman directed Quartet, the group develops a performance piece, in this case a comic skit to compete in a televised contest.  The film is a comedy road trip, overplayed and to my mind overly sentimental.  But it's also a genial audience pleaser that maybe I was just too cynical to appreciate.  ** 1/4

THE FINAL MEMBER  (d. Jonah Bekor, Zach Math)
This is a documentary about a man in Iceland who has founded a museum based on his collection of mammalian penises from all species.  Except for homo sapiens.  The film is all about his quest to complete his collection, and the two oddball men (one Icelandic, one American) who have signed on as future donors.  The film is an amusing and well constructed illustration of human nature at its quirkiest, and a story so oddball that even satirical mockumentary maker Christopher Guest would have trouble conceiving its like.   *** 1/4

7 BOXES  (d. Juan Carlos Maneglia, Tana Schémbori)
The setting is a crowded marketplace in Paraguay.  A 17-year old delivery boy is given the task of spiriting seven mysteriously filled boxes away to evade a police search.  This starts a crazily inventive and fast-paced chase film, as various parties are interested in acquiring whatever is in those boxes.  The non-stop action is well designed, keeping many balls in the air simultaneously.  This is a comic thriller...violent and unlikely, but good fun with a congenial central character in the boy. *** 1/4

May 28, 2013
TEDDY BEARS  (d. Thomas Beatty, Rebecca Fishman)
Three 30-ish friendly couples get together in the California desert for a Big Chill kind of vacation/confrontation.  One of their number (David Krumholtz) makes a disruptive announcement which causes friction and sexual tension.  The film gets the self-absorption of the Millennial generation just about right.  It's not a pleasant film to watch...but the acting ensemble was quite fine and the script rang true psychologically.    ** 3/4

MUTUAL FRIENDS  (d. Matthew Watts)
Two films in a row about self-absorbed Millennials is two too many!  In this film, a rather large collection of quirky 30-something New Yorkers gather for a birthday party and air their relationship problems.  The film has about 8 listed script writers, actors who apparently workshopped their loosely interconnected stories.  But the film didn't cohere into any sort of unified story.  And none of the characters were likable enough to provide any reason to find their stories interesting.  * 3/4

SOMM  (d. Jason Wise)
Since its inception, only 197 people worldwide have passed the rigorous examination to become a master sommelier (a renowned expert on wines and wine culture).  This documentary is about four candidates for that status and their utterly absorbing adventures trying to reach their goal.  This isn't necessarily a film just for oenophiles.  Rather, it's an amusing and satisfying peek into the lives of four attractive, intelligent guys who are obsessively goal oriented.  *** 1/2

TWO WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL  (d. Kimjho Gwan-soo)
Two doctors, she's a lesbian, he's a closeted gay, marry at the start of the film and then embark on their separate lifestyles.  This is Korea, where apparently being gay and out to family and friends is still shameful and despised.  The film tries to be a comedy combined with a plea for acceptance.  Maybe it's a cultural thing...but nothing in this film rang at all true to me.  * 1/4

THÉRÈSE  (d. Claude Miller)
Director Miller's last film (he's a filmmaker that I have always had a great respect for), is an adaptation of a novel by François Mauriac first published in 1927.  It's the story of a land-rich young woman (played by Audrey Tautou) who marries her neighbor's elder son to combine their pine forest rich land holdings.  Thérèse is not the traditional housewife in the male-dominated French culture of the late-1920s.  Instead she becomes a modern woman who yearns to free herself from her husband's dominance.  It happens that I read this novel  55 years ago in my high-school French class; and I recall it quite well.  However, I don't think I would respond well to this film if I hadn't had that background...mainly because the film doesn't make very clear why Thérèse is so laconic and depressed and why she commits the acts that she does.  Still, the film is beautifully shot and the provincial French lifestyle is very well portrayed.  ***

May 27, 2013
THE FIFTH SEASON  (d. Peter Brosens, Jessica Hope Woodworth)
A mysterious outbreak of bleakness overcomes a rural Belgian village.  Crops fail to grow, cows stop giving milk, trees don't sprout come spring.  And it appears that this is a world-wide phenomenon, although the scope of the film is limited to the village and its inhabitants.  Is this the "nuclear winter?"   Is this a metaphor for the end of civilization?  Who knows?  The villagers seem to be nonplussed by it as they continue their seasonal rituals, and eventually scapegoat a family of outsiders.  The film reminded me of my least favorite Michel Haneke film, Time of the Wolf, which was also a mysterious end-of-the-world people story.  Except with The Fifth Season, the people are even more cyphers, whose motivations and actions are suspect.  The film's saving grace is an effective visual design of predominantly stark grays combined with a superb soundtrack featuring the sounds of nature.  This is a love-it-or-hate-it film that I neither loved nor hated, just left the theater shaking my head with unanswered questions.  ***

DRUG WAR  (d. Johnny To)
A large, combined narcotics squad led by a captain that enjoys going undercover sets out to destroy an international gang of meth manufacturers and smugglers.  The action is fast and furious as the body count grows to vast numbers.  Director To has a way of shooting action scenes which are usually very well designed and clear.  However, with this film the sheer magnitude got away from him.  I had trouble keeping the characters straight, telling bad guys from good guys.  The film was never boring, just confusing.  **

A GUN IN EACH HAND  (d. Cesc Gay)
Director Cesc Gay has collected a number of familiar Spanish (and in one case Argentine) stars who play a series of two-person vignettes about their heterosexual relationship problems.  Eventually all the characters come together at a party; but the resolution is a total let-down after such a promising build-up.
The title is not to be taken literally...not one gun shows up in the film.  As I understand it, this is a Spanish aphorism implying making the most of a bad situation.  What the film had going for it is that a number of my favorite actors are quite fine here:  Leonardo Sbaraglia, Eduardo Noriega, Ricardo Darin, Jordi Mollà, Luis Tosar among others.  But the film is overloaded with overly talky dialogue scenes, and suffers from an insufficiency of visual inventiveness.   ** 3/4

May 26, 2013
(d. Michael McGowan)
Craig is a feisty 87-year old major landowner/farmer in modern day New Brunswick, Canada.  He's been happily married over 60 years to Irene, who is beginning to show signs of age-related dementia.  Determined to build Irene a new, functional house on his own land, Craig does what his family has always done:  build it himself.  Except the bureaucrats have made all sorts of construction laws which conflict with Craig's plans.  That's the set-up for a "based on a true story" film which is both moving and enthralling.  Craig is played by James Cromwell, in the crowning role of this fine actor's career.   Genevieve Bujold creates a luminous and sympathetic Irene, in a performance that never overplays and gets the nuances of gradually progressing dementia perfectly.  Perhaps the film is too similar in the essential plot to Haneke's recent masterpiece Amour.  But that doesn't detract from the power of either film.   *** 3/4

IN A WORLD  (d. Lake Bell)
Lake Bell is one of those familiar young actresses who hasn't quite become a star.  Here she takes on the role of writer/director/lead actress in a comedy about one aspect of the L.A. movie scene rarely depicted:  the voice over narrators in trailers and commercials...the ones who start their soundtrack work with a portentous "In a World..."  This is an example of meta filmmaking...a comic take about the film biz itself, realistic enough; but also farcically exaggerated..  It's also a pleasant enough family story that gives it a hook that many can relate to.  Still, it's hard to figure out who the audience is for this American indie film, even if I did enjoy it quite a bit.   ***

IMAGINE  (d. Andrezej Jakimowski)
A Church supported clinic for blind children in Lisbon, Portugal hires a teacher, blind himself, who has a radically innovative pedagogical method.  Instead of teaching these children to get around with canes, he would train them to imagine their environment and navigate with sound echoes (like bats).  English actor Edward Hogg is charismatic and totally realistic in the role of the blind teacher; and the child actors are equally authentic.  The film achieves much with a remarkable soundtrack of subtle environmental sounds which takes the viewer right into the minds of these blind children and their teacher.  I don't think I've ever seen a film portray what blindness involves as well as this film does.  It's a true tour de force by an assured filmmaker, which only falls short story wise when it tries to insert a rather pedestrian love story into an otherwise intriguing premise film.   *** 1/2

BEFORE SNOWFALL  (d. Hisham Zaman)
A young Iraqi Kurd, head of his family, must avenge his older sister's running away from an arranged marriage by finding and killing her.  This is a familiar film trope these days:  middle-eastern family honor killings.  In this case, the film becomes a rather interesting road movie, as the young man gets smuggled through Europe along with a young girl refugee he meets on the way.  Still, I saw the ending coming a mile away...and the film, although a realistic depiction of the culture, depends too much on unlikely happenstance, and is just too much of a downer.    ** 3/4

May 25, 2013
TOUCHY FEELY  (d. Lynn Shelton)
An extended Seattle family connect with each other and other people.  Not much else happens...but the plot is not what this film is about.  Rather it's about feelings; and much of the film is made up of the interior thoughts of some really fine actors who are particularly good at transmitting interior dialogue.  Especially good at this is Josh Pais, who plays an emotionally locked dentist and Rosemary DeWitt who plays his sister, a hands-on new age therapist who is phobic about touching.  Also memorable are Allison Janney, Ellen Page and Scoot McNairy (a journeyman actor that I've never noticed much in the past...but he's superb here.)  This is the kind of film that one loves or hates.  And I'm sort of in the middle...almost bored, but then transported by the acting.  ** 3/4

THE WAY, WAY BACK (d. Nat Faxon, Jim Rash)
Young Liam James (most familiar for playing Sarah's son on tv's "The Killing")  is superb as 14-year old Duncan, whose mother (Toni Colette) and her new boyfriend (Steve Carell) are taking the family on a summer vacation at some unspecified Atlantic beach town.  The town is famous for a local water park run by a very game Sam Rockwell.  And Duncan, unhappy and unappreciated in his family situation, takes a job at the water park and comes of age, in a manner of speaking.  This is definitely an audience film, slightly diminished for me by the script's similarity to 2009's Adventureland.  But the acting sparkles, and Rockwell and James have a wonderful father/son like rapport which raises the film a level.  *** 1/4

ORANGE HONEY  (d. Imanol Uribe)
The year is 1950, in Franco's fascist Spain.  A young army private, working for his fiancée's officer father, is witness to a series of state executions of suspected rebels.  He becomes involved with the rebels and much intrigue ensues.  The film has good production values, and an authenticity of time and place.  However, its slow pace and predictable plot left me uninvolved.   ** 1/2.

May 24, 2013
A LADY IN PARIS (Eestianna Pariisis) 
(d. Ilmar Raag)
Anne (Laine Mägi) is a middle-age Estonian woman who has been caring for her elderly mother.  Finally free of that obligation she takes a job in Paris caring for another elderly woman:  the elegant, wealthy widow Frida.  Frida had been quite the coquette in her day, the scandal of the Estonian refugee community.  However, at 84 she is now a lonely shut-in with all her wits...but only a much younger former lover to care about her.  Frida is played by the still luminous and fabulous Jeanne Moreau.  Even if the film had not been a well written comedy and illuminating character study, it still would be worth watching just for the pleasure of seeing how beautifully Moreau has aged.  *** 1/4

¡ATRACO!  (d. Eduard Cortes)
The title apparently means "Hold-up" according to the subtitles.  This is a rather overcomplicated caper film taking place in 1955 in Franco's Spain.  It concerns former Argentinian dictator Juan Peron's possible exile to Spain, and the fate of the deceased Evita's jewels, which must be smuggled and pawned to support Peron overseas.  The film has trouble establishing a genre:  is it a comedy about bungling crooks and Keystone Kops?  Is it a period drama about abuses of power in high places?  At least it looks high gloss and authentic to the period.  But the film's ironic resolution feels very unsatisfying.  ** 1/2

THE EAST  (d. Zal Batmanglij)
A small cadre of eco-terrorists, calling themselves "The East" are targeting corporations that abuse the environment by punishing the CEOs and other guilty parties using political theater attacks befitting the crimes.  The group's unmasking and capture becomes the task of a private security organization, hired by the corporations working in cooperation with the FBI.  Co-screenwriter and actress Brit Marling is quite convincing as an overachieving spy-catcher hired by the company (led by Patricia Clarkson) to go underground and expose the terrorists.  The head terrorist is played by the super-hot actor Alexander Skarsgard; and Ellen Page and Shiloh Fernandez are other familiar faces in the outlaw group.  The film is beautifully acted and directed...a flawless piece of thriller filmmaking.  However, some plot details break down as real-world unlikely upon close examination.  Still, while the film was unfolding, I was enthralled.  *** 1/2

May 23, 2013
This was a very good day.  For the first time since I got to Seattle I woke up energetic and feeling healthy.  Plus every connection in traveling between venues worked efficiently (including one trip to the U-District to watch a fine non-festival film!)  And no real clunkers in the bunch!  A really good day. 
FATAL  (d. Lee Don-ku)
A young, submissive male student in a small South Korean city is bullied into witnessing (or possibly taking part off camera) in a gang rape.  Ten years later, chance brings him into contact with the girl victim through a Christian prayer group.  The film is about the corrosive effect of guilt and guilty love which is not erased by time.  The film is effective in setting up its premise; the characters and their actions are believable, up to a point, at least until the film gets all melodramatic and goes over-the-top violent.  Still, this is a moral tale of some power, mainly due to an interesting performance by the young actor Nam Yeon-wo, who sells the character's descent into a kind of obsessive madness.  ***

OUT IN THE DARK  (d. Michael Mayer)
Nimr is an intelligent Palestinian living with a traditional (and terrorist connected) family in Ramallah, who has been admitted to a masters program in psychology at a Tel Aviv university.  He's also gay...and one night, having sneaked across the border to a gay bar, he meets Roy, young Israeli lawyer.  They hook up and fall in love.  But their love is far from simple because of the political situation.  That's the set up for a totally involving and beautiful Romeo and Romeo story set in the very real world of terrorism, security forces, fatal gay bashing...and above all, fateful love.  Actor Nicholas Jacob, in his film debut as Nimr, lights up the screen with an engaging presence which is totally believable (he's apparently Italian/Arab and straight...and I hope he thrives as an actor).  Michael Aloni as the Israeli Roy, is also convincing as he comes to terms with his privileged position and the sacrifices necessary for love.  First time director Michael Mayer does a superb job with script, camera and actors.  Fellow director Eytan Fox no longer has the A-list Israeli gay cinema franchise to himself.  *** 3/4

JIN  (d. Reha Erdem)
Jin is a 17-year old Kurdish freedom fighter, a young girl whose father was murdered by Turkish soldiers.  However, she goes AWOL in the gorgeous mountains of Eastern Turkey; and the film is an exhausting fable (part realistic, part fantasy) about her journey.  The film is a beautiful look at nature...Jin encounters animals and a rugged countryside that is extremely well portrayed (some of the best steady-cam tracking shots I've ever seen on film.)  But the extended metaphor of her going nowhere on her journey through the hellishness of war palls after a while.  Still, the sheer beauty of the film's setting, combined with a convincing performance by young Deniz Hasgüler, overcome on balance the film's flaws.  ** 3/4

*IN THE HOUSE  (d. François Ozon)
* Not in the festival, and seen at its commercial run; but it would have ranked up there as best-of-fest had it been at SIFF. 
Young Claude (a startlingly mature performance by actor Ernst Umhauer) is a 16-year old student at an ordinary French high school.  However, he comes to the attention of his literature teacher (a failed writer who is bored by the mediocrity of his students), when he submits the first of a well written series of theme assignments about his insinuation (similar to Pasolini's film Teorema) into an ordinary bourgeois family's household.  That's the set-up for this superbly written comedy that's both a fascinating literary adventure and an involving story of two households.  For the teacher is played by Fabrice Luchini (an actor whom I originally thought was overly mannered, but whose recent film performances have been quite wonderful); and his wife by Kristin Scott Thomas in a role that makes good use of her innate intelligence.  And what an interesting pair they are as they read together and react to the increasingly involving story that student Claude is spinning.  It's not possible for me to venture spoiler free into the complexities of the interplay between fact and fiction that Ozon has created with this film.  But for me it is his best and most assured work in years.  *** 3/4

 IN THE NAME OF  (d. Malgoska Szumowska)
A Catholic priest has been sent to pastor a small Polish parish and minister to a group of homeless boys in a kind of work camp.  Father Adam does have a problem that he's gay...not a pedophile priest, but struggling with urges.  The film is an interesting examination of the dilemma that faces the Church in Poland; and particularly a story of a good man's struggle to find grace, and the way he influences and is influenced by those around him.  It's an issue film; but also a very humanistic film with a fine central performance by magnetic actor Andrzej Chyra.  ***

May 22, 2013
(d. Cullen Hoback)
The objective of this documentary is to illustrate 1) how privacy is eroding in the U.S., especially since 9/11; and 2) how just about every internet site's "terms and conditions" (which virtually nobody, including myself, ever reads) are designed to aid corporations and government to invade privacy.  The film effectively, if perhaps too exhaustively, makes its point...which is scary.  Still, not scary enough for me to feel that its negativity necessarily applies to me personally.  Which is also the point of the film...we won't know what freedom really means until we have lost it.  *** 3/4

TOGETHER  (d. Hsu Chao-Jen)
During the opening titles of this Taiwanese film, the title graphic gradually changes from "Together" to "To Get Her".  Unfortunately that's the last clever and interesting thing that the film presents.  It starts out with two teenage boys discussing not much, and then broadens into the story of their extended families, which tells even less much.  To make matters worse, the film is shot in a drab monotone.  I couldn't get engaged with any of the characters or their stories and after an interminable hour and a quarter still disengaged, I walked.   W/O  * 1/4

THE ROCKET  (d. Kim Mordaunt)
A Laotian family is forced to resettle when a gigantic hydro-electric project threatens to drown their village.  The clever young son, surviving twin at a difficult birth which opens the film, is considered by custom to be "bad luck" because of the nature of his birth.  The family's hard life after resettlement bears out the bad luck sobriquet for a while, until...well no more plot spoilers.  This is ultimately a well constructed, visually interesting and uplifting film about a plucky young kid who makes the best of living in an environment filled with unexploded bombs left over from the Viet Nam war.  ***

ACT OF KILLING  (d. Anonymous, Christine Cynn, Joshua Oppenheimer)
Just before leaving for the theater I got an e-mail invitation to a screening of ACT OF KILLING in L.A. in June.  The film has had a huge, positive buzz here in Seattle; but I decided to save my energy and wait to watch it.

May 21, 2013
(d. Gary Entin)
Russell is a good-looking high-school student who thinks he might be gay in this well-meaning, if wan version of an Afterschool Special.   The eponymous geography club is place where a few brave students get together for mutual support, in effect starting a Gay/Straight Alliance in a middle-American setting which didn't exactly ring true to me.  Maybe a John Hughes could have imbued this heartfelt, but ineptly written project with some real wit and relevance (as he did with the superficially similarly themed The Breakfast Club.)  However, young actor Cameron Stewart is quite good as young Russell.  ** 1/4

INEQUALITY FOR ALL  (d. Jacob Kornbluth)
Robert Reich is a hero of mine:  a political economist who is exactly on point about the American economy.  This documentary is based on a series of lectures Reich delivered to his class at UC Berkeley.  The essence of his thesis is that the disparity in income of the top 1% compared to the rest, a result of 30 years of tragically mistaken government tax and fiscal policies, is destroying our democracy by virtually destroying its backbone:  the middle class.  For me, he proves his thesis.  The film is brilliantly structured with illustrative graphics and well-chosen footage of the economy in action.  This is a vitally important film which must find an audience. ****

REDEMPTION STREET  (d. Miroslav Terzic)
In modern day Serbia, a callow young lawyer is tasked by the War Crimes tribunal to make a case against a shadowy cabal of criminals who had committed terrible atrocities in the 1990's civil strife.  But was he hired to fail, because the criminals are being protected by people in high places?  The film is drenched with mystery, paranoia and seemingly unfathomable violence.  And by the end it left a lot of unanswered questions in my mind about the nature of the conspiracy.  But for all that, the film was an effective drama with real-world consequences.   ***

A TEACHER  (d. Hannah Fidell)
A beautiful, young female high-school English teacher becomes involved in a torrid sexual affair with one of her male students.  This is macho Texas; and nailing the teacher might be every (straight) schoolboy's dream.  And dreamboat Eric gets to live it with few consequences to him.  However the teacher's compulsive involvement has a dire effect on her.  This is the essence of melodrama...realistic psychologically, but hard to watch.  Lindsay Burdge is more than convincing as the smitten, self-destructive teacher.  And Will Brittain, although too physically mature to make his adventure be sufficiently horrifying, makes a quite wonderfully tender and understanding young lover.    ** 3/4

BYPASS  (d. Aitor Mazo, Patxo Telleria)
The Spanish seem to be making the best romantic farces these days, something that used to be a specialty of French cinema.  This extremely well written comedy is about a good-hearted man who is forced to juggle two simultaneous affairs in two far apart cities (Barcelona and Bilbao).  How and why would be giving too much away.  Let's just say it's an original spin on a comic staple of infidelity and lies getting out of hand, with an attractive cast and sparkling dialogue.  *** 1/2

May 20, 2013
MY DOG KILLER  (d. Mira Fornay)
This is a Slavak film about a young man who is lost between two worlds:  the one where the skinheads that he admires and emulates like him only for his killer pit-bull puppy; and the complicated world of his fractured family and the repercussions of his mother's indiscretion of having an affair with a despised Roma, giving Marko a gypsy half-brother.  The film is slow paced, with many interminable shots of people walking or riding with no particular content (but much formal beauty).  However, the 10 minutes or so of story out of the 90 minute film is quite startling, illustrating the basest of human interaction.  Still, it all did seem pointless...East European bleakness taken to extremes.  **

THE PUNK SINGER  (d. Sini Anderson)
Kathleen Hanna is a famed (although not to me) feminist artist who fronted as singer for several bands and is married to Beastie Boy Adam H.  She was also the victim of late-stage lime disease, which made her story particularly novel and informative.  The film has some remarkable video of Hanna's career as a punk singer.  It's nicely edited; but for me personally, my interest in feminist punk rock is limited.  As much as I admired the woman for her pluck and artistry, the performances which filled the first 2/3 of the film never rocked my world.  ** 3/4

ALI BLUE EYES  (d. Claudio Gionannesi)
A basically well-raised16-year old Italian born boy of Egyptian parentage is proscribed from having a girl friend by his parents because it is forbidden by their Muslim faith.  Enamored with an Italian girl, he leaves home and faith and gets involved in petty thievery with his Italian best friend and a scrape with a Romanian gang.  But he still is Arab at heart when it comes to his best friend liking his younger sister.  The film underscores the basic double standard of Muslims living in the West; and it is a strong statement.  Young, attractive Nader Serhan sells the role of Ali:  his compulsive wearing of blue contacts symbolize his desire to assimilate.  This is a tough minded, slice of life film.  *** 1/4

2+2  (d. Diego Kaplan)
A well-to-do pair of married couples in contemporary Argentina...the men are work partners, the women best friends.  One couple has been "swinging", and the other more conventional couple is persuaded to try to join in.  That's the basic premise of a slick sex comedy (with very little actual sex but lots of talk). The audience seemed to be very into the film, which had its amusing moments.  I couldn't relate...it all seemed cliché, and outdated.  Almost the identical story was done much better in Jan Hrebejk's film from 2012 called 4Some.   ** 1/2

May 19, 2013
In Their Room:  London 
(d. Travis Mathews)
Mathews has a long term project of filming gay men in various world cities as they live their lives in their homes/apartments.  The 32 minute long London episode features several disparate guys of various ages and attractiveness.  Many of them are masterbating or bathing (from this film you get the idea that the gay Brits are a very clean bunch).  I'm not sure that the film has much of a point or point of view...but the sociology of real gay lives is something that has been ignored in media for so long that a project like this has some value.    ** 1/2

INTERIOR. LEATHER BAR  (d. Travis Mathews, James Franco)
Ostensibly Mathews and Franco got several mostly unknown actors together to re-create some of the 40 minutes that William Friedkin was forced to cut from the 1980 film Cruising in order to avoid the deadly X-rating.  Their idea was that the missing footage consisted of hard-core man-on-man sex (unlikely), or at least men in compromising cruising mode and S&M leather drag which would be too hard for the general public at the time to accept.  But what the film delivers is only a couple of short overtly sexual scenes in the bar (with actor Val Lauren, who played Sal Mineo in Franco's Sal, rather convincingly playing Pacino's role.)  The rest of the film is a super-meta documentary about how the (straight and gay) actors, including Franco, felt about playing gay characters so candidly.  It's an interesting concept...sort of a filmic bait-and-switch, promising titillation, but going all philosophical about acting method.  In any case, it's an intriguing glimpse into the ambiguous intersection of serious filmmaking and gay porn.  ***

KEY OF LIFE  (d. Kenji Uchida)
This film was getting such a strong buzz that at the last minute I changed my schedule to watch it.  Of course, after 30 seconds I realized that I had already seen it; but by then it was too late to exit the sold-out theater.  I'm actually glad I stayed, because I enjoyed the 2nd viewing considerably more than I had at the Palm Springs film festival.  I was especially impressed this time around by the skillfully constructed plot which had traditional farce elements of switched identities, but also managed to subvert the gangster paradigm.  What I wrote originally can be found here; but this time I'm raising my rating a full half point to ***

NIGHTFALL  (d. Ray Chow)
In this Hong Kong policier, a convicted rapist/murderer is released from prison twenty years later determined to somehow set the record of his innocence straight.  The plot is complex and convoluted...so much so that it defies an easy spoiler-free summary.  However, I figured out too much of the plot too soon, which removed a lot of needed suspense.  The actors were fine, the action scenes effectively shot; but the film was just too predictable.  ** 3/4

May 18, 2013
TWO MOTHERS  (d. Anne Fontaine)  Released as ADORE
Two 40-ish women have been friends all their lives.  They each even have 20-ish sons the same age.  And then...both of them become romantically involved with the others' son.  It's a squicky concept, one that has inevitable overtones of incest.  But with a great cast, and the beautiful Australian seaside location, it actually works.  Let's face it:  Naomi Watts and Robin Wright are pretty hot 40-something actresses, two of the best in the business!  Who can blame their prospective sons (gorgeous Xavier Samuel, whom I'm going to watch for in the future; and James Frecheville who made such an impact as the youngest brother in Animal Kingdom) for taking the plunge.  Director Fontaine delivers the often over-ripe, sexually charged atmosphere with full honors.  Still, it's hard not to feel at least a little uncomfortable watching the film.   ***

POPULAIRE  (d. Regis Roinsard)
The year is 1958; and Rose is a small-town salesgirl determined to make it as a secretary based on her incredible typing skills...which are put to the test when she is eventually entered into international typing speed tests.  Déborah François is lovely and convincing as Rose, who goes to work for ambitious insurance agent Louis (another workmanlike, constipated performance by Romain Duris.)  It's been a while since I really enjoyed a French comedy.  Give this film points for a spectacular production which makes the late 1950s absolutely glow with candy-colored costumes and sets, and offers more automobiles from that era than I thought existed in the world.  But the film never rises to anything more than a slight amusement; but that's just my jaundiced opinion.   ** 1/2

MERCY (Gnade) (d. Matthias Glasner)
Hammerfest, Norway is the northernmost city in the world...a city of constant night for most of the winter.  A German couple and their teen-age son move there, he to work at the oil refinery, she to work as a hospice caregiver, and the boy to practice making films with his new iPhone.  But none of them are living satisfying lives...and certainly the eternal night doesn't help.  Still, one late night a horrendous event occurs which turns into a moral trial for all the characters.  This is a drama which is also a kind of thriller.  But most of all it's an examination of the human condition:  corrosive guilt, contrition, mercy.  Bergit Minichmayr and Jürgen Vogel are excellent as the couple with secrets.  The film is as austere as the frigid Norwegian countryside.  And somehow as uplifting as the beautiful choral performances by the Hammerfest natives that indicate how well people cope with the most difficult of conditions.  *** 1/2

May 17, 2013
(d. Sarah Polley)
This is an altogether lovely documentary about Canadian actress Polley's family history, which is unusually interesting because of questions about her actual father and the fact that her mother is long deceased.  The film utilizes interviews with those family and friends who are still alive, along with contemporary super-8 footage and re-created scenes shot to match the original super-8 footage.  It's all seamless and much more interesting than I would have suspected from such a film.   *** 1/4

MIDDLETON  (d. Adam Rogers)
Vera Farmiga and Andy Garcia play two unrelated, neurotic, vaguely unsatisfied mid-life people accompanying their teen-age children on a small, private college campus tour.  The parents go off on their own, discovering much about themselves...while the two kids have their own self-revelatory adventures.  The acting is superb (Farmiga's real-life, much younger sister Taissa plays her daughter, and newcomer Spencer Lofranco shows some promise as Garcia's son); but the zinger filled script is right up Farmiga's and Garcia's alley; and they run with it.  For me, the story eventually ran out of invention and became a tad predictable.  But for the most part the film really works, mostly due to its star-power.  ***

BYZANTIUM  (d. Neil Jordan)
Director Jordan is revisiting the vampire territory he'd previously covered in Interview With the Vampire.  This time it's the story of two rogue sisters (Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan) trying to live their immortal lives away from the male-dominated Brotherhood.  It's certainly not a typical vampire film:  most of the conventions of the genre were circumvented.  It takes place in a modern English seaside town; but it plays like a Gothic costume drama with lots and lots of blood spilled.  I suppose the film was well done; but even for all its original premise I'm just not into this genre (I only went to see it because Neil Jordan is a filmmaker I admire).  I stuck it out to the bitter end; but I wasn't enjoying it at all.  ** 3/4

May 16, 2013
A first for me.  None of the press screenings interested me; and I decided to skip the opening film.  So SIFF officially starts without me this year!

May 15, 2013
(d. Julian Pölsler)
A woman visiting friends in an Austrian mountain hunting lodge
wakes up the first night and discovers that she's stranded, alone with just some animals, by a glass-like shield which totally isolates the few acres around her.  Not only that; but it appears the rest of the world has gone into a kind of time stasis...there's nobody moving outside the "wall".  The film is about how this city person copes with being suddenly stranded, Robinson Crusoe style, in the gorgeous Tyrolean mountains while the seasons come and go (rarely is a film so beautifully in touch with nature.)  Although originally in German, almost all the film is dubbed seamlessly into accented English (a nifty solution to the sub-title problem for those who hate sub-titles.)  This is also a one-woman show, and actress Martina Gedeck makes the most of it in a superbly expressive and physical performance.  I can't say I loved the film...it left out too much explanatory material for me to accept it as anything more than obvious metaphor.  But at the very least, I was delighted to spend a couple hours in such a beautiful setting.  *** 1/4

FUREVER  (d. Amy Finkel)
According to this film, Americans spend $54 billion a year on their pets.  This documentary is devoted to the ways that they wish to hang on to their loved ones after death:  everything from embalming to stuffing to mummifying...and even (for about $100,000) cloning.  There's a minimum of tongue-in-cheek, and a maximum of big-head closeup interviews...but still, it's pretty amusing.  When it wasn't just too weird and repetitive.  ** 1/2

THE SUMMIT  (d. Nick Ryan)
On August 1, 2008, 11 people perished while attempting to climb K-2, the world's 2nd highest mountain...and one of the most difficult to climb.  Using footage from the event in addition to skillful re-creations with actors, the film is an exhaustive (and exhausting) document of the tragedy.  And it is also a testament to the tenacity and heroism of some of the survivors.  I happen to know somebody who climbed K-2 in a previous summer; and this film gave me my first glimpse into exactly how great and difficult an achievement that was.  *** 1/4

May 14, 2013
AUGUSTINE  (d. Alice Winocour)
19th Century France...and much of psychiatric medicine is based on a theory that women's mental illness is a form of hysteria.  This film takes place in an asylum for women run by a physician (a taciturn Vincent Lindon), who discovers the supposedly educational case of Augustine, a servant woman with neurological problems which in less "enlightened" times would have had her burned at the stake for being possessed by witchcraft.  But the doctor has a theory which he wants to present to the Academy, that hysteria is actually some sort of mysterious lesion that starts in the brain.  Augustine is played by the actress Soko; and she's quite good.  But I couldn't help feeling that this was a pointless film, neither horrifying nor edifying...just slow and vague.  ** 1/2

THE SPECTACULAR NOW  (d. James Ponsoldt)
Miles Teller plays a 17-year old class Lothario...or class clown, take your pick. He's a total underachiever at school, probably because of his absent, drunkard father (Kyle Chandler struggling against type) and set-upon mother (typical Jennifer Jason Leigh performance).  On the rebound from a failed relationship with the school hottie, he gets involved with a smart, innocent girl (a lovely performance by up-and-comer Shailene Woodley); and things go bad, mostly due to underage drinking.  Or do they?  This is typical Young Adult novel territory; and the film makes the most of its bad-boy-gets-redeemed premise.  ***

May 13, 2013
PAPADOPOULOS & SONS  (d. Marcus Markou)
Meet the London based nouveau-riche Papadopoulos family:  father (Stephen Dillane, successful entrepreneur with a permanent pained facial expression), his ne'er do well older brother, his two sons (the older one played by Dillane's attractive real-life son Frank), and a spoiled daughter.  But dad has overextended his credit, and the family has to sell all and move back to the original tiny fish & chips storefront that had been long abandoned.  That's the set-up for a well-written and nicely acted audience pleaser with a predictable, perhaps even banal anti-Capitalist message.  Still, it's hard not to submit to such an easy going, heart warming entertainment.  *** 1/4

YOUTH  (d. Justine Malle)
Director Justine Malle is the daughter of famed film director Louis Malle.   Here she's telling the story of Juliette (played by Louis Garrell's real-life sister, Esther), 20-ish daughter of a famous film director (duh!) who is slowly dying of a debilitating brain eating virus.  Juliette goes through the motions of studies, first love, an affair with an older man...but it is always back to gradually dying dad and tristesse.  Malle Jr. is no wildly talented Sofia Coppola.  I never became engaged with her characters, and the film is ponderously paced.  So typically French art film 1.0 that I had trouble staying awake.  ** 1/4

Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck play a couple of young Texan robber/lovers straight out of Badlands, in a film which really feels like Mallick light with lots of stifling atmosphere, halting dialogue, and lingering, hand-held camera.   Affleck takes the fall for the couple (she's pregnant), and 5 years later escapes from prison which sets the film's events in motion.  Then there's Ben Foster (such a fine actor, here underplaying his usual hot persona), playing a good cop who is smitten with Mara and her now 4-year old cuter-than-cute daughter.  OK, it sounds so cliche when I summarize it; but in reality it's a pretty effective drama, particularly well acted.  And frankly, director Lowery is good at aping Mallick's style and putting his own stamp on the final product.  ***

May 9, 2013
  (d. Alan Brown)

Chip is an 18-year old modern dancer from Kansas, a naive hick new to the Big Apple, whose amazing dexterity and beautiful form has won him a scholarship to Julliard.  He has also been discovered and integrated into a 4-person experimental dance troupe (2 guys, 2 girls) by an intense choreographer who is prepping the group for a performance at a dance festival.  Their protracted practice sessions, sensual unisex comminglings set to soft rock music, are the backbone of the film.  But this is also a tender gay love story as Chip gradually comes out with one of his fellow dancers.  Ryan Steele, up-and-coming young dancer and Broadway star, plays Chip with conviction and superb dancing chops.  His coming of age avoids most of the usual clichés, although the phone calls with his drunken, needy mother back in Kansas are a bit much.  For me, the dances, the relationships, the music, the sinuous camerawork had an intensely erotic effect...although it was all done with restraint.  Others may find the film over-sentamentalized, with too much dancing and not enough story.  I just loved this film and wouldn't change a thing.   *** 1/2

CONCUSSION  (d. Stacie Passon)
Robin Wiegert is an actress of rare versatility (her Calamity Jane on "Deadwood" is still one of the acting wonders of the past few years.)  Here she plays Abbe, bored suburban New Jersey housewife with two kids in a two-mom's relationship that has lost its sexual zest.  As a hobby, she flips up-scale Manhattan apartments that she renovates.  And also as a hobby she starts taking on female clients "Belle de jour" style, using that apartment for high price hooking.  This is an interesting take on modern relationships, combined with Lesbian soft porn.  Not usually my cuppa; but but the script and actors are novel and relevant enough to make it work.  ***

May 8, 2013
Matt Berninger is the lead singer in the Brooklyn-based alt-rock band The National (forgive me; but I've never heard of them even though they're increasingly popular after 10 years of struggling to make it.)  His brother Tom, nine years younger, is something of an underachiever...an artistic, rotund nebbish who has brother issues.  Nevertheless the band hired Tom to be a roadie on their big European tour; and Tom, lousy as a roadie, nevertheless managed to put together a documentary film out of his experience on the tour and beyond.  But what he really has made is a brave, often cringeworthy exposé of himself as loser compared to his alpha-achieving older brother.  The film's structure is peculiar:  non-linear and chaotic.  And the concert footage is uneven, often poorly mixed and jumpy.  Still, Tom's fearless self-criticism and humor elevate the film's entertainment value.  This is one of most idiosyncratic rockumentaries ever made.  ** 3/4

LASTING  (d. Jacek Borcuch)
Michel and Karina are a couple of attractive Polish college students vacationing with Michel's family in Valencia, Spain.  They become deeply romantically involved; but secrets force them apart when they return to Poland.  What ensues is a fateful love story, beautiful to watch, with a maddeningly ambiguous ending that trivializes everything that came before.  ** 1/2

CAMION  (d. Rafaël Ouellet)
A middle aged, French-Canadian truck driver suffers a profound reversal which rocks his world.  His two grown sons, working class and alienated from their recently widowered father, return home to tend to their father's affairs.  What follows is a tender, involving story of a fractured family healing itself through tragedy.  Nice job all around, especially the script which manages a kind of non-clichéd humanism rare in films these days.   *** 1/4

May 7, 2013
Still not 100% healthy; but I'm glad I didn't miss this film.

PIT STOP  (d. Yen Tan)
Is there any sort of a market for a no-budget film about older (at least mid-30s old), ordinary, working-class gay men with real-life issues other than sex?  There may not be an audience out there clamoring for such a film; but for me it's a breath of fresh air.  Gabe is a building contractor, still in a relationship with his wife and young daughter (for the sake of raising the kid) after a breakup with his boyfriend.  Ernesto, Tex-Mex factory worker, has been providing shelter for a much younger, footloose Mexican man while continuing to read magazine articles to his comatose ex-lover.  This is in small town Texas near Austin, certainly not an area known to be conducive to gay lifestyles.  The film develops with the pace of a Texas drawl; but with an air of reality that is hard to match in recent, attractive-youth-oriented, American indie gay cinema.  The unfamiliar, realistically drab actors, skilled enough, shine through the dismally flat digital cinematography.  I hope to see more of Bill Heck, who brings charm to the bearded, closeted Gabe.  This isn't going to be a popular film; but I sure wish more adult gay films with issues that resonate could be made and released.  ***

May 6, 2013
Missed a couple of press screenings due to a systemic infection which is responding nicely to antibiotics.  So hopefully by tomorrow I'll be back in the swing of things.

WHAT MAISIE KNEW  (d. Scott McGehee, David Siegel)
Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan play two ludicrously self-involved parents of a precocious 6-year old daughter.  The marriage is ending in a custody battle; as the parents each use younger partners (charismatic Alexander Skarsgard and Joanna Vanderham) as surrogate caregiver/spouses.  This is like an exaggerated, cartoon version of Kramer vs. Kramer, with the kid certain to grow up with issues.  Maisie, the little girl, is beautifully and sensitively played by young Onata Aprile, in one of the great child film performances.  But the film itself is infuriatingly unsubtle.  ** 1/2

May 2, 2013
PARADISE:  LOVE  (d. Ulrich Seidl)
Seidl's Paradise trilogy portrays life as the opposite of paradisaical.   In this first film we meet Teresa (a brave, out-there performance by Margarete Tiesel), middle aged, corpulent German woman who is vacationing in Kenya...one of the "sugar mamas" who pick up eager, young African men for sex and companionship.  Her story is frankly told; and sometimes hard to take...with overt sex scenes and objectification of the various men.  Sometimes one can feel a movie is depicting reality well...but it is a reality that just doesn't appeal.  This, and part 2 (Faith) are fine examples of this duality.  ** 1/2

PARADISE:  FAITH  (d. Ulrich Seidl)
The second episode of Seidl's Paradise trilogy simultaneously follows Anna Maria, sister of the character in "Love".   She's a self-flagellant Catholic, whose paraplegic Muslim husband re-appears in her life causing all sorts of disruptions.  It's hard to imagine a more unpleasant and disturbing theme.  Seidl is a powerful filmmaker...his films have documentary like realism, and spare, pointed narratives.  But one can respect something and also loathe it.  I felt so unsettled by the end of this film that I just didn't feel like subjecting myself to the third film (Hope) at this time.  I'll try to catch it during the festival itself.  **

May 1, 2013
Today there was a full-scale May Day riot in Seattle.  I was blissfully unaware of it at the time, except that the transit system downtown ground to a halt during the parade, inconveniencing commuters (and myself for a while).  But I did notice a heavy police presence that evening on the way home from the SIFF member's preview.  Odd how national news can happen mere blocks away and barely make a ripple.

THE DAUGHTER  (Doch)  (d. Aleksandr Kasatkin, Natalia Nazarova) 
A small Russian town is being terrorized by a serial killer who picks on wanton teen-age girls.  The film focuses on a widower and his teen-age daughter, who is a good girl just coming of age.  What develops is a half-hearted policier combined with a heavy moral drama involving a tortured religious maniac and a priest torn between his devotion to the sanctity of the confessional and his own daughter's victimhood.  The film is emotionally gripping with well drawn characterizations.  But the script has some holes in the narrative which left me slightly dissatisfied by the conclusion.  Also, the subtitles were apparently written by some translation bot that didn't quite understand English.  Still this is powerful stuff which transcended the botched dialog.  ***

This is a fairly comprehensive documentary which tells the story (so far) of Julian Assange, infamous Australian hacker and accused rapist.  But even more, it is also the story of a gender confused U.S. army private named Bradley Manning, who provided Assange and his small cadre of associates called Wikileaks with an enormous amount of secret army and state department documents which hit the internet (and worldwide news media) with a bang.  Director Gibney seems to have had amazing access to the inner workings of Wikileaks while it was at its whistleblower peak.   However, by the film's conclusion and despite spending an overlong 130 minutes peering into his psyche, Assange remained something of a cypher to me.  But PFC Manning's story and the abuse of the legal process he is suffering hit me in the gut.  
*** 1/4

C.O.G. (d. Kyle Patrick Alvarez)
 David Sedaris is a writer and humorist of some note.  This film is adapted from a memoir, heavily fictionalized, about a summer his avatar spent after finishing grad school at Yale.   In the film, the character David (calling himself Samuel) drops off the grid working as an itinerant farm worker at an Oregon apple orchard.  The film is light on humor, since the experience was far from fun.  David is portrayed by one of my very favorite actors, Jonathan Groff (nice to see him get a meaty, personalized lead role reminiscent of Michelle Williams in Wendy & Lucy).  I really enjoyed this film, despite the homophobic subtext, curious because Sedaris makes much of his own gayness in his writings, and Groff is also famously out.  But the film really works as an examination of a young man's struggle to find himself.  *** 1/4

April 30, 2013
CELESTIAL WIVES OF MEADOW MARI  (d. Aleksey Fedorchenko) 
The meadow Mari are an ethnic Orthodox Christian group who inhabit the rural river lands around the Volga River in SW Russia.  This film tells varied folk tales about twenty-two women Mari, all of whose names begin with the letter O. The stories are earthy and several are frankly sexual...and none of them had any appeal to me.  There's something to be said for watching a movie about a culture diametrically opposed to ones own.  But for me personally, these might just as well have been Martians for all I could figure out their motivations and intentions.  That goes for the men, too, most of whom came off as lecherous dullards.  The one thing the film had going for it was the cinematography which made great use of the physical beauty of the land and the various women.   * 1/4

CRYSTAL FAIRY  (d. Sebastián Silva) 
A young American 20-something man-boy, on vacation in Chile, befriends three Chilean brothers at a wild party or coke, pot and booze.  They decide to obtain some mescal cactus and journey to the seaside to trip out on the drug.  At the party, they hook up with Crystal Fairy, a wild American hippie chick; and she comes along.  What ensues is a realistic, contemporary psychedelic trip film straight out of the late 1960's.  I lived this film back then, more or less; and it's amazing to me that history is repeating itself a half-century  later.   Michael Cera at his most abrasive and immature, bravely plays the boy; Gaby Hoffmann gives real substance (and casual nudity) to the girl; and the Chileans are played by the director and his real-life brothers.  I have a feeling that much of my own enjoyment and appreciation of this film is due to my familiarity with the subject matter.  Without that, the sketchy narrative would possibly be incomprehensible and lack credibility.  ** 3/4

JUMP  (d. Kieron J. Walsh)
On one wild New Years Eve in Northern Ireland, various characters become involved in a complex mix of crime caper, romance, and suicide.  The film is oddly structured, jumping around in time...probably a vestige of its theatrical origin.  However, the piece has been quite successfully opened up cinematically...if it hadn't been for a title card mentioning that it was adapted from a play, I'd never have guessed.  Still, the stereotypical characters and the madcap plot, occasionally bordering on farce with tragic overtones, stretched credulity to the limit.   ** 1/2

Monday April 29, 2013
I arrived in Seattle Sunday night after a mostly uneventful trip up the coast.  I'm now ready for SIFF 2013!!
FRANCES HA  (d. Noah Baumbach)
Frances is a 27-year old Vassar grad attempting to make it as a modern dancer in New York.  As portrayed by Greta Gerwig (an actress others find annoyingly arch; but I actually like), she's smart, ditzy and unable to foster a relationship or jump-start a career.  Instead she's a serial room-mater, and in constant financial straits.  In other words, Baumbach is mining the same territory as it-Girl of the moment, Lena Dunham...even using Dunham's main man, Adam Driver, as one of the problematic men in Frances' life.  However, Frances' main relationship is with her erstwhile school chum Sophie (Mickey Sumner), and their tempestuous friendship is the center piece of this strangely sexless piece.  I was particularly impressed by Michael Zegen, who plays Benji...straight but "undatable", the ideal male buddy for a girl like Frances.  Baumbach is not a particularly interesting visual director, and I question his decision to shoot the film in a rather retro B&W.  But his specialty is sparkling dialogue, and the repartee here is often funny and pointed, as if Jerry Seinfeld were writing for Lucille Ball.  It's good fun; but on the verge of being annoyingly trendoid.   ***

OUR NIXON  (d. Penny Lane)
In 1976 I edited a now-forgotten television documentary about Richard Nixon, called unimaginatively, "Nixon".  It was a straightforward collection of tv news footage highlighting the political life of a person that I loathed at the time (but I tried to make an honest historical document anyway, at least from knowledge that was then publicly available.)  Thirty-seven years later, some remarkable 8mm footage shot by amateur cameramen with amazing access (White House aids Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Chapin were camera bugs) has surfaced:  film that was confiscated at the time by the FBI and has only recently come to light.  These films are remarkable; but they were all shot silent (8mm cameras in those days had no sound recording ability).  So the filmmakers have constructed an even more interesting soundtrack out of portions of the Nixon tapes that he secretly recorded, along with contemporary tv news reports, and later interviews with "[All] the President's Men" who went to prison for their part in the Watergate cover-up.  The result of this is a documentary of rare intimacy, and one of the most compelling explanations of what the Watergate scandal was all about that has been depicted to date.  *** 1/4