[SIFF weekend openings]

Opening Friday are three films that made their Seattle debut at SIFF. Hooray!

::

I have a difficult relationship with Lynn Shelton. She’s darling of the Pacific Northwest filmmaking community, but the first film I saw of hers was Humpday, and lo, how I hated it and its typically Seattle faux-edginess and its overwhelming straight privilege. I hated it so much. Flames on the sides of my face! But everyone loved it and her, so I hated her too, just to be thorough. But then, to my surprise, I really liked her earlier film We Go Way Back, which showed in NWFF’s 2010 Arboring Film series. So I had no idea which way it would go for Your Sister’s Sister.

Luckily for all of us, it totally charmed me, so much so that I came back & saw it again at Opening Night. Your Sister’s Sister is the latest entry into my new favorite genre: the development of the unconventional family structure. It’s hard to discuss the plot without sounding like a Lifetime movie blurb writer, so suffice it to say that most of the action takes place in and around a waterfront cabin belonging to the family of Iris (Emily Blunt) & Hannah (Rosemary DeWitt). Iris sends her best friend Jack (Mark Duplass) up to the cabin to clear his head after the death of his brother; eventually all three of them wind up there and relationship drama ensues. Obviously.

In a lot of ways the story is ridiculous, but it’s a story driven by such strong character work that I was sold. It’s funny & sad & awkward & true. Just like life.

The film is also a visual love letter to the Pacific Northwest, full of gorgeous postcard shots. It’s so rare to have films set here that are also shot here, so it was a treat to have several in the festival this year.

::

I saw The Woman in the Fifth with friends, and at the end of it one of them leaned over and said they wished there had been more mystery to it. Which was amazing to me, because so far as I was concerned the entire movie was mysterious.

Ethan Hawke stars as Tom Ricks, an American writer & professor who comes to Paris & is promptly relieved of his worldly possessions. This was the first of two films I saw at the festival this year where the action began when the main character was robbed of everything after falling asleep on public transportation. Let that be a lesson to us all.

Anyway. Thus freed, Ricks moves into a seedy hotel run by a seedy guy who gives him a seedy job. Along the way he encounters Margit (Kristin Scott Thomas) with whom he has a mysterious affair. In what little spare time he has left he also has a fling with the Polish barmaid and a feud with his neighbor across the hall. The job gets weirder, people die, he’s possibly having flashbacks… It’s very mysterious. I am still full of questions.

That said, it’s beautifully shot, full of rich color, and everyone is excellent in it. I just sort of feel like I need to see it again. Maybe that’s why SIFF brought it back!

::

Keyhole is also mysterious, but a mysterious I can handle. A Guy Maddin, hazy black-and-white, soaked-in-symbolism sort of mysterious. Jason Patric is Ulysses Pick, literally battling his way into his home with a crew of gangsters, then struggling past the ghosts of his family’s history in rooms and hallways to find his wife Hyacinth (Isabella Rossellini), all the way at the top of the house, a sort of circumspect Penelope.

It’s not my favorite Maddin (that would be Brand Upon the Brain!) nor his most accessible (which is probably the alleged documentary My Winnipeg) but it is the strangest take on loss & memory & fatherhood & The Odyssey that you’re likely to see any time soon.

::

Your Sister’s Sister opens Friday at the Egyptian.
The Woman in the Fifth opens Friday at SIFF at the Uptown.
Keyhole opens Friday at SIFF at the Film Center.

[Arboring Film at Northwest Film Forum]

As a part of their 15th anniversary celebration, last week the Northwest Film Forum ran the Arboring Film series. For $15 I could buy a pass for a week of films that had their roots, as it were, in support provided by the Film Forum. I only made it to six of the fifteen features, but it was very much worth my time.

* Off Your Rocker was described as “rough around the edges” in the series program guide, and here’s the thing. If the Film Forum is describing it that way, it must be *seriously* rough. And it was. A pseudo documentary about an underground club serving as a sort of Make-a-Wish organization for the elderly, it was a fantastic concept limited by a lot of elements in its execution. I’d love to see someone with more resources have a go at a remake, but all the same, the senior stunts that actually appeared in the film — the high speed chase & the go-cart racing — made it worth my time.

* It was followed by Naked Proof, which I enjoyed a lot. It’s an unconventional little story about a PhD candidate with an overdue dissertation and a sudden and strange responsibility for an unknown pregnant woman. The narrator is played by writer August Wilson, in what is probably his only film appearance, and appearances by locals Matt Smith & Charles Mudede make this a clearly Seattle production. Also, scenes in the Lemieux library made me desperately miss some aspects of undergrad. Who knew?

* I’m a sucker for any documentary about a subculture, and though it’s a common subgenre now, Bingo was one of the first. It’s directed by the writer/director behind Outsourced (which is now apparently a sitcom, because the world is very strange), is fun to watch, and does exactly what it says on the tin.

* First Aid for Choking is a feature set in Moscow, Idaho, following the lead’s attempts to either get out of town or at least put her past behind her, neither of which is a simple task with small town ties reeling you back in.

* Brand Upon the Brain is the main reason I bought a pass in the first place. Guy Maddin on the big screen is a must-see, and if you’re going to pay for one film, you might as well get a pass & stretch yourself a bit. That’s my thinking, anyway. It turned out to be one of Maddin’s more accessible features, and of course another mythic story of his childhood. This time, his parents ran a “mom and pop orphanage” in a lighthouse on an island. Like you do. There’s a mystery! Teen detectives! Mad scientists! Lots and lots of references to Twelfth Night, which I am a sucker for. Good times! Someday I’ll actually see a Maddin film with Maddin narrating. And then I will just keel over, dead of awesome. Also, it’s notable that it was a Seattle film, because most (all?) of Maddin’s other work happens in Winnipeg.

* We Go Way Back was the final film of the series. I was a little unsure of it going in, as I am the only person in Seattle who hated Humpday, but I was pleasantly surprised. I think it’s IMDb rating is really unfair. It’s a gentle story of a 23 year old taking a closer look at where her life is going, and what her 13 year old self would have thought of it. At 23 she’s an actress, and the film is set against a production of Hedda Gabler, perfect in local theater awfulness.

The only film I missed that I really wanted to see was Police Beat, but it was showing the same night & time as The Apartment over at the Metro Classics series, and I am only human. Still, it’s most awesome to live in a town where a difficult decision like that even has to be made.

[July, July. More or less.]

As soon as I hit post on my last in-theater entry, I remembered that I had forgotten to include Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. It’s the first of three Miyazaki films that the Northwest Film Forum is showing this summer. I had intended to see them all (the other two are My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away, both of which I own), now I think probably not, as they appear to be showing them all dubbed.

Sigh.

The voice cast for Nausicaa included Edward James Olmos, which had the effect of compelling one to declare “so say we all” after half of his lines. Which is unfair to the movie. It was a bit slow-moving for me at times, but the character of Nausicaa herself is basically the most kick-ass heroine ever, so it didn’t matter.

This weekend Several weekends ago I finally caught up with the rest of the world and saw Iron Man. It was a huge amount of fun. I don’t know anything about the Iron Man mythology, but I do know that staying through the credits is worth it.

Next up, the highly anticipated My Winnipeg. It’s allegedly a documentary. It is definitely one of my favorite movies of the year. It did not actually teach me anything about Winnipeg. I am okay with this.

Then this week, like the rest of the world more or less, I saw The Dark Knight, which I have a whole laundry list of issues with, but I can say that the experience of seeing it in IMAX was pretty freakin’ amazing. (Dear lord. It’s currently ranked #1 on IMDb. That is such crap I don’t even know where to start.)

Finally, last night I went to a midnight of The X-Files: I Want to Believe. Because I am crazy. It was … not good. But I will admit that I was totally into it, even though the plot made absolutely no sense, and that I was utterly delighted by the sheer quantity of Callum Keith Rennie in it. Scruffy! Evil! Speaking Russian! He was pure win.

Aside from Callum, it’s strangely off. It has weird issues of sexuality & Catholicism. We’re supposed to believe it’s set in Virginia, but the BCness of it is overwhelming. And let’s not even talk about the final shot, FOR THE LOVE.

But, big-screen Callum. Yay.

[DVD highlights (and a lowlight)]

* Lars and the Real Girl. I queued this mostly because Patricia Clarkson & Emily Mortimer are basically always worth watching, and I was curious what drew them to the project. I still don’t know. It required suspension of disbelief that eluded me, and I am, honestly, a pretty credulous viewer. In this case I was constantly irritated by the things I was supposed to believe and the questions I wasn’t supposed to ask… or at least the questions the filmmakers weren’t going to bother to answer. Skip it.

* Night on Earth was a surprise arrival when Netflix decided to pass up the five ‘available now’ discs ahead of it. Which is fine, because it’s a great movie that I should have seen a long time ago. It’s totally my sort of movie, being basically five vignettes of cab rides all starting at the same moment around the (Western) world. Stick with it past Winona Ryder’s overacted LA segment for New York & Helsinki in particular.

* When I was on the east coast, friends made me watch Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle. And I laughed. A lot. I feel compelled to admit this to you, the Letterboxed reading audience. Judge me if you must.

* I missed Heavy Metal in Baghdad at the film festival, but that was okay because it just came out on DVD. It tracks Iraq’s only heavy metal band, Acrassicauda. (There’s a heavy metal scene, but holding a band together, as you’ll see in the doc, is nigh on impossible.) It’s about living in Iraq, about being a refugee, about wishing you were home and that home is what it used to be. And it’s about metal. Rock on.

* Grace Is Gone is, so far as I can tell, the first decent movie John Cusack’s been in since High Fidelity. He’s the husband of a soldier killed in Iraq, and the film follows his initial grief as he tries to figure out how to tell their daughters what has happened. It’s a little unavoidably sentimental, but I also bought it enough to tear up a bit, so there you go.

* In preparation for seeing Ann Savage in My Winnipeg next week, I picked up Detour. It was really a terrible transfer, but the movie itself is classic noir — an average Joe getting caught up in a web of troubles to put it lightly — and she’s the ultimate femme fatale, hard and manipulative. Good times!

* While I was at it, I got Maddin’s Cowards Bend the Knee, which is an essentially silent film. It’s funny and weird (v weird) and includes hockey and a wax museum, which is pretty much win so far as I am concerned. I have to get it out again at a later date so I can watch it with Maddin’s commentary. Delicious!