Week 1: Seattle International Film Festival highlights
Capsule reviews of films at the Seattle International Film Festival, through June 8 at several locations.
Seattle International Film Festival
Through June 8 at SIFF Cinema Uptown, Egyptian, Harvard Exit and Pacific Place; also at Lincoln Square (through May 29), Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center (May 22-28) and Kirkland Performance Center (May 29-June 1); www.siff.net or 206-324-9996. Printed festival guides available at all SIFF venues and many Starbucks locations.
‘Beyond the Brick: A LEGO ® Brickumentary’
The nerdy cast of HBO’s “Silicon Valley” sometimes seems to have invaded this slick history of the plastic bricks that started out in Denmark, went through a Netflix-like alienation from its customers, and gradually became an international phenomenon that spawned its own hit movie. “Beyond the Brick” is partly a making-of documentary about that movie, but mostly it’s a parade of eccentrics who have found their future (and perhaps their fortune) in finding ways to prove that the product amounts to more than a ton of bricks. Directors Daniel Junge and Kief Davidson are scheduled to attend all showings. 4 p.m. May 16 at Lincoln Square, 3:30 p.m. May 17 at the Uptown, 2:30 p.m. May 18 at the Uptown. — John Hartl
‘The Case Against 8’
Several years ago, SIFF presented a then-timely documentary about Mormon influence in California’s anti-gay-marriage Proposition 8. This is a kind of sequel, and a stranger-than-fiction tale it is. Focusing on a very conservative lawyer and two articulate gay couples who challenged the discriminatory law, filmmakers Ben Cotner and Ryan White have created a deeply moving portrait that never bogs down in legalese. They plan to attend both festival screenings. 6:30 p.m. May 16 at the Harvard Exit; 11:30 a.m. May 17 at the Uptown. — J.H.
‘#ChicagoGirl — The Social Network Takes on a Dictator’
A heartbreaking documentary about a devoted but relatively innocent 19-year-old Chicago student, Ala’a Basatneh, who uses her laptop and YouTube to expose the atmosphere of fear that surrounds Syria’s brutal leader, Bashar al-Assad. Obsessed with making the case against al-Assad before the United Nations, she lets her studies slide as she finds herself facing the consequences of running the resistance from a distance. Basatneh and director Joe Piscatella are scheduled to attend the screenings. 4:30 p.m. May 18 at the Uptown; 4 p.m. May 20 at the Uptown. — J.H.
Robin Wright delivers a brave, eloquent performance as a washed-up Hollywood actress who once starred in blockbusters but made some lousy choices that tanked at the box office. Danny Huston is the malevolent studio chief who offers a squirm-inducing contract based on buying her image for eternity. After a stunning setup that takes up much of its first half, “The Congress” turns into a puzzle movie as frustrating and expensive-looking as “Cloud Atlas.” 9:30 p.m. May 17 at the Uptown; 9:30 p.m. May 24 at Lincoln Square. — J.H.
This is a passionate, folksy documentary about the dam-removal movement, with an emphasis on the Olympic Peninsula. Several points of view are represented, including a debate on salmon, although the filmmakers were unable to convince government spokesmen to contribute to the conversation. Among the narrators is a man who’s battling Parkinson’s and finds the disease has changed his outlook on conservation. It’s an unexpectedly personal touch that helps to ground the film. Directors Ben Knight and Travis Rummel are scheduled to attend the first two screenings. 4 p.m. May 18 at the Egyptian; 4:30 p.m. May 19 at the Uptown; 7 p.m. May 28 at Lincoln Square. — J.H.
It’s not exactly news that women are treated abominably in some African nations, but this fact-based drama brings fresh urgency to the story of a 14-year-old Ethiopian girl who was chased and kidnapped by several bullies on horseback. Following an escape attempt, she shot and killed one of the men. The legal maneuvers used to save her from a lynching are particularly well-handled here, as are the differences between urban justice and what her tormentors call “tradition.” Director Zeresenay Mehari plans to attend the first two screenings. 6 p.m. May 17 at Uptown, 3:30 p.m. May 18 at Pacific Place, 3 p.m. May 24 at Renton Ikea Performance Center.— J.H.
‘Dior & I’
Catnip for fashionistas or anyone who appreciates a beautifully cut garment, Frederic Tcheng’s documentary follows the 2012 creation of Raf Simons’ first collection for the venerable House of Dior. The film efficiently sketches for us the link between Simons’ new work and Dior’s 1940s New Look beginnings (a vintage Dior jacket, modeled in the film, looks freshly minted), but its best gift is the spotlight on the atelier’s artful seamstresses, many of whom have been in their jobs for decades. “What I present here,” says one, “is a little piece of myself.” 6:30 p.m. May 17 at Pacific Place, 1 p.m. May 18 at Lincoln Square, 4:30 p.m. May 22 at the Uptown. — Moira Macdonald
‘Half of a Yellow Sun’
Thandie Newton and Chiwetel Ejiofor steam up the screen as a couple who can’t get enough of each other during the Nigerian civil war of the 1960s. The sexual relationships overpower the politics in this sometimes sudsy drama (it occasionally recalls the campiness of “White Mischief”), but the street confrontations are effectively staged — and timely. Ejiofor is scheduled to appear at the first screening, which will be part of a tribute to the Oscar-nominated actor (“12 Years a Slave”). 6 p.m. May 19 at the Egyptian, 4 p.m. May 20 at the Egyptian. — J.H.
To be or not to be. That could be the alternate title for “Ida,” a thought-provoking drama about a novitiate’s first adult experiences — and her attempts to cope. The period is early-1960s Poland, where innocent Ida, who is on the verge of taking her vows, discovers the truth about her past. Directed by Polish/British director Pawel Pawlikowski (“Last Resort“), the movie is structured as a series of shocks, especially as delivered by her hedonist aunt, but it’s never gratuitous or sensational, and the black-and-white, true-to-the-period cinematography is striking. 3:30 p.m. May 16 at the Uptown, 7 p.m. May 21 at Harvard Exit. — J.H.
‘Last Year at Marienbad’
The special beauty of black-and-white CinemaScope is on display in the late Alain Resnais’ visual knockout of a puzzle movie from 1961. The half-mad script, which earned an out-of-left-field Oscar nomination for screenwriter Alain Robbe-Grillet, has something to do with wealthy Europeans haunted by precarious memories at what Pauline Kael called “The Come-Dressed-As-the-Sick-Soul-of-Europe-Parties.” 6:30 p.m. May 20 at the Uptown
Local filmmaker Megan Griffiths’ latest, shot in and around Seattle and featuring a sparkling performance by the nighttime lights of Capitol Hill, is a quirky, bittersweet charmer, about love and friendship and why we need both. Toni Collette plays a melancholy Seattle music writer assigned to search for her ex, a musician who disappeared long ago; Thomas Haden Church is the would-be documentarian — he’s irresistibly clueless — determined to film her quest. Together, they drive and talk and make a little magic. Lucky us. Griffiths is scheduled to attend both screenings. 7 p.m. May 22 at Renton Ikea Performing arts Center, 9:15 p.m. May 23 at the Egyptian. — M.M.
“The Lusty Men”
Three years before directing “Rebel Without a Cause,” Nicholas Ray made this enjoyable 1952 rodeo movie starring Arthur Kennedy as an ambitious rodeo rider whose wife (Susan Hayward) wants to settle down. Robert Mitchum provides temptation when she rebels. The black-and-white cinematography is by Lee Garmes. The print is from the Film Foundation Collection at the Academy Film Archive. 5:30 p.m. May 18 at the Uptown.— J.H.
Named for a Paul Simon song, Gillian Robespierre’s quick, smart comedy follows a few weeks in the life of Donna (Jenny Slate), an up-and-coming Brooklyn comedian. In short order: She gets dumped by her boyfriend (in a unisex bathroom, no less), meets a nice-for-now guy (a very aw-shucks Jake Lacy) and gets pregnant, none of which she is ready for. Comparisons to “Girls” are inevitable, but Slate’s meandering comic rhythms are unique and quickly irresistible. “Obvious Child” feels both very funny and very real. Robespierre and Slate are schedule to attend. 7 p.m. May 20 at the Egyptian; 4:30 p.m. May 21 at the Uptown. — M.M.
‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show”
The festival’s midnight series kicks off with the biggest midnight-movie of them all. Tim Curry is the life of the party as a sweet transvestite who seduces a couple of overnight house guests played by Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon. First shown here at the very first Seattle International Film Festival in 1976, it caught on at the Moore Theatre for a prime-time engagement and then became a midnight fixture at several theaters. Initially a flop in most cities, it became, over the years — and thanks to late-show costume parties — the top-grossing movie of 1975. Subtitled lyrics will be part of the SIFF show. Midnight May 16 at the Egyptian. — J.H.
‘The Skeleton Twins’
Is “sad comedy” a genre? If so, former local Craig Johnson’s thoughtful, touching film fits right in. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader play a pair of long-estranged twin siblings, reunited after a suicide attempt. Though there are many funny moments (most notably a lip-synched musical scene that leaves you ridiculously happy), the primarily note here is that of quiet regret — and, eventually, cautious hope. Well played and well cast all around, particularly Wiig and Hader (immediately believable as siblings, for good or ill) and Luke Wilson as Wiig’s hilariously dude-like husband. Johnson is scheduled to attend. 9:30 p.m. May 16 at the Egyptian. — M.M.
‘Song of the New Earth’
Filmed partly on Orcas Island, this world-premiere event is the work of local director Ward Serill, who won prizes for his basketball documentary, “The Heart of the Game.” This heartfelt documentary couldn’t be more different. Managing to avoid New Age clichés for the most part, it’s an enthusiastic portrait of Tom Kenyon, the son of a Big Band singer, who became a professional musician, a versatile singer, a Brahms fan and a Jungian seeker who thinks we’re experiencing “a dark night of the soul right now.” Serill and Kenyon plan to attend both SIFF screenings. 7 p.m. May 16 at Pacific Place; 3:30 p.m. May 17 at Pacific Place. — J.H.
‘Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon ’
In his directorial debut, Mike Myers tells the story of Shep Gordon, legendary talent manager to some of Hollywood and rock and roll’s biggest stars. The film is packed with incredible behind-the-scenes anecdotes of Gordon’s career as manager for Alice Cooper, Blondie, Luther Vandross, Raquel Welch and others. Through archival footage, Gordon’s own personal stories and interviews with Meyers, Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Willie Nelson and Anne Murray, the film shows exactly why so many stars are drawn to Gordon’s irresistible charm. 9 p.m. May 17 at Pacific Place, 1 p.m. May 18 at Harvard Exit. — Jeff Albertson
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org