Week 3: 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
Runs through June 8 at SIFF Cinema Uptown, Egyptian, Harvard Exit and Pacific Place; also at Kirkland Performance Center (May 29-June 1); 206-324-9996 or www.siff.net. Printed festival guides available at all SIFF venues and many Starbucks locations.
SIFF’s getting into the homestretch — just 10 days to go! — but there’s still plenty to see. This weekend brings programming to the Kirkland Performance Center, as well as to the festival’s four main venues; for a full schedule, see www.siff.net.
‘Ballet 422’ ★★★½
Jody Lee Lipes’ engrossing film is about the process of creating — specifically, “Paz de la Jolla,” the 422nd original ballet created for New York City Ballet. We watch as Justin Peck, a 25-year-old NYCB corps dancer and up-and-coming choreographer, sketches out the dance alone in a studio, capturing it on his iPhone; gradually, the colors are filled in by other dancers, musicians, costumes, lights. You’re struck by how all this came from somewhere in a young man’s imagination, and wonder what else might be dancing there. Producer Anna Rose Holmer is scheduled to attend both screenings. 7 p.m. June 2 at the Uptown; 3:30 p.m. June 3 at the Uptown. — Moira Macdonald
Local actor/filmmaker Shawn Telford’s narrative feature debut, filmed in his hometown of Post Falls, Idaho, has a vivid sense of place: a small town populated by aimless teens, disillusioned adults and a free-floating sense of despair. Telford weaves together three overlapping stories, all of a similar thread: getting out, wanting more. Wally Dalton and Kelsey Packwood are particularly affecting, as a grandfather who’s “almost forgot what feeling good feels like” and a teenage girl desperate to get out of town and never look back. It’s a raw, unprettified tale, and it haunts you afterward. Telford and various cast and crew members will attend both screenings. 9 p.m. June 2 at the Harvard Exit; 4 p.m. June 3 at the Harvard Exit. — M.M.
Remember how you felt watching Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the first time? You may have a similar response to “Boyhood,” Richard Linklater’s rich, spellbinding, 12-years-in-the-making epic about a struggling Texas family trying to get through the post-9/11 period. Even if you fail to respond to the lump-in-the-throat moments, even if you don’t buy the script’s tentative approach to life’s meaning, it’s impossible to resist Linklater’s compassionate treatment of every major character — even a self-hating bully who threatens devastation. Linklater is scheduled to attend the first screening. 5 p.m. May 31 at the Egyptian; 8 p.m. June 1 at the Harvard Exit.— John Hartl
‘Dear White People’ ★★★
Reminiscent of “Mean Girls” and recent Supreme Court affirmative-action decisions, this smart, sexy satire takes place at the self-consciously anti-racist Winchester University, where it’s possible to minor in jive. Dennis Haysbert has a key role as a college administrator who thinks he’s in control when a campus revolt takes place, but the movie belongs to the talented unknowns who play the students. Director Justin Simien is scheduled to attend the first screening. 7 p.m. June 5 at the Harvard Exit; 3:30 p.m. June 7 at Pacific Place. — J.H.
‘Helicopter Mom’ ★★½
At its worst, this comedy about sexual identity recalls the crassness of Jane Fonda’s “Monster-in-Law.” At best, which is almost often enough, it’s a surprisingly insightful account of a 17-year-old Southern California boy who refuses to bow to the pressure of peers and adults who want him to conform by coming out of the closet. Jason Dolley brings warmth and ambiguity to the role, and Mark Boone Junior is charming as his aging-hippie dad. Dolley will attend the first screening, along with director Salomé Breziner and producer Stephen Israel. 7 p.m. June 4 at the Egyptian; 4 p.m. June 5 at the Egyptian.
The title character is Jacob Wilson, a 13-year-old Texas rebel with a cause. His sainted mother has died, his troubled father has gone off the deep end and Jacob has become increasingly protective of his younger brother. The script piles on the melodramatic touches (yes, there’s a foreclosure in the works), but intense performances by Aaron Paul (who also co-produced) and Josh Wiggins (a teenager in his film debut) make the estrangement of father and son compelling. Director Kat Candler is scheduled to attend both screenings. 9:45 p.m. May 30 at Pacific Place; 3:30 p.m. May 31 at Pacific Place. — J.H.
‘Ivory Tower’ ★★★
Previously at SIFF with “Page One: Inside The New York Times,” documentarian Andrew Rossi returns with an exhaustive look at the crisis in higher learning. Using the recent sit-ins at Cooper Union (then one of the last remaining free colleges) as a central thread, the film explores tuition cost, crippling loans, the low four-year graduation rate, the trend toward elaborate (and costly) student facilities, the online course option and, ultimately, the question “is college worth it?” Timely, fascinating and filled with trenchant statistics, this one will have audiences talking long afterward. Rossi will attend both screenings. 1:15 p.m. June 1 at Pacific Place; 7 p.m. June 2 at Pacific Place. — M.M.
‘The Internet’s Own Boy’ ★★★½
Fascinating, maddening and ultimately tragic, Brian Knappenberger’s thorough, straightforward documentary outlines the brief life and many accomplishments of Internet prodigy and visionary Aaron Swartz. We see home movies of a bright little boy, hear his brother explain how Aaron developed an early version of Wikipedia at the age of 12, and listen as friends and colleagues describe his remarkable intellect and technical imagination — which led, ultimately, to government prosecution and suicide at 26. “I want to make the world a better place,” he once wrote; words that now echo sadly. Knappenberger will attend both screenings. 3 p.m. May 31 at Kirkland Performance Center; 5 p.m. June 1 at Harvard Exit. — M.M.
‘Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter’ ★★½
A desperate character becomes so obsessed with an obviously worthless paper “treasure” that she’s willing to go on a road trip to find it. That may sound like a female version of “Nebraska,” and when it’s funny “Kumiko” dips into a similar vibe. The script has its ups and downs, but Rinko Kikuchi, who was nominated for an Oscar for playing the mute teenage Tokyo girl in “Babel,” is a deadpan wonder as the socially inept heroine. Director David Zellner is scheduled to attend both screenings. 7 p.m. June 1 at the Egyptian; 4 p.m. June 2 at the Egyptian. — J.H.
Movies about grief are often accused of tearjerking. Director Hong Khaou deftly dodges the problem by taking a non-chronological narrative approach that makes visions and memories in this film about early death seem to be happening almost simultaneously. Ben Whishaw, the star of the British television series “The Hour,” reveals a tender side here that seems entirely new. The love scenes helped earn the film a Sundance cinematography award. The director is scheduled to attend both screenings. 7 p.m. May 30 at the Harvard Exit; 2 p.m. May 31 at the Egyptian. — J.H.
‘Obama Mama’ ★★½
She was one of those people who “blows wind on the wings of others,” we’re told in Vivian Norris’ admiring documentary about President Obama’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham. Though the film feels a bit stretched out (you see the same few photographs of Dunham, over and over), and the absence of direct participation by Dunham’s two children is felt, it’s nonetheless a thoughtful exploration of an unusual life. A brief portrait of life in 1950s Mercer Island, where Dunham spent her teenage years, will be of especial interest here. Norris is scheduled to attend both screenings. 6 p.m. May 31 at Kirkland Performance Center; 11 a.m. June 1 at the Harvard Exit. — M.M.
‘The Pawnbroker’ ★★★
Rod Steiger gave his most powerful performance in this art-house breakthrough from the mid-1960s. Controversial for director Sidney Lumet’s stark glimpses of the Holocaust, it concentrates on the shattered state of mind of a camp survivor who spends his days in postwar East Harlem. Boris Kaufman’s crisp black-and-white cinematography will presumably be well-served by a new 35mm print. Quincy Jones, honored this year at SIFF, did the score. 7 p.m. June 3 at the Harvard Exit.— J.H.
‘Red Knot’ ★★★
Set on a research vessel headed for Antarctica, Scott Cohen’s romantic drama follows a young married couple (Vincent Kartheiser, Olivia Thirlby) on a not-very-happy honeymoon. It’s a brief, quiet film, with a few too-obvious metaphors — a marriage encountering rough waters, unexpected glaciers, trouble navigating — and perhaps not quite enough said. But it’s beautifully shot, making artful use of the dazzling scenery and moody grays, and Kartheiser and Thirlby winningly convey the blissful ups and aching downs of young love. Cohen is scheduled to attend both screenings. 6 p.m. May 31 at Uptown; 2:30 p.m. June 1 at Uptown.— M.M.
‘Sam & Amira’ ★★★½
“New York, New York, it’s a helluva town” all over again in this ambitious, spirited melting-pot comedy drama about immigration, surveillance overkill, Wall Street corruption and the notion that the country lost its mind after 9/11. Martin Starr (Gilfoyle on “Silicon Valley”) is perfectly cast as a miraculously unscathed soldier who served several tours of duty in Iraq and falls for an illegal immigrant who doesn’t approve of his mission. Under writer-director Sean Mullin, everything clicks. This is the world premiere. Starr will appear at the first screening; Mullin will attend both screenings. 9 p.m. May 30 at the Uptown; 11:30 a.m. May 31 at the Uptown. — J.H.
‘Seeds of Time’ ★★★
Cary Fowler’s strong immune system has resisted cancer many times since doctors first handed him a death sentence at 22. As a result, he’s become “a little bit impatient about wasting time,” especially when the chief time-waster is politically motivated resistance to climate change. His troubling documentary, “Seeds of Time,” may sound like another nonfiction disaster epic preaching to the choir, but his specialty is food security — and a dreaded “perfect storm” that could lead to starvation for millions. He eloquently makes his point. Fowler and director Sandy McLeod will attend the first screening. Noon June 1 at the Uptown; 6 p.m. June 2 at the Uptown. — J.H.
‘The Stunt Man’ ★★★½
All but abandoned by its studio, this unique 1980 showbiz comedy found a home at SIFF and at the Guild 45th, where it played for nearly a year. Bolstered by its success here, the film’s fans and publicists rallied around it and managed to land three Oscar nominations: best actor (Peter O’Toole as an extremely eccentric movie director), best director (Richard Rush) and best screenplay adaptation (by Rush and Lawrence B. Marcus, based on Paul Brodeur’s novel). Surely O’Toole would have won if the Oscar hadn’t gone to Robert De Niro (“Raging Bull”). Rush is scheduled to attend the screening. 1:30 p.m. June 1 at the Harvard Exit. — J.H.
‘The Trip to Italy’ ★★★
Sequels have become weekly events, and so, it seems, have self-mocking opening sequences to follow-up films. “Muppets Most Wanted” introduced itself with a musical number that questioned whether sequels are necessary. “The Trip to Italy,” a sequel to 2011’s “The Trip,” has some fun comparing itself to the Holy Grail of No. 2 films, “The Godfather Part II.” What follows is pretty much the same formula: a demonstration of the improvisational one-upsmanship chemistry between Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, who once more impersonate various celebrities (Michael Caine is a target again). But the scenery is prettier. 4:30 p.m. May 30 at the Uptown; 8 p.m. May 31 at the Uptown. — J.H.
America Ferrera co-produced this well-acted American independent drama about busted-up relationships and revenge sex. She also plays Silvia, a workaholic who’s tough on her co-workers and even tougher on her longtime lover, Mark (Ferrera’s talented husband, Ryan Piers Williams, who also wrote and directed). The result sometimes plays like “Six Characters in Search of a Movie,” but Williams’ exploration of a fluid approach to sexuality results in some startling and affecting moments. Williams will attend both screenings; Ferrera is scheduled for the June 1 screening. 6:30 p.m. June 1 at Pacific Place; 4:15 p.m. June 2 at Pacific Place. — J.H.
‘Yves Saint Laurent’ ★★★
It’s not a documentary but a dramatic take on the life of the legendary fashion designer, with French actor Pierre Niney donning the trademark spectacles in the title role. I could have done with a little less melodrama and a few more outfits, but the fashion we see is pure pleasure (the Mondrian colorblock dress; the “Le Smoking” women’s tuxedo; the Cossack look). And Niney does well in conveying YSL’s constant transformations, from gawky young man to quirky, confident celebrity to ever-smoking, nervous wraith. 8:30 p.m. May 30 at Kirkland Performance Center; 6:30 p.m. May 31 at Pacific Place. — M.M.