This weekend brings a bunch of SIFF stuff that the Stranger SIFF Review Board loved, including the Wikileaks documentary We Steal Secrets, Noah Baumbach's and Greta Gerwig's Manhattan-flavored comedy Frances Ha, the dead pet-fetishizing documentaryFurever, the French family farm-fetishizing documentary After Winter, Spring, and the modern-day adaptation of Henry James' What Maisie Knew.
And in the non-SIFF world, there's Francois Ozon's In the House, the highly effective Filipino kidnapping thriller Graceland, and the cliche-ridden mob film The Iceman, plus all them StarTrekIronManGreatGatsbyblockbusters.
SIFF has a dozen or so movies about food, or farming, or fruit, or wine, etc. this year, and of the ones that we were able to screen by press time, we REALLY liked four (good job, SIFF!).
DON'T MISS! After Winter, Spring Is there anything cuter than a farmer rubbing the fuzzy face of an hour-old calf, asking, "Is there anything cuter than this?" Yes: when the farmer and the calf and the question are all French, as is the case in this achingly lovely documentary about family farming in the Périgord. Shot over the course of a year, it's so pretty, it's ridiculous, and the people—from the idealistic couple starting a tiny organic operation to the 88-year-old vintner/philosopher—are marvelous. Facing tough times, they love their animals and their land with inspiring hope. Also featured: a famous foie gras farm, cast in a human and arguably humane light. (BETHANY JEAN CLEMENT) Harvard Exit, Sun, May 19, 4 pm SIFF Uptown, Mon, May 20, 8:30 pm
STAR! C.O.G. Inspired by reading The Grapes of Wrath and wanting to get his hands dirty, an overeducated white East Coast Yale grad heads out to Oregon to work in the apple orchards. Based on a David Sedaris essay from Naked, the story begins on the long-haul bus ride, where "Samuel" (his new identity) is accosted by a parade of weirdos. At the farm, he has trouble connecting with anyone and he is comically unprepared to exist in the real world. Will Samuel find happiness in the simple things instead of overanalyzing and sneering at everything? Or will he run back to his old life? Thanks to the film's wonderful performances and entertaining dialogue, you'll have a perfectly good (if not revelatory) time finding out. (GILLIAN ANDERSON) Egyptian, Fri, May 24, 4 pm Egyptian, Sun, May 26, 7 pm Renton, Mon, May 27, 6 pm
Tonight the Seattle International Film Festival invites you to get out of town, with a free, 15th-anniversary screening of Smoke Signals—the first feature film written, directed, and co-produced by Native Americans, with a script by Stranger columnist/Stranger Genius Award winner Sherman Alexie—tonight at Snoqualmie Casino. (Bonus: cast members Elaine Miles, Evan Adams, and Michelle St. John will be in attendance!)
(Much Ado About Nothing was the Opening Night Gala film selection at SIFF tonight. It won't be screening again during the festival, but it opens nationwide in New York and Los Angeles on June 7th and in Seattle on June 21st, so if you missed out tonight, you'll be able to see it soon.)
Clark Gregg: This is the scene where he recruits Beatrice to join a super-team with Hamlet, Julius Caesar, and Lady Macbeth.
This movie is a classic example of the they’re-sure-having-fun-up-there concept of entertainment. It was filmed in a matter of days at director/adaptor Joss Whedon’s own house, with actors who are all his friends, in cheap black and white on digital cameras. (Whedon famously conducts after-work readings of Shakespeare with the casts of his television shows and films, so he had plenty of practice.) And you know what? Everybody sure does look like they’re having fun up there, to the point where you want to forgive the film’s obvious flaws just because you feel like you’re an invited guest at an intimate dinner party.
This horny, very funny staging of Much Ado About Nothing is set in an opulent modern-day estate during a wedding, when distant friends and family gather together because they have to. It’s a cozy affair, and the actors are all practically flirting with Shakespeare’s language (standouts include Clark Gregg, who wins this affable movie’s coveted Most Affable award; Nathan Fillion, who feasts on his small comic-relief role; and Amy Acker as a strong, confident Beatrice). There’s some silly physical comedy, willful deception on a large scale, and, because Much Ado is arguably the world’s first rom-com, every major player makes one asshole move that seems totally out of character. (Blame the writer for that last one.)
But it’s light and fun and funny and delightful—it’s so rare that a movie claps Shakespeare on the back like an old bud, rather than putting him up on a pedestal, like he’s in a museum. Who cares if some of the acting is a little hambone? (Alexis Denisof’s Benedick wavers between charming and cartoonish.) Or that the music, by Joss and Jed Whedon, is simply terrible? Or that a few directorial tricks—a whooshing white-out transition between scenes is more jarring than useful—seem more telenovela than feature film? Everybody is—all together now—having so much fun up there that you want to forgive them their trespasses. And so you do.
(This post has been updated since its original publication to reflect the correct release dates. I apologize for the error.)
At McCaw Hall, tonight brings the opening of the 39th Seattle International Film Festival, which is curated by a board of professionals and commences with Joss Whedon's brand-new Much Ado About Nothing.
And at Central Cinema, tonight brings the opening of the first-ever Black and Beautiful Film Festival, which is curated by Franklin High School senior Mia Roberson and commences with 1971's Shaft.
Though it's hard to write meaningfully about Star Trek Into Darkness without spoiling anything—it's packed with surprises—this review will be spoiler-free. Which means I have to keep the specifics about the plot to a minimum. (I'll do a spoiler-filled review after everyone gets a chance to see the movie this weekend.) So here goes: The crew of the Enterprise runs up against a mysterious man named John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch, a delight of growling disdain) and then they find themselves drawn into a much larger conflict that could imperil the entire United Federation of Planets. As is shown in the trailers and on the poster for the movie, the Enterprise suffers a considerable amount of damage along the way.
So let's start with the good news: With one unfortunate exception, the actors are all growing pleasantly into their roles. Some of them (Chris Pine as Kirk, Simon Pegg as Scotty) choose to riff on the performances of Star Trek: The Original Series actors while wisely not hewing to staid impersonations. Zachary Quinto's eerily exact Spock feels less like a perfect copy of ST:TOS Spock and more a kind of seance—is it insulting to say that this is the role he was born to play? And Karl Urban's DeForest Kelley schtick, all bad metaphors and outraged puffery, is hambone acting at its finest, which makes sense, because no one in their right minds would want to watch an understated interpretation of Bones. Of all the actors in rebooted roles, Zoe Saldana gets shortest shrift. Her Uhura is an embarrassment, the highest-profile female character in the movie pushed to the periphery, only earning a line when it's time for her to react to men, never truly getting a great moment of her own.
And now for the bad news: There's very little trekking in this Star Trek. Outside of a pre-credits taste of interstellar adventure involving a dilemma around that classic Star Trek saw, the Prime Directive, way too much of this movie is set on Earth or is simply floating, semi-stationary, in outer space. The script from Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Damon Lindelof doesn't get the point of Star Trek, really: It's too petty and small and uninterested in adventure. A silly little analogy to current events wraps the movie in the wrong tone, and the pacing, with a series of tense, exciting action scenes layered between some very long expository passages, is downright weird. Star Trek Into Darkness is a pretty thing to look at—the 3D is decent, but by no means necessary for enjoyment of the movie—but it's just so dumb and uninterested in the possibilities of the premise that it feels like a waste. And one of my favorite parts of the 2009 Star Trek reboot, the commitment to comedic adventure, fails to materialize here. This movie is too busy dwelling in darkness to remember that Star Trek should be about optimism and aspirations and fun, and that's a goddamned shame.
Pitch Black was a fun little pulpy creature feature. I think I tried to watch The Chronicles of Riddick once, but I certainly didn't get all the way through. Now, nine years later, the third movie starring Vin Diesel as Riddick is about to be released. It's titled Riddick. Here's a trailer:
Is it me, or did that trailer feel like five times longer than it really was?