SIFF 2018 Edition: Capsule Reviews, Week One

Here are capsule reviews for all the films I’ve seen so far at the Seattle International Film Festival. Reviews are alphabetical by title. Included is my rating of each film. As per Golden Space Needle ballots, films are rated on a scale of 1 to 5:

1=Awful. Major flaws in plot/characters/writing/filmmaking. No reason to see this film unless you have to, and then I still wouldn’t.

2=Okay to average. Some major/minor flaws in plot/characters/writing/filmmaking. Not good enough to recommend.

3=Above average to good. A few major/minor flaws in plot/characters/writing/filmmaking. Films in this category either garner a slight recommendation from me or almost do.

4=Very good to great. Might have a few minor flaws in it. All films in this category are recommended viewing.

5=Excellent to outstanding. Very few flaws, if any. The best of the best.

Ava: Ava (Mahour Jabbari) is a teenager who lives in Iran. When she goes out with Nima (Houman Hoursan) under the guise of practicing music with her best friend Melody (Shayesteh Sajadi), her mother discovers the lie and sets in action a series of events that slowly transforms Ava from a model student and daughter into a rebel. Director, producer, and writer Sadaf Foroughi’s first feature is a solid film, but needs to be tauter. Non-actor Jabbari, who was 16 at the time the film was made, is a find. Opened April 27 in limited release.

Blaze: Ethan Hawke directs this biopic about songwriting legend Blaze Foley (actor and musician Ben Dickey). Based on the book Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze Foley by his lover and muse Sybil Rosen (Alia Shawkat), the film focuses on the relationship between Foley and Rosen, even after they split ways. The chemistry between them is wonderful and mirrors that of a real couple; that and Blaze’s songs are strong reasons for seeing this film. Playing as part of A Tribute to Ethan Hawke on Friday, June 8, and the following day as a stand-alone film. Release date TBA.

The Bookshop: The Opening Night movie about a woman (Emily Mortimer) trying to open a bookshop in a town resistant to it seems strangely abridged. (d: Isabel Coixet) Opens August 24 in limited release.

The Devil’s Doorway: This solid horror film (originally shot on 16mm!) would benefit from a slower build in its terror and more character development (particularly Father John). Having said that, it’s scary as fuck, and knows how to include both unsettling images at the corner of the frames and jump scares. And since Magdalene laundries were horrible places, anyway, it’s not difficult to imagine greater evils taking place there.(d: Aislinn Clarke)  No release date set. World Premiere

Disobedience: Sebastián Lelio’s latest deals with a closed Jewish community and the lost sheep (Rachel Weisz) who returns home when her father (the much-beloved rabbi) dies. We soon find out she left due to a scandal with another woman (Rachel McAdams), who is now married to their best friend and the rabbi’s best pupil (Alessandro Nivola). Now playing. Full review  

The Faces of Zandra Rhodes: The world-famous fashion designer is given a documentary as eclectic and vibrant as her fashion sense. We get some biography, but not until a lengthy opening concerning a fashion show she’s putting on while simultaneously being asked to design the costumes for Seattle Opera’s The Pearl Fishers. We also get some repetition in her saying that she always wears the clothes she designs (mentioned three times), one slight title card spelling error, and many interviews with the fashion models, artists, and other people she’s worked with over the years, including Angelica Huston. Somehow, it all works and gets better as it goes on, but it’s dense, which one would expect from a project that began in 1982 with a fashion show in La Jolla, California.(d: David Wiesehan)  No release date set. World Premiere

Love, Gilda: A solid, lean documentary about the late comedienne, with readings from her audio book, It’s Always Something, a generous portion of clips from SNL, TV interviews, and home movies, and present-day interviews with the people who knew her best, and those who followed in her footsteps on Saturday Night Live. If you’re a fan, you’ll love this film; if you know nothing about her, this is a great place to start. (d: Lisa D’Aplito) Release date TBA.

Sadie: Megan Griffiths’s film about a 13-year-old girl (Sophia Mitri Schloss) whose dad is overseas in the military and whose mother (Melanie Lynskey) has started dating the cute neighbor (John Gallagher, Jr.) that just moved in. Unfortunately, Sadie has feelings for him while angry that he’s trying to take the place she feels is reserved for her dad. Even worse, she’s at the point where she’s more intelligent than she is wise. Playing as part of An Afternoon with Melanie Lynskey and as a stand-alone film on Wednesday, June 6. No release date set. Full review

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?: This wonderful documentary shares the life and philosophy of the late Fred Rogers through archival footage, interviews, and cartoons, expertly edited together. It resists turning him into a saint, but still reveals him as an extraordinary human being. Bring tissues. (d: Morgan Neville) Opens June 15.


SIFF 2018 Edition: Sadie

Sophia Mitri Schloss_Bedroom_PhotoCredit_TJ Williams Jr

Sophia Mitri Schloss. Photo by T. J. Williams, Jr. Image courtesy of SIFF.


Sadie begins and ends with the title character (Sophia Mitri Schloss) providing voice-over to a letter she’s written her dad, who is serving overseas. In between is a film with a multi-dimensional and troubled character at its center.

I don’t know than any man could’ve written this tale, or directed it as well. Megan Griffiths, who did both, allows us to empathize with all her characters, even as we begin to realize, long before they do, that something is wrong with Sadie. In idolizing her dad and the violence that surrounds him, in being old enough to be intelligent without being wise, she mistakenly feels that she can solve her problems (and those of her friends) in unsettling ways without adverse consequences. Plus, hormones.

Megan Griffiths. Photo by Hayley Young. Image courtesy of SIFF.

Witness, for example, the way she helps her best friend Francis (Keith L. Williams) with Jesse (Justin Thomas Howell), a bully at school. First, she steals Jesse’s phone and links an easily traceable bomb threat to it, resulting in detention for him. Then, when he finds out about the phone and threatens Francis (thinking he’s the one who sent the message), Sadie emotionally manipulates him into thinking Francis might go on a Columbine rampage if bullied any more, and even shows him a gun she supposedly found in Francis’s backpack (actually one of her dad’s). When she later shows Francis the gun and he worries that Jesse might report them, Sadie says, “For what? You didn’t do anything. Besides, the gun isn’t loaded.”

Notice the logic here. Sadie can’t see beyond the solution she’s hoping to achieve. Yes, Jesse gets a detention in the first instance, but the bomb threat goes on his permanent record (Sadie dismisses Francis when he mentions this, saying, “We’re kids, Francis. Nobody cares what we do.”). And the threat of violence terrorizes Jesse more than he’s terrorized Frances.

This inability to see the consequences of her actions, other that the desired result, plays out again in the main story, when she is upset at her mom (Melanie Lynskey) for dating a handsome new neighbor named Cyrus (John Gallagher, Jr). These feelings are enhanced by her own feelings for him, combined with her loyalty to her dad and her wish for them all to be a family again. First she tries to slip milk of magnesium into his milk (he doesn’t drink it). Then, when it seems her dad will be coming home for good, she tries to trap him in a compromising position. When that doesn’t work, she resorts to more drastic measures.

Photo courtesy of SIFF

Those drastic measures go much further than the solution Sadie had in mind. She wants to harm Cyrus, but she mistakenly thinks she’s in control of the situation and that the amount of harm she can cause is negligible because she’s a kid. Again, she is more intelligent than wise. She only thinks of getting him out of the picture so that her dad can come back to them. But when she discovers that isn’t going to happen, she finally realizes the true weight of what she’s done.

Griffiths is wise to not show Sadie as psychologically damaged or otherwise out of the ordinary. That is not to say that every teenage girl is dangerous, but that they can be without proper guidance and awareness of their power to hurt. This element is what makes the film so unsettling, along with its soundtrack (by Mike McCready).

Still, the movie isn’t without its flaws. John Gallagher, Jr. acts too much with his teeth, lips, and tongue for my taste, and the final letter Sadie writes to her dad falls flat. I’m also not a fan of whisper acting, which Schloss employs too often, especially during the voice-overs. Finally, the movie meanders into clichéd plot devices near its conclusion.

There’s a scene near the beginning of this film that bears mentioning. Francis’s grandfather, Deak (Tee Dennard), spends his time sitting outside and whittling wood carvings. One afternoon, Sadie joins him and begins to carve Cyrus’s face. Deak notices this and tells her she should start with something easier, like animals. “Men are hard,” he says. Sadie shows that young girls can be harder.

Sadie plays as part of An Afternoon with Melanie Lynskey tomorrow at 2:30 at SIFF Cinema Egyptian and again at the same location on Wednesday, June 6 at 6:45.