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: Opening Night


To attend Opening Night is to see everything from cocktail gowns to actual gowns to t-shirts to jeans in a crowd composed of volunteers and staff, high-spending passholders, those who can afford the $75 price tag for the film ($65 for members), and those willing to shell out the $275 for reserved seats, valet parking, and fundraising cred.

And now, a picture of a crow flying from one of the tents.


What’s up, crow?

Inside, I walked up the central staircase to a place where SIFF program guides were being handed out for free. Obviously, I was on the wrong floor, so I went up a level and saw this below me.


Even cooler was the view looking back from where I’d come.


Once the program started, there were the usual speeches and thanking of sponsors, volunteers, and staff. Then, the giving out of the Mayor’s Award for Achievement in Film…by Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan. Just as the mayor wasn’t there to hand out the award, neither was winner Tracy Rector there to receive it. Instead, her son Solomon accepted the award on her behalf and gave the best speech of the night, which started with him saying how hard his mother works (she’s directed and produced over 400 short films, something that the Deputy Mayor pointed out in her introduction).

In addition to the intros and the Mayor’s Award, we were treated to several sponsor commercials, none so poignant as the one from Aegis Living. As usual, we saw the official SIFF trailer (produced by Wong Doody, and which I’d seen at the press launch), and then a montage including scenes from films in this year’s festival. Oh yeah, and there was also a movie. There’s currently a review embargo on The Bookshop, but capsule reviews are okay, and all I have to say about the film can be written in one paragraph.


Bill Nighy and Patricia Clarkson doing what they do best (hint: it’s acting). Photo courtesy of SIFF

First, the good. The acting is solid (Bill Nighy steals every scene he’s in), the cinematography is pretty (especially the colors), and the camerawork is unobtrusive. Unfortunately, the story itself seems abridged, with only the skeleton of a plot and a few hints of character motivation remaining. It’s not a bad film, but it’s not a particularly good one, either. And the voice-over narration seems unnecessary.


Emily Mortimer reading a book that’s better than this movie. Photo courtesy of SIFF

Then it was on to the gala. But first, one last look at the tent the crow sat on, this time from inside McCaw Hall.


In past years, the Opening Night Gala took place in the Pacific Northwest Ballet building. Last year and this year, however, it took place in the more intimate Fischer Pavilion.


Getting the party started

At the gala, I achieved a lifelong dream of finally getting ice cream, lines be damned (mine was called Netflix & Chill). Sadly, I missed the sliders, but made up for it with potato dumplings (and later, beef dumplings). I also thought the gala ended at 11, which caused much confusion when it kept going. I then thought it must end at 11:30, but no, that was merely the time for last call (speaking of which, I didn’t get carded this year for booze. Must be the beard). It actually ended at midnight.

This is a picture of how close I got to the VIP area.


To clarify, the VIP area is on the roof of Fischer Pavilion where all those people are standing, not at the Space Needle

The Space Needle scaffolding was being removed that evening, but it was still there when I took this picture. Oh well. At the end of the night, I found out that DJ Don Driftmier (his company is called “Music Man,” which might be his professional DJ name, or it might be DJ Don, or DJ D, or just Don), whom SIFF hires every year for the Opening Night Gala, has been doing it for the past ten years. He’s great, but the music is loud, and I forgot to bring my earplugs this year. Luckily, I found a quiet spot near the front of the dance floor after I’d already danced a few songs in the louder section in between the speakers, so my hearing is still intact.