Three Imaginary Girls

Seattle's Indie-Pop Press – Music Reviews, Film Reviews, and Big Fun

Capitol Hill (both the 1960s and 2010s varieties), a freaky alt-reality Paris, and dear ol’ Sesame Street are among the cinematic destinations awaiting you during SIFF 2014’s second week (5/23-5/29).


{screens May 24 at 3pm in Renton}
After being abducted and raped, a rural 14-year-old Ethopian girl (Tizita Hagere) shoots and kills her attacker in an act of self-defense, pitting herself and a tenacious human-rights attorney (dazzling Meron Getnet) against long-standing tribal traditions. Writer-director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari’s debut feature is a compelling and devastating adaptation of an extraordinary true story. Wonderfully naturalistic performances (by mostly non-pro actors) lead viewers into the characters’ worlds, and into the tense legal drama that grows from it.

Fasten Your Seatbelts
{screens 5/23 at 4pm at the Egyptian and 5/25 at 7pm at Lincoln Square}
Refreshing, frequently surprising Italian comedy-melodrama with touches of the exquisiteness of my favorite of director Ferzan Ozpetek’s films, Facing Windows. This one follows another beautiful young woman who gets with another loutish (but hot) love interest and who ends up looking at her life from some existential outside place. The score is gorgeous (when it’s not trying to be lite), the narrative surprising (even when the twists are Lifetimey). I really did laugh, and I really did cry.

Fight Church
{screens May 26 at 12:30pm in Renton}
Moral and scriptural relativism vs. logic, fists vs. faith. Apparently around 700 churches in the United States actually have congregation-supported fight clubs; this brutal but eye-opening documentary focuses on several, and on a few leaders (of the religious and legislative varieties) who staunchly oppose them. There’s quite a lot of unflinching fight footage, and if that brand of controlled violence isn’t enough for you, just wait until one fight club member is shown teaching his very young children to use guns — scenes more horrifying than those of bloody cage matches.

I am Big Bird: The Carol Spinney Story
{screens May 25 at 1:30pm at the Egyptian, May 26 at 4:30pm at the Harvard, and May 27 at 7pm at Pacific Place}
If you’ve been an American child since 1969 you’ve encountered Carol Spinney, who has performed as Big Bird (in the suit to this day, and he’s now 80 years old!) and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street from episode one. This rather somber doc doesn’t have the slick twinkle of The World According to Sesame Street and Being Elmo, but Spinney’s not a twinkly sort of fellow. There’s barely a glimpse of Kevin Clash — go figure — even though the Elmo era is what led to a diminished Big Bird presence on the show. The film’s wall-to-wall emotion music is a bit much, but still I dare your eyes to stay dry when Spinney performs “It’s Not Easy Being Green”, as the Bird, of course, at Jim Henson’s memorial.

In Order of Disappearance
{screens May 29 at 7pm at Lincoln Square}
The SIFF description aptly calls this wonderfully dark pan-Scandinavian crime comedy “Dirty Harry meets Fargo“. I definitely thought of the latter when I caught its first screening of the fest last weekend. Stellan Skarsgard is amazing as a snowplow driver who will stop at nothing (seriously, nothing) to bring his son’s killers to justice — but what seems at first to be a very fun revenge tale spirals chaotically when his initial plans are set in motion. The story delights in confounding expectations; the viewer in turn delights in good performances and highly accomplished filmmaking.

Rigor Mortis
{screens May 23 at midnight at the Egyptian, May 24 at 10pm at Pacific Place, and May 25 at 8:30pm in Renton}
A disgraced Hong Kong horror-movie actor, seriously on the verge of offing himself, moves into a dilapidated apartment building filled with dilapidated lives. And then — well, lordy, I’ll try my best here: there ends up being a gross old vampire, some truly creepy twin ghosts, and a weird little boy wearing a Warhol wig; they all factor into a very strange tale punctuated by Hong Kong horror tropes. It’s just after the midpoint that the truly horrifying shit goes down — one unspeakable act in particular amazingly conveyed only by a closeup of a veteran actor delivering a jaw-dropper of a performance. The title may seem meaningless, but the final scene demonstrates its relevance and tinges everything that came before it.

{screens 5/23 at 1:30pm at Pacific Place}
The latest from Georgian director Zaza Urushadze follows two Estonian villagers (in an increasingly strange land) who take in two injured soldiers, each from a different side of a harsh early-’90s conflict known as the War In Abkhazia. This film is so damn captivating, with all the condensed intimacy of a great stage play, and it deserves all the festival accolades it’s received. Pro tip: the over-credits song is so jarring and coarse that it diminishes the goodness that came before it. So get up and leave the theater just as the yellow cassette tape is slid into the automobile’s player. You’ll know it’s the end. And you’ll love this movie.

10,000 KM
{screens May 27 at 9:30pm at Lincoln Square, June 5 at 9:30pm at the Harvard, and June 6 at 4:15pm at Pacific Place}
An intimate and insightful hetero-romance drama, freshly visualized. It begins with a very impressive 25-minute single shot in the Barcelona apartment of (hot) couple Alex (Natalia Tena) and Sergi (David Verdaguer) nearing the end of some (hot) sexytime, then tracks through a tense discussion about a turning point in their lives. And then we don’t see them in the same room together again for quite a while. In the meantime we spy on months’ worth of their Skype calls, emails, Facebook posts, Google Earth lookups, and Alex’s photos of Los Angeles, where she’s accepted a one-year gallery residency. It’s an interesting way to reveal the pair’s fraught, long-distance narrative, and it all seems very now — but only for the moment, of course.


The Congress
The Congress

{screens May 24 at 9:30pm at Lincoln Square}
Ari Folman’s overlong followup to Waltz With Bashir is an often unpleasantly surreal live action-animation amalgam about a desperate aging actress named Robin Wright (played by… Robin Wright) who sells her image to the virtual-reality dream world that was once a major movie studio. Iconography-filled animated sequences range from gleefully trippy to downright unpleasant, but Wright is consistently good both in the flesh and as a cartoon. Discussions in the alternate present (clearly aHouse of Cards-less world) provide some great observations on the current and future states of cinema. Cannabis edibles were made for experiences like this.

{screens May 23 at 1:30pm at Lincoln Square}
A very sour Czech movie about a retired traveling clown who returns to Prague, eventually to reunite with the other two members of his estranged clowning trio for a final show. I found little to enjoy and much to be annoyed about in the clowns’ shticks — maybe that’s a culture-specific thing. But Finnish actress Kati Outinen made me think fondly of Kaurismaki, any of whose films I’d rather have been watching instead of Clownwise. Light, droll (and, ok, Kaurismakian) moments are few and far between here, but they’re nice when they come, and the ending is simply magical.

{screens May 28 at 7pm at Lincoln Square}
This documentary was produced by Patagonia®, and its target demo seems to be people who’d wear Patagonia® products (as do some of the film’s interviewees). Not that the topic isn’t an important one: the engineering of dams has negatively altered landscapes, wildlife populations, and watersheds across the US. Scientists, activists, and politicians all weigh in on the issue, and on what’s being done about it, but the real star of the show is co-director Ben Knight, who isn’t as interesting as the topic at hand and who narrates the film and who is in it A LOT. There’s some great info, and some powerful imagery, but even at 92 minutes it seems too dam long.

Lucky Them
{screens May 22 at 7pm in Renton, and May 23 at 9:15pm at the Egyptian}
Amie enjoyed Megan Griffiths’ latest locally-produced project a bit more than I did. It stars Toni Collette as a music writer (very little about her employment situation rings in any way true) searching for a legendary Seattle musician who notoriously vanished years prior. But it’s Thomas Haden Church, as her eccentric, wealthy acquaintance who wedges his way into the quest, who steals the movie. Everything about Lucky Them (no idea what the title is supposed to mean) looks great, but it seems simultaneously intended both for Seattle audiences (fun cameos by the likes of Charles Mudede and Linas Phillips) and for those who know nothing of the city (you don’t walk eastbound on Pike from Neumos and end up at the Crocodile).

Mood Indigo
{screens May 28 at 7pm at the Harvard Exit, and May 31 at 11am at the Uptown}
French writer-director Michel Gondry tickles some Amélie-ish notes in this imaginative alt-reality tale of a wealthy Parisian tinkerer named Colin (Romain Duris) and his new romance with the elegant Chloe (Audrey Tautou). This is the kind of movie where pianos make cocktails, and where characters’ legs become long and muppety when they dance. And just when the viewer is learning the steps to Gondry’s cuckoo boogie, Chloe is diagnosed with a very strange illness, at which point Mood Indigo becomes a much different (and, in my mind, better) film. Often swoon-worthy, but not for everyone.

My Last Year with the Nuns
{World Premiere. Screens May 21 at 6:30pm and May 26 at 11am at the Egyptian}
Local monologist Matt Smith goes on a major nostalgia-indulgence trip, passionately recounting memories of his young-teen years in the ’60s, exploring the heavily Catholic Capitol Hill neighborhood during a far less PC era. Key here is local: this film won’t find wide appeal outside a few ZIP codes. Some of the Capitol Hill recentish-history woven into the jagged yarns piqued my interest occasionally, and I chuckled a time or two, but overall I didn’t find Smith or his stories all that funny or compelling. If you think Seattle is the be-all and end-all, however, you might enjoy this well-intentioned film more than I did.

Night Moves
{screens May 23 at 7pm at Lincoln Square, and May 26 at 12pm at the Uptown}
Three Oregon-based enviro-activists (Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, and Peter Sarsgaard) plot the bombing of a hydroelectric dam, and — surprise — not everything goes according to plan. This moody film serves some good moments of slow-burn suspense, but I spent about half of the too-long 113-minute runtime just wanting to slap the dour somberness off Eisenberg’s face.

The Signal
{screens May 27 at 7pm at Lincoln Square, and May 28 at 7pm at the Egyptian}
Three college students, each of whom is purportedly quite smart, head into the desert in search of a mysterious computer hacker who’s been fucking with them. The main student guy is played by a handsome Australian named Brenton Thwaites, who is the stuff action heroes are made of; in years perhaps we’ll view this undercooked but entertaining oddity of a movie as the auspicious early work of an accomplished performer. Lawrence Fishburne adds gravitas to the proceedings, even given the narrative’s Lost trappings: relevant questions going unasked by characters in peril, arbitrary withholding of information, a true groaner of an ending.

Standing Aside, Watching
{screens May 23 at 8:30pm and May 25 at 3:30pm at the Uptown}
This distressing but ultimately satisfying film follows a young woman’s return from Athens to her diminished hometown — and her subsequent run-ins with the town’s loutish men. It serves up a searing indictment of contemporary Greece, the shithole it’s become, and a main reason it’s ended up that way: too many otherwise well-meaning people standing idly by. And the viewer is forced to do just that. Witnessing all the misery (and there is a lot) is no fun, and becomes rather tedious given the lack of strong characters to root for, but some late-breaking twists provide a sickly-sweet breath of vengeance-scented air.


Miss Zombie
Miss Zombie

{screens 5/24 at 8:30pm in Renton, and 5/25 at 9:30pm at Pacific Place}
A family has a zombie unexpectedly delivered to their home, and gawd knows why they decide to put it/her to work performing menial and degrading tasks, despite community confrontations. It’s an intriguing setup that might sound like a storyline from the current season of In The Flesh, but this plodding, repetitive garbage is nowhere near as good. I realize director Sabu is trying to poke fun at genre tropes, and maybe weave in some social satire about class and materialism, and he might have been more successful if the 85-minute runtime didn’t seem twice that long.