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  • Tabloid

    "Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, The Fog of War) calls Tabloid, his latest CT scan of an obsessive psyche, 'sad, sick and funny.' How else to describe the fabricated life of Joyce McKinney, a dotty, 60-something blonde whose pathologically romantic imagination has clearly never brooked much interference from reality?" Keep reading Kathleen Murphy at http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie-critic-reviews/tabloid.2/

  • SIFF 2011 Golden Space Needle Awards
    Out of the hundreds of movies shown in this year's film festival, these are the ones selected via audience ballots or, in some cases, special juries: http://www.siff.net/press/detail.aspx?NID=210&year=2011
  • Smilin' through

    Two days of trying to see a movie at SIFF press screenings make it pretty clear that no one is paying attention.

    NOTE addendum from SIFF Publicity.

  • Tomorrow Will Be Better


    Poland/Japan, 2010; Dorota Kedzierzawska

    In her dark, totally unsentimental films about children, Polish director Dorota Kedzierzawska has always gifted her youthful, mostly female protagonists with old, outlaw souls hungry for family and freedom....

  • Burke & Hare

    U.K., 2010; John Landis
    John Landis's notion of comedy is to get so many balls racketing around in the confined space of a motion picture that the audience will assume they must be having a rollicking good time watching it....

  • Beginners

    "Folks will either embrace the 'real' in Mike Mills' biographical Beginners or recoil from the reek of indie twee. Though drawn from the director's life-altering personal experiences, this amiable dramedy seems oddly lightweight and remote. A strung-together series of vignettes, montages and threadbare French New Wave tropes, the movie could have been storyboarded by Oliver (Ewan McGregor), Mills' cartoonist alter ego, who inks a Jules Feiffer–esque comic strip titled 'The History of Sadness.'"

    Read on with Kathleen Murphy at http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie-critic-reviews/beginners/#Review_0

  • Route Irish

    UK/France/Belgium/Italy/Spain, 2010; Kenneth Loach
    Having addressed much of the politically charged warfare of the 20th century in such films as Land and Freedom, Hidden Agenda, and the superb The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Ken Loach now probes the involvement of mercenaries in the war in Iraq. Not that the film is set there, save for a flashback that doesn't show up till halfway through. Our POV character is a case-hardened Liverpudlian named Fergus (Mark Womack) who turns up for the funeral of the best friend so racked up while working for a Blackwater-like outfit that his coffin must remain closed. Fergus breaks into it anyway, and proceeds further to delve into just how his mate came to die that day on Route Irish, as they call the perilous stretch of road between Baghdad Airport and the Green Zone. Someone in the local film press snarked about Route Irish that it's hard to have a thriller without suspense. The comment is ill-informed on both ends: Route Irish doesn't try to be a thriller, and the suspense it has aplenty derives from Fergus's descent into not only the mystery behind his friend's death but also his own character and moral culpability. Incidentally, the film marks Loach's reunion with Chris Menges, who shot such early Loach features as Kes and Poor Cow and became one of the several finest cinematographers in the world over the intervening four decades. —RTJ

  • Small Town Murder Songs

    One virtue of film festivals is that they provide an opportunity for small-scale, unheralded movies of distinction to get discovered, if only by a less than mainstream audience. It's not necessary that they be great; being unexpectedly good carries its own satisfaction. Small Town Murder Songs, a 75-minute picture from Canada, is the best example so far in this year's Seattle International Film Festival. It's now out on DVD.

  • Letters from the Big Man

    U.S.A., 2011; Christopher Munch

    Just coming off a bad relationship, forest service hydrologist Sarah Smith (Lily Rabe, an engaging presence ... and voice) heads deep into nature—southwestern Oregon wilderness—for healing. Thankfully, director Christopher Munch (The Hours and Times) doesn't just show us a pretty lady posing in scenic settings. When Sarah works, checking streams in burned-out stretches, she pays real attention to what she's learning. Striding on impressively muscled legs through magnificent landscapes, she projects self-sufficiency, strength, skill. For a long time, we watch her trek these Edenic environs, silent except for natural sound. The light falls richly down streambeds and through ancient trees, and night is blacker, more palpable than anywhere humankind resides. (Cinematographer Rob Sweeney does gorgeous work here.) A dark, towering figure (Bigfoot, played by Isaac C. Singleton Jr and suited up by Lee Romaire) tracks Sarah, watching her as we do, even emulating her lotus pose as she meditates beside a stream. No sense of threat here, just a curious Other, on the order of Chingachgook checking out Deerslayer.

    At this point, you wish this pilgrimage would go for the duration of the movie, so magically beautiful and affecting are these places, the passage of time. A silent movie, you think, without jabbering or obligatory plotlines. Maybe Beauty will encounter Beast—a Bigfoot whose hairy visage projects the nobility of, say, Chief Seattle—and they'll become a brand-new Eve and Adam, our second chance at natural innocence. Well, forget that scenario. Letters soon sinks into incredible silliness, comprised of equal parts environmental lectures (logging's bad), government plots (seems Bigfoot cannot only go invisible, but also broadcasts soothing or enraging soundwaves), and mystical mumbo-jumbo, courtesy of an American Indian lady who stares soulfully at her White Buffalo. What began so promisingly—and so mysteriously—loses its way in a ginned-up love connection, phony dialogue, scattergun plotting, and bad acting. And just to make sure you get the Message, there's an amateur-night performance of The Tempest—see, Bigfoot is Caliban, and maybe Sarah's just the Miranda he needs.... Oh, it doesn't bear thinking about. -KAM

  • Vampire
    Don't expect vampire gore and supernatural thrills in this long, slow exploration of youthful angst and alienation. In his first English-language movie, writer-director Iwai Shunji - who shot, edited, and composed original music for Vampire - clearly knew precisely what kind of world and weather he wanted to create....
  • Summer Coda

    Australia, 2010; Richard Gray
    One of those Australian movies that just lie there. Alas, the great Jacki Weaver (the crime matriarch of Animal Kingdom) has only one scene in the first reel. After that, we're on the road with the pretty but vapid Rachael Taylor as an expatriate violinist briefly returned from Nevada to attend her long-estranged father's funeral. Assume that director Richard Gray was deliberately going for softspoken and low-key—a decent impulse, but really, the temperature never rises to simmer, let alone slow boil ... as neither the direction nor the screenwriting rises above Filmmaking 101. Throughout the rather taciturn movie, key motivations and blockages are periodically announced, never explored. The one attempt at vigor is the unpersuasive heartiness of some migrant workers who arrive to pick the crop of the orange-grower (Alex Dimitriades) at whose home Taylor's character has fetched up after the obsequies. Their camaraderie induces teeth-grinding. Nice scenery, though. —RTJ

  • White Irish Drinkers

    U.S.A., 2010; John Gray
    Don't let the title throw you. White Irish Drinkers isn't a study of alcoholics (well, there's one) but an honorable and sympathetic addition to several durable subgenres: the coming-of-age story, the ethnic neighborhood crime chronicle, and the nuclear family saga. Nick Thurston gives an appealing performance as a post–high-schooler in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, torn between abetting his petty-criminal brother or busting out to pursue his gifts as an artist, gifts he's mostly concealed. Cast mates include Stephen Lang and Karen Allen as the parents and Peter Riegert as an avuncular moviehouse operator. Writer-director John Gray's old neighborhood plays itself. —RTJ

  • Kung Fu Panda 2

    It's in the Seattle International Film Festival but also in the world, and Kathleen Murphy reviewed it for MSN.com/movies: "DreamWorks' favorite panda returns, charged with saving China from an evil peacock who's stockpiling WMD that will make martial arts obsolescent. Kung Fu Panda 2 packs lots of firepower: detailed, reach-out-and-touch creature design, lush settings, big 3-D action set pieces. And there's a grabby origin story explaining why both hero and villain suffer from painful mommy and daddy issues, recalling those that haunted Batman and the Penguin." Read on at http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie-critic-reviews/kung-fu-panda-2/#Review_0

  • Fathers and Sons

    Canada, 2010; Carl Bessai
    One of Canada's best-known directors, Bessai charmed audiences in 2008 with a loosey-goosey movie called Mothers and Daughters, which chronicled relations between various mommies dearest and their girls. Now Fathers and Sons follows, with Sisters and Brothers soon to be released. Casually interweaving a quartet of narrative snapshots, Bessai digs into the ways dads can cruelly or comically frustrate and disappoint their offspring. Reuniting after their father's demise, four wildly different lads—lawyer, loser, New Ager, showbiz celeb—act out prickly fraternal dynamics, encouraged all their lives by a scheming paterfamilias whose snarky last will and testament provokes more of the same. A successful black businessman comes home after losing his job to the economic downturn and feels doubly betrayed, by his father's lifelong lack of ambition and the old man's donation of money his son gave him to a community sports center. A young Indo-Canadian, trying for buttoned-down dignity at his engagement party, blows a fuse over his gay dad's Bollywood flamboyance. And finally, in a farcical tale that breeds belly laughs, a sad sack Jewish teacher meets his larger-than-life progenitor for the first time over his mother's grave. Full of earthy appetite, the hulking, red-bearded fellow brings the boy up in fast-motion, playing Yiddish Zorba to repressed schlub. Fathers and Sons doesn't go much more than skin deep into character and emotion; and love's the solution to every familial contretemps. But one could do a lot worse—say, watching Letters from the Big Man—than spending some time with Bessai's Fathers and Sons. Enjoy the movie's uniquely Canuck and mostly very gentle humor, and the easygoing, sometimes improvised ensemble work from actors much admired north of the border (Benjamin Ratner, Jay Brazeau, Manoj Sood, Babz Chula, Blu Mankuma, Tyler Labine, et al.) —KAM

  • Raiders keep losing the Ark

    Has SIFF a clue about archival programming?

    Decades of attending film festivals bring a lot of memories. Obviously, it's a thrill to encounter new films that go on to challenge or captivate audiences in general release. But there's another kind of encounter that's at least as exciting and valuable, and can leave as deep a mark: the festival showcasing of a vintage film that's been lost, or lain neglected, or not made available in this country, or recently been restored to its original beauty and integrity.
  • Perfect Sense

    UK, 2010; David Mackenzie
    David Mackenzie's end-of-the-world movie deserves longer comment, but time constraints prevent me from offering more than a few admiring words—sufficiently admiring, I hope, to send some folk off to see its final screening tomorrow. Apocalypse in Perfect Sense comes not with a bang, but the progressive loss of our senses, beginning with smell. An epidemiologist (Eva Green, soulfully gorgeous) and a chef (Ewan MacGregor, giving a subtly heartbreaking performance) meet just as the passing of human senses starts. She's grieving over a fickle love, he's just fickle, a cocksman who can't bear for a woman to sleep the night in his bed. Both of these people, for different reasons, have come to undervalue life's gifts and take the paradise of the world for granted. Miraculously, as they, and the rest of the world, are bereft of taste, smell, hearing, etc., they develop alternate, deeper ways of savoring experience. So each time "Perfect Sense" slides a little further into deprivation, men and women bounce back. Melancholy and madness slowly darken the film, but small pleasures in the possible—and the authentic passion that binds scientist and cook—make you feel that our careless species might be worth saving.  -KAM

  • Submarine

    UK, 2010; Richard Ayoade
    Imagine a British teen channeling equal parts Jason Schwartzman (Rushmore), Jean-Pierre Léaud (400 Blows), and Gregory (Gregory's Girl). That's Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts), a way too precocious kid with twin obsessions. (1) He lusts for Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), a dead-ringer for Rita Tushingham in The Knack. (2) He loathes the smarmy New Age guru (Paddy Considine, a hoot in mullet and leather) who's just moved in next door and seems to be wooing mom (Sally Hawkins) away from his clinically depressed dad (Noah Taylor). Yes, it's another coming-of-age flick, but this self-reflexive romp has lots of deadpan wit and style, not to mention engaging geeks, repressed adults, and making-out that involves burning leg hair! —KAM

  • Flamenco, Flamenco
    Often, watching movies like Thor and The Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, a movie-lover can sink into despair, convinced that contemporary directors are totally incompetent when it comes to creating coherent form and movement within framed spaces. Then you luck into Carlos Saura's Flamenco, Flamenco, a visual banquet that serves up so much cinematic artfulness and beauty, your faith in the power of movies is reborn.             
  • Outrage

    Japan, 2010; Takeshi Kitano
    Kitano's often bleakly hilarious movie is a nihilistic roundelay of double- and triple-crosses and truly grotesque violence, acted out by an ever-diminishing community of yakuza. Kitano plays an old-school, Zen'd-out hitman who persists in believing there are meaningful rituals, rules, and reasons in the ongoing mayhem. A far less resonant take on the fate of Peckinpah's anachronistic outlaws, Outrage keeps fatalistic count as the members of Kitano's wild bunch are co-opted by the future of crime: colorless stockbrokers and bureaucrats. KAM

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