Film Threat Review: The Heat

Rated R
117 minutes


Before “The Heat,” it didn’t occur to me that there was a female buddy cop movie void or that said void needed filling. It’s not because ladies don’t make good cops but because the formula itself is pretty stale. It turns out that a female buddy cop movie is an awesome idea. While “The Heat” does employ the basic tropes, it also reinvigorates the genre. Mullins’ (Melissa McCarthy) plainclothes cop grittiness isn’t any more credible than Axel Foley’s (Eddie Murphy in “Beverly Hills Cop”) wise-ass ways. But seeing a woman steal the film as effortlessly as Eddie Murphy used to do is absolutely thrilling.

Mullins’ foil and reluctant partner is FBI agent Ashburn (Sandra Bullock), a by-the-book sort who invents a whole new sort of prim frump with her button down shirt and slacks ensembles. She excels at her job but it is at the expense of her likeability. So long has she had to prove herself in her line of work, she has forgotten how to be anything other than competitive. Mullins has a working class Boston upbringing to thank for her tough-talking aggressiveness. This classic odd couple pair is forced to work together to bring down a Beantown drug lord who happens to have a personal vendetta against Mullins’ recently paroled brother (Michael Rapaport).

The flimsy storyline serves as an unapologetic set piece in order to get these two personalities to interact. But you can say the same of every other successful film in the genre. You don’t remember what Danny Glover and Mel Gibson were after in “Lethal Weapon” so much as you remember the wild man and the too-old-for-this-shit dynamic.

It might seem like people are making too big of a deal about the gender of the leads. But when you think about it, why the fuck hasn’t there been a female buddy cop movie before? We’ve accepted that women can be FBI agents and cops, but never together. Even in “The Heat,” the presence of women feels like a novelty and there is something wrong with that.

Neither McCarthy nor Bullock has ever been funnier. Credit is clearly due to the film’s scribe, Katie Dippold, who brings the same balance of witty wackiness and heart that she employs on TV’s “Parks and Recreation.” But you can’t write physical comedy and “The Heat” has that in spades. The hilarious things that Bullock and McCarthy do with their bodies are a sweet reminder that there’s more to the art than just falling down a lot. It requires a careful balance of abandon and precision. McCarthy in particular is an absolute genius at this and Bullock has obviously been taking notes because she’s come a long way from the stumbling-in-heals broadness of “Miss Congeniality.”

Refreshingly, Mullins and Ashburn don’t encounter opposition at every turn. Instead of the angry captain, screaming about field days, they each have very even-tempered bosses who recognize the commitment and value in their troublesome employees but are nonetheless exhausted by their insubordination.

While the script doesn’t steer entirely clear of the romantic element, it never once suggests that either woman needs a boyfriend. The first thing that Mullins and Ashburn bond over is their marriage to the job and the pursuit of justice. Mullins actively rebuffs second dates from her one-night stands and only ridicules Ashburn for her lack of sexual conquest rather than the need for a male counterpart. Everybody needs to get laid once in a while.

The handling of violence is another strong suit in the film, as injuries (apart from a botched tracheotomy) have realistic consequences. Feig presents violence just lightly enough to let everyone move on quickly but graphic enough to make an impression.

Perhaps someday, “The Heat” will prove a mediocre example of a female buddy cop film. But seeing as how it’s the only female buddy cop film, it automatically rules. I’m not super thrilled that we live in a world in which simply changing the gender of a character is considered a radical move, but I am glad that since we do live in that world, someone is taking a chance on it. Baby steps, right?

Originally published on (now defunct).


SIFF REVIEW: 9 Full Moons

103 minutes


It doesn’t matter if your personalities are different, so long as your souls are compatible. When Lev (Bret Roberts) and Frankie (Amy Seimetz) meet at a bar, they are instantly drawn to one another. At first, Lev resists Frankie. Or at least it seems like that’s what’s happening. But Frankie soon learns that Lev is a hyper-introvert and she becomes even more determined to make him a part of her life. They know each other immediately, without needing to reveal themselves in words. But two broken people do not necessarily become whole just by falling in love.

Writer/Director Tomer Almagor’s debut film is an uncommon love story that is driven by complex characters that need each other more than they realize. The odds are certainly stacked against them. Frankie has a bit of a drinking problem, driven by insecurity. She is a gregarious, empathetic and creative person but she thinks so little of herself that she shrugs off an acquaintance rape as if she had it coming. Lev is a free spirit who loves Frankie but isn’t used to considering the feelings of another with his every day decisions (i.e. getting a drink with co-workers instead of coming home for dinner). They also don’t have any cheerleaders on the sidelines. Lev’s supposed best friend dismisses Frankie as a “Train Wreck” and all but tells him to break up with her.

Frankie doesn’t seem to have any real friends outside of Lev either. She occupies her time fixing up junk that she finds on the side of the road and then selling it, yard sale style. When she tells Lev that she does this to stave off the loneliness, he earnestly responds that she shouldn’t be lonely since she has him, despite the fact that he is constantly at work. Granted, his work is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to produce the comeback record for hipster country legend Charlie King Nash (Donal Logue). But he doesn’t see how much she needs him until an irreparable tragedy has torn them further apart.

Amy Seimetz was the perfect choice to play Frankie. She’s beautiful, but she has a relatable quality and isn’t afraid to be truly vulnerable. If “It Girl” is still a thing, it definitely describes Seimetz, who has been popping up everywhere both in front of and behind the camera. Despite her youth, she currently has 48 IMDb acting credits including “The Off Hours,” “You’re Next,” TV’s “The Killing,” Lena Dunham’s “Tiny Furniture” and “Upstream Color.” She also wrote and directed her first feature, “Sun Don’t Shine,” to much critical acclaim. She has shown an incredible amount of versatility in her roles and she deserves to be a household name.

Bret Roberts is equally at home with his character. Lev is a tortured musician, but it’s not just a façade. It’s probably not a coincidence that Lev is a Jim Morrison doppelganger (though Roberts did portray the Lizard King in another film). Though neither Frankie nor the audience can always tell what is going on in his brooding head, Lev’s love for Frankie cannot be concealed. It’s not anything he says. It’s all in his eyes. The man is a Mumblecore director’s dream.

“9 Full Moons” is full of complex characterizations, which is part of what makes it so special. You can’t sum up Lev or Frankie in a couple of words. They are real people who are trying to stay true to themselves whilst attempting to figure out how to navigate a stable relationship. Though their love is pure and simple, their lives certainly are not. Almagor has stated that the script is based off of his real-life relationship. Though the details are fictionalized, he has managed to keep all of the nuances that make up two people struggling to find their place in the world. It’s a beautiful film and I look forward to seeing what else he can do.

Originally published on (now defunct).

SIFF 2013: One Critic’s Overview

The Seattle International Film Festival is the largest film festival in North America, and it lasts for four weeks (six for press). It boasts over 450 features and shorts from over 70 countries so attending it is basically running an independent film marathon (only with a whole lot more sitting). Of course, I don’t get to anywhere near 450 films, but I do my best. This year, I caught about 2-dozen films. This year, I was excited about more films than usual, and there were still 4 or 5 that were on my list that I didn’t make it to. Here is my SIFF experience in a nutshell.


“9 Full Moons” – A refreshingly realistic romantic drama about two artistic messes who understand each other in a way that no one else can. Amy Seimetz rides further down the track toward indie darling status.

“An Evening with Kyle MacLachlan” – Not a film, but this local legend has been in plenty of great ones. In addition to a Q & A with the actor, the evening included a screening of the two-hour “Twin Peaks” pilot, which looked more beautiful than ever projected on the big screen. I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of the audience is now knee deep in a series re-visit.

“Byzantium” – Finally making up for the fun-in-a-bad-way debacle that was “Interview with the Vampire”, Neil Jordan re-invents the vampire drama. No longer is it a metaphor for sex. This beautiful film is about the shifting relationship between mothers and daughters as well as a commentary on the difficulty women (particularly working single mothers) face inside a violently patriarchal system. Social messages aside, it fulfills the long-overdue triumphant return of vamps with (both literal and figurative) claws instead of glitter and ennui.

“The Punk Singer” – Pitch-perfect music documentary about musician and feminist icon Kathleen Hanna. It’s the kind of film that makes you want to go record shopping immediately.

“Teddy Bears” – Debut black comedy from writer/director Thomas Beatty, co-directed with his wife, Rebecca Fishman with a script that is loosely based on an event in their pre-marriage relationship. Though the plot resembles a broad sitcom premise, the resulting film is anything but broad. A group of extremely capable actors (many of whom have done sitcoms) play it straight, and find the humor in grief-inspired downward spirals. “Teddy Bears” proves that it is possible to make an artistically proficient film about anything, so long as you write from a truthful place.


“Il Volto di Un’altra (Another Woman’s Face)” – This over-the-top Italian comedy misses the perfect opportunity to break the record for most liquid feces in a movie.

“Last I Heard” – “Sopranos” copycat starring Paul Sorvino and Michael Rapaport as they attempt to steer a sinking ship of a film about a former mobster who has outworn his welcome and his usefulness.

“Papadapalous & Sons” – You would expect this sort of feel-good family drivel from an American film, but the Brits usually have more class. One good performance (Georges Corraface, as a surprisingly endearing Pollyanna of an uncle) kept me from clawing out my eyeballs while I waited for this film to be over.


“Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me” – This paint-by-numbers documentary about the brilliant but ironically named 70s rock band that toiled in obscurity until it was discovered by the indie music scene of the late 80s. The film is a little too thorough and occasionally dips into over-reverence. But Big Star is a band worth gushing about.

“The Bling Ring” – A terrific companion piece for Harmony Korine’s “Spring Breakers”, Sofia Coppola’s latest hipsterfest tells the true-ish story of a gang of dangerously bored middle class high school students who enjoy a brief stint as burglars to the semi-stars.

“Cockneys vs. Zombies” – It’s “Shaun of the Dead” meets BBC’s “Misfits”. While it never quite lives up to its influences, it’s still jolly good fun.

“Here Comes the Devil” – Very much in the Hammer Horror spirit, this Mexican film uses more “just cuz” sex scenes and quick zooms than you can shake a Satanic stick at. The characters behave nonsensically quite often and it takes a lot longer than necessary to get from point A to point B, but it’s certainly never boring.

“I Declare War” – I’m still not 100% sure what to make of this film that many have accurately described as “Lord of the Flies” meets “The Room”. A group of friends take their after-school Capture the Flag games a little too seriously, quoting Patton and occasionally bordering on real violence. The script could easily be re-shot with grownup actors to become a standard “war is hell” drama, save the odd moment where their reality bleeds into the fantasy. My favorite such exchange: “You can’t stop a war for juice.” “Watch me.”

“Mutual Friends” – This New York City based romantic comedy is sure to please wide audiences with its idealistic take on modern relationships and how you don’t always fall in love with the person you think you need. Director, Mathew Watts co-authored the script with five others, giving each character their own unique voice and perspective. Filled with one-liners and emotional observations, “Mutual Friends” is poised to become a breakout indie hit and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Watts become a household name within the Romantic Comedy genre.

“Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer” – HBO Film’s documentary catches you up on all that nasty business involving three members of the Russian punk band who were tried and put in prison for staging a 40 second non-violent musical protest inside a Catholic Church.

“The Wall” – This almost-great intellectual horror film is beautifully acted but suffers from an overdose of expository voiceover.

Originally published on (now defunct).

SIFF Review: Last I Heard

101 minutes


In the tradition of “The Sopranos,” “Last I Heard” goes for a realistic take on mob life. But unlike “The Sopranos,” which was a cinematic television show, David Rodriguez’ second feature is uncomfortably clunky and, at best, feels like a made-for-TV movie. If it takes us anywhere that we haven’t been before, it’s because we wouldn’t have wanted to go there in the first place.

Joseph “Mr. Joe” Scoleri (Paul Sorvino) has just completed a 20-year stint in the federal pen for his generally mob-like criminal activity. With nowhere else to go, he returns to his old stomping ground in Queens, NY to live amongst his daughter and their like-family next-door neighbors. Mr. Joe’s lawyer (Chazz Palminteri) breaks the news that his client cannot and should not attempt to pick up where he left off, leaving the emotionally and medically unstable former Big Deal in limbo.

I honestly feel bad giving a negative review to a movie that tries so hard to be something special. But it just falls so short that I struggle to find a single redeemable quality to it. Writer/director David Rodriguez clearly set out to make something that felt truthful, but he doesn’t seem to know a light touch from a punch in the face. He doesn’t trust his actors enough to convey the appropriate pathos or his audience enough to assume they’ll “get it” unless several characters spell out the themes over and over again.

Michael Rapaport plays Bobby, the devoted neighbor who now drives around the sad old man he used to look up to. Bobby must have said some variation of “he used to be such a big deal and now he’s just a sad old man” ten times. He drops it into nearly every conversation. Rapaport seems to be trying his best, but he just isn’t hitting the notes. I will forever find a degree of charm in every Rapaport performance because of his role in “True Romance,” but it’s also because of that character that I will always think of him as Dick Ritchey: earnestly awful actor.

Still, Rapaport comes off as classically trained compared to some of the other guys. I think Rodriguez must have been going for authenticity when he cast the film, but it didn’t have the intended effect. Maybe these really are the guys you would find in a deli in Queens, but acting is more than just being like the person you’re playing. You still have to seem natural on camera. You still have to recite scripted lines as if they are your own thoughts. This hardly ever happens in “Last I Heard.” And it can’t possibly just be the pedigree of his performers. Rodriguez managed to score faces from numerous legendary crime films (“Goodfellas,” “Scarface,” “A Bronx Tale”), yet half the time, the actors perform as if they have an off-camera gun to their heads.

Fortunately, the most competent performance belongs to lead actor Paul Sorvino. But perhaps he does too good of a job making his neutered mob boss character believable, because you don’t feel sorry for him at all. This is a man who was most certainly behind many murders, if not a murderer himself. He was and is a terrible father, friend and a bigot to boot. So why should we care if he’s having heart problems or struggling to find his place in a world that has moved on without him?

I’ve made only a passing reference to a female presence in “Last I Heard.” That’s because it’s half-assed at best and insulting at worst. Bobby’s wife (Andrea Nittoli) is basically just there as a sounding board for Bobby or to tell other people how much her husband works. Mr. Joe’s daughter, Rita (Renee Props), has a little bit more meat, but she mostly comes off as a selfish nag. I prefer to have a film devoid of women to one where they are clearly just there to meet a quota.

But even if Rodriguez had all his other ducks in a row, he still got screwed in the editing room. The mark of a well-cut film is one in which you don’t notice the editing at all. With that in mind, Rodriguez needs to fire his editor, because it is a week-one film school failure. Scenes frequently lag with too much action-free time on either end. It gets so bad at points that you expect to hear someone say, “cut.” It makes the whole thing feel amateurish.

I’d say, “Don’t quit your day job,” but filmmaking most likely is David Rodriguez’ day job. Better luck next time, Dave?

Originally published on (now defunct).


108 minutes 


An apocalypse movie comes in many forms. Some are of the action-packed, Will Smith variety, and some are quiet intellectual horror films like Julian Roman Pölsler’s film “The Wall.” Though I do consider the latter style superior to the former – seeing a real person experience apocalyptic solitude is so much more interesting than when it happens to a borderline superhero – I would rate “The Wall” and “I Am Legend” about the same. This is due entirely to Pölsler’s excessive use of voiceover.

Pölsler adapted “The Wall” from the 1962 identically titled book by Marlen Haushofer. While it may be necessary in a novel to have your character narrate every second of the story it is not the case with a movie. It’s not that Pölsler should have eliminated Haushofer’s words altogether. Some of her sentiments are florid and insightful. But he should have kept it to abstract thoughts not evident from the action or lead actress Martina Gedeck’s (“The Lives of Others”) incredibly effective performance. That would have been a 4 or 5 star film.

The story concerns a nameless woman on vacation in an Alpine hunting lodge who awakens one morning to find her companions not yet returned from their previous day’s excursion into town. When she, along with her friend’s dog Lynx, goes looking for them, she discovers that she is trapped behind a vast transparent barrier. The woman makes a cursory attempt to figure out what’s going on, but gives up once she spots some neighbors on the other side of the wall seemingly frozen in time. Whatever has happened out there, she assumes, has left no survivors. So rather than to try and find a way around the wall or search for another person on her side, she accepts what she believes is her fate and sets about living off the land.

An urban gal, it takes her some time to find her agricultural groove. But she is fortunate enough to find a pregnant cow, stocked pantry, and basic farming and hunting gear. Eventually, the woman settles in to her approximation of civilization along with Lynx (now utterly devoted to her), the expecting cow, and a couple of cats. She insists on keeping track of the days, despite noting that it no longer means all that much. We know from the narration, which comes from a “report” she is writing several years into the future, that Lynx eventually succumbs to a horrific end. But that information is just one example of many such unnecessary or redundant passages blanketing the film from start to finish.

I find it incredibly frustrating when I see a film that is so close to touching greatness but for one or two egregious errors. The voiceover does such a disservice that I’m tempted to recommend watching the film on mute. Pölsler should have had more faith in Gedeck and his own ability to tell a visual story. The type of audience who would be interested in seeing “The Wall” is not stupid. They can tell from the woman’s changing face that the story flashes forward and backward in the timeline. The woman from the beginning of the story is frail and fair skinned, wrestling with the morality of the food chain. The woman from the voiceover is the one with the short hair, confident gait, utilitarian wardrobe and steely expression. They don’t need her to tell them when she is having an emotional breakdown because they can see it in her body language and the tears streaming down her face. They certainly don’t need her pointing out when the stars are out or a hawk circles above her. For someone leading such a solitary life, she sure does go on.

The voiceover isn’t completely unwelcome. Some of her philosophical musings are intriguingly insightful. Toward the end of the film, one passage in particular seems to suggest that she finally knows where she stands.

“I pity animals and I pity people, because they are thrown into this life without being consulted. Maybe people are more deserving of pity, because they have just enough intelligence to resist the natural course of things.”

Lines like that are likely what inspired Pölsler to make the film in the first place. That she’s keeping a record at all does serve as a bit of unspoken characterization. This is a woman who claims to have lost all hope, yet addresses a reader other than herself. She is a poet and philosopher who wants to remain connected to her humanity through her self-aware accounts. She occasionally theorizes about what may have happened beyond the confines of her pastoral prison, convincing herself that it’s as simple as everyone being dead, despite having seen evidence of something more puzzling. To follow the wall would require more courage and survival skills than staying put in an attempt to keep things as normal as possible until things resolve themselves one way or another.

Of course, there’s always another solution. She admits that she considered suicide but for the animals. She writes about being humble, but it takes a tremendous ego to think these creatures couldn’t survive without her. They are more equipped to deal with a back-to-nature scenario than she is. Sure, dogs love people, but it may have a lot to do with how much people love dogs.

With a cerebral premise, stunning cinematography, a punch-in-the-gut performance from the Gedeck, and some of the most suspenseful miming ever put to celluloid, “The Wall” has such tremendous potential. I hope Pölsler comes to realize that less is more and gets it right next time.

Originally published on (now defunct).


84 minutes


My experience with Italian cinema is mostly limited to the U.S. crossover titles of Fellini, Argento, Bertolucci, and Benigni. But among those examples is one unifying tone: high camp. As far as I know, Italians are cinematically incapable of a light touch. Even in a film about the holocaust things tend to get pretty bonkers.

Director Pappi Corsicato brings not only the Italian flare for camp to his film “Il Volto di Un’altra (Another Woman’s Face),” but also a hint of heavy-handed allegory. There’s not a sympathetic character in the bunch. Also, I’m pretty sure the entire script is built around the idea of spraying a dazzling white room, filled with alabaster-garbed narcissists, in liquid shit.

The story, by Corsicato and Daniele Orland, concerns a famous television couple who share the limelight on a plastic surgery makeover show: Bella (Laura Chiatti) is the hostess and René (Alessandro Preziosi) is the doctor who performs the surgeries out of his remotely located clinic, where his patients wander around the grounds, mummified and bruised from their alterations. The appearance of the residents is just one of the many heavy-handed examples of the film’s thesis surrounding superficiality.

One day, the show’s producers give Bella the ax because the show’s numbers suggest that the country is ”tired of her face.” René does nothing to help her, and she storms out, only to have a fateful encounter with the wrong end of a toilet (although I suppose there is no “right” end).

Tru Tru (Lino Guanciale), a grimily handsome maintenance worker at the clinic, is the man responsible for dropping the wayward toilet through Bella’s windshield and directly onto her face (where the bowl creates a perfect, blood-filled frame around her – I’ll let you work out the physics on that one). At first, he’s guilt-stricken about the accident and “rescues” her from the wreck. But then he overhears René and an unharmed Bella formulate a plot to collect a big insurance payoff and re-boot her career with televised facial reconstruction surgery. At this discovery, Tru Tru’s remorse melts away and he uses the privileged information to bribe the nefarious couple in an attempt to further his aspiring music career.

Since the public thinks Bella is disfigured, she wears a full-face mask under the guise that she’s too horrible to look at. In order to keep up the ruse, Bella stays in her suite at the clinic, lounging around in silk and fur coats. This isn’t the only plot that moves forward at a snail’s pace. Corsicato jumps around quite a bit, but rarely imparts any new information.

There’s the straining septic tank in the basement coupled with the brown stain on Bella’s ceiling that can only mean an impending shit storm. I’m pretty sure it’s the same shot of the septic tank every time.

There’s also the growing crowd of fans camping outside the compound, eagerly anticipating Bella’s makeover episode. Apparently this plastic surgery show is one of the most popular programs in Italy, beloved by the whole family. Regardless, that’s no reason why these people would drive to the middle of nowhere only to watch the episode on a screen. I’m sure Corsicato would like us to believe it’s some sort of commentary on the public’s obsession with fame, but it seems more likely that he was consolidating shooting locations.

And then there’s my favorite over-hyped subplot, which involves an asteroid called Tony that is headed for Earth. We check in on Tony via radio news reports that basically boil down to “It’s probably going to be fine, but maybe not?” The best thing about this is the name, which makes me wonder if, within the world of the film, other countries gave the asteroid their own colloquial moniker (e.g. Asteroid Francois, Asteroid Klaus, Asteroid Dave).

There are some delightfully irreverent moments in “Another Woman’s Face” that continue to put a smile on my face. Bella and René do an impromptu Fosse-esque celebratory dance number after they think they’ve got the insurance company fooled. When we finally see Tru Tru perform, his act involves his entire crew of supermodel repairmen and ventriloquist dummies. The three leads deliver their lines with the appropriate amount of soap opera seriousness.

But there are also some painfully on-the-nose bits that wear thin, such as the antics of the “nurses” at the clinic who do little more than run around Benny Hill-style and the nuns who constantly pass out laxatives (again with the fecal humor) to patients. I realize that Corsicato was going for broad, but somehow it all feels far-fetched even for a cartoon.

For a high-fashion bunch, the Italians sure keep their minds firmly planted in the gutter. Corsicato can’t go five minutes without dropping innuendo that’s so conspicuous; it may as well be an outuendo. You can also bet on plenty of ass grabbing. And not light squeezes either. The Italian flag should just be a woman’s ass in a mini dress with a man’s hand pressing his fingers deep into her flesh.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the film is the resolution to the impending shit bath. Given the amount foreshadowing, I was expecting a lot more than just a couple of spewing hoses. I wanted a Kubrickian elevator shit tsunami. Corsicato sure picked a strange time to exercise restraint.

Despite it’s myriad problems, “Another Woman’s Face” isn’t a bad way to spend an evening. But at the end of the day, it’s too much like the characters it admonishes. It’s attractive and will show you a good time but there’s not much under the surface and you won’t be calling again.

Originally published on (now defunct).

SIFF Presents: An Evening with Kyle MacLachlan

On Monday, June 3rd 2013 the Seattle International Film Festival presented local legend and cult favorite, actor Kyle MacLachlan, with SIFF’s Outstanding Achievement Award.

The evening began, for some of MacLachlan’s spendthrift fans, with an exclusive tribute reception at Mistral Kitchen. I did not attend the dinner, but that allowed me to get in line early so that I could get a good seat for the sold out main event. 480 MacLachlan fans, friends and family packed into SIFF Cinema Uptown’s largest screening room to celebrate nearly three decades of eccentric floppy-haired charisma in some of the most iconic roles in Cinemaphile history.

Seattle feels a special claim to MacLachlan because the Yakima, WA native studied acting at the University of Washington. It was following graduation, when he was toiling in small dark theatres around the city, that he received the call to play Paul Atreides in David Lynch’s adaptation of Frank Herbert’s “Dune” (1984). Though many (Lynch and MacLachlan included) consider “Dune” somewhat of a disappointment, there was no doubt that this blue-eyed, raven-haired charmer was destined for greatness.

MacLachlan was blown away by the well-constructed and thorough tribute video that SIFF presented, which included clips spanning his entire career to the soundtrack of the Portland theme song he sang in the role of the city’s mayor on the IFC series, “Portlandia.” The exuberant audience clapped for their favorite characters (which were all of them). MacLachlan had not seen some of his performances in years and remarked, “I was quite the young buck”. He also held up the phallic silver award and quipped, “We could have used this in ‘Showgirls.’”

If you want a memorable acting career, it doesn’t hurt to stick with David Lynch, and that’s just what MacLachlan did, starring alongside Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper and Isabella Rossellini in “Blue Velvet”. He initially turned it down because he didn’t want to offend his mother, but the haunting script sunk its claws into him. MacLachlan’s character in “Blue Velvet” is Jeffrey Beaumont, an upstanding young man whose insatiable curiosity finds him in the middle of a sticky situation involving an emotionally broken nightclub singer and a nitrous-sniffing mad man. The original feedback cards for the film were shattering, but the film enjoyed a cult following and is now (rightly) considered one of the most influential films of all time.

Lynch found a muse in MacLachlan, and cast him as the lead, Agent Dale Cooper, in the avant-garde 1990-91 television series “Twin Peaks”. MacLachlan admits to having based his portrayal of Cooper off of Lynch himself, especially the hand tenting gesture that the FBI Agent uses whenever he excitedly discusses the simple pleasures of donuts and Douglas Fir Trees.

When asked what goals he originally set for himself, he admitted that he “tried to be the Tom Cruise guy” (to which one audience member loudly responded “NO!”). He also revealed that he turned down the lead role in Oliver Stone’s “Platoon”, joking that he narrowly avoiding becoming Charlie Sheen. Later that year, MacLachlan presented Stone with the Academy Award for Best Picture, and, as the gruff director took the statue, he whispered, “…and you turned it down.”

Finally, the moderator got around to the topic we’d all been waiting for: MacLachlan’s transcendently campy turn in Paul Verhoeven’s epic catastrophe, “Showgirls,” which MacLachlan cheekily described as “a hard-hitting expose of Vegas”. He maintained that during filming, he had no idea what sort of movie he was making. He simply shot his scenes and then went skiing. At the film’s premiere, MacLachlan was blindsided by the truth. He spent the entire screening slumping lower and lower in his seat. But he’s since come to love the inadvertent cult classic because it “succeeds for all the wrong reasons. You gotta embrace it at a certain point.” Of the infamous “spin-cycle” love scene, he described a grueling night shoot that resulted in very sore arms for the actor who was “just trying to hold [co-star Elizabeth Berkley] so she doesn’t just fly off my lap.”

There was much discussion regarding MacLachlan’s many memorable hairdos, citing “Blue Velvet” and “Showgirls” in particular, “a disaster.” His favorite look was Dale Cooper’s stiffly coiffed black helmet. At the tribute, MacLachlan wore his hair in brunette bed-head chic, augmenting his Michael Caine mod glasses. (If it sounds as if I’m in love with him, it’s because I am. Aren’t you?)

Film festival audiences are generally notorious for their rambling, half-insane/half-sycophantic questions during Q & As. But I have to give this particular group props for asking coherent, concise questions about his career. One fan asked about his experience working on the “Twin Peaks” prequel film, “Fire Walk with Me.” MacLachlan recalls being star struck by the presence of Sir David Bowie (I now he’s not knighted, but he should be).

After the Q & A, SIFF treated the audience to a special screening of original “Twin Peaks” pilot. Meanwhile, MacLachlan headed up to Capitol Hill’s newly opened Lost Lake Café and Lounge, which possesses a vaguely “Twin Peaks” vibe, including a creepy Black Lodge zigzag floor pattern in the bathrooms. The diner fills a gaping void in local “Twin Peaks” commemoration. The original diner exterior for the show belongs to Twede’s café in North Bend, where the business has failed to properly capitalize on fans. They serve an abominable approximation of cherry pie and coffee that would make Agent Cooper cry. But Lost Lake gives the famous food pairing the respect it deserves, and Mr. MacLachlan enjoyed his signature snack amidst adoring fans and dessert enthusiasts alike.

Kyle MacLachlan indubitably deserves the Outstanding Achievement award for acting. But he wouldn’t be so beloved if it weren’t for his practically supernatural affability. Should MacLachlan ever run for mayor of Seattle, he would surely win by a landslide.

Originally published on (now defunct).

SIFF Review: The Big Ask (formerly Teddy Bears)

This review was originally published on June 5, 2013 and referenced the original title of Teddy Bears; Review has been edited to reflect the title change…

90 minutes


“The Big Ask” is the debut black comedy from writer/director Thomas Beatty and Rebecca Fishman, Beatty’s partner both in directing and in life. The script is loosely based on an event in their pre-marriage relationship. The film’s title comes from the nickname for the fuzzy-looking cactus that appears soft and cuddly but will stab you if you get too close.

You may think you have your life mapped out, but sometimes one fateful trip can change everything. Andrew (David Krumholtz) is having tremendous difficulty recovering from having watched his mother slowly die of cancer. He organizes a weeklong retreat in Joshua Tree, with his girlfriend (Melanie Lynskey, “Heavenly Creatures”) and two other couples, with whom he is close. On the first night, Andrew drops the bomb about his ulterior motive for the gathering. He is convinced the only way he can heal is to experience a “wave of love”. The catch is that this love wave means having sex with all of the female members of the group at once.

Everyone initially laughs off Andrew’s indecent proposal, but he continues to press the issue, not noticing or caring that he is making everyone increasingly uncomfortable. Eventually, the awkwardness morphs into annoyance followed by anger. But because of their history, his friends feel they owe it to Andrew to stick around and try to help him in other ways.

Though the plot of “The Big Ask” resembles a broad sitcom premise, the resulting film is anything but broad. If Hollywood had made this film, it would have starred Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson and it would be excruciating. “The Big Ask” proves that it is possible to make an artistically proficient film about anything, so long as you write from a truthful place.

A great script still needs capable actors to bring it to life. Beatty and Fishman absolutely chose well, getting wonderfully weighty performances from actors largely known for their work on light-hearted television shows. Gillian Jacobs (TVs “Community”) is heartbreaking as the friend who, outside of Andrew’s girlfriend, tries the hardest to understand where Andrew is coming from. Melanie Lynskey proved her amazing talent long ago, and has been squandering it on “Two and a Half Men,” so I’m glad people are finally giving her some meat to chew. The rest of the cast is equally fantastic and the six of them together are very believable as old friends. I guess you could say they have fremistry. Even squinty-eyed French Stewart (TV’s “Third Rock From the Sun”) pulls out some dramatic surprises.

Though there are funny moments in the film, the actors play it as straight as can be. The characters make most of the jokes themselves. Rarely does anything silly happen at the expense of a character. There is a lot of humor in every day life, even when things get dire or weird. There aren’t as many laughs as in a traditional comedy, but it makes the laughs you do get much more meaningful. Not many films with such an outrageous premise will resonate or stick with you the way that “The Big Ask” will. That’s because it isn’t about a man trying to sleep with his friends, so much as it’s about a broken man who is convinced he’s on the path to recovery, even as he continues to dig himself into a deeper hole. It is a beautiful portrait of how grief can erode relationships and turn people selfish and reckless in the name of sadness.

“The Big Ask” is obviously not the feel-good movie of the year, but it sure feels awesome to watch such a good movie. There’s more than one way to skin a sex comedy.

Originally published on (now defunct).