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.

BEST:

“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.

WORST:

“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.

WORTH MENTIONING:

“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 FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

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