REVIEW – 2018 Seattle International Film Festival Capsules!

by Joe Hammerschmidt

Well, it’s that time of year again. The spot on the local cinephile’s calendar between mid-May and early June where absolute nirvana is reached, where Seattle collides with Hollywood and 90 other filmmaking countries for 25 days of magical adventures where you, the viewer are the star, or so their flashy advertisements say. The 2018 Seattle International Film Festival officially begins in six days as of the writing of this capsule page, May 17, running through June 10. And in those three-and-a-half-weeks, 433 films will be presented, including 35 world premieres, 46 North American premieres, 25 US premieres, and a vast majority of this lineup, whatever doesn’t already have a major distributor to bring their product back for general release later in the summer and beyond, may not go past this prestigious festival, among the largest in the lower 48. For the first time ever (that I recall), a member of the KGRG team is proudly covering the ins and outs of this annual event, exploring the films, the city, and perhaps the visiting celebrities if time permits. But of course, the journey starts with the films themselves.

After two weeks, I have already leaped onto 11 rather unique films, and suffice to say there will be more on the way, even if the restrictions of time will prevent me from covering every single film shown. The big fish will be highlighted in the below capsules, as well as some of the smaller minnows one may overlook that deserve the same amount of viewer appreciation. No genre will be left behind, no niche unnoticed, no special gem unpolished. Check back often throughout the course of the next month for KGRG’s coverage. At the very least, it will be an interesting endurance experiment.

And of course, purchase tickets now at SIFF.net, before it’s too late!

(NOTE: newest reviews on top; * equals full review to come ahead of a film’s general release)

 

Bee Nation (not yet rated, 78 minutes)
Saturday, May 26, 4:00 PM – Shoreline Community College
Monday, May 28, 4:00 PM – SI
FF Cinema Uptown

Here comes an Indigenous-based doc that’s just the right length and hits every niche for a competitive sport drama, without necessarily being athletic. It’s the first time any First Nation groups are represented in Canada’s national spelling bee (2016), and all bets are off when national pride rides precedent over simply winning. It will speak too easily to any grade schoolers, much like it did for me, a ninth-place finisher at my middle school bee. If you find yourself cheering for the thrills, you may be in very good company during this satisfying, family-friendly quest for glory against the smallest adversity. (B+)

Love, Gilda (not yet rated, 84 minutes)*
Thursday, May 24, 7:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Egyptian
Saturday, May 26, 1:30 PM – AMC Pacific Place 11


My inner SNL fan was so kindly appeased with one of its greatest alums now sharing her true story, through her own words, and those of family and whom she inspired. Director Lisa Dappolito is clearly a fan, desiring not to do wrong by Gilda’s estate. Her story, one highly personal (in a good way), is not just a celebration of a classic comedienne, but of life against obstacles, and the ways humor can be used to overcome, right up until the very end. (A-)

 

 

Pick of the Litter (not yet rated, 80 minutes)*
Wednesday, May 23, 4:30 PM – Majestic Bay Cinemas
Monday, June 4, 7:00 PM – AMC Pacific Place 11

As if animal cuteness didn’t serve a higher purpose than in aiding the blind. Directors Don Hardy Jr. and Dana Nachman keep the cuddly and the passionate on an even plane throughout this study of the rigorous training process, between the canines and human adopters, all before two very lucky applicants (whose stories are also shared) experience a newfound accessibility. Heart-tugging, family-friendly, easy to love. It’s an animal docu through and through, knowing there’s something very special over its uniquity. (A-)

 

Streaker (not yet rated, 93 minutes)
Tuesday, May 22, 9:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
Thursday, May 24, 4:30 PM – AMC Pacific Place 11
Monday, May 28, 8:15 PM – Shoreline  Community Center

First movie this festival where maybe the trailer was better. Swiss director Peter Luisi’s premise is rather inspired, its tie-in with his home country’s soccer culture rather special: streaking across the pitch like it were a competitive sport, and individuals betting on the action, often for a worthy cause. Despite the passion and/or glory involved, what we see is nothing short of a watered down Dodgeball clone, with a few amusing moments but also as many awkward plot turns that break momentum. Proceed with caution, preferably with clothes on. (C+)

Warrior Women (not yet rated, 67 minutes)
Monday, May 21, 7:00 PM – Majestic Bay Cinemas
Saturday, May 26, 6:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown
Sunday, May 27, 1:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

All too brief but no less informative glimpse into Native American activism as seen through the eyes of now 76-year-old Madonna Thunderhawk. The amazing thing is she’s still championing alongside her daughter and their many allies, and directors. Elizabeth Castle and Christina King do not once settle for an average doc when packing 67 minutes of certain awesomeness in the continuing struggle for civil rights. Easily recommendable, yet due to its rushed pace, it may be better to wait for its eventual PBS debut later this year. (B+)

 

Moomins and the Winter Wonderland (not yet rated, 83 minutes)

Saturday, May 19, 1:00 PM – Majestic Bay Cinemas

Sunday, May 20, 11:30 AM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

Monday, May 28, 1:15PM – Shoreline Community College

Tove Jansson’s iconic characters take on a new vision in this fun throwback to old-school stop-motion holiday specials. For the first time in recorded history, the Moomin family, led by their eldest son (Bill Skarsgård), opt out of winter hibernation to celebrate Christmas, seeing it more as a person instead of just a day for family, and seeing the absolute beauty of the season at its strongest face value. An understated visual delight that’s suitable for all ages, and all animation fans. (A-)

 

Catwalk: Tales from the Cat Show Circuit (US PREMIERE, not yet rated, 75 minutes)

Saturday, May 19, 3:30PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

Sunday, May 20, 1:00PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

Saturday, June 2, 3:30PM – Shoreline Community College

A niche topic values out to a shared experience adventure, in this exploration of Canada’s feline competition market, encompassing a series of small-town events. While the film’s core may focus on the fierce competition between two prized veterans, there’s much more in store, gaining the fondest of appreciations between the competing pets, and their loyal owners. That’s what keeps Catwalk so grounded, its familial affection, and not just the nitty-gritty of the race for Best in Show. Recommended for pet owners old and new. (A-)

 

Freaks and Geeks: The Documentary (not yet rated, 70 minutes)

Friday, May 18, 7:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

Saturday, May 19, 11:00 AM – SIFF Cinema Egyptian

Monday, May 28, 3:15PM – Shoreline Community College

Fringe observers may find this 70-minute talking head doc more like a glorified DVD extra, yet for serious hardcore fans, it’s easily a reminder of the magnificent discovery they made nearly 20 years ago. That’s what director Brent Hodge (A Brony Tale) latches onto: that epic journey of nostalgia, coupled with network execs owning up to their mistakes, and producer extraordinaire Judd Apatow building his close-knit family of collaborators all from one little late 90s series that tried, failed, and flourished just by existing for future audiences. (A-)

The Bookshop (OPENING NIGHT FILM, not yet rated, 113 minutes)*

Thursday, May 17, 7:00 PM – McCaw Hall

 

 

Isabel Coixet (Learning to Drive) spins an intellectually charged clash of cultures, socialites vs. working women and the individuals between them, mixed into a slowly-paced swirl. Emily Mortimer stuns as a confident widower ready to start anew in a small coastal Suffolk town, opening a bookshop in an abandoned house, with her critics (led by a ravishing Patricia Arquette), and her staunch supporters (a loveable Bill Nighy as her best customer). Strong penchant for the written word, perfect casting, but a snail’s paced plot. Proceed carefully for this opening nighter. (B+)

 

First Reformed (R, 108 minutes)*

Friday, May 18, 7:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Egyptian

Tuesday, May 22, 7:00 PM, SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

 

Legendary writer-director Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) makes a startling return in a film that is all spiritual, brutally visceral, and pulled together by one of Ethan Hawke’s better character performances this decade. The Oscar-winner portrays a small-town pastor who can barely keep himself and his church together during a momentous anniversary, and who only finds himself crumbling further when a brooding environmentalist’s wife (an astonishing Amanda Seyfried) challenges his entire worldview, even his own mortality. An absolute must-watch, even if the religious visuals tend to take an emotional drain. (A)

 

That Summer (not yet rated, 80 minutes)

Monday, May 21, 9:00 PM – Ark Lodge Cinemas

Tuesday, May 29, 6:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

 

Candid inside look at filmmaking for personal enrichment, as seen through the people who called Long Island their home around the time of Grey Gardens. Danish director Göran Hugo Olsson uncovers long-lost footage of considerably the original roots of the above-mentioned doc, through mother and daughter duo Big and Little Edie and their quiet residency in a hidden corner of the area. Compliments its inspiration perfectly and makes use of every minute effectively. However, it is highly recommended not to go in cold; watch that inspiration first. (B+)

 

 

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (not yet rated, 94 minutes)*

Saturday, May 26, 6:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

Sunday, May 27, 1:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

5030.03_cropped_upRes
Fred Rogers on the set of his show Mr. Rogers Neighborhood from the film, WON’T YOU BE MY NEIGHBOR, a Focus Features release.
Credit: Jim Judkis / Focus Features

 

Documentarian Morgan Neville (20 Feet from Stardom) once again buries himself into a valuable focal point of our American culture, retrieving so much we likely didn’t know. Despite not diving deeply into Fred Rogers’ personal life away from the TV series, there’s plenty to provoke a sincere reaction, bound to require a Kleenex box and remind us of his more essential beliefs. An in-depth review will follow at general release, but best not be so hesitant to step in through that door, while it appears during the fest. (A-)

 

The Most Dangerous Year (WORLD PREMIERE, not yet rated, 88 minutes)

Tuesday, May 29, 6:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Egyptian

Saturday, June 2, 1:00 PM – Shoreline Community Center

 

 

Vlada Knowlton chronicles her family’s journey of acceptance with a transgender daughter while breaking down the conflicts in our state keen on essentially eliminating what need to be basic civil rights, regardless of gender identity. Through medical, social, and political POVs, Knowlton shares the facts, the controversy, and most importantly the community outreach that so many civil campaigns thrive on. Its relevancy and proximity to home make this film more essential an experience during this festival, whether one supports the cause or not. (A-)

 

American Animals (R, 117 minutes)*

Saturday, May 19, 9:00 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

Sunday, May 20, 1:30 PM – AMC Pacific Place 11

 

 

The common heist movie gets spun upside down, in an energetic mix of narrative drama and first-person reflection from the real-life figures behind the crime. Barry Keoghan expertly leads a youthful American cast as a struggling artist, in the mood for a thrill and some petty cash, leading three hesitant friends through a daring theft of fortune-making manuscripts. Despite an imbalanced shift in tone in the criminal aftermath, second-time director Bart Layton uses the heightened uncertainty to his greatest advantage, creating a winning love letter to a dormant subgenre. (B+)

 

 

Making the Grade (not yet rated, 96 minutes)

Tuesday, May 22, 6:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

Saturday, May 26, 11:00 AM – SIFF Cinema Egyptian

Sunday, June 3, 1:00 PM – Kirkland Performance Center

 

 

Who knew that Ireland was serious about its pianists? Documentarian Ken Wardrop dives into that unique community, the lives of young players in a rigorous program for instrumental mastery, and their doting instructors looking on. Every interviewee hails from a different background and social order, yet the goal is so unified and often relatable. It just may be the execution that would be flawed, as the film stops itself cold ahead of what could’ve been a triumphant finale. Easily recommended for all those young musicians roaming around the festival. (B+)

 

 

Sweet Country (R, 113 minutes)*

Friday, May 18, 6:30 PM – Ark Lodge Cinemas

Saturday, May 19, 12:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

 

A bone-dry Australian western mirroring the racial perpetuations of its era to a modern audience, even if the pacing issues are a little too obvious. Placed around Aboriginal territory in the mid-20th century, a loyal farmhand (Hamilton Morris) is swept into an empty-handed scandal after shooting a white superior in self-defense. Impactful, a little ill-tempered, but also rather difficult to decipher, the plot overstays its welcome but works through its subject matter quite gracefully. Look for Sam Neill in yet another purely committed supporting role as the wayward landowner. (B-)

 

Breath (not yet rated, 115 minutes)*

Thursday, May 24, 9:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

Friday, May 25, 3:45 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

Sunday, June 3, 8:15 PM – Kirkland Performance Center

 

Aussie actor Simon Baker pulls double duty as actor and rookie director, in an enthralling coming-of-age tale channeling the passion of coastal surfing. Baker portrays reclusive former pro surfer training two teenage siblings into the waves, who in turn grow up a little too quickly for their own good. Rather reserved performances and captivating underwater cinematography are enough to make up for where the plot falls a little short, when the pro surfer’s spouse (a multi-layered performance from Elizabeth Debicki) shows off a slightly rebellious streak. (B-)

 

The Guilty (not yet rated, 84 minutes)*

Friday, May 18, 7:00 PM – Majestic Bay Cinemas

Friday, May 25, 9:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

 

Jakob Cedergren appears in The Guilty by Gustav Möller, an official selection of the World Cinema Dramatic Competition at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Nikolaj Mller. All photos are copyrighted and may be used by press only for the purpose of news or editorial coverage of Sundance Institute programs. Photos must be accompanied by a credit to the photographer and/or ‘Courtesy of Sundance Institute.’ Unauthorized use, alteration, reproduction or sale of logos and/or photos is strictly prohibited.

 

 

From Denmark, first-time feature director Gustav Moller ratchets the intensity up to 11 and above in a potboiler thriller with the feel of a world-class play, a huge winner at Sundance. Jakob Cedergren (Those Who Kill) leads as a conflicted police officer stuck on call center duty, whose career is put under the microscope while assisting a kidnapped woman. A tense single-setting story turned analytical character study, it runs on all adrenaline-laced cylinders, unstoppable until the job is fulfilled, rather appropriately. (A-)

 

The Russian Five (not yet rated, 99 minutes)

Saturday, May 19, 5:30 PM – SIFF Cinema Uptown

Sunday, May 20, 6:00 PM – Majestic Bay Cinemas

Tuesday, May 29, 9:00 PM – Shoreline Community Center

 

 

 

An unlikely documentary subject, chronicling the Detroit Red Wings’ 15-year journey to a couple Stanley Cup victories, with the help of a Russian quintet with a passion for the game as big as their new hometown. Debut feature director Joshua Riehl delivers a complete crowd-pleaser, although not quite breaking the standard sports doc formula, stumbling in the third period, but still running smooth. Half sports drama, half KGB thriller, all celebratory to modern-era hockey that could work as well in narrative and leave Seattleites craving a team all their own. (B+)