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Rounding up the Usual Suspects
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I'm including the introductory letter, because it has some interesting announcements other than just the films.

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After the film concluded, I slipped in from the lobby to attend a question-and-answer session with Camila Márdila, an actress who was in The Second Mother (Que Horas Ela Volta?). She responded to the questions gracefully; she even handled a long rambling question well.

So, how was the Renton opening night party?

The setting was good for a party: an open space large enough to accommodate everyone so that it was neither overcrowded nor sparse. The music was good: a cover band that played a mix of material likely to please most of the audience, a bit on the loud side though not so loud to interfere with conversation. The catering was good: none of the food donors ran out of treats, and everything I tasted was good. As is almost always the case at SIFF events, the bar was well-stocked.

The real fun of a party, however, is the people who attend. There were a lot of people "J" and I had never seen before, as we expected, given that it was in Renton rather than Seattle proper. There were fewer people we know from Seattle events too. But there were still plenty of nice people we did know, and it was nice to talk with them. And since it was an opening night event, there were a lot of SIFF staff people. I even got a chance to exchange a few words with Camila Márdila.

It was a nice party, but we didn't stay as late as usual.

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This morning, "J" and I had another early appointment in Issaquah. Both of us were pretty tired, so we took a nap when we got home.

Tonight we went to Renton for a film and a movie. We arrived with plenty of time to spare, so J searched Yelp for a restaurant idea. We selected a place called Afghan Cuisine. I ordered Qurma-Murgh (described as a chicken curry dish) and J ordered chicken kebab; both were delicious. The service was nice too. The place looked like a dive from the outside, but it was quite nicely decorated inside.

Tonight was opening night for SIFF in Renton. We only have one pass because we are mostly lending our second pass to a friend this year. This time I was the one who waited in the lobby (where I'm writing this) while J attended the film. We'll both attend the party, however.

In addition to sitting around, I went for a walk along the river. It's a nice little park. I think I walked about one mile.


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SIFF's capsule summary: "Sergei Parajanov's empirical masterpiece loosely follows the life of Sayat Nova, 'King of Song", an Armenian poet and musician born in the 18th century, through vibrant sets and costumes and hypnotic shots. This colorful and avant-garde masterpiece provides an utterly transformative cinematic experience." (Armenia, 1969, 77 minutes)
SIFF link: The Color of the Pomegranates (Sayat Nova)

This film is meant to illustrate something about the Armenian poet Sayat Nova. The style is visual poetry.

5 Fair This film is a real head-scratcher. The narrative is very sparse. It is a sequence of images shot with a static camera, often aimed level and perpendicular to a wall, showing scenes in and around an orthodox monastery. Monks go about their business. Common people in vibrant clothing go about their business, particularly hand-spun and hand-woven clothing and rugs. Sheep completely fill the monastery, including the stairs. There's almost no dialog.

What do I make of it? I can't say I understand anything more about Sayat Nova than I did before seeing the film. I have a few impressions of what I take to be the part of Armenia where he lived. The colors in the imagery are vibrant, and some of the music is good.

I don't expect a film to spell everything out, but this one hardly spells out anything. Given its acclaim, I want to understand it as a masterpiece. But I don't. To me it's a muddle. (Two of my friends found it just as inscrutable, but enjoyed it anyway.)

Overall, I rate the film fair.

Peeking at Wikipedia for information about director Sergei Parajanov, I see that he was a good friend of Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky. I've seen a couple of Tarkovsky films: Andrei Rublev and Solaris; the latter was remade by Steven Soderbergh, starring George Clooney. Although those films are sometimes head-scratchers too, I found that they made a lot more sense than this one.

More than Tarkovsky, this film reminded me of the SIFF 2013 film The Celestial Wives of Meadow Mari.

Languages: Armenian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, with English subtitles.

Rating: I don't think this film has a US rating, but I'd guess it would rate a "PG-13", unless a single brief glimpse of a female nipple was enough to bump it to an "R".

Screening: 7 pm, Harvard Exit (main floor).
Audience: full house (not sure about the balcony), about 500 seats.

Snacks: salty popcorn.

Ads and announcements:

  • KING 5 — This local television channel seems to be new as a SIFF sponsor.
  • SIFF 2015 short trailer — I only recognize a few of the films featured in this one, so far.
  • Eisenstein in Guanajuato — This Peter Greenaway film doesn't look as weird as typical Greenaway.
  • Kurmanjan Datka Queen of the Mountains — The title character seems to be the Joan of Arc of Kyrgyzstan. The film looks impressive.
  • Thank you volunteers — Cute clip showing a waterfall scene I couldn't identify. Time for applause.
  • in-person announcement — SIFF programmer Maryna Ajaja read a few note cards worth of introduction about the movie: Martin Scorsese said the film was like nothing else. The director was arrested soon after the film was completed, it was re-edited and re-titled, and his version was only recently restored. Director was jailed twice for homosexuality, and was probably bisexual. His first was was killed by her own family for marrying outside her tribe. His second wife was Ukrainian.
  • Ants clip — This 2015 pre-film clip features ants with sunlight focused on them by binoculars.

Bonus: a small party

Before the film, there was a SIFF party around the corner from the Harvard Exit, to celebrate its final year as a movie theater. The party was hosted by First Security Bank of Washington. It was a small party, apparently not widely advertised, but it had quite a few SIFF staff people. The food was good, the drink (including a delicious pomegranate cocktail inspired by the title of the film) was good, and the conversation was good. I think I knew almost everyone there, except for the bank people.

Among the bank people there was a top executive of the bank, who was the person who made the decision to be a SIFF sponsor. We thanked him for the bank's sponsorship.

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This morning, "J" and I had a a surprise on the front porch: a new waffle grill. We had ordered it a few weeks ago, but it was on back order.

I plugged in the grill, and it heated up. Then I read the instructions, and they said that the cooking surfaces should be washed before using it, and that the first few waffles (after washing it) might taste strange. So, I switched it off again and waited for it to cool down. While I waited, I mixed up some waffle batter, using a simpler recipe than usual, since I figured I'd be tossing some of the waffles.

Once the grill was cool enough, I washed it as directed: wipe the cooking surfaces with warm soapy water, then wipe it clean – and do not immerse!

I plugged it in again. And nothing happened. The power indicator light did not come on. The ready light did not come on. The grill did not warm up. It was dead.

I looked at the reviews for the grill, and some said that some of them died pretty quickly, but one review said it could be revived by replacing a very inexpensive fuse. However, since the grill was still within the return period, I didn't want to bother. I packed it up for return.

What about the waffle batter? I heated up a non-stick frying pan and made pancakes with it. However, as similar as pancakes and waffles seem to be, pancakes made from waffle batter just aren't very good. I ate them anyway; I was pretty hungry by that point.

In the evening, I went to SIFF to see the silent film Son of the Sheik, with a score performed live by Alloy Orchestra. I've seen Alloy perform silent film scores before, so I had to go. I was not disappointed. The film was very good, and Alloy was excellent.

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SIFF's capsule summary: "This 1926 silent adventure film tells of the young and handsome son of Sheik Ahmed Ben Hassan (both played by 1920s heartthrob Rudolph Valentino) and his romance with a beautiful dancer who eventually betrays him. With live score performed by Alloy Orchestra." (USA, 1926, 86 minutes)
SIFF link: The Son of the Sheik

The title character Ahmed (Rudolph Valentino, clean-shaven) is camped in the desert, "Not east of Suez, south of Algiers", according to the peculiar introductory title card. A roving band of traders pass through, and in spite of his father's (Valentino with a beard) orders to be cautious, he goes to check them out. Among them is the beautiful dancer Yasmin (Vilma Bánky), whose role is to entice men to part with their money, or possibly set them up for robbery, since they are bandits as well as traders. However, Yasmin falls for Ahmed, complicating things for the bandits.

8 Very Good The directing, by George Fitzmaurice, is excellent. The story (novel by Edith Maude Hull, screenplay by Frances Marion and Fred De Gresac, titles by George Marion Jr, and Paul Girard Smith) feels a bit simplistic and melodramatic, but I suspect it felt pretty fresh and dramatic in 1926; I think it's good.

The acting in silent film is necessarily stylized. Valentino is very good, and he's strikingly good looking. Bánky is excellent, and has a wonderful 1920s charm. The supporting cast are mostly good.

Although the film is a bit choppy near the conclusion, it has a solid blend of spectacle, romance, action, and a view of exotic North Africa as viewed through the eyes of 1920s outsiders (the British author, French director, and Hollywood film milieu). Overall, I rate the film very good.

Alloy Orchestra

9 Excellent The real treat was the score, performed live by Alloy Orchestra: percussionists Terry Donahue and Ken Winokur, and keyboardist Roger C Miller. Silent films were typically distributed with suggested musical scores, but Alloy develop their own scores. I saw them before, performing their amazing score for the silent masterpiece Metropolis. This performance was a winner too. I rate it excellent.

Incidentally, silent film scores had a part in my family history: my maternal grandmother played piano for silent films, before sound films pushed silent films into a niche market.

Languages: silent, with English subtitles.

Rating: The film is from long before the modern ratings system; it even predates the Hays Code. The film has some violence, but no blood or obvious deaths. There's no sexual contact stronger than kissing, and no nudity. That's probably comparable to a modern "PG", possibly "PG-13".

Screening: 7 pm, SIFF Cinema at the Uptown (large screening room).
Audience: a disappointing one-third of capacity or so, of 515 seats (posted capacity).

Snacks: none.

Ads and announcements:

  • When Marnie Was There — This Studio Ghibli film looks a lot like Miyazaki; it lives on without him. It looks like a boy falls for a girl who is confined to the grounds of a ghost house.
  • Virtuosity — This documentary about a musical competition looks like if one is in the mood for that sort of film.
  • Thank you volunteers — "She's alive!" Time for applause.
  • in-person announcement — SIFF Artistic Director Carl Spence introduced the film. Alloy Orchestra owns a copy of the film, and participated in the restoration. Rudolph Valentino died just as he was beginning a promotional tour for the film. He was so popular that his funeral was the largest movie star funeral in history, with the exception of [an audience member chimed in] Ruan Lingyu. The film inspired a number of women to travel to North Africa in hopes of meeting a sheikh.
  • Ants clip — This 2015 pre-film clip features ants with sunlight focused on them by binoculars.

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This afternoon, "J" and I went to a meeting that we haven't attended in a while. They had an instructor for something kind of like yoga, but I forget what it was called. J found it very relaxing, and she was glad we went. That pretty much clashed with SIFF press screenings, so I didn't even bother to look up what was playing.

In the evening, J had a meeting with friends. That clashed with the evening show I had wanted to see, but when I looked it up on IMDB it wasn't rated all that well, so maybe I wasn't missing as much as I thought.

In spare moments scattered through the day, I worked on two blemishes on the floor, dabbing on a little urethane varnish, waiting for it to dry, sanding it down a little, and putting on another layer. Sooner or later – I hope sooner – it will look finished.

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Today "J" and I decided not to attend brunch, because several of the regulars would be absent to see SIFF films anyway. I had planned to see Snow on the Blades in the afternoon, but I somehow lost track of time and missed my chance. Oops!

J had a lot of her film schedule mapped out already, so I spent some time picking films for myself too, though clashing activities limit the time available for films somewhat.

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This evening, "J" and I both wanted to see the film Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and attend the party that followed. Unfortunately, we failed to take into account the popularity of the film. Our plan had been for me to go into the theater early with our pass, and claim seats for both of us, and for J to exchange a ticket voucher for regular admission. However, the film turned out to be on stand-by, which takes me to a digression of how SIFF's stand-by system works.

stand-by admissions

SIFF knows the capacity of each theater they use, and based on historical patterns and current pass sales they have a pretty good idea of how many pass-holders will show up to a given screening, and how many advance ticket buyers will fail to show up. They reserve enough seats to make it unlikely for pass-holders to be turned away, and halt advance ticket sales when the theater capacity minus the pass-holder allowance is reached. On the day of show, they admit people on the basis of this priority order (corrections welcomed):

  1. people with special invitations, such as film-makers
  2. Platinum Plus and Platinum Passes
  3. tickets purchased in advance
  4. full series passes
  5. special passes (such as sponsors)
  6. people on stand-by; "no discounts, cash preferred"
Between five and ten minutes before show time, if the theater isn't already full of pass-holders (of all types) and people who bought advance tickets, they sell tickets to people in the stand-by line, until the theater is either full or it's time to start the film.

While they want to avoid turning away pass-holders (because it upsets people who have paid a lot for their passes), and reserve space for them to reduce the chance of that happening, they also try to maximize the sales of tickets, because each ticket sold means additional revenue (and an additional person who gets to enjoy a film). It doesn't happen often, but pass-holders are sometimes turned away. It's a balancing act for them.

That's pretty much how it works.

poor J

Because we hadn't exchanged J's ticket voucher for a ticket to this specific film, she ended up in the stand-by line.

Why didn't she get the Platinum Pass, leaving me in the stand-by line? I don't know. It was her turn, and I should have given her the pass. But that's how it turned out.

By the time the film was scheduled to start, the theater was only about two-thirds full, because the priority order system can take longer to fill a really large theater when a large crowd shows up. Hundreds of people were still waiting in the pass-holder and stand-by queues, with volunteers counting them into the theater. Meanwhile, inside the theater, staff members were asking people in the theater to relinquish saved seats, and people with empty seats near them to raise their hands. I reluctantly raised my hand. Volunteers removed the "reserved" signs from the seats reserved for film-makers and freed those seats.

About 12 minutes after the scheduled show time, the staff in the theater saw no more raised hands or empty seats, and their count said that the theater was approximately full. (There may have been a few vacancies, but I didn't see them.) They told the volunteers outside to stop admitting more people from the stand-by line.

J sent me a text message saying that there were four people in front of her with they halted admissions.

Although it was disappointing for J (and for me, since I had hoped she could watch the film with me), she managed to keep busy during the film. She looked through the catalog, and picked out a few films she definitely wanted both of us to see, and exchanged vouchers for those films so one of us would be in the paid admission line, able to attend with the one with the Platinum Pass.

Meanwhile, I saw the film.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

The film had looked promising based on the trailer at the members' preview: a high school boy who made short film parodies of classic films with his best friend befriends a girl with leukemia, and decides to make a film about or for her – and it's a comedy, but not a romance.

It's a very good film, and likely to do very well in the SIFF audience award ballots. I didn't laugh as much as the audience as a whole, but I laughed at the comedy and mostly found the dramatic side of the story touching. In the discussion after the opening night screening of Spy, the director said that he starts writing the dramatic side of the film and makes sure that works before adding the jokes. It seems that the writers of this one followed the same philosophy, but didn't work quite as hard on the jokes.

The director was present before and after the film, and had a brief discussion about it before SIFF's time to use the theater expired. The SIFF late show at Pacific Place would show at a smaller theater, and this theater would show Mad Max (which J said was showing on three screens).

Since the film has distribution, J will be able to see it eventually, if she doesn't get a chance to see it at a later screening at SIFF.

party time

We weren't sure whether our Platinum Pass was supposed to admit the pass-holder plus one guest (as a friend says is the case) or just the pass-holder, and I'm still not sure. But whatever the rules are supposed to be, a lot of the SIFF staff know both of us, and they waved us both into the party.

A bunch of SIFF staff members were there, including the artistic director, the managing director, several of the programmers, and several of the support staff. A lot of our friends were there too. Most we hadn't seen among the hordes at the opening night party, so this party was more of a reunion for friends and friendly acquaintances who see each other every year during SIFF season. Conversation was a lot of fun.

Another good point about the party was the catering. Il Fornaio provided the food, and although the queue was rather long during the initial rush, it moved quickly, and there was plenty of food for people to enjoy all through the party, without any lines once the crowds had all filed in. The bar worked pretty much the same way: a long but fast-moving line initially, but short lines and plenty to drink once the crowd was settled in. Compared to other SIFF parties, this one was a winner on both food and drink; although they almost never run out of drinks, sometimes the food runs out while some people are still hungry, and sometimes both the food and bar lines remain slow even after the initial rush. Thumbs up for Il Fornaio and the bar caterer.

Something new about this year's Pacific Place party was the location. The past several years they've had it in the Il Fornaio cafe area, in the atrium. This time it was in a vacant retail space. (Someone said it had been a Restoration Hardware.) They had some seating set up in the space, but it was mostly pretty sparse, leaving plenty of room for people to mingle without squeezing through mobs. The doorway entrance kept the music from intruding on the rest of the mall, so they could turn it up to dance loudness – but they were kind enough not to turn it up to conversation-impossible loudness.

It was an excellent party.


Our friend "N" is still on crutches, and at the mercy of late-night buses, so we gave her a ride home. She was quite relieved.

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SIFF's capsule summary: "Two aspiring filmmakers who excel in goofy Criterion film parodies find there is more to life when they befriend a girl with a potentially fatal disease. This Sundance audience and grand jury prize-winning film will tickle your funny bone and tug at your heart. Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon scheduled to attend." (France, 2014, 99 minutes)
SIFF link: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Greg (Thomas Mann) tries to survive high school by staying on good terms with every clique in the school, and spends much of his time making parodies of classic films with his best friend Earl (Ronald Cyler II) – until his school acquaintance Rachel (Olivia Cooke) is diagnosed with leukemia, and his mother (Connie Britton) nags him into becoming her friend. In spite of being pressured into befriending her, they actually do become friends.

8 Very Good The film is directed by Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, who considers it his feature debut. (Apparently he wants to forget a 2014 horror film he directed.) He was an assistant and assistant director to an assortment of major directors, and it seems he learned a lot from them. Some of the directing touches (such as heavy use of super-wide-angle lenses) might seem like they're showing off, but it fits into this film, given the plot element of the boys who make parodies of classic films. The directing is excellent.

The screenplay is by Jesse Andrews, who adapted it from his own novel (which I had never heard of before). Some novelists shouldn't adapt their own work to screen, but in this case the script was quite solid. The comedy side of the film is very good. The dramatic side is too, and it mostly manages to avoid feeling manipulative, which is a risk given the girl-with-cancer aspect. I like the friendship between Greg and Earl, and although Earl is a realistic character he also feels like a token. A weak point is a run-in with the least menacing drug dealer in film history. Overall the script is very good.

The acting stand-out is Olivia Cooke; she is excellent in a challenging role. Thomas Mann is very good. Ronald Cyler II is very good in a role that's surprisingly small for one of the three title characters. Molly Shannon is excellent in the comedy side of her role, and isn't forced to show much of a dramatic side. The other acting is good too.

In the post-film discussion, Gomez-Rejon described a major scene that concluded the film as written. (He even used it as an audition scene for one of the characters.) He shot the scene, but said that it just didn't fit, so he removed it. (I suppose it will end up as a DVD extra.) Whether he cut the scene on his own or on the advice of editor David Trachtenberg, it sounds like it was a better movie thanks to that cut.

Overall, I rate the film very good.

Languages: English.

Rating: This film has a US rating of "PG-13", for some drug content and (adult) alcohol use, and some mild sexual language.

Screening: 6:30 pm (delayed by crowd management by about 12 minutes), AMC Pacific Place (displacing a screening of Mad Max).
Audience: filled a huge theater to capacity (over 600 seats) with a lot of people turned away.

Snacks: none.

Ads and announcements:

  • KING 5 — I don't recall this local television station sponsoring SIFF before.
  • SIFF 2015 trailer — This is the short version of the trailer.
  • I'll See You in My Dreams — This Blythe Danner film looks pretty good.
  • Good Ol' Boy — A first-generation American is happy being part of US culture, but his parents want him to remember India.
  • Thank you volunteers — Time for applause.
  • in-person announcement — SIFF artistic director Carl Spence introduced the director.
  • director appearance — He spoke briefly. All I caught in my notes was, "I've been dreaming about coming to Seattle for about ten years. Now that I'm here I only get to stay for about eight hours."
  • Space clip — This 2015 pre-film clip features a weird outer space incident.

Bonus: a few of my notes about the director appearance.

One of the SIFF house managers introduces SIFF artistic director Carl Spence.

Carl introduces the director, with a comment to the audience along the lines of, "You'll have to watch it again for all the film references."

Director Alfonso Gomez-Rejon talked about how he made the film. One of his inspirations to become a director was Mean Streets. He went to NYU film school, the same as his mentor Martin Scorsese. The film references in this film were thanks to the film-makers who came before him.

Audience question: [Spoiler (click to open)] Was the repeated assertion that Rachel doesn't die in the book?

Director answer: No, that's from the film. [Spoiler (click to open)] Greg is lying to himself, and that makes him an unreliable narrator.

Question: (Something about the changes between the book, the script, and the final film.)

Director answer: The script was so solid that there we no on-set rewrites needed. A few things were cut in editing, however. The writer liked the completed film, but said it took some getting used to, seeing his work in a different form.

Question: Can you tell more about the long, low-dialog scene in the film?

Director answer: [Spoiler (click to open)] We originally shot a scene where Greg addressed an assembly of the student body in the auditorium. But since Greg spent a lot of his time alone, it felt better for him to deal with her death by himself. [As written and originally shot] The scene was so important that we used it for all the auditions for that character. But it slowed down the film, so we had to remove it [and replace it with the low-dialog scene].

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I'm including the introductory letter, because it includes a nice apology for the late press screening announcement.

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Today has been a long day. First thing in the morning, early-early, was to take "J" to an appointment in the same building as our on-hiatus Wednesday job. Traffic was surprisingly tolerable, and parking was easier than usual too.

Late in the morning, J had two consecutive appointments at the same location in Issaquah. The second was cancelled, but we still had to drive all the way to Issaquah for the first one. Fortunately, traffic was light. We resisted the temptation to buy donuts at the Krispy Kreme (near the appointment location) afterwards.

In the evening, I went to my first SIFF film in Bellevue in years: Gazelles. Usually, the description "French comedy at SIFF" means it's a film worth seeing. (A French-speaking friend assures us that "French comedy" by itself means something more like, "You'll wade through a whole lot of junk before you find anything worth seeing.") I found the film entertaining and worth seeing, but because it was by the director of the wonderful The Hedgehog it was a bit of a disappointment, I think mostly because the director's first film was so good that almost anything would be a let-down.

Someone reads this journal!

After the film, I talked with a few SIFF regulars who are either Eastside people or took a special trip to Bellevue, and a SIFF staff member I see every year.

While I was talking with them, a petite, smiling young woman approached me and asked, "Are you Steve?"

I said yes.

"I read your blog a lot."

I said that I was surprised that I still had any readers, given how much of a slacker I had been lately on getting my daily entries worked into presentable condition.

She said she found it by looking for film information, particularly with Ken Rudolph away from SIFF this year. [He's well known among SIFF regulars, and is missing SIFF for the first time in many years.] But she also reads about my everyday life.

I think I said that I was flattered. But whether I said so or not, I was.

So, this journal entry is dedicated to you. Feel free to comment if you wish.

selling SIFF parties?

As she was leaving, a couple more young women approached, looking at the table full of themed SIFF fliers, searching for the one that lists films showing in Bellevue. They seemed curious about what else they might want to see, and I said it depended on what sort of films they liked.

Because they looked like they were dressed up for a classy party, I jumped to the conclusion that they might also appreciate hints about what SIFF parties they might like.

Click through to read my impressions of SIFF parties.Collapse )

Update: At the Il Fornaio party at Pacific Place, I saw a woman that I initially thought was one of the two women in Bellevue: the same haircut, about the same height, and a similarly glamorous dress. But on a second look I concluded that the woman at the party was somewhat older, and her dress was a somewhat different flavor of glamorous. It would have made a better story if it had been one of them, but I don't think it was.

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SIFF's capsule summary: "After a chance encounter with a childhood friend startles Marie into realizing that her life is boring, she ditches adult responsibilities (like her mortgage and boyfriend) in search of more exciting relationships and flirtatious fun in this new film from the director of The Hedgehog." (France, 2014, 99 minutes)
SIFF link: Gazelles (Les Gazelles)

While preparing to sign a mortgage for her new apartment, Marie (Camille Chamoux) has doubts about her relationship with Eric (Franck Gastambide), and decides to spend more time with her friends Sandra (Audrey Fleurot), Judith (Joséphine de Meaux), Myriam (Naidra Ayadi), Gwen (Anne Brochet), and Véro (Olivia Côte).

7 Good The film starts with one of the most wonderful opening credits scenes I've seen, working the credits into the environment of the film's early scenes. It's outstanding.

The film is directed by Mona Achache, who previously directed and adapted The Hedgehog (Le Hérisson), which won the SIFF audience award in 2010 and placed second in the Fool Serious awards (behind only Winter's Bone). That's a tough act to follow, so it's hard to avoid a degree of disappointment. The directing very good.

The screenplay has five credited writers: Camille Chamoux (who also starred) & Cécile Sellam & Achache, and two others. According to the SIFF volunteer who presented the film, it's based on Chamoux's stand-up routine. The comedy is very good. The dramatic side of the story is engaging and feels realistic, but the main character is sometimes aggravatingly unsympathetic. Overall the script is good — but again after The Hedgehog (which Achache alone adapted from a Muriel Barbery novel) it's a let-down.

The acting by Camille Chamoux is good, but the real stand-out is Audrey Fleurot, who is excellent. The supporting acting is all solid.

Overall, I rate the film good.

Languages: French, with English subtitles.

Rating: I don't think this film has a US rating, but I'd guess it would rate an "R", because US ratings are prudish about sexual conversation (pervasive), sex on-screen (several brief scenes), and nudity (just a little).

Screening: 6:30 pm, Lincoln Square Cinema (theater 4).
Audience: less than half full, maybe 300 capacity.

Snacks: none.

Ads and announcements:

  • TV5 Monde — This French-language television channel is a long-time SIFF sponsor.
  • "SIFF members get it" — I know most of the people in the background of this clip (and Carl, of course), though not the three actors.
  • SIFF 2015 trailer — I only recognize a few of the films featured in this one, so far.
  • Cherry Tobacco — This film trailer looked like a love story, and sounded like Finnish. (Correction: it was Estonian.)
  • Vincent — This French superhero comedy looks like a winner.
  • Thank you volunteers — Time for applause.
  • in-person announcement — This volunteer said it was his first introduction, but he did just fine. He said that the film was based on the stand-up routine of one of the film's co-writers (Camille Chamoux, who also played the lead role).
  • Birds clip — This 2015 pre-film clip features a mother bird feeding three babies (fortunately in a stylized way), then regurgitating onto a pair of binoculars.

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SIFF's capsule summary: "Smart, thrilling, and hilarious, Spy headlines tour-de-force Melissa McCarthy as a backroom analyst catapulted into the field as a full-fledged CIA agent. From the mind of comic genius Paul Feig (Bridesmaids) with an all-star cast: Jason Statham, Jude Law, Rose Byrne, Miranda Hart, Bobby Cannavale, Allison Janney. Seattle's biggest and best party follows the screening!" (USA, 2015, 120 minutes)
SIFF link: Opening Night Gala: Spy

Susan Cooper (Melissa McCarthy) is a CIA desk agent, and the voice in the earpiece of field agent Bradley Fine (Jude Law). When arms smugglers led by Rayna Boyanov (Rose Byrne) seem to be able to recognize every existing field agent, Susan is sent into the field herself.

9 Excellent The film was written and directed by Paul Feig. In a talk after the film, Feig said that he initially wrote the film without the comedy, to make sure that the drama side of the film stood up on its own. Then he rewrote, adding jokes. Then again during shooting, he accepted ideas for additional comedy from the cast. Much more was shot than necessary, and several cuts of the film were screened for test audiences, to see which jokes worked best. Then in final editing, he and his editors (Mellissa Bretherton and Brent White) assembled the film from the funniest versions of each scene, also making sure that it remained true to the original dramatic story. It sounds like a complicated process, but the attention to detail worked. The dramatic side of the story is very good – on a par with the better James Bond films – and the comedy side is excellent. The directing is excellent also.

The acting is also solid. Melissa McCarthy is new to me, and she's excellent as a comedy actress; I'm surprised that I've seen none of her many previous film appearances. Miranda Hart is also excellent; her performance is memorable and entertaining, given her limited screen time. Jude Law does an excellent deadpan comedy version of his typical dramatic style. Rose Byrne is very good, also playing mostly deadpan. Smaller roles are all strong.

I can never figure out how much a film is built in editing, but editing seemed important for this film. One point about the way the film is edited is that there are no pauses between the funny moments, so it's very easy to miss one gag because one is still laughing from a previous joke.

Finally, one small detail is that the end credits are excellent – so good they're worth watching even for people who don't watch credits.

Overall, I rate the film very good as a action-style spy film, and excellent as a comedy. (I'm giving it a little credit for gags that I may have missed due to the substandard sound in the venue; I may downgrade to very good if it disappoints on a second viewing.)

Venue note: McCaw Hall is an opera venue optimized for unamplified voice, but it doesn't work very well for movie sound. It would have benefited from subtitles. (Missing jokes because of poor sound in the venue should mean that there are even more jokes that seem fresh on a second viewing.)

Languages: English.

Rating: This film has a US rating of "R", for lots of foul language, violence, and what the MPAA describes as "some sexual content including brief graphic nudity". I'm puzzled by the sex and nudity part of that; it was apparently too brief to make an impression.

Screening: 7 pm, McCaw Hall.
Audience: 2890 seats (posted capacity), looked over three-fourths full.

Snacks: after film catering included Cupcake Royale (enough cupcakes for everyone, and no lines), Tsar (good Russian snacks, and a long line that moved so fast that the wait wasn't bad), two places I don't recall (one with no line but a snack that I found disappointing, and another with a really long and slow line), and the bar (one glass of good wine for me, soda for "J").

Additional comments:

When Paul Feig spoke briefly before the film, and at greater length afterwards, I thought his voice sounded strangely familiar. As the post-film discussion concluded, I figured it out: his voice has a remarkable resemblance to that of Alan Alda.

About the pre-show announcements, I had a bit more in my notes and memory than I recorded below, but The Stranger covers the same ground better with "Spy brought down the house at SIFF's opening gala. It's funnier than Bridesmaids." (Christopher Frizzelle, May 15.)

About the only thing I recall from the pre-film and post-film talks was that Feig offered a brief plug for his streaming Yahoo Screen series, Other Space. Feig said that he figured no one had heard of Yahoo Screen before that moment. I sure hadn't.


  • Voice-over announcement — A few sponsors were thanked (with surprising brevity), and the rules (no audio or video recording, etc.) were outlined.
  • About SIFF — Public television station KCTS produced a nice short video about SIFF.
  • Carl Spence and Mary Bacarella — SIFF's artistic director and managing director spoke for a while.
  • Bryan LaMachia — SIFF's board chairman spoke briefly.
  • Ed Murray — Seattle's mayor presented the mayor's award and spoke briefly.
  • Megan Griffith — A top Seattle film director and producer spoke briefly.
  • Paul Feig — The director of tonight's film, Spy, spoke very briefly, and said he'd be back for a discussion after the film.

Party: Overall, the party was pretty good. Some of the food lines were very quick (thank you, Cupcake Royale!), while others were close to unbearable. Drink was as abundant as ever, and the lines were reasonable. That's fairly typical of a SIFF opening night party. We didn't stick around as long as usual, but was because we had a busy day scheduled for the next day, not because we weren't having fun.

Mostly notes to myselfCollapse )

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Today "J" had a couple of appointments: first a massage, then a hair appointment at a place that shares a parking lot with the massage place. She looked so relaxed after the massage, and the hair place did a great job, so she'll look glamorous for the SIFF opening night.

I brought a computer along on the errands, and added flooring pictures to last night's journal entry.

I also did a few minutes of work on the flooring, applying another coat of urethane to a couple of spots where I damaged floorboards while nailing them down. That's one of those jobs that takes many days, but only a few minutes at a time: apply a layer of varnish (and sometimes some floorboard sawdust) thickly enough that it fills in the hole, wait a day or so for it to cure completely, scrape it down to a flat surface, and repeat until it's smooth. Eventually I'll be able to just apply a final layer and polish it smooth, but it's still not filled to my satisfaction. (Picky, picky!)

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Unlike most days when I've worked on the bamboo flooring project, I was able to spend pretty much the entire day working on it. "J" was pleased with my productivity, and "T" didn't complain about the noise. I was pleased too.

With all the time to work, I nailed down 43 floorboards. (I think my previous best day was about 15.) Of those, 22 required cuts: the usual pieces that needed to be cut to length along each wall, the pieces near the kitchen tile that needed rip cuts, the thin piece along the wall between the kitchen and the opening to the (former) dining room, and the miters that hold that thin piece in place (because it's too narrow to nail down normally).

Update: I took pictures the next day when the light was good. Here they are: fireplace-room-floor_20150514_26253.jpeg

Click through for four pictures of the flooring work.Collapse )

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Today I didn't have a great deal of time to work on the flooring, but somehow I still managed to get 12 boards nailed down, including five that needed to be cut to a length other than their factory length.

This evening I had a training appointment. It was a tough work-out, and although it was divided between arms-and-shoulders, legs, and core, it felt like the arms-and-shoulders part seemed like the only part that really pushed me hard.

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This morning, I wanted to see the SIFF press screening of the samurai film Snow on the Blades, but I couldn't quite drag myself out of bed early enough. Too bad it wasn't the noon film instead.

Instead of going to a film, I made a smoothie for breakfast. Partly that's because they're delicious and healthy, but partly it's because we have an abundance of the main ingredients, and I don't want the refrigerator to explode.

In the afternoon, "J" had a long phone conference. She was disappointed, and said that it might reverse the outcome of the recent in-person conference that she had been so pleased about. I hope it works out for her.

I spent a little time working on the flooring, but still managed to get ten boards nailed down, including four that needed to be cut.

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Today, "J" and I and "T" went to Sunday brunch, as usual. All of the regulars were there.

Later, we went clothes shopping with T; he has some new clothes that fit better now.

In the evening, J and I and T visited my brother and sister-in-law "M" in their new place; they had a dinner for us and our parents. We brought a housewarming gift – a can of spackling putty. It was meant to be funny, but also useful. M had a gift for J too.

On the way back home, J and I bought some gardening supplies. I had remembered to bring a tarp to keep icky stuff from making a mess in the trunk, but I forgot to bring gloves to keep icky stuff off my hands. One of the things on the shopping list was steer manure, and although it was composted it was pretty stinky, and there was some smelly wet stuff on the outside of the bags. Without gloves, I loaded the bag with my bare hands, struggling to keep the stink off my pants. Afterwards, I tried to wipe off the stink with wet wipes, which didn't do the job. J suggested tissues to keep the stink off the steering wheel and such; she saved the day with her good idea. (In case that sounds facetious, it's not. I don't want stinky stuff to permeate our newish car.) I washed my hands when we got home, unloaded the manure with garden gloves, and put away the tarp.

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Today I took "J" to a plant sale at a garden run by her friends. She bought lots of plants; I suspect she'll be working on planting them for a while. "T" came along for the ride.

Afterwards, we rushed to make it to our favorite diner before it closed. We arrived and discovered that it closed an hour later than we had thought, so we didn't need to have rushed at all. Our brunch was delicious as usual.

Later, we went to Capitol Hill to meet our friend "N", and gave her a ride to a store that sells second-hand computer gear for great prices, because her old screen had finally given up its CRT ghost. She got a flat screen in nice condition on sale for $20. Wow.

Next, we all went to a one-of-a-kind ice cream store in Ballard. J and I had discovered the place on the way to one of our classes last year. It was delicious.

In the evening, we went to a party hosted by our SIFF friend "D", to welcome his friend "L" back to the US; he had been away for several years. The food was good at the party. L is an artist, and he showed off some of his work, which was amazing.

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