News Column

SIFF 2013, week 2: 11 movies to see

May 23, 2013

YellowBrix

May 23--The Seattle International Film Festival runs through June 9 at several locations, including SIFF Cinema at the Uptown, SIFF Film Center, Pacific Place, Egyptian, Harvard Exit, Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center (through May 29), Kirkland Performance Center (May 30-June 9). Here are some highlights for week two, written by Moira Macdonald and John Hartl (unless otherwise indicated). For tickets or additional information, call 206-324-9996 or see www.siff.net.

'Anita' 3.5 stars?

Oscar-winning documentarian Freida Lee Mock ("Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision") wisely divides her fascinating documentary about Anita Hill into two halves: the first part dealing with the 1991 Senate hearings that introduced the soft-spoken law professor to the world; the second half showing how Hill, now an activist, was changed by it. "If I am not public," says Hill, who emerges as a quiet hero, "there will be a sense of victory that they have over me." Mock is scheduled to attend all screenings. 7 p.m. May 25 at the Uptown; 3:30 p.m. May 26 at Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center; 10 a.m. May 27 at Egyptian. -- M.M.

'Blackfish' 3 stars?

It's the real-life story behind last year's "Rust and Bone": Gabriela Cowperthwaite's documentary explores several recent incidents at aquatic parks in which orcas have killed or injured trainers. Experts explain that captivity can cause psychosis in a whale (a species that has never been known to harm humans in its natural habitat); former trainers speak out. Some genuinely disturbing footage of whale attacks on trainers is included; you might not look at a whale show the same way ever again. Cowperthwaite is scheduled to attend the May 28 screening. 7 p.m. May 28 at Pacific Place; 11 a.m. June 1 at Pacific Place. -- M.M.

'C.O.G.' 3 stars?

Based on an essay by David Sedaris, this small-town drama shows a serious side to the author of "Me Talk Pretty One Day." The subject is redneck types of various persuasions, who torment a young fan of Thoreau's "Walden" when he tries to get back to basics at an Oregon apple farm. A bit like shooting fish in a barrel, it's nevertheless remarkably accurate. Director Kyle Patrick Alvarez is scheduled to attend the Egyptian screenings. 4 p.m. May 24 at Egyptian; 7 p.m. May 26 at Egyptian; 6 p.m. May 27 at Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center. -- J.H.

'Dirty Wars' 3.5 stars?

Among the scariest and most convincing documentaries about recent changes in American foreign policy, this film is narrated by investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, whose book "Blackwater" made him almost unavoidable on television talk shows. Using archival footage and sometimes surprisingly candid interviews, Scahill suggests that we're in for many more years of blowback in the Middle East. Scahill, who's also the film's producer, is scheduled to attend both screenings. 7 p.m. May 24 at Harvard Exit; 11:30 a.m. May 25 at Uptown. -- J.H.

'The East' 4 stars?

A corporate spy infiltrates a gang of ecoterrorists and finds herself entangled in a dicey moral dilemma in this thought-provoking thriller. Writer-star Brit Marling, who plays the spy, and writer-director Zal Batmanglij take an evenhanded approach to illuminating the group's motives (the corporations targeted by the group are indeed nefarious actors) and showing the harms fanaticism employed in pursuit of noble ends can cause. In the role of the conflicted spy, Marling gives a performance of quiet intensity. 8:30 p.m. May 24 at Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center. -- Soren Andersen

'The Kings of Summer' 2.5 stars?

This week's pre-summer coming-of-age movie wants to be all things to all audiences, with an emphasis on naive Ohio teenagers who flee the nest before it's too late for such all-or-nothing rebellions. An exceptionally appealing cast, led by Seattle native Nick Robinson, helps to stitch together Jordan Vogt-Roberts' directorial debut. Another first-timer, Chris Galletta, wrote the uneven script. Robinson is scheduled to attend both screenings. 7 p.m. May 29 at Pacific Place; 4 p.m. May 30 at Pacific Place. -- J.H.

'The Punk Singer' 4 stars?

Director Sini Anderson's feature-length documentary is both an inspiring and eye-opening portrayal of Kathleen Hanna's journey through the early 1990s Riot grrrl movement in punk. The movie is stocked with candid interviews with contemporaries like Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney) along with Joan Jett and Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth). Hannah's vision of third-wave feminism told through a punk lens is laid out in this electrifying 80-minute film. 9:30 p.m. May 24 at Harvard Exit; 1:30 p.m. May 26 at Harvard Exit. -- Jeff Albertson

'The Spectacular Now' 3.5 stars?

A charming and unexpectedly moving coming-of-age teen romance, based on Tim Tharp's novel and directed by James Ponsoldt, who made the very fine addiction drama "Smashed" last year. Its two young actors are perfectly cast: Miles Teller ("Rabbit Hole"), who's got a bit of a young John Cusack vibe, and Shailene Woodley ("The Descendants"), playing a character so sweet you immediately feel protective of her. It's a bit melodramatic near the end, but ultimately kind to its characters, and very satisfying. Ponsoldt and producer Tom McNulty are scheduled to attend both screenings. 7:15 p.m. May 24 at Uptown; 1:30 p.m. May 24 at Harvard Exit. -- M.M.

'The Summit' 3 stars?

Part documentary, part re-enactment, Nick Ryan's film tries to find the truth of what happened in early August 2008, when 11 climbers died on a single afternoon on the mountain K2. Though the re-creations of the tragedy are sometimes off-putting, the movie powerfully conveys the anguish climbers feel when a teammate is struggling: Do you abandon your summit dreams to help, or do you move on? "The Summit" hauntingly presents differing versions of what happened that day; in the end, only the mountain knows. 6 p.m. May 30 at Uptown; 1 p.m. June 1 at Harvard Exit. -- M.M.

'Terms and Conditions May Apply' 3 stars?

"De-anonymize" is just one of the new words you'll learn from Cullen Hobeck's documentary, which explores the many ways in which our privacy is challenged by "free" web services like Facebook, Google, etc. "Anonymity isn't profitable," states one expert flatly; another reminds us that we should treat such entities like companies out to make money, rather than "some benign public utility." Bonus Mark Zuckerberg footage at the end -- turns out he values his own privacy, too. Hobeck is scheduled to attend both screenings. 6:30 p.m. May 30 at Pacific Place; 3:30 p.m. May 31 at Uptown. -- M.M.

'Yellow' 3 stars?

The list of special effects is especially long for this curious fantasy about a disturbed substitute teacher (Heather Wahlquist) who imagines that her entire classroom has been flooded and the students are floating to the ceiling. And that's just for starters. The director, Nick Cassavetes, best-known for "The Notebook," keeps the surprises flowing, reaching an early peak with a choral work built around repetitions of the f-word. 4:30 p.m. May 24 at Uptown; 6 p.m. May 25 at Renton Ikea Performing Arts Center. -- J.H.

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