SIFF Guide: Brian Miller’s Festival Preview

Calvary reunites star Brendan Gleeson and writer/director John Michael McDonagh (brother of playwright/filmmaker Martin McDonagh), who scored a hit with their 2011 comedy The Guard. Gleeson plays a Catholic cleric marked for death by the victim of a pedophile priest (not Gleeson’s Father James) in their small Irish parish. Essentially, he’s being set up as an innocent sacrifice for the sins of his church, but don’t expect a doom-and-gloom melodrama. Said The Guardian of this dark comedy, “Calvary touches greatness. It crawls clear through the slime and comes out looking holy.” Look for Chris O’Dowd and Kelly Reilly (Chinese Puzzle, below) in supporting roles. The film opens here August 1. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 7 p.m. Sat., June 7. Harvard Exit: 11 a.m. Sun., June 8.)

Stanley Ann Dunham, future mother to our president, graduated from Mercer Island High School, class of 1960. Now her story is told in Obama Mama, a new documentary by Vivian Norris. The film covers the full spectrum of her globetrotting life, not just her teenage years on M.I., and I’ll be fascinated to see whether this portrait dispels or adds to the mystery of Barack Obama’s origins. Not the birth certificate, of course—we mean how this woman who died relatively young (at 52), before her son’s swift political ascent, shaped his future policies. Norris will attend SIFF. (Kirkland Performance Center: 6 p.m. Sat., May 31. Harvard Exit: 11 a.m. Sun., June 1.)

With their proven improvisational skills, Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon made the English culinary road-trip movie The Trip my favorite comedy of SIFF ’11. After that excursion through England’s Lake District, director Michael Winterbottom now steers his duo south in The Trip to Italy. Food and scenery are again abundant, but the real subject remains Steve and Rob. These two rivalrous self-caricatures must balance professional and personal discontents, keep one-upping each other, and grudgingly accept their age. The lovely Italian women mostly ignore them, and they’re left to quarrel like an old married couple. Like The Trip, this new movie has been condensed from an English TV series, which ought to allow Winterbottom to distill the best gags and dueling celebrity impersonations (last time, Michael Caine; this time, Michael Caine). The first Trip prominently featured ABBA. This time around, the lads have a go at Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill (now also an oldie, sigh), the CD apparently stuck on endless loop in their car stereo. And that, ironically, leads them into a debate about the meaning of irony. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 4:30 p.m. Fri., May 30 & 8 p.m. Sat., May 31.)

SIFFgoers will remember the prior two installments—L’Auberge Espagnole (2003) and Russian Dolls (2006)—of what now becomes a trilogy written and directed by Cédric Klapisch. Chinese Puzzle finds the characters played by Romain Duris and Kelly Reilly to be divorced parents with two small kids. She takes the tykes to New York, and he has no choice but to follow. If the prior two comedies dealt with the linguistic and cultural confusion of the new Europe, experienced from a Gen X perspective, this one looks to be more of a mid-life stock-tacking, something like Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset. And yes, since you ask, Audrey Tautou makes an appearance—spouting fluent Mandarin, no less. The film opens at the Seven Gables on May 30. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 5 p.m. Fri., May 16 & 8:30 p.m. Sun., May 18.)

Richard Ayoade made an impressive feature debut with Submarine at SIFF ’11. Now he freely adapts Dostoyevsky’s story The Double with Jesse Eisenberg as the schlub, living in a bleakly Kafka-meets-Her near future, who encounters his suave, successful doppelgänger. Is confident James Simon the projection of meek Simon James? Does it even matter? Soon James is taking over Simon’s job and girl (Mia Wasikowska); whether fantasized or real, this rival becomes an existential threat to our hero. The Double is also an actor’s showcase for Eisenberg. Says The New York Times, “Mr. Eisenberg wears his persona like a reversible coat, switching from loser to charmer by adjusting his posture and the angle of his brows.” The film opens next Friday at the Varsity. (SIFF Cinema Uptown: 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 16. Lincoln Square: 9:30 p.m. Sun., May 18.)

Lena Dunham is everywhere, thanks to Girls on HBO, and prolific indie director Joe Swanberg (Hannah Takes the Stairs) now avails himself of her talent with Happy Christmas. Swanberg and Melanie Lynskey (Hello I Must Be Going, SIFF ’12) play a Chicago couple whose lives are upended by the arrival of feckless kid sister Anna Kendrick. Dunham plays the latter’s even more irresponsible wingwoman. There’s a lot of indie talent here, which can sometimes trigger a train wreck, but Swanberg after Drinking Buddies is definitely moving beyond his mumblecore roots. And Dunham after Girls and Tiny Furniture is overdue to make a new movie of her own. (Lincoln Square: 9:25 p.m. Wed., May 28. SIFF Cinema Uptown: 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 30.)

Frank. Yes, this is the movie in which Michael Fassbender plays an eccentric English art-rocker who wears a giant papier-mâché head. All the time—we never actually see Fassbender’s face. Could it be that the actor inside is not actually Fassbender, away collecting another paycheck on some bigger movie? That’s the kind of question that make us curious about this British indie, directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by one of our favorite English authors and journalists, Jon Ronson (The Men Who Stare at Goats). Ronson actually played in a college band with Chris Sievey, a performance artist who created a separate bobblehead stage persona, so there’s a factual basis for this surreal band road trip and its possibly insane leader. Variety calls it “weird and wonderful.” Among the few Americans in the cast, Maggie Gyllenhaal thankfully leaves her head uncovered. (Egyptian: 9:30 p.m. Fri., May 30. SIFF Cinema Uptown: 2 p.m. Sat., May 31.)

It sounds less like a movie than a supercut of rom-com clichés as Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler meet cute, meet cute again, and then meet cute until you can’t goddamn stand it anymore in They Came Together. The rather meta-sounding comedy comes from David Wain and Michael Showalter (of Wet Hot American Summer and the old comedy show The State), which means the sugar will be well-laced with irony. Imagine Nora Ephron put in a blender with Borges, an infinite chick-flick regress. Then there’s the supporting cast, which includes Bill Hader, Ed Helms, and half the crew from Reno 911!. (Egyptian: 7 p.m. Sat., June 7 & 2 p.m. Sun., June 8.)

Almost three hours long, Richard Linklater’s Boyhood looks to be an audacious experiment in cinema. I didn’t have time for the press screening, but Robert Horton reports, “Twelve years in the making (to allow leading man Ellar Coltrane to actually grow from tyke to teenager before the camera), this project isn’t quite like any other movie. It leaves a lyrical impression and yet is rooted in the most quotidian events of childhood; even the big dramatic moments are simply folded back into the measured spectacle of time passing—an approach that could easily be boring but is somehow spellbinding here. Patricia Arquette and Ethan Hawke play the boy’s parents, and they too grow old as we bear witness.” Linklater will attend SIFF. His film opens here on July 25. (Egyptian: 5 p.m. Sat., May 31. Harvard Exit: 8 p.m. Sun., June 1.)

For more SIFF coverage, see all of Seattle Weekly's predictions and previews here.

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