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This is yet another incarnation of my personal blog. Here's where you can read about what I do when I'm not at work: hiking, seeing plays and other shows, eating, traveling, etc.

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Book Review: The Age of Miracles

Posted by gck Tuesday, June 26, 2012 0 comments

ageofmiraclesThe Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Genre: Literary Fiction, Young Adult
Rating: **** (out of 5)
Recommended for: People who enjoy beautiful language and mood creation, literary fiction fans
Received ARC copy through NetGalley.

Back-cover summary:
Luminous, haunting, unforgettable, The Age of Miracles is a stunning fiction debut by a superb new writer, a story about coming of age during extraordinary times, about people going on with their lives in an era of profound uncertainty.

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, 11-year-old Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

With spare, graceful prose and the emotional wisdom of a born storyteller, Karen Thompson Walker has created a singular narrator in Julia, a resilient and insightful young girl, and a moving portrait of family life set against the backdrop of an utterly altered world.

My review:
The Age of Miracles is a beautiful novel. My overall impression while reading was that this was a book form of the type of arthouse movie I love to watch. In my head, I was drawing connections to Melancholia. Though the characters are totally different, I saw similarities in the obvious fact that both are end-of-the-world stories, the excellent way they created an atmosphere of uncertainty, and the way they dealt with how different types of people respond to disaster. I loved the style of writing, the details in the description, and the pacing (though I wouldn’t have minded if it moved slightly faster).

I classify this both as literary fiction and young adult. The combination of these two genres appeals to me strongly because the young narrative voice removes a lot of the complication and density that can be challenging to the reader in many works of adult literary fiction. The pacing is restrained, slowly revealing symptom after symptom of the slowing and the effect on general society and the main character’s world. The juxtaposition of the uncertainty of adolescence against the uncertainty of an apocalyptic world adeptly shows how both the “small” personal challenges and the “large” world problems affect Julia’s life. Under the backdrop of world disaster, some problems become trivial, and some remain important.

SIFF 2012 Summary

Posted by gck Monday, June 18, 2012 0 comments


SIFF 2012 is over, and amazingly, I have managed to blog it all. Not saying that my blog posts are going to be all that interesting or insightful, but I’m glad I’ll have it for a personal record.

Blog Entries
Opening Weekend
First Week
Second Weekend
Second Week
Third Weekend
Closing Week / Closing Weekend

The Films
Overall, I was pretty happy with the programming this time around, but I didn’t have a strong “OMG this is ridiculously awesome” feeling towards anything. Saw about the same number of films as last year, maybe two fewer.
Good: Strong local offerings.
Bad: 7 of the top 10 in the audience awards for best film were from the US. INTERNATIONAL film festival?? Many of the sold out movies were US movies releasing this summer. Brave, Safety Not Guaranteed, Moonrise Kingdom, Beasts of the Southern Wild, etc.
Good: No Neptune Theater style issues this year. Overall, things ran on time.
Bad: DCP issues got nasty. Two of my films had really bad problems. I volunteered one shift where they switched the movie to something else because of issues.
I don’t know anything about anything: Most of the films I saw were not extremely popular (though this was partially by design because I avoided standby screenings). When I reviewed Any Day Now, I wrote that I was surprised because I thought the movie would be really popular, but my screening wasn’t. Now I have to eat those words as well because it won audience awards for best film and best actor.
Glad I did it: Squeezing in a free screening of Any Day Now in a movie-full day. Running up to Everett for the only screening of Eden that I could catch. RENT-A-CAT (but there was never any doubt). The almost 4 hours of Chapiteau-Show.
Regrets: Not being able to see Winter Nomads. These sheep better show up on Netflix. :(

4.5 stars
Starry, Starry Night (review)
Eden (review)
Any Day Now (review)
Chapiteau-Show (review)
Sunny (review)
Paul Williams Still Alive (review)

4 stars
Rent-a-Cat (review)
The Art of Love (review)
Starbuck (review)
Bol (review)
5 Broken Cameras (review)

3.5 stars
Cloudburst (review)
Valley of Saints (review)
Klown (review
All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace (review
Lipstikka (review)
Lost Years (review)

3 stars
King Curling (review)
Future Lasts Forever (review)
Tatsumi (review)

Goodbye (review)

Looks like I volunteered about the same as I did last year, maybe a little bit more. This time I did will call hours in addition to venue crew, and I’m undecided about whether or not I like it better. I think a good venue shift is hands down better than will call, but with a boring one, at least I get to browse the internet for will call. Unlike last year, I watched a total of ZERO movies while volunteering this year. Had the opportunity to watch a few, but I chose not to due to my schedule, not being interested in the film, or not wanting to watch any more films that day.

Gala hours: 7
Venue crew hours: 15
Will call hours: 10.5
Other: 5
Locations: Egyptian (3 shifts), Kirkland (3 shifts), Uptown (3 shifts)

Now I’ve got a lot of movies on my to-watch list and a lot of vouchers to use at SIFF Cinema this year. As the years go by, my desire to buy a full series pass grows larger and larger. Will next year be the year? We’ll see…

SIFF 2012: Closing Week

Posted by gck Monday, June 11, 2012 0 comments

I saw only two films for closing week, then two films for closing weekend. No doubles, and two nights I went SIFFless in favor of the Seattle International Dance Festival (mainly to watch Lucien Postlewaite and Andrew Bartee in Flower Festival one more time… LOVE this) and American Idiot (which made me remember how awesome that album is). I’m a little sad for the festival to be over, but it also feels like it’s definitely time.

Volunteered a good chunk for the last weekend. Short, easy shift at Kirkland on Friday where we exchanged DCP horror stories (“the keys were set to expire at the end of the day… the end of the RUSSIAN day…”). Another easy, overstaffed Saturday morning shift at the Uptown (I managed to avoid all the commencement traffic by driving in early) followed by an unplanned extra hour because they once again only had ONE person showing up for the afternoon shift. I hope this sort of thing is fixed for next year. Sunday morning I did the will call shift, which was extremely boring for most of the time because it was Secret Festival at the Egyptian, which means no tickets to pick up. But there was a lot of free food, courtesy of the FOOLs (baked goods) and Egyptian staff (bacon waffles), and I also snagged a copy of the FOOLs ballot, full of crunchy numbers. Then Sunday night, I did check-in/wristbanding and appetizer serving at the closing night gala. One of these days I will learn that waitressing is not something I should be doing! It was pretty fun, but I was completely exhausted by the end. But I did get to stand in close proximity of Jason Biggs who was there (with a polar bear) to represent the closing gala film, Grassroots. Film count: 20. Volunteer vouchers: 27.

All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace
UK, 2011
Genre: Documentary
Watched: SIFF 2012, Harvard Exit
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

First of all, you can watch this documentary series for free on archive.org. I do kind of wish I had known that ahead of time because I could have caught a different film and because watching the series in one sitting wasn’t really the best way to do it. There is a lot of information, and I found myself tuning out at times during the second and third parts because there was just too much in my head! Adam Curtis has his unique style of filmmaking. I don’t hate it, but I also don’t love it. I found the repeated use of the same clips to be distracting, and the epic scope of information involved is interesting but not focused on making a specific point. In the end, I don’t buy the whole “we have let ourselves become like machines” idea. Still, there’s a lot of good stuff there, and I’m thinking about watching it again, one part at a time, to process it better.

Canada, 2011
Genre: Comedy
Watched: SIFF 2012, Egyptian
Rating: **** (out of 5)

Guy donates lots of sperm as a young man in order to get some extra cash. Turns out they used all of his samples and he’s the biological father of hundreds of kids who want to know his identity, conveniently around the same time his girlfriend gets pregnant and is trying to decide whether or not to keep him around. Quite funny, definitely a solid, feel-good movie. I think the fact that the movie was in French (from Quebec) made it more charming – but I’m hearing rumors that they may be remaking this movie in the US.

(also: Shapito-shou)
Russia, 2011
Genre: Comedy, Musical, Drama
Watched: SIFF 2012, Kirkland Performance Center
Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)

There are some types of films that are so awesome that most people can’t see the awesomeness. And that is what film festivals are for. For some reason when I see something with a long run time, it gets me more interested. A director who is audacious enough to think his creative vision is so interesting that it will convince an audience in today’s ADHD culture to stay in a theater seat for over 3 hours has got to have something going on. It’s brilliance or disaster, and the reviews were saying brilliance so I bit, dragging Alexis along for the ride. Now, I don’t agree with Sergey Loban that it couldn’t have been edited down a little more and I didn’t like all of the parts, but that’s okay. It was pretty awesome. Four stories telling stories about different characters leading up to the same event. Lots of totally random pop music. Lots of totally random stuff in general. Then after the 207 hours of film, the director stayed for a Q&A, mostly in Russian (the audience was mostly Russian). Oopsie moment at the beginning when the staff member introducing the film and director accidentally said the film was from the USSR. The Q&A suffered in translation because they weren’t really accommodating the translator, but I did like what Loban said about the fire scene being about purification, that all our illusions perish in the flames. Very appropriate when looking at these significantly flawed characters who certainly had plenty of illusions.

Israel, 2011
Genre: Drama
Watched: SIFF 2012, Pacific Place
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

I had one more ticket in my 20-pack to use up on the last day, and I ended up choosing this one because it was the best-reviewed film that fit in the least stressful way. I didn’t end up loving it, but I didn’t regret the choice either. It has been described as a mind-bender film about two Palestinian girls who have a traumatic experience with Israeli soldiers that changes their lives and relationships. The structure of the film, starting from later on in life and giving information in flashbacks, makes things interesting. Some parts got pretty boring for me. I didn’t love the characters. A few scenes were pretty disturbing. Overall, it was okay – there was stuff to think about, but I didn’t find myself really wanting to think about it. I would have preferred to end the festival with Chapiteau-Show, but this one didn’t totally ruin things for me or anything like that. Afterwards, I walked out into the hordes of people lining up to see Brave, with the passholders being the first to be informed that all of their electronics were going to be temporarily confiscated. Geez.

SIFF 2012: Third Weekend

Posted by gck Thursday, June 7, 2012 0 comments

Film watching slowing down. Volunteer hours going up. I worked a really easy shift in Kirkland on Friday night (gotta love being able to drive home in 5 minutes) and a busier shift at the Uptown Saturday morning. The shift started at 10:15, which I thought was early enough to avoid most of the traffic. WRONG. I left around 9:35 and was still late. I-90 started slowing down around Seattle and I-5 was hellish, probably due to the 520 bridge closure. Then there was surprisingly difficult traffic around Seattle Center for so early in the morning. I worked another full screening of Beasts of the Southern Wild (one of these days I’ll have to actually see it). It was a secured screening and special security people were in the theater with special binoculars to catch people recording or using their cell phones. There was only one person coming in for the next volunteer shift and the house coordinator was desperate for people who could stay longer so I stayed an extra hour or so to help seat the next film. Then I got stuck in rage-inducing traffic on I-90 (F U 520) and 405 due to an accident. But nothing would keep me from my cat movie in Kirkland. Film count: 16. Volunteer vouchers: 17.

(also: Rentaneko)
Japan, 2012
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Watched: SIFF 2012, Kirkland Performance Center
Rating: **** (out of 5)

There’s been a lot of talk about there being many cats in SIFF 2012. I approve of this motif. This movie definitely adds to the cat count. I squeed a little bit when I saw this one on the program. Didn’t have extremely high expectations, but I knew I was going to see it no matter what. Fortunately, it’s actually pretty good. A bit too long, but it’s charming, quirky, and funny, and there are indeed a lot of cats. I think most people who watch this movie will like it because the people who wouldn’t would already be turned away by the premise. Highlights are the cats (duh. Apparently they are individually listed in the credits, too!), a funny commercial, and the insulting neighbor. I believe all the screenings were pretty full, so people love cats! I’m sorry, there was no way I could write an unbiased review of this movie.

The Art of Love
(also: L’Art D’Aimer)
France, 2011
Genre: Romantic Comedy, Drama
Watched: SIFF 2012, Kirkland Performance Center
Rating: **** (out of 5)

Argh, SIFF. Two movies this year from directors of films I enjoyed at previous festivals. #1 had the unwatchable subtitle timing problem. #2 was this one, directed by Emmanuel Mouret, the French Woody Allen, and they were unable to get the keys from the distributor for the digital projection for the Kirkland venue. Instead, they played a DVD backup with a watermark in the center and a timer at the top. Yeah, that sucked. It would have been nice to know that this was a possibility earlier because Alexis and I would have gone for one of the Uptown screenings instead. Still, we made it through the movie and so did pretty much all of the audience. This lived up to my expectations as a quirky rom-com, and I liked all the different stories. Frédérique Bel was particularly amusing.

(also: Klovn)
Denmark, 2010
Genre: Comedy
Watched: SIFF 2012, Egyptian
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

A midnight movie after 4 hours of volunteering, two trips to Seattle, and two other films. Great idea! I was SO exhausted even before this film began. This is a film that’s being distributed in the US by Alamo Drafthouse, and the founder (Tim League) introduced the film by playing a voicemail from someone who was kicked out of their theater (I’d heard it before) and playing a Seattle vs. “foreigners” game of chugging Underberg, a highly featured drink in the movie. The film was definitely funny but there was a lot of crudeness that was unnecessarily shocking. However, watching the trailer should filter out most of the people who would be bothered by this. It’s like a more vulgar Danish Hangover with a kid involved. Trailer is NSFW.

Valley of Saints
India, 2012
Genre: Drama, Social Issues
Watched: SIFF 2012, Kirkland Performance Center
Rating: ***1/2 (out of 5)

Beautiful film set on Dal Lake in Kashmir. It’s about a a nice guy named Gulzar who wants to leave the area with his not-so-nice friend Afzal because they’re tired of rowing tourists around the lake for little money. The Kashmiri conflicts, in violent contrast with the peacefulness of the lake, prevent them from leaving. Instead, Gulzar ends up taking care of and befriending Asifa, a visiting scientist who is staying in his uncle’s houseboat and is doing research on the environmental impact that residents are having on the lake. I really enjoyed watching this film, and even though I was tired, it did not make me fall asleep (which is a big deal when it’s a quiet movie like this). However, looking back at it, it felt pretty but not particularly meaningful. There are issues of poverty, social class, terrorism, pollution, etc. that the camera touches on but never really explores. The film leaves me only with beautiful images of Dal Lake to ponder, nothing more.

SIFF 2012: Second Week

Posted by gck Sunday, June 3, 2012 0 comments

Film watching slowed down for the week – no double headers, even on Memorial Day. Worked one shift, a will call shift at the Egyptian. It was pretty tame. The busy shift would have been the one right before mine, seating 500+ people for a sold out Beasts of the Southern Wild. We got word during the film that a woman had climbed over the balcony and fallen down, and I was picturing a body splattered all over a row of people, but fortunately that rumor was exaggerated. Film count: 12. Volunteer vouchers: 10.

Future Lasts Forever
(also: Gelecek Uzun Surer)
Turkey, 2011
Genre: Drama, Social Issues
Watched: SIFF 2012, Uptown
Rating: *** (out of 5)

“…and so does this film,” says the review from The Stranger. I chose this one to watch over Simon and the Oaks, even though I suspected Simon was likely to be the better film. But the trailer for this film was so beautiful that I couldn’t resist. If the pacing of the film had been on par with the trailer, this would have been much better. I can take pretty slow movies, but the endless shots of the main character sitting around or sleeping or whatever was pretty excessive. In the opening credits, there was a logo for “Free Rasoulof and Panahi,” and the whole idea of the girl traveling around to collect elegies had definite resemblance to the man collecting tears in Rasoulof’s The White Meadows. There weren’t enough elegies, though. The beginning of the film is gripping, the end of the film is beautiful as the characters journey through Hakkari, but it drags on way too long in between. Context on the Kurds and Armenians in Turkey would have been useful before, but the film did get me to read more about this afterwards.

USA, 2012
Genre: Drama, Social Issues
Watched: SIFF 2012, Everett Performing Arts Center
Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)

I thought I was going to miss this film altogether because the two Seattle screenings were during my half marathon weekend. But after waffling for awhile, I decided that it was worth it to drive up to Everett to catch the last screening. This was one of the more talked about movies of SIFF 2012. It’s directed by Megan Griffiths, who also directed The Off Hours, which I had considered seeing at SIFF last year. It was shot pretty much entirely in Washington, and I happily recognized some of the Eastern Washington locations posing very convincingly for the Southwest. Being a local film, a lot of the people involved were in attendance, which was fun to see.

What wasn’t fun to see was this movie. It’s a challenging one, based on a true story about human trafficking. Jamie Chung gave a fantastic portrayal of a girl who transforms from a naïve teenager making a wrong decision at a wrong time to a hardened, determined young woman who manipulates her way up the chain in order to escape it. The film is particularly strong in its portrayal of the victims of these sex rings and why it is so difficult for them to escape their fates. What I wished had been explored more were the mindsets of their captors and jailers. So many of the people involved must have been aware that these girls were underage and unwilling, and they somehow felt like it was okay to treat them in this way. A Romanian film, Loverboy, played at the same day and time in Seattle and supposedly focused more on that side. It would have been interesting to see those two in parallel.

South Korea, 2011
Genre: Chick Flick, Comedy
Watched: SIFF 2012, Egyptian
Rating: ****1/2 (out of 5)

Maybe rated a little high because it provided the comic relief I needed after a series of pretty heavy films. This was a really fun one to see with a female friend. She pointed out how awesome it was to see a female about Asian women that focused on empowerment instead of endless suffering. SO true! It’s about a group of gal pals from childhood that reunited later on in life. It’s fun to see the characters taking a nostalgic look back to their childhood versions and being reinspired by their own dreams. The childhood rivalry between the “Sunny” gang and their rivals is over-the-top and hilarious. Basically, to summarize: I am the protagonist of my own life, bitches!