Checking in on The Seattle International Film Festival

In this first installment, our traveling critic reviews Take This Waltz and John Dies at the End.

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Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen dance the night away in Take This Waltz
  • Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen dance the night away in Take This Waltz

Yet Waltz ultimately overcomes its indie-film contrivances because of its emotionally crushing premise and Polley’s increasing directorial skill. Her flourishes are sharp, including a scene of Margot and Lou riding Daniel’s rickshaw where Margot and the camera linger on his sweating back, and a shower scene where Williams and Sarah Silverman, who plays Lou’s alcoholic sister, are shot naked alongside women of various sizes and ages.

The acting from all four principals is great. Williams turns in another fantastic performance following her turns in Blue Valentine and Synecdoche, New York, and Rogen and Silverman are growing increasingly comfortable in more dramatic roles.

It’s a film that has gotten wildly varying reactions from different moviegoers, with some seeing Margot as an unlikable protagonist unappreciative of her loving husband, and others viewing it as a tale of female liberation. I found it instead to be a portrayal of how relationships can messily start and stop, and the idea that we’re constantly missing something while we’re in them.

The packed audience for the screening of Take This Waltz at the Egyptian Theatre
  • The packed audience for the screening of Take This Waltz at the Egyptian Theatre

I had high hopes for John Dies at the End, the midnight movie screening at the Egyptian, as I’m a big fan of director Don Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep. It’s unfortunate, then, that John Dies at the End is so maddeningly uneven, often leaning toward the negative end of the spectrum.

The plot follows Dave (Chase Williamson) and John (Rob Mayes) and their experiences with “Soy Sauce,” a tar-black drug that gives its users heightened sensory powers. From there, the film turns into a reality-bending narrative that includes Jamaican drug dealers, insects, telepathic communication and demons.

John Dies at the End starts off promisingly, with Dave relating his story to journalist Arnie (Paul Giamatti), seeming to offer a horror film by way of Philip K. Dick freakout. Yet as the film’s incoherent narrative goes on, its success rate is all over the place, falling completely apart in a third act with a horribly ill-advised animated sequence and final encounter with the demon Korrok.

It’s especially disappointing after Bubba Ho-Tep, a movie that successfully mixed the absurdity of Old Elvis and JFK fighting a mummy with a surprising poignancy about aging and disappointing children. The film I thought John Dies at the End most resembled is neither Bubba Ho-Tep nor any horror or sci-fi film, but rather Your Highness in its predilection for dick jokes and cartoonish violence.

During a Q&A after the film, Coscarelli mentioned Giamatti came to him as a fan of Bubba Ho-Tep and he had a sequel planned before Bruce Campbell passed, and I sorely wished I was seeing that instead. If it’s any consolation, John Dies at the End played like gangbusters with the audience at my screening.

Though the concluding Cannes in France got all the press, the self-proclaimed “largest film festival” is still going strong all the way in the Pacific Northwest. The Seattle International Film Festival — which started May 17 and runs until June 10 — hosts more than 400 films in a nearly month-long celebration of cinema.

By the time I arrive, I’ve already missed some of the biggest films — including Your Sister’s Sister, directed by Seattle girl-gone-good Lynn Shelton and starring Mark Duplass, and Safety Not Guaranteed, which stars Aubrey Plaza and Duplass in a tale about a classified ad promising time travel. Yet there are some still big draws left, such as Sarah Polley’s new film Take This Waltz, with Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen, and the Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner Beasts of the Southern Wild.

Take This Waltz was the first film I saw, the sold-out screening taking place at the gorgeous Egyptian Theatre nearby Neumo’s and hordes of University of Washington hipsters. The movie deals with Margot (Williams), who finds herself drawn to her neighbor Daniel (Luke Kirby) but is in a happy marriage with her husband Lou (Rogen). It’s never explained how aspiring chicken cookbook writer Lou and not-writing writer Margot can afford their abundant Toronto home, and in a history of ridiculously quirky jobs in indie cinema, Daniel’s painter moonlighting as rickshaw driver ranks pretty high up there.

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