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Movie Reviews
Great performances save Oliver Stone's uneven W.
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

W.
Now Playing


I was hoping for slapstick and irreverent entertainment to cure my political ennui wrought by our absurdly lengthy presidential campaign. What I got was a portrait, a composite drawing based on actual quoted material and real circumstances strung together to present a larger truth in colorful cinematic terms. I was a bit disappointed, and halfway through I thought, "This isn't the movie I wanted." So I had to deal with the movie Oliver Stone made.

As it turns out, this isn't a terrible thing. Sprawling biopics that try to cover 40 years often falter as the narrative becomes overcrowded and disjointed. That's not a problem with W. Stone handles the great expanse of linear time with a deft hand. He moves between the distant and not-so-distant past, intercutting carefully selected scenes that tumble purposefully toward the climactic disarray of the post-invasion war room as Bush, himself, shouts the ineluctable question, "Who's in charge?"

W. does not intend to document W.'s life. The film intends to explore his motivations and humanize the man, the black sheep screw-up who inexplicably wound up as the leader of the free world. And the movie does remind us that W. is a son, a husband, a father, and, yes, a Christian. The movie also reminds us that he's a spoiled rich kid, an alcoholic, a failed businessman, and a swaggering idiot with an amazing lack of self-awareness.

Not to worry, the movie isn't turning me into a Bush fan anytime soon. However, by reminding us that W. is a human, the film only serves to make him more tragic and less detestable - okay, make that as detestable as ever and even more tragic. Yeah, that's about right.

Josh Brolin gives a superlative performance in the title role. His 2007 trifecta of No Country for Old Men, In the Valley of Elah, and American Gangster probably saved him from being known largely as the older brother in The Goonies. With this role, an Oscar nod should be in the works, too. It's always nice to see a good actor that has languished for years doing solid work in middling roles finally get a break. In Brolin's case, life really does begin at 40.

James Cromwell and Ellen Bursten are wonderful as George Sr. and Bar. Elizabeth Banks as Laura Bush is great, even if she gets a little lost in the pool of solid performances based on real people more interesting than the real Laura Bush. It's good to see Stacy Keach doing great work as W.'s longtime spiritual advisor. He's been underrated for a long time.

The list goes on and on, with nice turns by Scott Glenn (a comically verbose Donald Rumsfeld), Toby Jones (a comically creepy Karl Rove), and Jeffrey Wright (a comically frustrated Colin Powell). Special note should be made of the short-but-sweet and pleasantly surprising effort by Ioan Gruffudd (Fantastic Four) as Tony Blair.

The only performance that falls short is Thandie Newton's impersonation of Condi (no relation to me that I know of) Rice. It would have been better suited to a Saturday Night Live skit than a feature film. Sorry, Thandie, your take on Condi stands out for all the wrong reasons.

That brings us to the sublime performance by Richard Dreyfuss as VP Dick Cheney. Dreyfuss, along with Brolin, should be nominated by the Academy for his restrained, reptilian portrayal of the unrestrained, reptilian Cheney. Dreyfuss captures the essence of Cheney without turning him into an archetypal villain (which would make the character boring and predictable). This is all the more impressive given Cheney's large number of mannerisms and personality traits that are commonly associated with a reptilian villain (not to mention everything Halliburton).

In fact, Brolin and Dreyfuss are so good and I'm so certain they'll get Oscar nominations that if either of them fails to get a nod, I'll stand at the corner of Broadway and Pine in my boxer shorts holding a sign that says, "I LOVE GEORGE BUSH," for four hours. And, like any good politician, I promise I'll do it.

While it's not surprising that the teenage male magnet Max Payne finished first last week, it is surprising that W. got spanked by talking Chihuahuas and the odd couple combo of Queen Latifah and Dakota Fanning (Beverly Hills Chihuahua was No. 2 and The Secret Life of Bees was No. 3). So, what's up?

We can bitch about Fox News all we want. We can nod our heads as Keith Olbermann skews left in response to Rupert Murdoch's ratings juggernaut and the ever-shrinking ownership pool of mainstream media becomes more and more polarized. And we can throw up our hands as this media polarization pushes conservatives and liberals further and further apart.

We can bitch, but each of us has to bear a little responsibility because we (left and right) prefer our news (and our movies) streaked with bias. Fox News isn't struggling for viewers and neither is Olbermann. And this is the problem for Oliver Stone and his film. It's too balanced.

Lefties, like me, wanted the funny version that would illustrate Bush's buffoonery and help us forget for a couple of hours his pervasive failure through biting satire. Neocons might have turned out for a flag-waving cowboy-hero portrait with an ending illustrating just how successful (bullshit) the surge has been, but Stone actually made a fairly sympathetic film. I mean Bush is still an idiot and Stone does nothing to smart him up, so to speak, but Stone is also careful not to demonize. There's plenty of blame, after all, to go around. Still, neither end of the political spectrum got the Bush they perceive is real. And thus W. came in a sad fourth at the box office in its opening week.

We've grown accustomed to media choices that reinforce what we already believe instead of informing us. The result is a massive corporate media monster that disseminates little more than propaganda and whose future depends entirely on the bottom line. Where's Howard Beale when you need him (Google it up, kids)? I feel like leaning out my window and screaming, "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!" Like the frog left to boil slowly, this might be more dangerous than we collectively realize.


Lame Tru Loved gets points for effort
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Tru Loved
Opening October 24


We always knew it could happen: family-friendly Queer film. Tru Loved is a G-rated sort of coming-of-age Queer movie: no sex, drugs, or teenage suicide here. This is a grand day for cinema. Unfortunately, the idea behind Tru Loved is better than the execution.

Writer/director Stewart Wade has a knack for getting semi-famous people into his films. In past efforts he's snagged folks like Sally Kirkland (she's been in everything) and Deborah Gibson (former teen queen pop star and current Broadway diva). In Tru Loved, Wade gets Nichelle Nichols (Star Trek), Bruce Vilanch (ubiquitous writer and Hollywood Squares regular), Alexandra Paul (Baywatch), Jasmine Guy (A Different World), Marcia Wallace (Bob Newhart) and Seattle's own David Kopay (sports icon/Queer hero) to go along for the ride. While it's fun to see these folks on screen, that doesn't mean they are any better at their craft these days. Actually, Jasmine Guy is pretty good.

Wade seems to have coincidence and irony confused. Here's the tutorial: a black fly in your chardonnay is unfortunate, but it's not ironic. And having a cute secret straight boyfriend with Bruce Vilanch for a dad is weird, but it's not ironic. So much for subtlety.

I can't tell if the acting is terrible or if the dialogue is so bad the actors don't have a chance at a decent performance. I'm pretty sure it's a combination of both. Najarra Townsend as the title character, Tru, heroically wades through the mess of poor acting and pointed messages with world-weary shrugging and a wise-beyond-her-years sensibility that works okay. And David Kopay made me a killer tuna sandwich one afternoon, so anything he does is fine with me (I love you, Dave, and I think you're the sweetest ex-pro football player I've ever had lunch with). The rest of the acting ranges from stiff to uncomfortable.

Enough of my snarky judgmental attitude, this is still a unique beast: a Queer movie the kids can see. In fact, it's a Queer movie the kids should see. It may not ring true at every turn and it may not be thought provoking for me, but it would be safe and thought-provoking for a 10-year-old (or a classroom of 10-year-olds). Though the Queer stuff is pretty sterile, I would sit my kid down beforehand and carefully prepare them for some of the more challenging elements of the movie like the writing and the acting. "Billy, you're about to see something ugly and scary. But it's real, and you should understand it. Sometimes movies have bad actors and lame stories. I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but this is life, Billy."

Wade draws families that may not look like the model espoused by the family values set (a model that exists mostly in white noggins and '50s-era television shows). However, they do look like the real and diverse families that make up our community. Tru has four supportive parents: an interracial Lesbian couple and a Gay couple. Lodell (Matthew Thompson), the closeted football player who talks Tru into acting as his beard, is reared by his mother and grandmother. And Trevor (Jake Abel as the dreamy straight boyfriend) calls his Gay uncle (Bruce Vilanch) "dad."

This ambitious flick takes on a number of issues including Queer marriage, Queer families, racism, prejudice, coming out, not coming out, Queer and straight stereotypes, and Queer bashing. Still, while Tru Loved doesn't exactly challenge me intellectually or thrill me cinematically, it would make a great After-School Special. And I'm pretty sure movies like this are needed.


SLGFF's final weekend
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

It's closing weekend for the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (SLGFF) and there is still plenty in the way of highlights for those just now getting around to pondering the idea of taking in a screening or two (or three or four). For me, the one can't-miss on the schedule is tonight's showing of Pansy Division: Life In A Gay Rock Band, easily one of the better documentaries I've seen this year.

Other items people might find worth checking out? Tomorrow's centerpiece gala showing of Kyle Schickner's Steam is a solid choice, while shorts programs full of scares ("Camp Blood," tomorrow), romance ("Young Love") and family-friendly goodness ("Family Time," both Sunday) are sure to all have their entertaining merits. People will undoubtedly also be excited about tomorrow's midnight showing of cult favorite The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but in all honesty, don't ask me to try and fathom why.

Closing things out on Sunday is an archival screening of the campy 1988 Halloween favorite Elvira: Mistress of the Dark featuring an appearance by the Gay-friendly scream queen diva herself. While the film itself isn't remotely good, the fact that it's such a grade-Z misfire is actually part of its charm, and if you're in love with so-horrible-they're-wonderful motion pictures, then going to this one is pretty much your civic duty.

As for other films screening this weekend, here are three more capsule reviews to get you started.

Dog Tags
Saturday, October 25, 7:00 PM
Admiral Theater


Writer and director Damion Dietz's (Fag Hag) latest, Dog Tags, is a bit of a mess. A well-intentioned and sometimes beautifully acted mess, but still a mess nonetheless. The story of a couple of drifters, Andy (Bart Fletcher) and Nate (Paul Preiss), connecting somewhere along the back roads of California, the film has some potentially interesting things to say about fatherhood, adolescence, patriotism and friendship - the problem being it can't ever find a way to say any of them that doesn't feel maudlin or cliché.

That said, both of the leads (especially the ruggedly handsome Fletcher, projecting a world-weary vulnerability that's surprisingly touching) are quite good, while it's always nice to see little-used character actress Candy Clark in a role that's actually up to her sadly underutilized talents. I just wish that Dietz didn't rely so heavily on tiredly familiar melodrama to get his points across, as this potentially wonderful saga of friendship and regret is, sadly, just another disappointment quickly to be forgotten.

2 (out of 4)

Drifting Flowers
Saturday, October 25, 4:30 PM
King Cat Theater


While there were plenty of people who did backflips over director Zero Chou's last feature, Spider Lilies, I certainly wasn't one of them. The film drove me more than a bit nuts, and as pretty as it all looked visually, story-wise I personally thought the whole thing was the agonizingly banal pits.

I couldn't feel more differently about his latest picture, Drifting Flowers. Floating between time and space, this multi-generational tale of friendship and love is absolute poetry, a sonnet of sparkling effervescence I'm not even going to ruin with some sort of ham-fisted description. Just know I loved this movie, adored each of its movements to and fro as it delicately balanced all its (sometimes devastating and heartbreaking) tangents into one shimmering and beauteous whole. Definitely one of SLGFF's best.

3.5 (out of 4)

The World Unseen
Tonight, 7:30 PM
Central Cinema

Shamim Sarif's debut film, The World Unseen, is about six different pictures in one. It is the story of a loveless marriage, South African apartheid, interracial romance, coming out, small-town hypocrisy and probably a little bit more that I'm totally leaving out. It is, in fact, about so much stuff it is almost impossible for one 94-minute movie to contain it all.

The thing is, when Sarif's motion picture does work, it does so beautifully. There are scenes of awesome emotional power here echoing some of the best moments found in Ang Lee's quite similar Brokeback Mountain, and even though the filmmaker tends to layer the melodrama on a bit thick towards the end, I can't say the tears I shed weren't exactly justified. All in all, the film is a bit of a mixed bag, and while I hesitate recommending it at full-ticket price, a DVD rental later on down the road might actually be a bargain.

2.5 (out of 4)


Giddy Happy-Go-Lucky an ebullient smash
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Happy-Go-Lucky
Now Playing


Grammar school teacher Poppy (Sally Hawkins) has an irrepressible gift to look on the bright side. This skill is put to the test after her beloved bicycle is stolen one sunny afternoon, but instead of sulking and being depressed about it, she takes it as a golden opportunity to finally learn how to drive.

Her instructor, Scott (Eddie Marsan), is everything she isn't. Cantankerous, surly, a bit of a racist and an almost incorrigible cynic, he is black and disgusting oil to Poppy's clear and undeniably pure crystal blue water. But things don't progress in the way either of these two expects, heartbreak for one maybe a doorway to a happiness the other might not have been able to discover otherwise.

Anything a person has to say about Mike Leigh's (Vera Drake, Topsy-Turvy) working-class slice of life Happy-Go-Lucky starts and finishes with Hawkins. How much you love and adore this blissfully sincere and honestly emotional motion picture hangs on how much you end up relating and understanding her because if this woman rubs you the wrong way then - watch out! - a movie like this one is going to end up feeling like a living hell.

Which is too bad for you, because if that's so, you're going to end up missing one of the more unusually rapturous and pleasantly beguiling dramas released this year. Poppy maybe be an optimist but that doesn't mean she's clueless. She feels, sees and absorbs pain just like anyone else, but instead of turning to the negative she does her damnedest to strive for the positive - a silver lining to every dark cloud, no matter how awful or upsetting the coming shower might prove to be.

Considering I tend to be a little bit of a cynic myself, I must admit it took me a little while to let this one work its magic on me. For a little while, I almost wanted to throttle Poppy just as much as Scott does, her eternally perky demeanor and categorically sunny smile enough to make the hair on my head stand on end.

Yet in no time at all, both Leigh and Hawkins had worked their deliriously euphoric mojo, and I couldn't wait to see how this loving woman was going to deal with the problems and catastrophes tossed her way. While most might seem minor to you or to me, Poppy treats them with a compassion and grace that's beyond wonderful, doing her best to make everyone happy, even if she's secretly not the same herself.

But she isn't a saint, and neither the acclaimed Oscar-nominated writer/director nor the extremely talented character actress attempt to make her one. The woman has her flaws and her blind spots, and while her continual attempts to make those around her smile are laudably fantastic, sometimes the effect they end up having can't help but border on just a wee bit tragic.

I don't think this is up there with Leigh's best works like Life is Sweet, Secrets & Lies, Naked and Career Girls (my all-time favorite of the filmmaker's oeuvre), but even with that in mind it's still better, more alive and simply more enjoyable to experience than a good 90 percent of anything else out there right now. This is a movie that offers up plenty of food for thought, the whole thing anchored by a performance so stunning and triumphant that if Hawkins doesn't get an Academy Award nomination I might just fall over dead from the shock.

In short, Happy-Go-Lucky is an instant winner, a film so good I'm going to be telling people to see it from here into eternity. Just thinking about it can't help but make me smile, and as far as my own personal positivism is concerned, just like Poppy, I'm going to choose to assume the best and claim viewers are going to walk out of the theater singing this one's praise.

Courtesy of www.moviefreak.com


German impressionism with feeling
by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Intensity seems to be a trademark of Music of Remembrance and the programs they present. Musical concerts I have seen were outstanding in all ways, especially in the artistic intensity with which the music was played. Everything was of the highest intelligence and sincerity.

I expect nothing less from the two programs below:


The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari
Music of Remembrance & SIFF Cinema Present: "Silent Horror, Chilling Music" with Guenter Buchwald Thursday, October 30, 7 PM
SIFF Cinema, 321 Mercer St, McCaw Hall, Seattle Center
Tickets in advance at www.siff.net, $10 at the door


Germany's Guenter Buchwald - composer, conductor, and leader of a renaissance in silent movie music - visits SIFF Cinema to talk about German silent film landmarks The Golem and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Enjoy a screening of Caligari, with Buchwald on piano and violin, and a post-film Q&A.

The Golem
Fall Concert commemorating the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht
Sunday November 2, 2008 4:00 PM
Monday November 3, 2008 7:00 PM
Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall, Third & Union, Seattle


In 1920, amid a rising tide of German anti-Semitism, horror film star Paul Wegener made and starred in The Golem, a cautionary tale about unbridled power. Silent film specialist Guenter Buchwald leads a live performance of Israeli composer Betty Olivero's boundary-blurring, klezmer-like score. Also on the program: Simon Sargon's Before the Ark, and Lior Navok's Found in a Train Station. Tickets $36 at 206-365-7770 or www.musicofremembrance.org.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu

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