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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 1, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 13
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Three Dollar Bill's Spring Film Series offers Jean Genet cinema rarities
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Legendary director Jean Cocteau famously declared outcast, criminal, playwright, actor, poet and fellow Frenchman Jean Genet a literary genius, while Jean-Paul Sartre went so far as to liken him to a saint in his biography Saint Genet: Com├ędien et Martyr.

Now Three Dollar Film Cinema proudly showcases four films based on the satirist's plays: The Maids with Glenda Jackson and Susannah York; the Academy Award-nominated The Balcony with Shelley Winters and Peter Falk; groundbreaking German director Rainier Werner Fassbinder's final sexual epic Querelle; and Deathwatch, a rarely seen production of Genet's first play, directed by Vic Morrow and starring Leonard Nimoy and Paul Mazursky.

They're all part of Three Dollar Bill's 6th annual Spring Film Series - 'Outlaw: Jean Genet on Film,' starting Thursday, April 7 at the Northwest Film Forum - and programming director Jason Plourde couldn't be more excited.

'Jean Genet is a fascinating individual and he presented themes of homosexuality and other taboo topics when it was illegal to do so,' he explained to the SGN. 'He came from a difficult childhood and a criminal past, and yet eventually used his writing talent to speak out against injustices. Each of the films presented show the dark side of human nature, but also the yearnings we all have for love and connection.'

The most intriguing title being presented is 1966's Deathwatch. Unavailable on video or DVD, the movie is a curiosity that was once promoted as 'the strangest triangle ever seen.' Co-produced by Nimoy (who also happens to make an appearance in The Balcony), the plot concerns three prisoners who battle for one another's affections, the psychological repercussions of which result in unimaginable tragedy.

'It took a lot to arrange this screening,' Plourde said. 'Film prints of this title are rare. This may be the only opportunity for people in Seattle to see this film. And, how often do you get a chance to see homoerotic prison films from the '60s with Star Trek alum as the leads?'

For Plourde, the annual Spring Film Series is quickly becoming a Seattle tradition. 'I love introducing audiences to films that have been overlooked or would be impossible to see on the big screen if not for series like these,' he said with a smile. 'I also think it's important to revisit films that are part of our LGBT film history. Seeing these films is entertaining, and also allows us to understand how our society has changed and helps shape the stories we tell in the future.'

'Outlaw: Jean Genet on Film' is a four-film series presented by Three Dollar Bill Cinema and begins with a screening of The Maids on April 7. All films will be screened at the Northwest Film Forum. Tickets are $10 for Three Dollar Bill members and $12 for the general public. Full series passes can be purchased for $40. Visit www.threedollarbillcinema.org for more information.


SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW Source Code director Duncan Jones
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

The last time Duncan Jones was in the Emerald City, it was during the Seattle International Film Festival to talk about his 2009 debut Moon. While only making a minor dent at the domestic box office, the Kubrickian science fiction spectacular starring Sam Rockwell picked up accolades and awards everywhere it went, and became something of a cult favorite in the process.

After picking up a BAFTA for Outstanding Debut by a Writer, Director or Producer, the talented filmmaker (and son of rock star David Bowie) returned to Seattle to talk about his latest success, Source Code. A time-travel thriller about an Afghan war veteran (Jake Gyllenhaal) who must endure repeating eight-minute intervals inside the body of a commuter train bomb victim in order to discover the identity of the terrorist responsible, the movie is a full-throttle exercise in intelligent action filmmaking that recalls The Twilight Zone during its heyday.

'It feels good right now,' sighed Jones as we began our chat in a suite at the downtown Fairmont Olympic. 'One day, I feel like I'm going to have the same position as the Tarantinos or the Coens [of the world] have where they write their own material, do it on a reasonable budget, and make the films they want to make. With all the excitement surrounding Source Code, it's easy to get excited looking ahead to the future. Hopefully more films like this and Moon mean I'm on course to do just that.'

In regards to this movie, Jones decided to forgo writing an original script for his sophomore outing the moment Ben Ripley's screenplay came into his hands.

'It was actor-first,' he explained, regarding his decision to take on the project. 'I am a huge fan of Jake's; I think he's really talented. He's incredibly good-looking, obvious leading-man material, but he's also really brave, and that's the thing I didn't know about. I knew his choices were brave, that goes without saying, but when I got to meet him and when I got to work with him, I discovered that he's really willing to let me push him as far as possible.'

'He'll have a take as to what he wants to do, and I'm happy to create an environment where he can do that, but he also [accepts] what I suggest and I'm kind of blunt on set. If I don't like something I'll say it, and if I do like something I'll let people know, and he responded well to that. If I made a suggestion that was a little strange or a bit different he'd just do it, just go for it, and we got some really great results that way, and it was just a wonderful experience as a director. I had that with Sam [Rockwell, from Moon] as well, and now I've had two leading men in a row who've been just great fun to work with. I feel lucky in that respect.'

And as for Ripley's script itself? Did he know immediately this was material he could do something interesting with?

'I did,' Jones answers immediately. 'It's got a great pace to it, and I love that aspect. It's got a really interesting conceit; the idea behind it is cool.'

'I wasn't so sure about the tone. It was originally quite serious, and my response was that we needed to lighten the tone and inject some humor into it. I didn't want to get bogged down in the technology; I felt we should buy the audience's affection with some humor and get them to leap on board and go for the ride. That was my original take, and Ben was quite responsive to my thoughts and opinions. Once Jake and Ben agreed with me on that, it was a no-brainer as far as I was concerned to direct.'

All of this sounds great in theory, but trying to execute a plot as complex and as intricately layered as Source Code's couldn't have been simple, especially when you're trying to interject a bit of fun and playfulness into the middle of all the suspense. While someone like Hitchcock had the ability to do this sort of thing in his sleep, modern filmmakers typically drop the ball trying to emulate that sort of style - a fact that might have had Jones worried.

'Not really,' Jones says with a shrug. 'You just have to go for it and hope for the best. There are a lot of talented people at work here, and I trusted them to realize my vision. As you may know, I was working with one of the best in the business as far as editors are concerned. Paul Hirsch is a legend. He edited The Empire Strikes Back and Ferris Beuller's Day Off, won an Oscar for the original Star Wars and was nominated again for Ray. He's an extraordinary man, and having him on my side obviously made things a heck of a lot easier. It was like going back to film school working with him, and I think the main reason we were able to succeed in regards to execution of tone is thanks in large part to Paul.'

One of the intriguing aspects of both Moon and Source Code is that both, in some ways, could be construed as 'twist' or 'trick' films much like The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense. Yet unlike those pictures, Jones reveals their secrets relatively early on, using the shock and awe of the revelation to fuel the drama, suspense, and emotion throughout the rest of their respective narratives.

'Holding revelations or revealing twists at the end wasn't what I was trying to do in either picture,' he admits. 'It's a spectacular device when it's done well, doing that. The Sixth Sense is extraordinary and it has a great payoff. The Usual Suspects, fantastic payoff. But that's really hard to do, and you have to have a really amazing script and a really amazing way of telling your story and revealing clues at precisely the moment when the audience is going to be most impacted by them. You also have to find a way to stop people from talking about it, and I think in the world that we live in today I don't know if you could make The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense. I don't know that if by the time they came out everyone would already know what the secrets behind them were. If that's true, that's kind of sad, because I do want people to still be able to make those kinds of films.'

'Our secrets in Source Code are less specific and more on-the-nose than those other films we've been talking about. I didn't need to keep them concealed very long because I think it actually improves the enjoyment factor for the audience if they're not left entirely in the dark. The reveal we make moves the plot and the characters forward, and while I'd love it if people don't talk about it, if you know going in what our secrets are, I don't think it will dilute enjoyment in any substantial way.'

Now that he's finished with Source Code, I asked Jones where he intends to go from here. More science fiction? Something completely different? Or is he still searching for that next great idea or perfect project?

'I know exactly what I'm going to be doing next,' he says with a wry, animated smile. 'It will be sci-fi, so it will be in the same genre as my first two films, but it will definitely be a change of gears. I'm very excited about it. I'm hoping it will be my opportunity to blow people's minds a little bit. I can't say too much, because this one I really do want to keep its secrets as long as possible. But I'm really excited about it. I can't wait to get started.'


Tricky Source Code a Hitchcockian sci-fi blast
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Source Code
Opening April 1
Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal) isn't sure what is going on. He's woken up on a Chicago commuter train talking to a strange if friendly woman named Christina (Michelle Monaghan) as if they've been longtime friends, even though they've just met. The last thing he remembers was being in Afghanistan flying a helicopter, so trying to make sense out of this seemingly innocuous situation is driving him mad. Something is obviously wrong, and he's got to figure out what that is, or the only logical conclusion is that he's gone insane.

Suddenly, an explosion rips through the train, killing everyone. Colter jolts again, and this time he finds himself stuck inside a strange mechanical pod filled with a variety of blinking lights and numerous switches. A fellow soldier calling herself Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga) appears before him on a small monitor asking if he discovered the identity of the bomber, wanting to know if his mission was a success. A man appears, a Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright), who wants to know whether or not he was successful as well, ordering that he be sent back to the train to try again if he was not.

The basics behind director Duncan Jones' marvelous Source Code are simple. Working from a script by Ben Ripley, the film is your basic Twilight Zone situation of a man going back in time again and again and again to repeat the last eight minutes in another fellow's life, attempting to solve a crime committed in the past so that the perpetrator cannot do it again in a quickly approaching future. It's a ticking-clock thriller that's one part Speed and two parts Groundhog Day, and the final product is a rapid-fire adventure that's as fun and playful as it is action-packed and filled with suspense.

In other words, Jones has constructed a thoroughly entertaining jaunt worthy of multiple viewings. On the one hand discussing complicated theoretical scientific possibilities, on the other a mismatched love story filled with witty verbal repartee, the movie is a joyous frolic that's as intriguing as it is agreeable. By the time it came to its more than satisfactory conclusion, I found it difficult not to walk out of the theater impressed. Even if some of the film strained credulity to its breaking point, the fun to be had far outweighed the sometimes melodramatic silliness inherent in the presented situations.

It starts with Gyllenhaal. This is the kind of action picture or thriller he should be appearing in, not overblown animated Jerry Bruckheimer spectacles like The Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. This movie and this role play to his ample strengths, allowing him to flex his comedic and dramatic muscles at the same time. His initial paranoia at the strangeness of his situation is catching, as is his growing desire to save the life of a woman he just met (and who he knows is long dead). There is a richness to his portrayal that's surprising, and as the movie progressed, figuring out what he was going to do and how he was going to respond to each nugget of uncovered information proved to be a consistent delight.

I must say, however, that Farmiga is even better. She's got an incredibly difficult role, spending a good majority of her screen time as nothing more than a figure sitting on the other side of a television monitor. Yet her performance grows in emotional weight and depth as the film progresses, and the actress gives her conflicting thoughts and desires shape as her charge comes closer and closer to achieving his goals. Her actions end up being the ones I found myself connected to the most, and her decisions are all ones I'd like to believe the majority of us would also make if found in a similar situation.

So the movie is fairly silly, and the central mystery isn't so much a puzzle as it is a series of sketches flashed upon the screen, leading to a somewhat foregone conclusion. The science behind Source Code was so nondescript and sketchy that there were moments where all that was missing was Doc Brown to arrive with his shock of white hair ablaze, cackling on about space-time continuums and paradoxes that could destroy the universe.

But so what? Few movies are just this gosh darn cool, and I enjoyed the heck out of it first frame to last. The performances are all solid, and other than some so-so CGI, everything is great from a technical standpoint. (Paul Hirsch's (Star Wars) editing is particularly noteworthy.)

As sophomore efforts go, Source Code is an even more impressive effort than was Jones' first flick, Moon, and the final product is a Hitchcockian sci-fi locomotive that's a complete blast for every one of its breathless 93 minutes.




Seattle Pride Idol is back!
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Shangela to make her Seattle debut
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Billy Elliot a boy born to boogie
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Lisa Lampanelli lets it all hang out
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Great performances make The King's Proposal an enjoyable evening
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Of Mice and Men brings classic to the stage
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW Dee Hoty makes 9 to 5 her own
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A Dyke About Town: Laura Love delights sold-out crowd at Triple Door
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Next week in The Music Lounge: Cut Copy checks in from the road
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Three Dollar Bill's Spring Film Series offers Jean Genet cinema rarities
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW Source Code director Duncan Jones
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Tricky Source Code a Hitchcockian sci-fi blast
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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The Sounds are ringing loud and clear
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Northwest News
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Letters
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Triumphant All My Sons proves universal
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