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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 26, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 43
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Ambitious Cloud Atlas a thought-provoking spectacle
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

CLOUD ATLAS
Opens October 26

A deathly ill attorney with precious papers to return home to his father harbors a fleeing slave aboard a clipper ship cruising from the Pacific Islands back to the United States in 1849. A pre-WWII composer hides his affair with a scientist as he struggles to finish the symphony that will come to define his life. In 1973, a strident journalist, the daughter of a Korean War hero (and an award-winning reporter himself), uncovers a conspiracy at a fledgling nuclear power plant, putting her life in danger. A clone in 2144 Neo Seoul is freed from her bonds and awakened to a staggering truth, giving her life newfound meaning and perspective. After a global catastrophe, a timid goat herder must find the strength to lead an interstellar traveler into the forbidden ruins of a civilization reduced to rubble and battle against brutish cannibals if he hopes to see his clan's lineage survive.

Having not read David Mitchell's novel, I wasn't sure what to expect walking into Cloud Atlas, the almost three-hour, star-studded, and highly ambitious dramatic science fiction spectacle co-written and co-directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix). I knew that the trio had hired the likes of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, James D'Arcy, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, and Keith David to play multiple characters of varying races and genders, and I knew the movie was going to essentially span 500 years of human evolution. But how would it all connect? Would the filmmakers be able to mesh the themes of the scenario with their bold thematic and visual ambitions? Or would it all collapse in upon itself, becoming nothing more than a curious afterthought known more for what it attempted than for what it actually accomplished?

NOT TO WORRY
For my part, I was hypnotized by Cloud Atlas, was held spellbound from the glorious opening moments all the way to the futuristic coda. I loved what the Wachowskis and Tykwer were attempting, found myself greedily lapping up the majority of their ideas and themes with overzealous glee. Does it always work? Do all of the threads tie back together in a wholly satisfying manner? No, not at all, but even when the filmmakers get lost in their own overzealous tendencies, the movie still remains a towering humanistic marvel unlike anything else I've seen this year, and I have a feeling that the more I ponder it, the more this particular motion picture has the potential to become something of an enduring favorite worthy of significantly more contemplation.

I am not entirely certain that the idea to have members of the cast play multiple roles is as much of a good thing, however, as the trio intended. There were times where I found myself getting thrown out of the movie as I unintentionally giggled at the sight of Berry as a one-eyed Korean scientist, Weaving as an iron-fisted Nurse Ratched clone, or Grant as a murderous tribal leader thirsting for blood. But other times this conceit works wonderfully, giving the movie an added layer of depth it arguably would not have had otherwise, the connective tissue between segments and eras all the more tangible because of it.

TWO STAND OUT
It's hard to single out any of the actors as giving 'great' or 'stellar' performances considering the pressures put upon them to portray so many different individuals in so many different time periods. But Whishaw and Doona Bae are deserving of kudos, the former in particular (I'd give him a Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination), both of them delivering performances transcending the inherent complications of the material and the way the Wachowskis and Tykwer chose to visualize it. Both of them mine emotions, go places, and achieve a certain form of brilliance. The two actualize much of what the filmmakers are going for in a way that feels effortless, even going so far as to transport things to an emotionally dexterous plateau it otherwise might not have ascended to.

The hard part of Cloud Atlas is that, even though I realize it is too long, and that it isn't nearly as difficult to figure out or piece together as some might lead you to believe, I'm not sure I'd want the directors to have removed a single section of it. Does a modern-era subplot involving Broadbent penning his memoirs while trying to escape from a gulag-like home for senior citizens need to be in the movie? Probably not, but so many of the moments during this part are so divine, so jovial, so gosh-darn fun, that I think my appreciation of the movie as a whole would have dulled somewhat had they not been included.

SELF-INDULGENCE EXCUSED
Still, it isn't like the Wachowskis or Tykwer are known for their ability to hold back or show restraint. Sure they have their moments, and their best films (Bound and The Matrix for the former, Run Lola Run and Perfume: The Story of a Murderer for the latter) show that they can do just that in spades. But they do have their self-indulgent moments, both of them more than willing to throw in a bunch of nonsensical chop-socky kung fu or absurdly ponderous montages of principals aimlessly wandering through twisty streets for no particular reason. Yet, again, while that's the case at times here, so many of those moments are so stunningly realized it would be difficult to imagine them excised, and I have a feeling I'll have less of a problem with them in future viewings.

I'm not going into a lot of the ins and outs of Cloud Atlas because I don't feel I need to. I really do think that the themes and ideas presented are not particularly difficult to comprehend, while I'm also certain that it's better to do so on your own without my interference. This is the kind of movie that is best experienced knowing as few of the major intricacies as possible, discovery of the nuances part of the joy of this particular symphonic visual journey.

The Wachowskis and Tykwer have done something magnificent here, have delivered in a way that few other filmmakers would have - or, for that matter, probably could have. Their movie is a testament to the human experience, birth to death, life to afterlife, going into the beyond with a knowing, thought-provoking intelligence belying the cinematic spectacle. Cloud Atlas is a marvel, of that I feel there is no doubt, and as such my hope is that potential viewers in the here and now take a chance on it and don't leave it for future generations to discover decades down the road.


Inspiring AIDS documentary an awesome tale of heroism
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE
Now showing


As an award-winning journalist, David France has been covering the AIDS crisis for 30 years. His work in LGBT community papers, The New York Times, Newsweek, GQ, and New York magazine has spoken for itself for over three decades, his connection to people and their stories practically one-of-a-kind.

So it only makes sense that his documentary debut, How to Survive a Plague, ends up being maybe the definitive chronicle of this epidemic as well as the grassroots community organizations that blossomed across the country in response to it. This is the story of the fight against AIDS, against political and social indifference, about corporate and public indifference. It is the story of a group of fighters who knew there was a problem but hadn't the first clue what the correct first step was going to be, their only security the knowledge that said step had to happen right away or any chance to have previously silent voices heard might be lost forever.

That might be a bit of hyperbole on my part, but not by much. France looks at the rise of organizations like ACT UP out of New York's Greenwich Village with a clear eye and without a heavy hand, using copious amounts of source material - videos, news footage, photos, news clippings, etc. - to tell his tale. He lets the voices of those involved in the fight speak for themselves, everything propelling forward in a way that is kinetically enthralling. The documentary almost becomes something like a real-world ticking-clock political thriller a la Argo or All the President's Men, the film a mesmerizing descent down the rabbit hole that would be unbelievable if it wasn't all 100-percent true.

The whole story is here. Playwright Larry Kramer's incendiary speech that led to the birth of ACT UP. The first appearance of the pink triangle coupled with the slogan 'Silence = Death.' The approval of AZT by the FDA and its subsequent release, the most expensive drug ever to hit the open market. President Ronald Reagan labeling the disease 'Public Enemy No. 1,' but only after 20,000 Americans had died. Teenage activist Ryan White's death from AIDS at the age of 18. The formation of the Treatment Action Group (TAG) in 1992. Magic Johnson's stunning announcement that he was/is HIV-positive.

France weaves all of this material together brilliantly, and hearing the voices of those who were there when it happened is borderline staggering. More so is the haunting, emotionally powerful coda, when the surviving members of this fight who we've been following for the entire film finally make an appearance. Seeing them now had an awesome, almost magisterial impact upon me. How to Survive a Plague isn't just a great documentary - it's a great movie, period. Without a doubt, France's debut is one of the more profoundly inspiring efforts I've seen this year.

For an exclusive interview with director David France, go to www.sgn.org.


And the winners are... SLGFF announces jury and audience awards
The Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival (SLGFF) ended its 17th run October 21 with the announcement of its Jury and Audience Awards. Deeply personal stories, laugh-out-loud comedies, timely documentaries, poignant dramas, premieres with big-name stars, and cutting edge works from local and emerging talent all highlighted this year's programming. SLGFF is produced by Three Dollar Bill Cinema, an award-winning Seattle nonprofit.

'It made me proud to see the Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival bring together such diverse crowds with our film programs and special events,' said Jason Plourde, Three Dollar Bill Cinema's executive director. 'Our 11-day film festival became a special place for all people to view and discuss LGBT stories from around the world, and that included Queer women of color, heterosexual religious conservatives, and high school Gay-Straight Alliances from across the region. And with Referendum 74 so close in the polls, it was especially important to provide this forum and increase visibility for our community.'

The festival had five sold-out shows - notably the Centerpiece screening of Cloudburst, starring Olympia Dukakis and Brenda Fricker - and packed venues throughout the festival, particularly for audience favorites such as the opening-night comedy Struck by Lightning, the beautiful spectacle of Swan Lake in 3D, and the local celebrity-studded Waxie Moon in Fallen Jewel.

JURY AWARDS
Best Feature: A Map for a Talk (Mapa Para Conversar), directed by Constanza Fernández. A visually stunning film with great life symbolism without being overdone, exploring relationships with beautiful honesty. Honorable mention: Waxie Moon in Fallen Jewel, directed by Wes Hurley. A celebration of Seattle, featuring the most glittering of its emerald side. We can't wait to see what Wes and Waxie will do next.

Best Documentary: Call Me Kuchu, directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall. A beautifully crafted, honest, and important document, reminding us that the denial of any single human's rights is a global crime that affects us all. Honorable mention: Jobriath A.D., directed by Kieran Turner. What a treasured gift to discover this extraordinarily talented, charismatic '70s rock artist, who was truly at the vanguard of a musical genre and the Gay truth movement.

Best Short Film: Tsuyako, directed by Mitsuyo Miyazaki. For its powerful narrative and dynamic editing set in an unexpected time and place, yielding an unforgettable film of tremendous emotional resonance.

Most Innovative Short Film: The Maiden and the Princess, directed by Ali Scher. For its timely and buoyant update of the traditional fairy tale. Honorable mention: Alone With You, directed by Doug Ischar. A striking experimental short that layers disparate source material into a provocative and engaging whirlwind.

AUDIENCE AWARDS
Favorite Narrative Film: I Do, directed by Glenn Gaylord. Favorite Documentary Feature: Call Me Kuchu, directed by Katherine Fairfax Wright and Malika Zouhali-Worrall. Favorite Gay Short Film: The Devotion Project: More Than Ever, directed by Antony Osso. Favorite Lesbian Short Film: Polaroid Girl, directed by April Maxey. Favorite Transgender Short Film: Transforming Family, directed by Rémy Huberdeau. 'We congratulate all the Jury and Audience Award winners and thank every filmmaker who was a part of the 17th Annual Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival,' concluded Keith Bacon, Three Dollar Bill Cinema's lead programmer.

Information provided by Gail Benzler, SLGFF's communications director.




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'This was a story of heroes'
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Ramayana staging an epic gamble
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November concert preview
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Mice from hell
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Early church music made dramatic
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Ambitious Cloud Atlas a thought-provoking spectacle
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Inspiring AIDS documentary an awesome tale of heroism
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And the winners are... SLGFF announces jury and audience awards
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LGBT allies Maroon 5 announce March concert
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