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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 28 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 09
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Serpentine Stranger
a bewitchingly seductive noir
by Gary M. Kramer - SGN Contributing Writer

STRANGER BY THE LAKE
Opening March 7


Stranger by the Lake, written and directed by Alain Guiraudie, depicts a love triangle that develops at a cruising area. Franck (Pierre Deadonchamps) befriends newcomer Henri (Patrick d'Assumçao), but he lusts after Michel (Christophe Paou). Even though Franck spies Michel drowning his boyfriend, Ramière (François-Renaud Labarthe), he can't resist coupling up with the murdering hunk.

However, once their affair begins, Franck is frustrated that his relationship with Michel is limited to their lakeside assignations. Curiously, both men lie to Inspector Damroder (Jérômre Chappatte), who is investigating Ramière's death. This seductive erotic thriller - which is shot in a series of hypnotic, repetitive sequences - plays with issues of attraction and voyeurism, as well as trust and truth as the characters strip down on the beach, swim naked in the lake and stroke and sometimes suck each other off in the woods.

Director Alain Guiraudie's film is incredibly atmospheric and uninhibited. Viewers will be breathing heavy during the erotic trysts and as the tension increases in the final reel as a series of violent murders occur.

Guiraudie spoke (with the assistance of a translator) to Seattle Gay News about creating his seductive, erotic thriller.

Gary M. Kramer: Your entire film is shot on a nude beach, in the water, and in the woods. The all-male cast appears more frequently than not sans clothes. Can you discuss what you spent on costumes and locations?

Alain Guiraudie: [Laughs, answers in English]. The beach was free. The costumes were 1,500 Euros. Expensive!

GMK: Your film is very much about voyeurism and the male gaze. The men on the beach look at us, the viewer(s). There is a scene in which Franck spies a murder. There are also the men in the woods looking at other guys having sex. Can you talk about this visual theme?

AG: The theme of voyeurism wasn't really something that was predominant for me. I think what I was more interested in was about 'how to look and how things look.' One of the questions I was interested in answering was, 'How do you show naked men on the beach? How do you film them when you are opposite them?' So it was really more a question of how to show things, and how people saw things than voyeurism itself. Going back to the example of shooting naked men on the beach, when you are looking directly at them, if they have their legs spread out, their sexual organs are going to appear large in the image. So I thought I could move the camera slightly off to the side, but in the end, we decided it was better to do it in this very frontal way.

GMK: Why was that?

AG: Because that's how it is! I did it that way, because I've gone to these kinds of nude beaches. That's the way it is - you look directly at them, and that's what you see. This is really a film where nothing is hidden. There were some things that need to be hidden, but nothing about the body needs to be hidden. The other thing I was interested in doing - and I don't know if it is linked to voyeurism - was addressing the whole question of point of view and how do we look at things? How are the ways we look at things received by the object that we are looking at? What I also thought was interesting was to play with the idea that you can oftentimes have the same look. One day that look is from one point of view and it can seem very benevolent, very inviting, and very loving. But the next day, you can be looking at the same image or view, and suddenly, it can seem very disturbing, very threatening, and even very oppressive.

GMK: You deliberately show Michel drowning his boyfriend in the water through the trees. Why did you make this murder unambiguous?

AG: I wanted the viewer to know exactly the same information that Franck knew. I wanted the audience to be with him, and I didn't want viewers to get involved on a psychological level with Franck trying to determine should he tell the police, or should he not tell the police? I didn't want it to be a psychological film in that respect, so it was really obvious for me to let the audience know. The main thrust of the plot is here is Franck being caught between his desires and the ethical and moral questions - should I turn this guy into the police because he just killed someone?

GMK: Can you talk about the love triangle between Henri, Franck, and Michel?

AG: I think what is very interesting is that it posits two very different approaches to what is love and what is desire. On the one hand, you have the relationship between Franck and Michel, and it's something very sexual, and the desire is all consuming and that is the primary aspect of that relationship. But then you have the relationship between Franck and Henri. Again, it's a relationship that's more disturbing. It's less clear what it is about. It's certainly friendship, but you can also say that it's a love relationship between Franck and Henri, too. The way I deal with desire in the film is this idea of the 'spiral quality of desire' - this circular movement that goes between Franck and Michel and Franck and Henri. The way they all interact with each other - the circular motion - really became evident during the editing process.

GMK: How did you work with your actors?

AG: I think a large part of the work was actually done during the casting process. What was important there was to find two actors that would work together well as a couple. When they actually did come together, a lot of that work had been done in advance by casting them. We would then take the script and discuss the scenes. With the sex scenes, there was much more intense discussion.

GMK: What can you say about filming the explicit sex scenes?

AG: We had a lot of discussions, and did a lot of rehearsing. It was really exploring where I could take them, and how far the actors were willing to go. I wanted the actors to invest something of themselves in the characters they were portraying. I didn't want to stuff them into a pre-designed mold of who or what these characters were going to be. Through the rehearsal process and in talking to them about the sex scenes in particular, we worked on the positions, and the 'choreography' as it were. Because we did so much preliminary work, when the time actually came to shoot it, it went very, very easily.

© 2014 Gary M. Kramer


Fiery Pompeii a volcanic star-crossed love story
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

For a disaster movie, based on an actual historical event, no less, Pompeii is remarkably restrained. For a gladiator-slash-revenge-slash-star-crossed-lovers-love-story directed by the man behind Resident Evil, Event Horizon, Alien vs. Predator and Mortal Kombat, Paul W.S. Anderson, it is shockingly even more so. Sure it is in 3-D. Of course the CGI visual effects threaten to overwhelm the proceedings. Without question a few of the performances, I'm looking at you, a supremely miscast Kiefer Sutherland, are hyperbolically comical and hysterically over the top. But, stunningly, surprisingly, almost to the point of dumbfounded disbelief, the movie doesn't try to do too much or overplay its hand, and if not for a hackneyed, unintentionally silly conclusion, the film comes curiously close to being worthy of a somewhat half-hearted recommendation.

Sadly, the last 15 minutes, the point when all you-know-what breaks loose and it's every citizen for themselves, is Anderson at his absolute worst, the director engaging in many of the overly theatric, exceedingly melodramatic tricks that have undone just about every single motion picture he has ever made. He's a B-movie wunderkind with aspirations of becoming an A-list auteur, and while the material moderately lends itself to the latter, his sensibilities behind the camera always seem to provoke the former to come oozing out of him come what may.

You can think of the movie as some odd-duck assemblage of Gladiator, 2012, Dante's Peak and Titanic thrown into a blender and mixed with devilish relish. The story, credited to three writers (with an uncredited assist by Downton Abbey and Gosford Park scribe Julian Fellowes), is a silly hodgepodge of a number of clichés, yet the majority of the dramatics are reasonably better developed than initially surmised. I was more invested in the proceedings than I had any right to be, the more intimate moments affecting an authentic emotional reaction I couldn't have anticipated.

The plot itself is pure cheese. Milo (Kit Harington), the sole survivor of his tribe of Briton horse lords, has been raised a slave since childhood and taught the gladiatorial arts by his owner. He is sent to Pompeii to take part in an annual festival, his skills appearing to be a solid match for reigning champion Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the wise barbarian one win away from achieving his freedom.

While there, Milo comes into contact with the beautiful Cassia (Emily Browning), daughter of the city's wealthiest merchant Severus (Jared Harris). He is also reunited with the Roman General turned corrupt Senator, the malevolent Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), who was responsible for the slaughter of his entire clan. With friendship developing between he and Atticus, love in the air as it relates to Cassia and vengeance building every time he looks upon Corvus, Pompeii's beautiful mountain Mount Vesuvius is rumbling to life, unimaginable mayhem and tragedy on the docket no one in the city is prepared to face.

The love story between Milo and Cassia is pretty silly, yet still works better than it has any right to; while Harris and co-star Carrie-Anne Moss, playing his strong-willed wife Aurelia, add a little gravitas to the proceedings I found nice. As for the build up to the eruption itself, Anderson handles it all nicely, and while he doesn't stray far from the standard Irwin Allen playbook (he was the man behind The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno and a slew of '70s disaster epics) he still gives it enough of his own idiosyncratic spin to keep things interesting.

But the real reason to watch is Akinnuoye-Agbaje. He's an actor who has deserved better for some time (just look at his wonderfully nuanced work in the short-lived British action series Hunted for proof) - his nonsense roles in Thor: The Dark World, The Thing and G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, just to name three, not exactly making the most of his talents. He gives Atticus real weight, true heft, mining territories and exploring nuances that the script barely hints at. His moments have an authority to them nothing else in the movie can touch, making his penultimate bout against Corvus' second-in-command Proculus (Sasha Roiz) and his final actions post-eruption memorably rousing and tragically moving in ways so much of the rest of the movie simply is not.

If only those final 15 or so minutes weren't such, please excuse the wording, a disaster. Anderson throws logic (what there is of it; this genre isn't exactly known for its practical applications of little things like physics, continuity or scientific realism) completely out the window, the final sequences an implausible hodgepodge of stupidity and cartoonish buffoonery that blew my mind. Horses have the magical ability to outrun unmitigated chaos, splinters of wood in the hands of a girlish neophyte can pick the most complex of locks and fleeing survivors pause to pick pointless fights making any chance of survival close to impossible.

Admittedly, it all ends as it must, on that front I give Anderson and his team credit, but the staging coupled with the maudlin theatricality of the presentation of the climactic gestures is too much to bear, the snickering and giggling heard throughout the theatre as the screen faded to black not exactly intentional. Pompeii is better than it has any right to be, especially considering the director's track record, but that just makes its descent into lunacy, madness and melodramatic excess all the more off-putting, the movie sadly nothing more than a volcanic disappointment that lays waste to almost all of its more laudable and celebratory properties.


Miyazaki's The Wind Rises a soaring tale of imagination, heartbreak and love
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE WIND RISES Now playing

[NOTE: I watched the original Japanese language version of The Wind Rises (with subtitles) back in early December of 2013 in preparation for writing my end-of-year column and compiling my 2013 Top Ten list. While the English language voice actors are listed in this review, I personally have not seen this dubbed version of the film. That said, I cannot imagine my opinion of Hayao Miyazaki's achievement would change a single bit if I had, the masterful eloquence of this intimately haunting achievement absolutely universal no matter what language the characters themselves are speaking.]

Since he was a young boy, Jirô Horikoshi (voiced by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has longed to fly. Due to being nearsighted, becoming a pilot is impossible. But designing airplanes? Following in the footsteps of his idol, Italian aeronautical engineer Caproni (Stanley Tucci)? That is possible. More, it is exactly what he is going to do.

Legendary filmmaker and animator Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, apparently the director's final production, is a stunningly beautiful aria to creativity, longing and love that speaks to the very core of who we all wish we could be and the price that so often must be paid when we reach for the stars. It is a somewhat fictionalized chronicling of one of the most vicious and lethal aircrafts ever invented, the Zero Fighter, used with such precision and accuracy by the Japanese in WWII. At the same time it is also a look at a man caught between letting his imaginations soar and accepting the price that must ultimately be paid if he is to see his designs take flight, the movie ultimately a poetic chronicling responsibility and regret that's heartbreakingly universal.

The beauty of Miyazaki's script is that it doesn't gloss over any facet of the complex, deeply internal, melodiously fragile story it is trying to tell. Jirô is crafting a war machine, that fact never in doubt, but his reasons for wanting to ride upon the wind's curves and float amidst the billowing clouds are anything but militaristic. More than that, he intimately understands the social and political complexities he is embroiled in, knowing his engineering achievements can be a springboard towards greater advancements in the future that will hopefully be more peaceful in application and usage.

On top of that, The Wind Rises is a poignant love story, Jirô losing his heart to quiet, winsomely beautiful artist Nahoko Satomi (Emily Blunt) knowing full well that doing so is in neither of their mutual long term interests (the reasons for which I will not go into here). Their storyline allows the themes Miyazaki is attempting to explore to echo even deeper into the viewer's soul, giving the film a timeless, almost ethereal quality that is omnipresent and all-encompassing.

The animation is, unsurprisingly, stunning. What's most interesting is that, in most ways, the film is one of Miyazaki's least fantastical, existing in a real, tactile world showing Japan of the 1920s and '30s as it in most respect probably was. At the same time, the filmmaker lets his imagination fly into incredible, eye-popping directions during Jirô's dream sequences, his conversations with Caproni having a devil-may-care ebullience speaking to the very heart of what it is the animator is talking about. The use of color, the idiosyncratic designs of many of the aerials filtering throughout the protagonist's brainpan, all of it is continually exquisite, everything working in dynamic tandem with the hypnotic story being magnetically told.

If this really is Miyazaki's final motion picture, and, as he's in his mid-70s, who can blame him if it is, then the Studio Ghibli founder and animation titan goes out on something akin to an all-time high. While it is impossible to say whether or not The Wind Rises is better than prior classics like My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, that it deserves to be equated with each of them on relatively equal footing goes without saying. This movie is a titanic achievement that I'm still mulling over, so many pieces of it speaking with such unabashed eloquence calling the finished film an instant classic is almost a no-brainer.






Teatro ZinZanni presents On the Air, a delightful new iteration of their dinner cabaret
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Patrick R. Brown has theatre 'SCARS'
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86th Annual Academy Awards - Predictions
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Mom Baby God and Killer Quack presented at Solo Performance Festival
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Curtain UP: Seattle's 2014-15 Theatre Season
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Mussorgsky slaughtered; Verdi dramatized
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Midler, Pink, Williams performing, DeGeneres hosting Sunday's Oscars
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Sarah Jessica Parker launching fashion line in Seattle
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Seattle Men's Chorus gets 'Totally Wicked'- Featuring the music of Stephen Schwartz with special guest, Megan Hilty
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Announcing Moisture Festival 2014: Moisture Festival is turning it up to 11
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Northwest News
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LETTERS
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Ann Hampton Calloway taking on Streisand catalog in Tacoma
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Serpentine Stranger
a bewitchingly seductive noir

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Fiery Pompeii a volcanic star-crossed love story
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Miyazaki's The Wind Rises a soaring tale of imagination, heartbreak and love
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