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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 11 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 15
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Frost's Fury a cheery spectacle of dance, desire and cliché
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

Now playing
There are few, if any, surprises when it comes to Cuban Fury. Sprung from the mind of actor Nick Frost, working from a script by 'Misfits' staff writer Jon Brown, and helmed by Brit television veteran James Griffith ('Episodes'), nothing that happens comes as anything close to a shock. It's a typical tale of a loveable loser overcoming the steepest of odds, rising from the ashes of his own self-doubt and insecurities to achieve victory, traveling in themes and ideas as old as storytelling itself.

At the same time, the movie is so darn likeable, so amazingly jovial and, best of all, so gosh darn funny, the over-familiarity of it all doesn't end up being as gigantic a problem as one might initially assume. Strictly Ballroom meets Billy Elliot meets Rocky meets any one of Frost and favorite collaborator Simon Pegg's Cornetto Trilogy (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, The World's End), the musically uninhibited Cuban Fury is a rollicking entertainment of rejuvenation and discovery that is easy to enjoy.

Once upon a time Bruce Garrett (Frost) was an up and coming Salsa superstar. He and his sister Sam (Olivia Colman) were the toast of the competitive circuit as teenagers, and if not for a tragic turn of events, it's likely their lives would have been filled with music, mirth and dance forever and always. But a bit of brutal bullying made Bruce hang up his Salsa shoes forever, leaving the world he loved more than anything, thanks to a slightly bloody lip and a gigantic helping of wounded pride.

Fast-forward into the now and Bruce is an office drone going through the motions of life, a fact his snarky self-serving lothario of a coworker Drew (Chris O'Dowd) takes extra special glee in reveling in. But when their new American boss, Julia (Rashida Jones), proves to be an outgoing, Salsa-loving hottie, change is suddenly at hand. Seeking out his old dance coach and mentor Ron Parfitt (a sensational Ian McShane), Bruce rediscovers a zest for life he'd thought was lost forever, potentially igniting the flames of love in the process.

Like I said, none of this is original, and knowing where everything is headed isn't difficult. But Frost, Brown and Griffith keep things focused on the characters, remembering that this is Bruce's transformational story, everything else secondary. More than that, the romantic comedy aspects, the competitive elements, the underdog story, those are all in service to the saga of a man coming back in touch with core elements who once upon a time made him who he was.

Winning isn't important. Showing up his narcissistic coworker isn't important. Heck, even falling in love isn't terribly important. Gaining confidence, living life with zest and zeal, getting in touch with the things that make him happy, this and all else involving the main interior elements of Bruce's persona, that is what is of utmost importance, and it is to the filmmakers credit that they remember this for each second of the film's brisk running time.

So there are some odd choices made, most notably in not giving Jones a lot more to do than be a lovable dancing ditz, which is fine, I guess, save the fact it's hard to care too much one way or the other whether or not Bruce loses Julia to Drew when she's so decidedly one dimensional. As for O'Dowd, he's a hoot, certainly, but he's also a rather bland villain at the end of the day, his ultimate comeuppance not nearly as satisfying as I'd hoped it would be.

Also worth pointing out is the performance of Kayvan Novak as Persian Salsa student Bejan. It's like he has been pulled out of 1978's La Cage aux Folles, his whole persona a stereotypical monstrosity culled from a cinematic era that should be over and done with. Thing is, Novak is so ingratiating, so endearing, Bejan becomes increasingly difficult to dislike as things progress. Heck, by the end I was almost glad he was around, the actor doing a grand job of taking a tiresome, obnoxiously cliché character and making something borderline wonderful out of him.

This is Frost's show, however, and he's more than up to the challenge. He proves once again that he's one of the more underrated actors around, and much like he did in The World's End he crafts a multifaceted, complex characterization out of the most basic and ephemeral of traits. Bruce is the kind of guy most people the world over can relate to at least in some small fashion, making his reawakening to the wonders of the world all the more special.

Cuban Fury isn't the greatest movie ever made, not that it was ever meant to be, but that doesn't make it any less amusing. It has passion and energy galore, and while some facets aren't as engaging as others, on the whole Frost and his capable team do a fine job of making things click. The film danced away with my heart, its toe-tapping rhythms so irresistible, I personally can't wait to experience a few of their more melodious cadences for a second time relatively soon.


Visually seductive Skin an emotional enigma
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

UNDER THE SKIN Now playing
A mysterious woman (Scarlett Johansson) drives the lonely streets of Glasgow randomly stopping to talk with a variety of lonely looking men. When she comes across one she likes, this lithe, seductive, young-looking creature takes them back to what on the outside looks to be her home. Inside? It's more of a lair than anything else, every man who enters unlikely to leave, once they strip naked and wander deeper inside, enthralled by her sultry gaze.

Jonathan Glazer's (Sexy Beast, Birth) third feature Under the Skin is about mortality. It is about transformation. It is about discovering a sense of self within a physical shell that is in a constant state of flux. It is about what it means to live life as an engaged and active participant and not as a mindless drone working only for the sustenance of others. It is about all of this and more, everything revolving around a nameless heroine who may be inhuman, but that doesn't mean she doesn't over time find herself becoming intimately connected with her own innate humanity.

At least, that's what I think this film is about. In all honesty, there really isn't any way for me to be certain, Glazer's adaptation of Michel Faber's 2000 novel about as loose as they come. Eschewing traditional narrative tropes, with no character names and very little dialogue, he and fellow screenwriter Walter Campbell have manufactured a scenario that throws normalcy and familiarity out with the bathwater. Their construct is a fever-dream of unsettling imagination, a hypnotic mélange of metaphor and meaning driving to a conclusion that's as unexpected and terrifying as it is oddly tragic.

I must admit, my initial reaction to the film wasn't particularly kind. I just couldn't get a grasp on what it was I felt like Glazer was going for. I had trouble comprehending all of the elements that were being transmitted by the filmmaker, every tandem and plot strand connected, but in ways that felt uncomfortably ephemeral and nondescript. I was frustrated as much as I was engrossed; and while I never wanted to leave my theater seat, I couldn't help but wish the director would give me a more concrete clue as to what it was he was trying to tell me.

Funny thing is, moments after it was over, I found I couldn't get any of what it was I just witnessed out of my head. Better, as the days past I was mulling over all the ideas, concepts and themes in ever escalating fervor, so much of what happened burned into my brainpan in ways I'm likely never to forget. I felt like I was suddenly able to start to put the pieces together, and in my own way, it began to occur to me what I imagined it was Glazer was going for.

This is a daring, undeniably raw piece of acting on Johansson's part, the actress beginning the film as a seductively smiling shell and ending it as an intrinsically pitiable figure of emotional longing filled with oceans of regret. Her only pieces of dialogue are random pickup lines directed at a menagerie of men whom she has been sent to collect (for reasons I will not disclose), everything else transmitted in winsome bits of silence that are ear-shattering in their volume. She is the force around which everything revolves, and as meticulously constructed and as visually refined as the film itself might be, none of it would matter if Johansson wasn't up to the challenge of bringing it to life.

Not that the technical side of the equation isn't impressive. Daniel Landin's (The Uninvited) camerawork is gloriously unsettling, a visual master class of perceptive restraint calling to mind a varied lot of likely inspirations including Rosemary's Baby, Last Year at Marienbad, Solaris, Halloween, Days of Heaven and Eyes Wide Shut. The film is meticulously edited by Paul Watts, every scene cut together with seamless specificity, always keeping the main character in the center of the action, even when the viewer is seeing things from her perspective. Best of all is Mica Levi's devastating score, the composer's rhythms and cues driving the action continually forward no matter how cryptic the visuals and ideas being presented might initially appear to be.

Glazer's latest isn't an easy sit. It doesn't present simple answers to complex questions. Using a narrative device that's as beguiling as it is distancing, Glazer places the viewer in increasingly uncomfortable positions as things progress to their catastrophically staggering conclusion. But the nature of a constructed self, the idea that a human sense of being can be created seemingly out of the ether, that one's persona is what they decide themselves to make of it, in many ways those are concepts everyone, everywhere and of all cultures can in large part relate to and understand. Under the Skin doesn't apologize for being difficult; it embraces the fact, everything inside its cinematic shell a rollercoaster of emotional tumult worthy of being ridden multiple times.








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Bryan Ferry croons at McCaw Hall
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An interview with Boy George
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DINAH VEGAS returns to Sin City April 24-27, 2014
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'Cock in a Sock' cancer awareness campaign gains popularity
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Northwest News
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LETTERS
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Frost's Fury a cheery spectacle of dance, desire and cliché
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Visually seductive Skin an emotional enigma
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