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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 9 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 19
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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2014 Translations Film Festival preview
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

The ninth annual 'Translations: The Seattle Transgender Film Festival' kicked off last night with the West Coast premiere of the live performance art event 'The Naked I: Insides Out' featuring Minneapolis' 20% Theatre Company. 'We [were] thrilled to have [this] group of performers from Minneapolis here [for Opening Night],' proclaimed Festival Director Sam Berliner. 'For Translations last year, our Opening Night was the wildly popular Gender Failure, a live performance starring Rae Spoon and Ivan Coyote with animation by Clyde Peterson. With [these] live shows, the buzz in the air is even more heightened and our audiences love getting to interact with performers.'

As far as the feature films themselves are concerned, the lineup for this year's festival is maybe the most diverse and intriguing in all of Translations' short nine-year history. The North American premiere of the documentary Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger closes things out on Sunday, while Sundance favorite My Prairie Home with the aforementioned Rae Spoon gets a special gala presentation. Various short programs litter the schedule, while screenings of features from all around the world, including Sweden, the Philippines and New Zealand, are also showcased.

'The state of Trans film right now is really exciting,' says Berliner. '[It] even has a name, the 'Trans New Wave!' In general, the early wave of Transgender-themed films focused on mostly privileged people's stories of struggle and the step-by-step of their physical transitions. These were incredibly powerful and important representations, but at the same time there were populations whose voices were not yet being heard and [there were] so many more complex stories to tell.'

'The 'Trans New Wave' is telling [similar] stories of struggle and transition [but] for other communities, people of color and for individuals from all over the world, going beyond those themes to [tell] stories where the characters are Trans, but that isn't the focus of the film. We are at the point where so many audiences have the 'Trans 101' under their belt and are ready to watch and learn about other complexities of the human experience. It is an exciting time.'

Current Three Dollar Bill Cinema Executive Director Jason Plourde has been there from the start, and as one of the driving forces that helped make the Translations festival a reality here in Seattle, he's maybe seen this evolution in Trans-focused cinema better than just about anyone. 'The major change [from that first year] is that there's a larger volume of work and the quality in general is much better,' states Plourde with matter-of-fact directness. Filmmakers have better access to the means to tell their stories, and the films are more unique, diverse, and explore many genres.'

'As for the growth of [Translations], it's very exciting and satisfying. Seeing it succeed is great because it means we have interesting and strong work to show and we're helping artists and filmmakers bring visibility, understanding, and awareness of the Transgender community to even more people.'

In many ways, the most intriguing title on the docket is the Kate Bornstein documentary. One of the most well-known Trans activists in the entire world, this film will likely be the most complete portrait of the outspoken author, entertainer and educator yet. This fact is not lost on Berliner. 'The film takes you inside the life of an icon,' he proudly proclaims. '[The] film gives the audience not only an engaging and funny person that they know and love (she is seen as a Trans mother to generations of gender variant folk) but also a backstage pass to see the personal sides of Kate - which is remarkably engaging and powerful. Spending 73 minutes with [her] will leave the audience examining their own assumptions about gender, society, power, sexuality and life.'

But what is it exactly that makes her important? Why does her story matter? These questions and more are ones the programmer can answer with ease. 'Kate has written seven books including Gender Outlaw: On Men, Women, and the Rest of Us, My Gender Workbook: How to Become a Real Man, a Real Woman, the Real You, or Something Else Entirely and Hello, Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and Other Outlaws,' says Berliner. 'Her work has helped Transgender and gender-variant people know themselves better and for years she has been a bridge for folks outside of the Trans community to promote better understanding [using] her insights on our shared humanity.

'Personally, myself and most of my friends all have our own copy of My Gender Workbook and the bright pink composition notebook can be seen in Queer and Trans bookshelves all over the world. Her presence in this film really shows how funny and insightful she is. Kate is a delight to watch for all audiences!'

For Three Dollar Bill Cinema, Translations is just one stop on the road to this coming October's Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. 'We have so much planned for [2014],' says Plourde with a smile. 'Most notably, we have a series in June at the Northwest Film Forum curated by artist Mark Mitchell. It's called 'Coming Out All Over: Queer Film Style' and looks at the work of costume designers in three very Queer films. I'd prefer not to focus on [those films] right now, but I can say the films span from the 1920s to the '80s and the first one is a silent-era film with live musical accompaniment.'

As for Translations, Jason couldn't be happier with what he, Sam and the rest of the team at Three Dollar Bill Cinema has produced for this ninth iteration of the festival. '[I]t's very exciting and satisfying,' he states. 'Seeing it succeed is great because it means we have interesting and strong work to show, and we're helping artists and filmmakers bring visibility, understanding and awareness of the Transgender community to even more people.'

And where does Translation go from here? 'I am very excited about the future of Translations,' answers Berliner. 'As the Trans community continues to evolve and grow, the films of the Trans New Wave will continue to progress and Translations will grow as well. I hope to continue having live performances and incorporating artists in many disciplines who are exploring gender, as I am always looking to create a rich and engaging program that grows with the community.'

Translations: The Seattle Transgender Film Festival continues over the weekend at the Northwest Film Forum (1515 12th Ave.). Tickets range from $8-$20, and a full festival pass is only $65. There is a free family program on Sunday, May 11, at 12:30 p.m., with the film A Self-Made Man presented in partnership with Gender Diversity. For complete capsule listings, tickets and a schedule of all films featured, visit http://translations.strangertickets.com or www.threedollarbillcinema.org.


Haunting Ruin a gothic American tragedy
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

BLUE RUIN
Now playing


Dwight (Macon Blair) has been living off the radar. He's been unable to put the pieces back together ever since his parents were murdered, becoming something akin to a homeless bum even though his loving sister Sam (Amy Hargreaves) would welcome him back into her life if he so desired.

The man responsible for the killing of Dwight's mom and dad has been released from prison. Dwight is there at the gates, watching the convicted killer step into a waiting limo as if he's leaving a nightclub after an evening of debauched reverie. Dwight follows, tracking him to an out of the way bar run by fellow members of the man's family. Whether on a whim or whether by design, the hairy creature, who once passed for a human being, makes his way inside the building, hiding in the restroom with homicidal thoughts taking up the space where common sense used to ever-so-tenuously reside.

Blue Ruin is a movie about revenge. It is about cycles of violence. It is about the hurt, resentments and insecurities that can build up over time leading to spur of the moment decisions, which can have tragic repercussions, overwhelming everything in their wake like an emotional tsunami. It is a road trip that plunges its protagonist down an unthinkable rabbit hole of his own design, Dwight spiraling into a Joseph Conrad-like heart of darkness so terrifying escape feels claustrophobically impossible.

Writer and director Jeremy Saulnier manages something of a startling high-wire act with all of this, revolving things around a character we know little to nothing about and, at first at least, don't particularly care for. He is a grungy, nasty little man who has let himself fall to pieces, only the arrival of a local police officer appearing at his car door to tell him of his parents' killer being released, awakening him back up to the world around him.

But, at what cost? His first act is murder. His second is to unintentionally put his sister and her children's lives in jeopardy. It is only then that he starts to reconnect to his lost humanity, becoming something of a minor heroic soldier in a fight against forces he hardly understands, let alone is capable of being able to stop. Dwight isn't a whole human being, he's barely a shell, thus relating to him is an often times frustrating affair to be certain.

Even so, Saulnier did a magnificent job of keeping me interested. Blue Ruin is bewitching even as it bewilders; it's Hatfields messing around with the McCoys sensibilities, hard to dismiss and even more difficult to resist. Everything keeps building, effortlessly, with precision and passion, events steamrolling to an almost inevitable conclusion, bathed in bullets and drowning in blood. I couldn't take my eyes off of anything that was happening, and no matter how ominous or repugnant the turns might be, or how eccentric and anomalous the twists became, everything stayed refreshingly character-driven, making my investment in the proceedings mean something disconcertingly tangible.

Blair is wonderful. His character is so cryptic, so ephemeral, so nondescript at the start, the actor is thus under a ton of pressure to make him worthy of keeping an eye on, even though there's hardly anything of substance to latch on to. Dwight's complex, wounded psyche is slowly healed, certainly, but said health comes at a massive price, the quiet, withdrawn loner only becoming whole as things escalate beyond all reasoning. Blair dives in, makes the man's pain palpable, while his growing fear and paranoia over what it is his handiwork has unleashed is immediately recognizable. But it is his newfound confidence, his burgeoning resilience - that's what ends up being most striking, the actor making all of this come to life with magnetic enthusiasm.

Does it all make sense? No, not in the slightest; the fact the authorities don't ever catch wind of the chaos and carnage happening right under their nose is a bit on the silly side of things. There's also the situation in regards to Dwight's former high school best friend Ben Gaffney (Devin Ratray), a former Marine living a relatively solitary life who is only too happy to help a one-time chum battle a bloodthirsty clan of redneck cutthroats. He gives his assistance with scary relish, allowing himself to become involved in a hellish situation with joy bordering on gleeful.

Saulnier makes it work. In this surreal netherworld, the fact things become a game of cat and mouse between Dwight and his prey-turned-hunters and the police do not get involved seems oddly rational, while Ben's advice to his pal is shockingly pertinent. Blue Ruin is akin to a gothic horror story where yin and yang intermingle into something utterly unrecognizable, the filmmaker achieving a level of literate American filmmaking that's inspiring.


Bawdy Neighbors worth getting to know
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

NEIGHBORS
Now playing


Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly Radner (Rose Byrne) couldn't be happier. They've bought the perfect house. They've had what they know is the perfect baby, their darling little girl Stella. They live in the perfect suburban neighborhood. If they're not the same free-spirited happy-go-lucky party animals they were back in college, that's perfectly okay; a life of familial bliss already starting to embrace them within its loving arms (or so they hope).

But when the empty house next door is bought by the Delta Psi Beta fraternity, Mac and Kelly worry things are going to spiral out of control. Still, the frat's president Teddy (Zac Efron) seems like a nice enough guy, while V.P. Pete (Dave Franco) assures them all will be fine as long as everyone is willing to communicate with one another like adults and not involve the local police. With all that being the case, with so much honesty and friendship being bandied back and forth, what could possibly go wrong?

Neighbors, not to be confused with the 1981 John Belushi/Dan Aykroyd movie of the same name, is shockingly terrific. A comedy of errors, friendship and matrimonial love, the movie is a gross-out R-rated affair that still isn't afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve. It refreshingly puts the relationship between Mac and Kelly first, focusing the majority of its energy on making their evolution and transformation resonate and mean something, allowing them to have natural and honest reactions to everything happening no matter how crazy or unbelievable they become.

And goodness do they get extreme. The nastiness that ends up taking place is as ribald, bawdy and as ghastly as it comes, an escalating series of pranks gone horribly off the rails, affecting both the Radners and the fraternity more or less equally. Teddy and company are compelled to make life miserable for Mac and Kelly after they feel they've been slighted by the pair. They, in return, keep coming up with ever more extreme ideas to get the Delta Psi Beta gang in trouble, so they'll hopefully lose their collegiate charter, bringing peace and quiet back to the neighborhood.

This could have been nothing more than a bunch of vignettes strung together with inelegant carelessness, in hopes of being extreme for the sake of being extreme. It could have all become some wild, obnoxiously unfunny chore to sit through, almost as if the filmmakers were trying to construct the bastaradized lovechild of Project X and either of The Hangover sequels. The movie could have taken a wrong turn at any point, the likes of which it never would have recovered from, making it a 90-minute descent into unwatchable excess so tedious there aren't words to suitably describe what sitting through it all to the end would have been like.

But this does not come to pass. Rogen and Byrne have divine chemistry. Franco is a charming chameleon who steals scenes with sneakily subtle ease. As for Efron, in many ways he's the film's ace in the hole, channeling his inner smarmy egotistical hellion, completely unafraid to make himself look like a detestable creep, yet at the same time revealing an inner insecurity tinged with regret that's ultimately a tiny bit endearing. The group works remarkably well together, their respective characters transitioning from moment to moment and scene to scene nicely.

Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O'Brien have put together an economical, marvelously developed script devoid of fat, and free (most of the time, not completely) of excess. As for director Nicholas Stoller (Get Him to the Greek, The Five-Year Engagement), this is arguably his best work yet, the filmmaker keeping a firm grasp on the proceedings start to finish, never allowing almost anything that transpires to feel stilted, weak or noticeably out of place. But more importantly than any of that is the fact that Neighbors made me laugh, a lot; the humor almost always coming from a place of truth that's consistently engaging. The movie is a good one, and as the first big budget summer comedy to be unveiled, it's set a moderately high bar the rest of its ilk are going to have to work pretty hard to surpass.


2014 Summer Preview - May & June
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

Even though Captain America: The Winter Soldier was a summer movie shrouded in April clothing, the real silly season at multiplex as far as major Hollywood studios are concerned begins today with the release of The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It's the first in a rather large, and admittedly expected, collection of big budget sequels, remakes, spin-offs and reboots hitting theaters between now and the end of August, all of them hoping to match the $1.2 billion worldwide gross of 2013's Iron Man 3.

This year's crop of tent pole sequels includes X-Men: Days of Future Past (which culls cast members from both the original X-Men as well as X-Men: First Class in an Avengers-style superhero team-up), Transformers: Age of Extinction (with Mark Wahlberg stepping in for Shia LaBeouf), the animated How to Train Your Dragon 2, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (which takes place after a worldwide apocalypse has left humanity in a seemingly hopeless state of disrepair), 22 Jump Street, The Expendables 3, Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. Other big budget enterprises hoping to bring new life to old standbys include Godzilla, Disney's live action Maleficent, a Michael Bay produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson assuming the mantel of Greek hero Hercules.

On the comedy side of the equation, Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore team up for the third time in Blended, Melissa McCarthy hopes to see her star continue to rise with Tammy, Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel reunite for Sex Tape, Kevin Hart and company return for Think Like a Man, Too, Seth Rogen and Zac Efron are a pair of extremely unfriendly Neighbors and Seth MacFarlane tries to prove Ted wasn't a fluke with the Mel Brooks-like western A Million Days to Die in the West. As for the original properties, Disney tosses out the baseball drama Million Dollar Arm, Clint Eastwood's adaptation of the Broadway smash Jersey Boys steps onto the stage, Tom Cruise goes sci-fi Groundhog Day-style with Edge of Tomorrow, Andy and Lana Wachowski return to their interstellar roots with Jupiter Ascending while Twister-wannabe Into the Wind storms into theaters eager to blow away the competition.

For those wanting more serious (or at least more independent) fair, as always there's plenty to choose from just as long as you're willing to put forth the effort to see it. There's Richard Linklater's 12 years in the making Boyhood, Jon Favreau's star-studded dramedy Chef, the faith-based gross-out female-driven comedy (make sense out of all of that, I dare you) Mom's Night Out, Jim Jarmusch's fascinating vampire romance Only Lovers Left Alive, the UW-set Decoding Annie Parker, the spooky sci-fi shocker The Signal, real-time (and real world) thriller Locke with Tom Hardy, and Australian director David Michôd's unsettling looking The Rover, while the late Philip Seymour Hoffman pops up twice appearing in both May's God's Pocket and July's A Most Wanted Man.



The following is a small sampling of films and events hitting Seattle screens between now and the end of June. (I'll work up a separate preview for July and August in a few weeks.) As always, release dates are subject to change so make sure and check with local theaters to make sure the movie you're aching to see is actually going to be playing.

May 2
The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Decoding Annie Parker, Hateship Loveship, Only Lovers Left Alive, Watermark

May 2-12
Seattle Cinerama Sci-Fi Film Festival - The Cinerama stages it's second-ever Science Fiction Film Festival and not only is the lineup itself extraordinary, so are the guests: Sam Jones (Flash Gordon), Tom Skerrit (Alien), Jonathan Frakes (Star Trek: First Contact) and legendary visual effects wunderkind Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Brainstorm, Close Encounters of the Third Kind) all scheduled to attend.

May 8-11
Translations: The Seattle Transgender Film Festival - Three Dollar Bill Cinema presents its ninth annual Transgender Film Festival, a full weekend of flicks spanning the gender spectrum on display including the North American premier of Kate Bornstein is a Queer and Pleasant Danger as the closing night selection.

May 9
Fading Gigolo, Fed Up, Legends of Oz: Dorothy's Return, Locke, Mom's Night Out, Neighbors, Teenage, Young and Beautiful

May 15-June 8
Seattle International Film Festival - It's baaaack & Seattle's favorite film festival returns for its 40th big screen cinematic adventure, kicking things off with director John Ridley's highly anticipated Jimi Hendrix biopic Jimi: All Is By My Side starring Outkast megastar André Benjamin in the title role.

May 16
Chef, God's Pocket, Godzilla, Million Dollar Arm

May 23
Belle, Blended, Cold in July, The Double, X-Men: Days of Future Past

May 30
A Million Ways to Die in the West, Chinese Puzzle, Filth, The Grand Seduction, Maleficent

June 6
Edge of Tomorrow, The Fault in Our Stars, Gore Vidal: the United States of Amnesia, Obvious Child, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, Trust Me, Words and Pictures

June 13
22 Jump Street, Evergreen: The Road to Legalization, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Lucky Them, Palo Alto, The Signal

June 20
Jersey Boys, The Rover, Think Like a Man, Too, Venus in Fur

June 27
Snowpiercer, Transformers: Age of Extinction, Yves Saint Laurent




That girl from Once: An interview with Dani de Waal
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La Femme Magnifique Seattle drag pageant and competition to be held at Neighbours on May 18
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Brent Amaker turns 50; celebrates with The Rodeo
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Elton John books Seattle date in November
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Fun, fun, fun at Seattle Opera with the engaging Tales of Hoffman
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Nice room - OK view
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Northwest News
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LETTERS
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Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins lays it on the (dotted) line
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2014 Translations Film Festival preview
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Haunting Ruin a gothic American tragedy
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Bawdy Neighbors worth getting to know
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2014 Summer Preview - May & June
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