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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 28 - Volume 42 Issue 48
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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2004 revisited: A great year in cinema leaves plenty to be thankful for
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

It's Thanksgiving, and in the world of film criticism this holiday is typically that bellwether moment when one realizes it's time to get end-of-year thoughts in order. With barely a month left on the calendar, now is when Oscar predictions are mulled over and top ten lists are compiled.

In all honesty, as much as we critics like to think we know it all when it comes to the historical impact a film is going to have, the only way to truly know what's going to happen on that front is to let time pass and see which motion pictures are still being talked about and which ones have fallen off the radar. So last year around Thanksgiving a small group of Seattle critics, I amongst them, decided to look a decade into the rearview mirror and compare our top ten lists made at that time to what they would look like now.

This proved to be a fascinating enterprise (five films dropped out of my original ten for a variety of reasons, four newcomers - there was a tie, I decided against maintaining ties - taking their place), and as such a few of us resolved to make this an annual exercise. And so this Thanksgiving, on the eve of starting to make the attempt to craft a top ten for 2014 I can hopefully be content with, I'm revisiting 2004, looking back to see if the feelings I had about features released to cinemas then are the same ones I hold now.



And what was my 2004 top ten?

1. The Incredibles
2. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
3. A Very Long Engagement
4. Dig! / Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (tie)
5. Kill Bill: Vol. 2
6. Before Sunset
7. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
8. The Bourne Supremacy / Collateral (tie)
9. Hero / House of Flying Daggers (tie)
10. Bad Education / The Motorcycle Diaries (tie)
It's a good list that I'm largely satisfied with. Yet there are too many ties, and even though each set of films does go together I should have forced myself to make the tough decision and come to a determination - which one was worthy and which should have just missed the cut. It should also be noted that, as great as all of these movies are, I've admittedly not returned to a few of them near as frequently as some others that didn't make it into the first tier.

So what would I change? Quite a bit, especially when you take into account my 'no tie' rule, yet all-in-all seven of the films represented would still make my final list. That said, here are the titles I would remove:

o A Very Long Engagement - I still say that this whimsical, unabashedly melodramatic WWI era love story is acclaimed director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's best film to date, but for whatever reason I have trouble revisiting this heartrending love story near as much as I would like. It holds up beautifully, I just think there are other motion pictures released in 2004 I'd place just a tiny bit above it.

o The Bourne Supremacy - As much as I adore this second film in the wildly successful series, at the end of the day I actually prefer The Bourne Ultimatum, and as such this one falls out of the ten, having more to do with my 'no ties' rule than it does anything else.

o Dig! - This is a terrific music documentary, director Ondi Timoner's seven-years-in-the-making chronicle of bands The Dandy Warhols and The Brian Jonestown Massacre a fascinating journey to be sure. It just doesn't hold the same sort of sway over me now as it did at the time of its release, and in all honesty I'd almost forgotten about it before revisiting the doc in preparation for this column.

o Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Still the best Harry Potter film, still a wonderful fantasy-adventure showcasing future Oscar-winning director Alfonso Cuarón at the height of his powers. Yet all things considered, as great as this one is, as masterful as this third chapter in J.K. Rowling's sprawling saga might be, it just doesn't belong in the top ten; I can't say it any plainer than that.

o Hero - Director Zhang Yimou made two of 2004's best films, but as amazing as this fantastical epic might be, I admit to preferring the equally visually sumptuous House of Flying Daggers over it. As such, it needs to fall off the list no matter how much it pains me to remove it.

o Kill Bill: Vol. 2 - I love Quentin Tarantino's ambitious, sprawling B-movie martial arts meets revenge-fueled exploitation epic, but it just isn't near as fun to watch on its own as its 2003 first chapter is. Magnificent, yes, but it only truly works when taken in concert with Vol. 1, and because of that I can't in good conscience leave it in 2004's top ten no matter how much a very large part of me kind of wants to.

o The Motorcycle Diaries - This look at the early days of future revolutionary Ernesto 'Che' Guevera is a remarkable achievement, director Walter Salles' astonishing drama a devastatingly effective road trip through pain, suffering, sacrifice and redemption that puts a human face on one of the more complex and divisive figures of the 20th century. At the same time, as great as the movie is (and it's pretty amazing) the re-watch quotient is surprisingly low, thus removing it from the list is somewhat surprisingly easy to do.

And what three films would I insert into a revised top ten?

o Mean Girls - Has any satirical high school comedy of recent memory held up as magnificently as this one has? It's really hard to say, writer (and star) Tina Fey and director Mark Waters delivering a consistently hysterical effort that seemingly gets better and smarter with each passing year.

o Million Dollar Baby - Clint Eastwood's bruising, tragically obliterating boxing drama features what is arguably the actor/director's greatest performance while also gifting actress Hilary Swank with one of her signature roles (which just so happened to win her a second Best Actress Oscar). Controversial and not for the faint of heart (or spirit), this is a magnificent motion picture that forces the viewer to reconsider so many differing beliefs and thoughts the sheer number of them is close to mind-blowing.

o Miracle - I admit to adoring this chronicle of the U.S. national hockey team's so-called 'Miracle on Ice' more than I probably should, this rousing sports saga getting me to stand up and cheer no matter how many times I watch it. Kurt Russell's best performance is one that arguably should have garnered him an Academy Award nomination.



Films that just missed out making the final cut? Including the aforementioned six I just dropped from my original list, these titles would include:

Closer, The Door in the Floor, Facing Windows, Fahrenheit 9/11, Friday Night Lights, In Good Company, Infernal Affairs, The Machinist, Maria Full of Grace, Mean Creek, The Sea Inside, Shaun of the Dead, Sideways, Spider-Man 2, Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring, Vera Drake

Without further ado, here is what my 2004 top ten would look like now if I were allowed a decade-in-the-making do-over:

1. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2. Before Sunset
3. The Incredibles
4. Bad Education
5. Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
6. Mean Girls
7. Million Dollar Baby
8. House of Flying Daggers
9. Collateral
10. Miracle


What does any of this mean? If I'm being honest I can't say I know. What revisiting 2004 does tell me is just how wonderful a year this was for film, potentially equaling recent hallmark years like 1999 and 2007. I could have composed a top ten out of any number of titles, each of these more than standing the test of time proving to be motion pictures critics, historians and regular viewers alike keep returning to again and again.

As for 2014, I'll get around to starting to assemble this year's top ten as soon as Thanksgiving is over. After all, there's turkey to be eaten, gravy to savor and pumpkin pie to be consumed. If anything can get me to stop thinking about great movies, even for a little while, then those are the three things that can do it.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! May you and yours have a wonderful holiday and, if you get the chance, watch a great movie or two like the ones listed here. You can thank me later for the recommendation.


Funny Bosses a far from horrible sequel
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2
Now playing


Ever since they collectively got the not-so-bright idea to murder their bosses, best friends Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day) and Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) have done what they can to walk the straight and narrow. As such, they're now prepared to step out on their own, become their own bosses, inventing a new toy for the shower they're positive will sweep the country by storm. Best of all, one of the country's largest magazine and Internet distribution companies run by the wildly successful Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz) is putting in an order for 100,000 units, this news allowing them to get their company going, putting them on the path towards financial independence.

Needless to say, things do not work out as planned. Hanson pulls a fast one on the trio, in effect putting them in a half-a-million dollar hole they're unlikely to be able to climb out of before he takes over their business and leaves all three financially ruined. With few options, Kurt and Dale strike upon the bright idea to kidnap Rex (Chris Pine), Bert's petulant, somewhat whiny, easily excitable son and hold him for ransom, Nick going along for the ride even though based on their last criminal enterprise he knows he probably shouldn't.

Horrible Bosses was something of a minor surprise hit when it was released in the summer of 2011. The movie wasn't particularly good, but it did have a healthy handful of laughs; and while most of them were courtesy of the supporting cast (most notably Colin Farrell as the worst boss of the bunch, but Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey got in a few choice licks as well) there was just enough amusing stuff to make the film itself worthy of a look.

But a sequel? Not sure that was really warranted, especially one coming more than three years after the fact. Yet, surprise, surprise, Horrible Bosses 2 is actually a little bit better than its predecessor. Not only does it offer up a few more laughs, it also makes the core group of Nick, Dale and Kurt worth spending some time with, their endearing imperfections much more enchanting than they were the first time around. While not great, I'd be tempted to elevate things to a healthy 'good' as far as this sequel is concerned, because while far from perfect I still had a grand old time sitting in the theater watching it all the same.

Bateman and Day are terrific, the latter in particular, while Pine steals scenes left and right as the far too eager and willing kidnapping victim, Rex, having something close to a blast sending up his typically heroic screen persona. Aniston and Spacey both return, each making the most of their screen time with humorous exuberance, while Jamie Foxx is also back, getting a bit more in on the action as artfully unhelpful, yet surprisingly there when he's needed, MF Jones, his obsession with opening up a Pinkberry store continually making me chuckle.

Sean Anders, a co-writer on everything from Dumb and Dumber To, to We're the Miller, to She's Out of My League, to Hot Tub Time Machine, does a much better job handling all the action as director here than he did spearheading 2012's Adam Sandler monstrosity That's My Boy, keeping things energetic and quickly paced throughout. While the screenplay is admittedly a little on the messy side (including Anders, there are three other credited writers) the jokes themselves are pretty much solid across the board, the laughs making up for the majority of the film's more than obvious narrative shortcomings.

Of which there are plenty, not the least of which is the fact that Waltz, other than delivering a couple of choice lines with sublime relish, is given precious little to do. On top of that, the whole kidnapping subplot, while overall oddly more agreeable than the murderous machinations of the first film, feels almost as if it's been thrown together on the spot. While the cast is filled with an extraordinary collection of ad libbers, everyone here fitting that description, it would have been nice had they be given something even slightly concrete as a foundation to build all of this criminal silliness upon.

Somehow, someway Horrible Bosses 2 finds a way to meander towards success. There are signature bits sprinkled throughout, including a glorious gag with a car, a gate and a surprisingly resilient chain-link fence; while the cast continually enliven things to a point I can't help but smile recollecting on them now. As sequels go, this one improves upon its predecessor in all the ways that matter; and, as Thanksgiving surprises are concerned, this is one effort I'm happily thankful to have had the pleasure to see.


Some sexy Gay DVDs for the holidays
by Gary M. Kramer - SGN Contributing Writer

The holidays are upon us and you either want to give, receive, or just unwind by watching a GLBT DVD. Well, here are some sexy suggestions.

Writer/director Rob Williams' delightfully naughty romantic mystery Out to Kill offers eye candy galore, as it is chock-full of hunks who fill out their Speedos. Sexy private dick Jim Noble (Scott Sell) is hired by Gene (Rob Moretti) to investigate the murder of Justin Jaymes (the terrific Tom Goss). As Jim probes the suspects, he is seduced, and perhaps in over his head. Out to Kill features a clever twist that will keep viewers intrigued as the crime is solved.

In the Gay thriller The Dark Place, Keegan Dark (Blaise Embry) takes his boyfriend Wil (Timo Descamps) to his mother Celeste's (Shannon Day) vineyard. Keegan has not seen his mother in years, so he is surprised to discover she has remarried Adrian (Andy Copeland) and that he has a stepbrother, Jake (Sean Paul Lockhart). However, Keegan, who has a form of total recall, doesn't quite trust the new men in his mother's life; he suspects something nefarious is going on. As the various plot twists and turns unfold, The Dark Place is enjoyable, even if the film gets a bit ludicrous in the last reel.

Another film with suspense elements is the Israeli drama, Snails in the Rain, an intriguing, if somewhat muddled, story about Boaz (Yoav Reuveni), an extremely attractive linguistics student at Tel Aviv University during a hot summer in 1989. Boaz is receiving anonymous letters from a man who finds him, well, extremely attractive. The film also suggests that Boaz is paranoid, threatened by every man who glances at him, or makes a sexual overtone - intentional or not. Director Yariv Mozer seems so fixated on creating an atmosphere of mystery and doubt that viewers may not understand what is real and what might be imagined.

That said, viewers who are more interested in Reuveni's chest and body will not have to worry about the plot. Reuveni, a model making his acting debut here, barely does a scene without taking off his shirt, swimming in a pool, taking a shower, hitting the beach, or sweating in the kitchen, bathtub or bedroom. He is beautiful and doesn't give a bad performance, but it is hard to sympathize with him being pained at being so admired.

For lovers of Latino cinema, there are a trio of muy caliente queer titles to enjoy. The Third One is Argentine writer/director Rodrigo Guerrero's revealing film about a polyamorous relationship. Fede (Emiliano Dionisi) is a cute college student who flirts online with Franco (Nicolás Armengol). He meets Franco and his partner Hernán (Carlos Echevarría) for a very talky dinner in their apartment. But the guys do eventually shut up and fuck, and the trio ends up in bed together - a virtuoso sequence that Guerrero shoots in real time. The emotional and physical affections in The Third One are what make this erotic drama so satisfying.

The sexy Mexican film, Four Moons, by writer-director Sergio Tovar Velarde, is a quartet of stories featuring Gay men grappling with affection and rejection. In one, a pre-teen, Mauricio (Gabriel Santoyo) becomes aware of his attraction to other boys. In another, a couple, Hugo (Antonio Velázquez) and Andrés (Alejando de la Madrid), cope with Andrés' infidelity. A third features Joaquín (Alonso Echánove), a married older man who hopes to bed a sexy gigolo, Gilberto (Alejando Belmonte). But the most touching storyline features Fito (Cesar Ramos) and Leo (Gustavo Egelhaaf), two friends who reunite and become lovers, only to have a conflict arise when Leo wants to remain closeted and keep their relationship secret. Ramos gives an incredibly moving performance in the film as a Gay man coming to terms with his same-sex desires.

Another scorching Mexican title is I am Happiness on Earth by Julián Hernández, a filmmaker who eroticizes nude men like no other filmmaker. His camera practically caresses the actors' bodies in this hypnotic film. This romantic drama boasts magnificent cinematography and highly sensual scenes as it chronicles a love triangle that features Emiliano (Hugo Catalán), a filmmaker, at its apex. Hernández's distinctive style and uninhibited view of sexual desire (as well as sex itself) envelops viewers. The emotional power of the characters passionately expressing themselves as they experience longing, betrayal, and heartbreak is as palpable as the sexy bodies on display.

Equally pornographic is Christophe Honoré's 2010 film Man at Bath, recently released on DVD. The film is a provocative investigation of the disintegrating relationship between Emmanuel (beefy French porn star François Sagat) and Omar (Omar Ben Sellem), who is about to leave the Paris suburb of Gennevilliers for a film screening in New York City. However, Emmanuel forcibly sodomizes him first. Omar insists that Emmanuel must leave their apartment before he returns.

Man at Bath juxtaposes how both partners respond to this 'breakup.' While Emmanuel pays a visit to Robin (Dennis Cooper), and poses nude for him, Omar attends a seminar his actress, Chiara Mastroianni, gives at the School of Visual Arts. Omar then meets and becomes besotted with Dustin (Dustin Degura-Suarez), filming this young man in various locations and in various stages of undress and arousal. Honoré's film is sexually explicit, with ample nudity - including erections - but it is less about sex, and more about how the lovers each cope with their breakup.

A more tender examination of a 'break up' is Mark Thiedeman's evocative, impressionistic drama, Last Summer. Luke (Samuel Pettit) and Jonah (Sean Rose) are teenage boyfriends in Arkansas. They are separating when Jonah heads off to college in the fall. Thiedeman conveys the boys' emotions through delicate moments, such as the boys rubbing their sneakers together. Thiedeman employs ambient, atmospheric sounds to heighten the unspoken emotions, and uses light, shadow and reflection to emphasize the elegiac mood. Although experimental in tone, Last Summer is an extraordinary, beautifully realized film.

For something extremely silly, The Gays is a crudely made comedy, full of crude content, and over-the-top antics. Alex Gay (the adorable Mike Russnak) talks about his queer family - Trans Mom (Chris Tanner), Dad (Frank Holliday) and brother Tommy Flip Jorgensen) to a stranger at a West Hollywood bar. This episodic comedy, which features a bloody pussy board game to an Exorcist anal birth scene, has something to offend everyone. The humor stems mostly from wordplay and song parodies and less from 'outrageous' behavior such as forcing guys to have sex in a sling or perform blowjobs. While the film is amateur hour, it is also as camp as Christmas.

© 2014 Gary M. Kramer






Mary Poppins - Practically perfect in every way
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Po' Boy Poe (or how to use a broken heart to become a best selling Poe-et)
Theatre22 to premiere The Hours of Life with all original material, live orchestra
AN INTERVIEW with Corey McDaniel and Paul Lewis

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The man behind the Grinch
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JESSE'S JOURNAL: Coming Out in Country Music
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Seattle Symphony Orchestra CD provides a valuable introduction to Henri Dutilleux
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Eclectic Theater premieres Fangs, a political comedy that turns into farce
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Peter Frechette: Doing it for the country
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Drawing Jam at Gage Academy on Saturday, December 6
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2014 HOLIDAY CALENDAR
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Northwest News
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LETTERS
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2004 revisited: A great year in cinema leaves plenty to be thankful for
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Funny Bosses a far from horrible sequel
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Some sexy Gay DVDs for the holidays
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