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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 4, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 49
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Cranston's magnificence allows Trumbo to soar
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

TRUMBO
Now playing


In many ways, director Jay Roach (Meet the Parents) and writer John McNamara have followed a fairly standard biopic path as it pertains to Trumbo. Using Bruce Cook's biography of the Academy Award-winning screenwriter as their inspiration, the film chronicles the outspoken Hollywood communist's life and times in relatively straightforward fashion. From his time standing up to the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), to his eventual imprisonment for refusing to name names to the Senators chairing it, to his blacklisting by the major Hollywood studios who once beat down his door to work with him, to his eventual victory over his oppressors winning two Oscars via subterfuge in the process, all of it is here.

Yet two things allow the film to standout in ways that matter, the first being Bryan Cranston's sensational performance as Dalton Trumbo. He's fantastic, taking charge in ways that are complex, intimate and electrifyingly irresistible. He refuses to depict the man as a saint, playing up his flaws, showing how his obsession to prove just how monumentally he and the remainder of his blacklisted compatriots have been wronged affects his relationship with his wife Cleo (Diane Lane) and their three children. Yet Trumbo's charismatic disposition is never in doubt, Cranston rampaging through the picture with a cagy, intelligently acerbic ferocity that's sublime.

The other is the motion picture's structure. What I mean by this is that, unlike so many other biopics that choose such a linear, by-the-numbers route, this one actually gets better, more fascinating, as it goes along. Roach and McNamara dispense with the obvious stuff quickly, most of the sequences detailing Trumbo's dealing with opportunistic Hollywood gossip monger Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren) as well as the HUAC Senators rather perfunctory in both tone and execution.

But once he gets out of prison? How he manages to rope many of his fellow blacklisted screenwriters into a conspiracy working for underground film studios like the ones run by Frank (John Goodman) and Hymie King (Stephen Root)? The way he finds himself so clueless when his eldest daughter Niki (Elle Fanning) begins to standup to him with the same principled savagery he's always utilized himself? That stuff isn't just good, it's terrific, giving the film a second half kick in the butt that doesn't subside until the screen finally fades to black.

There's one other aspect that's fairly wonderful, and that's a subplot involving iconic cinematic great Edward G. Robinson, beautifully portrayed by underrated character actor, Michael Stuhlbarg. There is a touching pathos to his journey that affected me deeply, the choices he ends up making given a coloring I cannot say I expected. I didn't know how close he and Trumbo were, didn't understand just how cruel the road he found himself traveling down was, and while that doesn't excuse what happens as far as Robinson and the HUAC were concerned, it at least puts events in the type of perspective that shattered my heart into tiny little pieces. It builds to a poignant, subtly heartfelt look of understanding between the two Hollywood giants that brought tears to my eyes, Roach staging this moment with rapturous understatement.

Considering the subject matter and the time being depicted, I did find myself taken out of events whenever someone like John Wayne or Kirk Douglas sauntered into the center of things. Not that actors David James Elliott (as Wayne) or Dean O'Gorman (Douglas) don't do a good job, it's just that the people they're portraying are so well-known it's impossible for them to disappear into their characters, same way as Cranston, Lane and a fair number of others do. If anything, this makes Stuhlbarg's performance even more impressive, and while he doesn't actually look a thing like Robinson, he manages to craft a full-bodied, vigorously personal sketch of the actor all the same.

It's impossible not to imagine what the man being chronicled here would have thought of this. The writer behind classics as diverse and as long-lasting as The Brave One, Roman Holiday, Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Gun Crazy, Lonely Are the Brave and Spartacus probably would have delivered a more idiosyncratically incisive portrait than what Roach and McNamara have manufactured, looked at things from a cockeyed lens unique in and of itself. Nonetheless, Trumbo is a solid effort that should not be missed thanks in large part to Cranston's magnificence, the resulting biopic a gripping return to a Hollywood of yesteryear where the themes being examined couldn't be more appropriately timely.


Kid-friendly Dinosaur a beautifully animated fable
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE GOOD DINOSAUR
Now playing


Roughly 65 million years ago, an asteroid flung out of the deepest reaches of space barely missed striking the planet Earth by the slimmest of margins, burning through the night sky like a shooting star hurtling towards oblivion. A few million more years later, a loving pair of long-necked dinosaurs (voiced by Jeffery Wright and Frances McDormand) prepare for the three eggs they've proudly guarded to hatch, waiting with bated breath for their children to arrive. The kids, Buck (Marcus Scribner), Libby (Maleah Nipay-Padilla) and Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), are happy to help their parents work their farm, each hoping to one day follow in Poppa and Momma's giant footsteps, eager to make a lasting mark worthy of remembrance.

The erstwhile runt of the trio, Arlo has trouble combating his fear of the great big world and all the inherent dangers that mysteriously lie within it. After an unspeakable tragedy, he finds himself stranded an unknown distance away from home with no one to help him. Forced by circumstance and curiosity, he slowly begins to make friends with a strange, manic creature of pinkish skin, two legs, two gangly arms and relatively little hair anywhere on his body save atop his head. Nicknaming him Spot (Jack Bright), the two begin the long journey back to the farm, learning to work together as a team as they encounter a number of unforeseen obstacles, not to mention a flock of high-flying predators, all intent on stopping them from reaching their destination.

There's not a lot to Pixar's latest animated endeavor The Good Dinosaur. This is basically your average boy-and-his-dog coming of age tale, only in this case the 'boy' is a dinosaur and the 'dog' is the boy who befriends him like a loving pet. While the idea that the asteroid that caused the dinosaurs to go extinct actually missed its target is a fun one, honestly I can't say the film's five credited writers do anything novel with it, Meg LeFauve's (Inside Out) finished script far more rudimentary and straightforward than I initially anticipated it would be.

Yet that simplicity is what ends up making the movie kind of wonderful. It focuses intently on Arlo and Spot's relationship, allows them to learn to communicate without words while developing their budding friendship with intimately grounded grace. It's sort of a prehistoric The Black Stallion, allowing silence and movement to speak volumes, rarely over-explaining what is going on, understanding the children sitting in wide-eyed, rapt attention can put the majority of the pieces together for themselves. I also loved how the story beautifully looks at the relationship between fear and courage, doing so in a way even the youngest viewers can understand, everything building to a superb coda of acceptance and sacrifice that had me happily reaching for the Kleenex.

The best bits are when the film becomes a full-on Western, Arlo and Spot teaming up with a trio of Tyrannosaurs (the patriarch of which is voiced by a marvelous Sam Elliott) on an erstwhile cattle drive where they're all forced to stave off an attack from some feathered raptor-like creatures determined to steal the herd. Not only is the sequence spectacularly animated - no shock there - but it is also lovingly introspective, the filmmakers delivering bits of insight that are wryly profound. I loved this subplot, enjoyed each and every second of it, the payoff featuring this oddball quintet sitting around a roaring campfire talking about their lives just about perfect.

For Pixar, this is pretty simple stuff, never making the attempt to rise to the same sort of heights Inside Out, WalloE, Toy Story 3 and a small handful of other favorites have so magnificently risen to in the not-so-distant past. But that's okay. The Good Dinosaur is a children's fable that is more than content to be exactly what it is and little more. None of which means adults won't find plenty to cherish, they just won't latch onto it as strongly as younger viewers undoubtedly will, and for my part I have no problem with that whatsoever.


Spellbinding Brooklyn a romantically charming treat
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

BROOKLYN
Now playing


Eilis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) is coming to America. The Irish lass is sad to leave her devoted older sister Rose (Fiona Glascott) and her beloved mother Mary (Jane Brennan), but with opportunity so scarce at home heading across the Atlantic to start a new life seems like the best option available to the young woman. But as kind as landlady Mrs. Kehoe (Julie Walters) might be, as understanding a sponsoring priest Father Flood (Jim Broadbent) is, the lass is so heartsick for her homeland she can barely make it through the day without devolving into a blubbery mess.

Things change when Father Flood enrolls her in night school to learn about bookkeeping, Eilis discovering she has a gift for numbers that she's electrified by. On top of that, she's met Tony Fiorello (Emory Cohen), a talkative New Yorker, whose Italian blood is immediately set ablaze by the fiery redhead. The sparks flying between the two are apparent to everyone, the two of them walking the sidewalks of their Brooklyn neighborhood hand-in-hand dreaming of all they're going to do with their lives in the very near future.

Based on the best-selling book by Colm Tóibín, director John Crowley (Closed Circuit) and screenwriter Nick Hornby (An Education, Wild) team up to bring to life one of the best Irish coming to America tales this side of Jim Sheridan's 2003 modern masterwork In America. Delivering what could be misconstrued as nothing more than a fluffy romantic comedy with dramatic undertones, sneakily and subtly the movie is actually about so much more. This is the saga of a youngster becoming her own, confident women ready to take on the world at large, learning who she is and who she was aren't as far apart as those wanting to keep Eilis standing still would like her to believe.

It's dazzling stuff, brilliantly brought to life by the breathlessly talented Ronan. Already an Academy Award nominee for her performance in Atonement when she was still a teenager, she's followed that up with remarkable turns in films as diverse as Byzantium, Hanna, The Grand Budapest Hotel and How I Live Now. She's fantastic here, channeling her inner Audrey Hepburn meets Vivien Leigh with spectacular aplomb. There is a lithe, delicately beauteous intensity to her portrait, a human spectacle of transformation and perseverance that's universal no matter what the age, what the nationality. Ronan leaps off the screen, delivering the kind of undeniably stratospheric performance that instantly lands her in the conversations as being one of the great young actors of today, the way Crowley's direction and Hornby's script helps facilitate all of this positively stunning.

I can't help but wish the two men who come into Eilis' life weren't such one-dimensional fantasy figures of post-WWII masculinity (the gently endearing Cohen in the U.S., the soulfully captivating Domhnall Gleeson back in Ireland), neither of them complex enough for my taste. As good as both are, and they are wonderful, it was difficult to take either of them as seriously as I wanted to, and thus my preference as to who our heroine would choose to spend her life with never weighed on me near as much as I kept hoping it would.

But days after my initial viewing I slowly realized, as pleasing as Eilis' romantic moments with Tony might be, as meaningful as her return to Ireland and flirtations with Gleeson's rugby playing golden boy Jim Farrell become, none of that mattered. What did was how this bright-eyed, whip-smart woman dealt with it all, how she learned to deal with life's obstacles in order to forge a path uniquely her own. This is a movie of worlds colliding, a child of two nations discovering how to imbed a piece of her motherland inside her heart while at the same time learning to call a new nation thousands of miles across the sea home. Eilis' coming of age is breathlessly realized and done so with a wink and smile, everything building to two hands intertwining together as one almost as if they were meant to do so from the first second time itself began.

As a director, Crowley makes a giant leap from showing promise in his previous efforts to realizing it with this. He establishes a strong visual esthetic alongside cinematographer Yves Bélanger (Dallas Buyers Club) that's superb, allowing composer Michael Brook's (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) music to amplify the underlying emotions that permeate throughout beautifully. Crowley leads Eilis on her journey with consummate skill, utilizing Hornby's dexterous, emotion-filled script with naturalistic delicacy. Brooklyn is marvelous, watching it as close to pure bliss as any cinematic confectionary treat I could possibly have imagined myself.


Misty Copeland's ballet Tale worthy of a look
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

A BALLERINA'S TALE
Now playing


In 2007 Misty Copeland became only the second female African American soloist at New York's prestigious American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in its long and storied history, the first in over two decades. Turning heads and on the rise, internationally renowned choreographer Alexei Ratmansky spotlighted her as the principal in a new staging of Igor Stravinsky's 'Firebird' in 2012, cementing Copeland's status as one of the best ballet dancers in the world.

What no one knew was that the gifted dancer was dealing with a leg injury that would end up requiring surgery that, if not successful, would put her career in jeopardy. Nelson George's documentary A Ballerina's Tale spends the majority of its running time chronicling Copeland's two-plus year recovery while also attempting to dig a little deeper into the ballet world's reticence to put minority dancers, no matter how talented they might be, center stage. It follows her into the doctor's office for the initial consultation and to long painful hours of rehab where she questions whether or not she'll be able to fully recover, all of it culminating with her triumphant return to ABT becoming the first woman of color to portray Odette/Odile in Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's 'Swan Lake.'

Running less than 90 minutes, the first half of the film is exhilarating. It introduces Copeland, shows her in all her magnetic and charming glory. It celebrates her talents, while also mixing in interesting and informative interviews with those who know most about the ballet world, all of it combining to produce a portrait of an amazing artist worth knowing about. I found myself falling in love both with the dancer as well as the documentary itself, George doing an excellent job of mixing in a variety of voices and elements that are all flat-out wonderful.

But a little into Copeland's recovery from bone surgery the film oddly becomes less and less thought-provoking as it continues along. The movie is never bad, mind you, the whole thing an enjoyable experience all the way through. But it's hard not to imagine what could have been, so many moments during the second half where a few more minutes here, an extra ounce of footage there, all could have easily transformed this into something special. Copeland's 2014/2015 return to excellence is given particularly short shrift, and it strikes me as odd that the most triumphant portion of the dancer's story is for some reason glossed over so conspicuously.

Thankfully, George's ace in the hole is his subject herself. Copeland is captivating, oozing talent and charisma in equal parts. I couldn't take my eyes off of her, not during our initial introduction to the ABT dynamo as a teenager, to her putting in the work preparing for her star-making turn in 'Firebird,' to her painstaking rehab, to her glorious return taking part in a small New York showcase where she blissfully regains lost confidence. Through it all Copeland manages to become larger than life, yet also distinctly human, making her easy to be amazed by, yet equally effortless to relate to, and those type of reactions are certainly nothing to scoff at.

A Ballerina's Tale might not be a great documentary, never achieving the same level of perfection as its subject so often does dancing across the staged, but that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. Still, I can't stop wondering what might have been had George dug just a tiny bit deeper, Copeland's amazing story deserving of a fuller, more complex telling, one I can't help but hope happens sooner rather than later.


Star-studded Secret a captivating remake
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE SECRET IN THEIR EYES
Now playing


For 13 years retired FBI counterterrorism agent Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) has been obsessing over the case that got away from him, and it had nothing to do with national security. When he was stationed in Los Angeles, he was partnered with local DA investigator Jess Cobb (Julia Roberts), the pair striking up a close friendship that even extended to his taking an interest in her outgoing teenage daughter, Caroline (Zoe Graham). But when Caroline's body is found in a dumpster next door to a mosque they had under surveillance, the veteran agent becomes obsessed with solving the crime, Deputy District Attorney Claire Sloan (Nicole Kidman) worried Kasten will burn himself out if he can't find justice for his emotionally devastated partner.

Her fears are well-founded, Kasten's evidence falling on deaf ears. Turns out, the man likely to have been responsible for the crime was someone then L.A. District Attorney Martin Morales (Alfred Molina) wasn't interested in prosecuting; and Morales couldn't understand why those working for him in 2002 didn't feel the same given the state of world events then.

Now, over a decade late, with Sloan the new D.A. and Kasten certain he's got new information that will finally bring Caroline's killer to justice, the seeds appear to be planted for success to sprout. But not everything is as it seems, and while Jess is apparently onboard with her former partner's desire to reopen this long discarded cold case, the secrets she's keeping might be too gigantic for any amount of fanatical sleuthing to be able to overcome.

For those familiar with the Academy Award-winning 2009 Argentinian mystery-thriller The Secret in Their Eyes, what is actually taking place and where the truth ultimately lies in writer/director Billy Ray's star-studded remake will not catch anyone by surprise. Nonetheless, the movie manages to hold up as its own distinct animal, anchored by a trio of strong performances from the leads that are never less that magnetic, sometimes even bordering on magnificent (especially as it pertains to Roberts). While never rising into the realm of excellence, this is still a solid, intelligently constructed policier that gets the job done, and for those unfamiliar with the original motion picture I'm fairly certain the central twists and turns will likely catch most somewhat off-guard.

Ray does spell things out far too clearly at times, especially near the end, something the original film never does. The overlapping flashbacks play themselves out during this section, an audio montage of one character's statements made throughout the picture unnecessary, lessening the emotional impact of the discovery the former FBI star has spent over a decade being preoccupied with uncovering. There is still awe, the horror very much felt, just not nearly as fully and as intimately I thought was theoretically possible, the director apparently too unsure the audience would have been able to put together the final puzzle pieces without a little extra over-the-top input on his part.

If Ray does not show the same steady hand he showcased on his first two directorial outings (Shattered Glass and Breach) that isn't to say he doesn't still put forth a notable effort. For the majority of the film, he handles the dual timelines and past/present aspects of the narrative with dexterous skill. He weaves back and forth between 2002 and 2015 confidently, and not once did I feel like I was lost trying to gauge what was happening when. He also does a nice job of making it an honest-to-goodness guessing game as to whether or not the new man Kasten has put into the spotlight as Caroline's murderer is the one we actually know did the crime 13 years prior.

Secret in Their Eyes will not electrify viewers who've seen the Argentinian original with near the same magnitude. Ray doesn't shake things up, doesn't choose to go in a new direction, more or less doing nothing more than attempt to tell the same story but with an Americanized bent. But thanks to the efforts of the cast, especially the central trio, an unbelievably good Roberts most of all, and a smart, intelligently-constructed script that treats its audience with a great deal of respect, I found that this remake worthwhile. While not a classic, there's no law that says it had to be, and as cryptic, labyrinthine thrillers revolving around family, obsession and justice are concerned, this remake was a welcome punch to the gut I couldn't help but be moderately impressed by.


Pacific Northwest Ballet presents a marvelous new production of a great classic
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Grammys 2016: Swift, Lamar, The Weeknd are big contenders for nominations
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Unwrapped not the holiday present we were hoping for
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Rihanna's 'The Anti World Tour' descending to Key Arena in April
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'The Gay Uncle Time' a great showcase of comedy and Queer culture
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Niki Trumbo - an interview with Dalton Trumbo's daughter
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Gage Academy of Art presents the 16th Annual Drawing Jam on Dec. 5

The annual family-friendly event includes live music, models & free art supplies

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Singers Nora Michaels & Victor Janusz - 'together again for the very second time!' - will offer an Intimate Holiday Concert

'CHARISMA NOEL!'

Singing Only the Holiday Songs They LOVE at this Special Time of Year

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Seattle LGBT Community Center
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Cranston's magnificence allows Trumbo to soar
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Kid-friendly Dinosaur a beautifully animated fable
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Spellbinding Brooklyn a romantically charming treat
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Misty Copeland's ballet Tale worthy of a look
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