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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 10, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 10
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Oscar takeaways

Six random thoughts concerning the 89th Annual Academy Awards
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

It's been almost two weeks since the craziest Academy Awards showcase in the history of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (MPAA), and ever since La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz stopped the show cold by authoritatively proclaiming Moonlight the Best Picture winner I'm still somewhat shocked by the outcome. Did this really happen? Did the MPAA actually award the Oscar for Best Picture to a $1.5-million indie from a Black writer/director? One revolving around themes of poverty, race, gender and sexual orientation, doing so with a frank sensitivity that puts the viewer square inside the shoes of its protagonist in ways few other films seldom have before?

Yes. It really happened, and in giving Barry Jenkins' feature Best Picture, the MPAA made a statement unlike any they ever have before. Whether one loves, likes or loathes Moonlight, there's no getting around the fact there's never been another feature like it to win Best Picture. Not at its budget level. Certainly not in the way it puts its LGBT themes front and center. And while other films featuring a primarily African American cast have won Best Picture (most notably Steven McQueen's slavery drama 12 Years a Slave), none of those put forward a cast list not containing a single Caucasian member whatsoever.

It's unheard of. After two years of #OscarSoWhite being a thing, after countless discussions pointing out MPAA membership is primarily White, Male and over the age of 65, the thought Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs could see her diversity initiatives produce such astonishing results so quickly is rather shocking. Moonlight is not the type of movie that would normally appeal to members while Damien Chazelle's lovely Hollywood musical La La Land unquestionably is, so forgive me if I'm still amazed the supposed frontrunner lost and the supposedly not-ready-for-primetime underdog ended up emerging victorious.

Make no mistake. Moonlight winning is a big fricking deal. Those that try to say otherwise do not understand the Academy Awards, its history and what a movie like this taking home Best Picture means to marginalized communities, not just here in the United States, but also around the world.

In addition, here are five other random thoughts that have occurred to me since the 89th annual Academy Awards came to such an explosively unexpected conclusion:



1. Thanks to the unbelievably insane screw up by the PricewaterhouseCoopers accountants that resulted in Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway announcing the wrong Best Picture winner, neither Moonlight nor La La Land filmmakers were able to bask in the glow of any of their respective Oscar wins. The La La Land people found themselves up on the stage, delivering acceptance speeches only to be suddenly told they had to hand over their prize to someone else and to go back down into the auditorium and return to their respective seats. The Moonlight people were equally ill-treated, the show ending amidst a flurry of chaos and explanations, meaning no one who had a part in the movie's creation really got their moment to make an acceptance speech and say what they'd been dreaming of shouting to the world. It was an unforgivable mistake, and while the chances of something like it ever happening again are miniscule, it's still on the Academy to make sure it doesn't.

2. Brie Larson really didn't want to give that Oscar for Best Actor to Casey Affleck for his performance in Manchester by the Sea, and more or less admitted as much to Vanity Fair by pointedly stating that her actions on the stage spoke for themselves. A committed victim's rights activist, she made a point of shaking all the hands and giving hugs to all the college sexual assault survivors appearing on-stage with Lady Gaga during the 2016 Oscar ceremony, but the Room Best Actress winner wanted nothing to do with Affleck, refusing to applaud his victory. Say what you will about Affleck winning, about whether or not the sexual assault and harassment allegations against him levied by two female employees working on his experimental Joaquin Phoenix mockumentary I'm Still Here should matter as far as voting for him for Best Actor was concerned, Larson still stood up for her principles, not bowing to expected niceties or industry conventions when she was forced to hand him the Oscar. I can't help but respect that.

3. Who didn't love watching Hollywood veteran Kevin O'Connell, after 20 prior nominations and zero wins, finally walk home with an Oscar for Sound Mixing in regards to his spectacular work on Mel Gibson's WWII drama Hacksaw Ridge? It was a beautiful moment, one where it was never a guarantee that it could actually happen, the pure unadulterated joy bursting off of O'Connell face, as well the rapturous standing ovation he received from this crowd in the auditorium, sublimely speaking for itself.

4. I know they add time to a telecast that is already much too long, but the Honorary Academy Award winners deserve at least the opportunity to make a short speech. This year's class included four legendary luminaries, editor Anne V. Coates, casting director Lynn Stalmaster, filmmaker Frederick Wiseman and Hong Kong icon Jackie Chan. Seriously. Jackie Chan, who has barely sniffed the Oscar stage in his stunning, spectacular career, had to stand in the balcony and wave. That was it. Nothing more.

Listen, I get why this change was made to honor these folks at a separate event, but there are times when some of them deserve additional attention. This was one of those moments, and at the very least both Chan and Coates deserved more than a smattering of polite applause.

5. Finally, even with all the calamity at the end, even for the utter failure of the tour bus gag, I honestly can't believe I'm saying this, but host Jimmy Kimmel needs to be asked back. I've never been a fan but, other than those two snafus, one of which was decidedly not his fault, the late night talk show host and comedian did a rather spectacular job. He was funny, moved the show along, didn't play nice yet also was seldom overly mean. He called a lot of what was happening as he saw it and remained affable and charismatic throughout. Kimmel did a great job, and I'd be more than open to seeing if this was a fluke performance or, much like Johnny Carson or Billy Crystal, if he has the ability to do this on a regular basis.


Charming Before I Fall a teen Groundhog Day
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

BEFORE I FALL
Now playing


For Pacific Northwest teenager Samantha Kingston (Zoey Deutch), February 12 started as any other regular day. She banters with her mother (Jennifer Beals), is oblivious to her little sister Izzy's (Erica Tremblay) cheerful pleas to be noticed and heads off to school sitting next to best girlfriend Lindsay (Halston Sage). She collects roses from admirers throughout a pre-Valentine's Day school celebration, enjoys lunch surrounded by her friends and heads out that evening to a party being hosted by Kent (Logan Miller), a longtime acquaintance who has a major crush on her.

All is going fine until outcast Juliet (Elena Kampouris) shows up at the party. Not only is she in some sort of angry funk, she's also chosen that moment to tell Samantha, Lindsay and their fellow besties Elody (Medalion Rahimi) and Ally (Cynthy Wu) exactly what she thinks of all four of them. Leaving in an angry huff, the foursome take off into the night. But just as they're all calming down, Lindsay's car is involved in a horrible accident, Samantha sent spiraling into an unconsciousness wondering if she or her friends are going to survive, only to awake in the morning to discover it is once again February 12, and she must start the entire day over from the very beginning.

Based on the best-selling novel by Lauren Oliver, calling Before I Fall a teen-friendly melding of Mean Girls and Groundhog Day is a fairly obvious and unsurprising thing to do. It would also be accurate. The story of a youngster forced to live the same day over and over and over again until she passes some mysterious test, rights an unknown wrong or just learns to be a better person, there's not much going on here that could be construed as unexpected. This is a fairly rudimentary scenario, screenwriter Maria Maggenti (Monte Carlo) keeping things simple and straightforward, while director Ry Russo-Young (Nobody Walks) doesn't add any additional embellishments on her part. No, this is a plain, focused and decidedly unfussy adaptation, and as such is over and done with so quickly the conscientious brevity of it all is a wee bit unsettling.

Yet, as familiar and relatively nondescript as all of this might be, Russo-Young and Maggenti still manage to do just enough with it all to keep things interesting. There is a youthful energy to the proceedings that's invigorating, a dynamic charm that makes all the tedious, overly melodramatic bits sing with melodious enthusiasm that by all accounts shouldn't exist. More, it does a fairly terrific job examining teenage friendship amongst young women in a way few stories take the time to do, and while the truths it reveals are hardly innovative, the fact the filmmakers are attacking them at all with such honest candor is refreshing in and of itself.

But the real reason the movie ends up being as enjoyable as it is has more to do with Deutch's infectious star-turn more than it does anything else. After stealing hearts and opening eyes as pretty much the lone female presence in Richard Linklater's Everybody Wants Some!! (and after being labeled an Ellen Page clone for her performance in Vampire Academy and being wasted entirely in the James Franco/Bryan Cranston gross-out comedy Why Him?), the young actress delivers a statement performance signifying she's a major talent worthy of keeping an eye on. The emotional complexity of her work is simply stellar, and the way she travels through so many varying dramatic layers as she traverses through the narrative is even more so. Deutch is, in a word, incredible, and even when the movie comes perilously close to flying off the rails she continually keeps things watchable practically all by herself.

Good thing, too, because there are a number of points here where, were she not so talented, were the actress' performance not so superlative, I might have given up on the film and let my mind wander someplace else. There is a layer of superficiality to some of the sequences that is fairly annoying, while some of the montages depicting Samantha's daily travails aren't nearly as inspired or as interesting as I felt they needed to be. There is a subplot involving what appears to be the high school's lone lesbian student that barely registers as anything more than sophomoric pandering, while some revelations involving Lindsay and Juliet as children aren't nearly as edifying or resonate as the filmmakers clearly want them to be. There's also some mixed messaging involved as to what the point of all this magical realism is supposed to be, and I wasn't entirely certain what it was I was supposed to be feeling as I left the theatre and pondered where Samantha's story ended up at.

Even so, Deutch is a revelation, and there were more than enough strong, emotionally authentic moments to dilute the misery caused by some of the film's more egregious missteps. Before I Fall doesn't always rise to the occasion. When it does, though, the end result is something wonderful, and I enjoyed far more of this day-in-the-life stuck on repeat than I imagined I was going to before I was tasked with watching it. I liked this movie, enough so I'd watch it again willingly, and considering I'm no longer the target audience that's probably the highest bit of praise I can throw in its direction.


Scattershot Kong a loopy monster mash
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

KONG: SKULL ISLAND
Now playing


It is 1973, and the Vietnam War is coming to an end. The secret government agency known as Monarch is on its last legs, but head honcho Bill Randa (John Goodman) believes now is the time to convince the Senators in charge of his funding to give him one more opportunity to prove his wild theories. He and his chief geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have discovered a seemingly lost landmass in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a location given the mysterious moniker of Skull Island because everyone who has ever gone in search of it was never heard from again. Randa believes he can prove his suspicions about ancient creatures and lost civilizations by going there, he only needs a little extra money and a military escort to help him do it.

Incredibly, he's given the go-ahead to move ahead with his plan. Assigned a battle-hardened chopper unit led by the demanding Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), hiring former S.A.S. operative and crack jungle tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to be his guide, Randa believes his elite team to explore the island is now set. He even acquires the services of award-winning war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to document the journey, all of them ready to leap into the unknown for their own personal reasons, each searching for answers they hope to find while investigating this strange, new world.

Needless to say, nothing goes as the group plans in director Jordan Vogt-Roberts' Kong: Skull Island, a visually phantasmagoric action-fantasy-comedy hybrid that plays out as something of an unhinged, shaggy-eared prequel to Gareth Edwards' excellent 2014 reinterpretation of Toho Studio's legendary Godzilla. Having very little if anything to do with either Merian C. Cooper's 1933 classic King Kong or its lavish, richly ambitious 2005 Peter Jackson remake, this movie presents the giant ape in a heroically selfless light, portraying him as a protector of the natural order those with any sense don't go out of their way to foolishly mess around with.

The thing about this new take, however, is that, structurally and tonally, the film is a scattershot affair that never quite knows what it is doing. The script by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Max Borenstein (Godzilla) and Derek Connolly (Jurassic World) is a crazy hodgepodge of ideas and concepts that are continually at war with one another. At one moment the film is a broad comedy; at other points it is deathly serious. There are times where it becomes a giddy giant monster frolic in the vein of the Toho Godzilla epics made over the past six-plus decades; at other times it feels like an idiotic offshoot of that ghastly Roland Emmerich remake released in 1998. It's a loopy, carnage-fueled extravaganza that makes obvious allusions to everything from Apocalypse Now to Jurassic Park, Platoon to Dr. Strangelove, and does so without any potential clue as to why it is or what the point of doing so might actually be.

Vogt-Roberts, coming off his micro-budget teen comedy The Kings of Summer, proves to have better visual chops than anticipated, the helicopter troop's initial confrontation with Kong positively glorious. Equal parts suspenseful and terrifying, this action-filled set piece moves like lightning, each crash landing and explosion a brutish jolt of excitement that held me spellbound. While he doesn't possess the precision or cinematic virtuosity that Edwards displayed with his Godzilla and perfected with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Vogt-Roberts's pugilistic elasticity where it comes to the signature monster attacks is still nothing to be scoffed at.

It's just all so dumb, and there are multiple points where it feels like each member of the cast is existing in an entirely different motion picture. Jackson, a nod to his doomed Jurassic Park character aside, is all steely-eyed intensity as he battles demons born on Vietnam battlefields. John C. Reilly, portraying a WWII fighter pilot stranded on the island for almost three decades, is all manically cartoonish, wild-eyed buffoonery, his performance a hysteric bit of genius that needs to be seen to be believed. As for members like Hiddleston and Larson, they're in steely adventure serial hero mode in the vein of Indiana Jones or an old school 1930s Hollywood serial, going for the gung-ho and the derring-do if precious little else, letting their mutual natural charisma speak for itself.

I'm not sure how this sets up the so-called 'MonsterVerse' Warner Bros. is attempting to create, and while there are plenty of hints towards future installments featuring Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah and, of course, the big behemoth Gojira himself, the tonal disparity between Godzilla and this feature are undeniably obvious. But as ludicrous and as unfocused as it all might be, Kong: Skull Island kept me amused for practically every second of its two-hour running time. While not a great movie, it's still an awfully fun one, and as big budget, visually resplendent monster mashes go I'm somewhat eager to give it another look relatively soon.


Biting Get Out a satirical marvel of terrifying wit
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

GET OUT
Now playing


Photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is apprehensive about meeting the parents of his Caucasian girlfriend Rose Armitage (Allison Williams). They don't know he's Black, and while both Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener) are by all accounts open-minded liberals who should be just fine with their daughter entering into an interracial relationship, that doesn't mean it still won't be a shock when he arrives arm-in-arm with her standing at their front door. Chris just doesn't feel this is information that should be sprung on someone out of the blue, and as such he's understandably on edge even as Rose lovingly urges him to try and relax.

Unfortunately, it's as weird and uncomfortable as he feared it would. Yes, Dean and Missy on the surface are decent hosts, but underneath the surface they and many other members of their small, affluent suburban community practice a form of unintentional racism that they don't come close to recognizing. But, beyond that, there's more going on, something positively horrific, and Chris is starting to get hints that he and Rose need to leave as soon as possible. There's an underlying darkness to all this apparent kindness and sensitivity, a force so bleak and all-consuming it could literally transform someone into an entirely different person altogether.

From the mind of sketch comedy impresario Jordan Peele ('Key and Peele'), the sinister, satirically unsettling horror-comedy Get Out features one of the best, most culturally savvy scripts of any film likely to be released in all of 2017. This movie goes for the jugular, offering up ideas and concepts that are particularly timely, the way it manages to look backwards and forwards with equal ferocity unquestionably startling. It's a self-aware meta exercise in paranoia and understanding that analyzes race in ways few other pieces of Hollywood entertainment ever has, Peele utilizing the artifices and devices of the horror genre in ways bordering on genius.

For those going in expecting an all-out scare-fest, be prepared as this is not that kind of motion picture. The horror elements, while solid, are admittedly also where Peele comes up a little bit short. Once we know what is going on, once the central conceit revolving around self-determination, corruption, subservience and psychological reconfiguration is revealed, there aren't a lot of surprises or shocks. While the climactic rampage where Chris learns all and is forced to do what he can to make it through intact is nicely staged and acted, there's also not much that happens that is unexpected, and as such the blood didn't curdle nearly as much as I honestly would have liked it to.

Thankfully, the horror aspects run secondary to the core plot threads, the hard-charging social commentary, the hysterical comedy and the insightful satire. Peele builds characters who are fascinating to deconstruct, each one working towards their own agenda, and while Chris is the fly trapped in a web he barely comprehends let alone realizes that it exists, it is the spiders crowding around him who serve up the proverbial banquet. They work in tandem, even if not always as a unit, their mutual desire for corruption, sacrifice, perversion and possession a sight to see.

As such, the entire cast Peele has assembled to make all of this come to life is excellent across the board. Not just veteran pros Keener and Whitford (who, with this and Cabin in the Woods, seem to have a whole new career appearing in modern horror-comedies that aren't quite what they appear to be on the surface), and not just core stars Kaluuya and Williams, but just about everyone else having any sort of speaking role whatsoever as well. Stephen Root as a blind art gallery owner with a fondness for Chris' pictures. Lakeith Stanfield as garden party attendee whose robotic grin conceals an unimaginable inner turmoil. Marcus Henderson and especially Betty Gabriel as the Armitage family's servants, both going through their respective duties with a ghostly precision that's as creepy as it is intriguing. Best of all is Lil Rel Howery as Chris' best friend and confidant Rod Williams, the wisecracking TSA agent putting two plus two together and becoming all but certain his good buddy has ended up somewhere he most definitely did not want to be.

Can't say I was as fond of Caleb Landry Jones as Rose's menacing brother Jeremy, his performance so on-the-nose he might as well have a neon arrow pointed his direction proclaiming him as someone dangerous to keep an eye on. I'll also admit, as sensational as practically all of the comedic beats prove to be, and as shockingly organic to the story at hand they astonishingly are, there is one extended gag involving Rod making a report to a bunch of incredulous police officers that feels like a skit pulled from 'Key and Peele.' It stands out in a way that took me out of the movie, and as funny as the sequence is it is also the only one that just didn't fit with any of the other bits that surrounded it.

Peele directs with a confidence, however, he and cinematographer Toby Oliver (The Darkness) doing a marvelous job of manufacturing a visual ambiance that's absolutely sensational. He also keeps the pacing sharp and focused for the majority of the film's running time, crafting a sense of omnipresent dread that continuously sent shudders up and down my spine. But it's the script that still has me the most excited about Get Out, Peele's ability to entertain and to edify, to produce laughter in the same instance that he slams his satirical points home with an unexpected sledgehammer, it's all here and more. This film is a marvel of ingenuity and inspiration, a horror tale where the most frightening image is the mirror image of the audience realizing they're the ones being so intimately examined.




Don't Resist ArtsWests' Milk Like Sugar!
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Moisture Festival of Comedy/Varietè turns 14

Expect unleashed revelry, extraordinary performances & special events March 16-April 9

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Pacific MusicWorks gives joyful performance of Handel's arias for tenor
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Ann Wilson rocks out blissfully at the Moore
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Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders rock out magnificently in Portland
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Spectrum Dance Theater's 'Rambunctious' series shines light on 'The Immigrants'
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CORRECTION
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Seattle Fringe Festival returns March 23-April 1
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Remembering TCM host Robert Osborne (1932-2017)

My 2009 interview with a Hollywood legend

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Letters
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Depeche Mode, Lea Michelle headed to Seattle
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Oscar takeaways

Six random thoughts concerning the 89th Annual Academy Awards

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Charming Before I Fall a teen Groundhog Day
------------------------------
Scattershot Kong a loopy monster mash
------------------------------
Biting Get Out a satirical marvel of terrifying wit
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