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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 5, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 18
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Imaginatively inventive Guardians a groovy sequel
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL. 2
Now playing


Coasting on the interstellar goodwill generated by their saving the Universe from the genocidal advances of the evil wannabe despot Ronan, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and the freshly sprouted Baby Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel), the so-called Guardians of the Galaxy, have just helped a race of golden-skinned beings ruled by the authoritarian Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) in their fight against an energy-eating monstrosity. Their payment? Custody of the fugitive Nebula (Karen Gillan), Gamora's vindictive sister, and together the crew plans to take her to the proper authorities in order to score the massive bounty for her capture.

For reasons best left unexplained, after the supposedly heroic crew leaves her planet Ayesha suddenly feels duty bound to put a bounty on the Guardians, turning to Quill's former Captain and cantankerous father figure Yondu (Michael Rooker) to track them down. But throwing things completely out of whack, into the picture, riding atop a spaceship shaped like a giant golden egg, comes the jovial, charismatic Ego (Kurt Russell). Aided by his empathic assistant Mantis (Pom Klementieff), he's one of the Universe's few Celestial Beings. He also just so happens to be Quill's actual father, and he's been looking for his orphaned son for over 30 Earth years.

Overstuffed and featuring precious little in the way of actual plot, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 nonetheless is a giddy, go-for-broke sequel that I actually enjoyed a tiny bit more than its hit 2014 predecessor. It also shows Marvel learned a few solid lessons from their mishandling of Joss Whedon as it pertained to Avengers: Age of Ultron, and wanting to make sure that they keep this film's writer/director James Gunn in the company's good graces they've given him free reign to run wild and take this series in whatever direction he wants to. It's a self-contained adventure, one that drops only the faintest, most non-essential of hints where other stories in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) are heading, the movie all the more enjoyable because of this.

This comic book rule-breaking bravado is apparent right from the start, Gunn staging the first big action sequence juxtaposed against the opening credits. But instead of focusing on the Guardians courageously battling some big, bad monster, he keeps the diminutive Baby Groot center stage, the adorable, doe-eyed creature dancing through the carnage to the groove-worthy riffs of Electric Light Orchestra's 'Mr. Blue Sky.' The director could almost care less how Quill, Gamora, Drax and Rocket emerge triumphant, instead choosing to establish the freewheeling, devil-may-care tone that will become this sequel's signature motif, the explosions and pyrotechnics secondary to the jokes and ingeniously zany visuals.

For the first hour this is glorious, almost to the point that the fact Gunn hasn't done a heck of a lot to put forward a complex, let alone coherent, plot didn't even register on me. It isn't until the necessities and requirements of a big budget Marvel comic book adventure come into play that the rudimentary nature of the narrative rears its somewhat ugly head, and as well-staged as everything might be, there's also precious little weight or suspenseful intensity to anything that eventually ends up happening. In fact, what is built up to be an emotionally devastating turn of events ends up being nothing of the sort, and even someone paying the ultimate sacrifice in order to hopefully see the Universe saved and the Guardians once again victorious disappointingly underwhelms.

Yet, I liked that Gunn decided to focus so much of the story on Gamora and Yondu, that he went to such great lengths to round out their characters and make them an integral part of this particular section of the MCU. I also loved that he allowed Drax more freedom to be a part of this nonconformist intergalactic family, especially because I found Bautista to be a little flat in the first film. Here, however, he's given some of the best lines, delivering his comebacks with a pithy, unsentimentally blunt obliviousness that's frequently hysterical. There's also some solid stuff involving Quill and Gamora that's cute without being cloying, Pratt and Saldana displaying a naturalistic chemistry that recalls 1980s are-they-or-aren't-they romantic comedy television à la 'Cheers' or 'Moonlighting.'

It's Russell who's having the most fun, though, the veteran actor fitting seamlessly into Gunn's corner of the MCU with electrifying joie de vivre. Ego isn't just a Celestial, he's also a bona fide planet, the action icon tackling this challenge with a fervent brio that's divine. The actor's recent run over the past decade-plus, which includes stints as a member of the Fast and Furious ensemble, working with Quentin Tarantino on Death Proof and The Hateful Eight, portraying the grizzled offshore installation manager in Deepwater Horizon, winning an Olympic Gold Medal as legendary coach Herb Brooks in Miracle and shepherding a posse into the heart of unflinching darkness in 2015's brilliant Bone Tomahawk, has been extraordinary, Russell giddily rising to any and all challenges Gunn chooses to throw his direction with confident gusto.

The effects, while having a noticeable CGI sheen, are creatively complex, same going for Judianna Makovsky's (Seabiscuit) colorfully refined costumes. The whole thing recalls Mike Hodges' 1980 cult classic Flash Gordon from a visual standpoint, a comparison I do not make lightly and mean as a major compliment, the relaxed devil-may-care style suiting Gunn's wild child sensibilities perfectly. I'd say the only thing missing is a soundtrack composed by Queen; but considering that Quill's mixtape for this adventure is filled with the likes of Sam Cooke, Cat Stevens, George Harrison, Glen Campbell, Fleetwood Mac and Cheap Trick, I'd say the film has that element covered, too, the filmmaker's usage of Looking Glass' 'Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)' frankly outstanding.

I don't think either of Guardians of the Galaxy films are particularly great, but they are a heck of a lot of fun, Vol. 2 so overflowing in passionate imagination taking my eyes off of it for even a single second proved to be impossible. Gunn's vision continues to be the most inspired of any director currently working inside of Marvel's universe, and like a dancing Baby Groot I'm pretty sure at this point I'd jive right along to any beat he chooses to lay down next.


Torrey Pines: Stop-motion animated film screening at the Seattle Public Library May 12
The Seattle Public Library will host a FREE screening of Torrey Pines, a stop-motion animated film with a live musical score, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday, May 12 at the Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Level 1, Microsoft Auditorium, 206-386-4636.

Premiering at Seattle's TWIST (LGBTQ) Film Festival last year, Torrey Pines is a stop-motion animated feature film by local filmmaker Clyde Petersen. Based on a true story, the film is a queer punk coming-of-age tale that takes place in Southern California in the early 1990s. Raised by a schizophrenic single mother, Petersen's life story unfolds in a series of baffling and hallucinated events. With a mother fueled by hallucinations of political conspiracy and family dysfunction, 12-year-old Petersen is taken on a cross-country adventure that will forever alter the family as they know it.

The film is 60 minutes long and unrated. It will be presented with a live musical score performed by Petersen, Zach Burba, Jacob Jaffe, Steve Moore and special guests.

Petersen is a Seattle-based artist, working in film, animation, music, installation and more. He is a member of the transgender and queer communities in Seattle. He travels the world with his punk band Your Heart Breaks and hosts the Internet film series 'Boating with Clyde' in a small handmade boat in the Washington Park Arboretum.

His work has been featured around the world at the FLARE: London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, SXSW, the Henry Art Gallery, the Walker Art Gallery, Portland State University, Western Washington University, Bumbershoot Arts Festival, Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and many other venues.

Library events are free and everyone is welcome. Registration is not required. Parking is available in the Central Library garage for $6 after 5 p.m. For more information, call the Library at 206-386-4636 or Ask a Librarian at https://www.spl.org/

Courtesy of the Seattle Public Library


Hypnotically unsettling Song a darkly fascinating terror
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

A DARK SONG
Now playing
Still grieving over the loss of her son, Sophia Howard (Catherine Walker) retreats to a secluded country house to attempt the impossible. She hires occultist Joseph Solomon (Steve Oram) to lead her through a ritual that will, when it comes to an end, take her into the very heart of emotional darkness. It will take months, maybe even a full year, and there is no guarantee that what Sophia wants to have happen at the end of the ordeal will come to pass. More, Joseph isn't sold his client's intentions are pure, and initially isn't so sure he wants to put himself in danger if the chance exists she'll give up on the ritual halfway through. Nonetheless, the pair gather supplies, make their preparations and seal up the house as neither of them can leave until things have reached their conclusion, both ready to descend into the pits of Hell just for the fleeting chance they might have the opportunity to touch Heaven's angelic floorboards.

Liam Gavin's A Dark Song is a hypnotically tense occult thriller, the young writer/director crafting a superior narrative feature debut that's beautiful in its sinisterly startling vigor. The film digs under the skin, taking its time to get to know its two primary characters as they travel along this strange, surreal journey to a place beyond imagining. It is an examination of grief and loss, but not in any sort of cliché or melodramatic way. Instead, Gavin looks at Sophia's hurt and despair through a lens of fortified resilience, her inability to admit just how much she is hurting potentially the greatest roadblock to her and Joseph successfully completing the ritual.

There's not really a lot more to it. The film revolves entirely around these two characters, Gavin allowing the pair's time together to evolve and mutate alongside the ritual's increasingly twisted and ugly progressions, insight into why they're both in the house determined to see things to the end coming gradually and not all at once. The director's way of revealing information is eerily effective, an aura of dread seeping into the very foundation of the narrative, allowing for just the thought of things going wrong to be enough to send chills up even the stoutest spine.

What's interesting is that the movie isn't interested in engaging in easy jump scares or typical horror theatrics. While the supernatural elements are never in doubt, they're only part of the emotional equation. Gavin examines grief in an enthrallingly antagonist manner, Sophia's hardened heart not so much looking for solace as it is longing for retribution. This dynamic is juxtaposed against the steadfast resilience put forth by Joseph, his reticence to spending time with this woman he initially views as a selfishly privileged elite used to getting what she wants giving way to a form of protective understanding that's developed over the ritual's painful trivialities and exhausting requirements.

It's the banal intricacies of what it is they are doing that slowly becomes one of the more fascinating elements of the story. Gavin spends a lot of time dwelling on all of the ritual's minutia, allowing for its ponderous necessities to help Sophia and Joseph break through their distaste for one another and produce a connection that's uncomfortably pure and potentially much more long-lasting if things work out as they want them to. When the pair finally open up to one another, when they let go of the elements poisoning their souls, the emotional floodgates are unlocked, the catharsis of these revelations warily sitting alongside the perilous realities of the ritual's supernatural ramifications.

Both actors do a nice job, especially Walker, the expressiveness of her final scenes shattering in their intimate intensity. The movie is also incredibly well shot by Cathal Watters (Viva), especially considering the scarcity of locations the cinematographer has at his disposal, the evocative way he drifts inside production designer Conor Dennison's interiors suitably unnerving. I also was drawn to Ray Harman's lyrically passionate score, the music adding just the right grace notes to the story, the composer's themes complimenting the on-screen action, never overpowering it.

Gavin is in complete control, and by the time things explode into chaotic depravity I was so enamored with the characters and their plight I found myself holding my breath in desperate hope things were going to somehow work out for the both of them. Sophia and Joseph become real people by the end of the film, and as such the dangers of the ritual, when they finally make themselves concrete and visible to the naked eye, become all the more powerful. A Dark Song is a beguiling terror that saves its best reveals right up until the end, the line between good and evil, right and wrong, Heaven and Hell, hypnotically blurring until they practically no longer exist.






2017 Translations Film Festival Preview

Festival Director Sam Berliner on bringing Transgender stories to the masses

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RISING UP:

Gentrification and gender in Central District explored in upcoming Queer Social Justice Play

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Qurb Media Group proudly presents: LADY BUNNY in TRANS-JESTER!
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Cherdonna's Doll's House not to be missed!
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Melissa Etheridge and Lea Michele bring different musical styles to Seattle on back-to-back nights
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Dido & Aeneas:

Pacific MusicWorks with UW Chamber Singers build a musical palace of unrivaled beauty

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SGN EXCLUSIVE:

An interview with Lady Bunny - The Trans-Jester! appearing at the SIFF Egyptian Theatre May 11

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2017 Tony Award nominations: Bette Midler, Nathan Lane and Josh Groban among this year's nominees
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Through the Looking Glass shines in its 9th season at The Triple Door
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Letters
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Janet Jackson reschedules tour with Seattle date; Linkin Park announces Key Arena show
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Imaginatively inventive Guardians a groovy sequel
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Torrey Pines: Stop-motion animated film screening at the Seattle Public Library May 12
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Hypnotically unsettling Song a darkly fascinating terror
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