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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 31, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 35
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Seattle Erotic Cinema Society announces SECS Fest erotic film festival Sept. 7-9
SECS FEST GRAND ILLUSION CINEMA September 7-9

The Seattle Erotic Cinema Society announces their second erotic film festival, SECS Fest, September 7th-9th, 2018. The festival will feature new short and feature films from around the world, and will include 2 archival films. SECS Fest has compiled a diverse international selection of new short films and two feature length films that reflect the diversity of human sexual experience. Presented alongside the modern program will be two archival films introduced by film scholar, David Church, PhD.

Attendees can expect to experience a range of film genres, sexual orientations, and sexual activities. Both narrative and documentary films will showcase a variety of interests - sexual curiosity and anxiety, fetishes, BDSM, sex work and more. Special attention is given to films that defy audience expectations for sexually explicit films, that some believe are inherently sexist and hetero-centric. SECS strives to include films made by and depicting underrepresented populations, reaching beyond today's mainstream adult cinema, to bring you a more inclusive sex-positive program.

Opening night, on Friday, September 7th will kick off with the Northwest Premiere of Fantasy, a drama-comedy feature about a couple's journey through surreal sex therapy exercises in order to strengthen their relationship.

The weekend will include several shorts programs with a variety of themes. Our 'Sex Work' shorts program will include both documentary and fictional narratives by and about sex workers. Our 'Femme Is Fierce' program featuring films exploring the feminine side of erotic fantasies will world premiere Spark Erotic's Heaven with a Q&A post screening. Our 'Angst' shorts collection navigates films about sexual anxiety and fear and will world premiere local filmmaker Craig Downing's What We Want.

Saturday, September 8th, will feature the USA premiere of ISVN, which takes a glimpse into the life of porn star Valentina Nappi. Part documentary, part experimental and fully explicit, our second feature is sure to please any fan of Nappi.

We will close the festival on September 9th with our 'Real and Surreal' shorts program, which will include the world premiere of Gush - a documentary that is sure to have festival attendees leave the theater in discussion or, at the very least, Google searching. Our closing program will include a Q&A with Gush's director Kate Sinclaire and star Ciel, alongside the cast and crew of Spark Erotic's The Pickup. The complete lineup for SECS Fest 2018, including all feature films and shorts, is currently online at secsfest.org.

All film screenings will be held at the Grand Illusion Cinema, 1403 NE 50th St., in Seattle's U-District. Individual event tickets are available for $12/General, $10/SECS members. They can be purchased online at secsfest.org. No one under 18 admitted.

About Seattle Erotic Cinema Society
The Seattle Erotic Cinema Society was founded by the Foundation of Sex-Positive Culture and is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. SECS hosts an ongoing monthly series showcasing films that celebrate the artistry of erotic cinema while also inspiring diverse communities to engage in adult conversations about sex.

SECS Fest aims to bring world-class erotic cinema to Seattle audiences in an annual festival including short films, features, documentary, and archival films. With an attention to selecting films that are inclusive of authentic adult sexual expression, the films will show a diversity of representations: race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, kink, body-type and standards of beauty, age, and ability. And it is through the exhibition of authentic sexualities alongside opportunities for audiences to participate in discussions and post-screening Q&A sessions that the festival can act as a catalyst for honest, nonjudgmental conversations and the spreading of sex-positive values.

Courtesy of Seattle Erotic Cinema Society


Dramatically astute Operation Finale a visceral hunt for historical truth
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

OPERATION FINALE
Now playing


Argentina. 1960. A number of German expatriates and their allies have taken up residence in the South American country, growing in power and influence as they settle into their new lives. Dashing Klaus Eichmann (Joe Alwyn) has begun romancing the beautiful Sylvia Hermann (Haley Lu Richardson). Her kindly blind father Lothar (Peter Strauss) recognizes the handsome young man's name, the shudder going up his spine when he hears it one he tries to keep to himself. He makes a report to Jewish authorities in Israel about this encounter, and even though he can't see he's still all but certain Klaus is the son of Adolph Eichmann (Ben Kingsley), one of the most powerful leaders of the Nazi party and the architect of what became known as 'The Final Solution,' the plan that resulted in the mass execution and slaughter of over six million Jewish men, women and children during WWII.

Once Eichmann's identity is confirmed, a plan is set in motion to kidnap him out of Argentina and bring him back to Israel to stand trial. Peter Malkin (Oscar Isaac) is one of the operatives tasked with planning and executing this mission. He brings with him doctor Hanna Elian (Mélanie Laurent), her skill cooking up narcotic compounds to subdue a target without doing permanent damage vital to the team's success. But after getting Eichmann under their control, and to also admit who he is and stop hiding behind an alias, the commercial airline that is tasked to airlift them back Israel refuses to do so unless the Nazi signs a release saying he's leaving Argentina willingly. With time running out, it falls to Malkin to get this signature, the veteran counterespionage assassin entering into a battle of wills with a man he'd just as soon put a bullet in and not someone he feels is worthy of engaging with in serious moralistic debate with.

Based on the true story about how the Israeli government was able to get their hands on Adolph Eichmann and force him to stand trial for his crimes against humanity in front of a worldwide televised audience in 1961, Operation Finale is an absorbing drama masquerading as a hard-boiled, John le Carré-style political thriller. Featuring a massive ensemble cast and an assertive, methodically introspective script written by Matthew Orton, director Chris Weitz (About a Boy, A Better Life) delivers a dialogue-driven think piece that makes up in intelligent nuance what it lacks in unrelenting thrills or suffocating suspense. It's a good film, overflowing in strong performances and memorable moments, and if not for bits of oddly misplaced humor and a noticeable lack of a character development for key members of the Israeli team assigned to kidnap Eichmann, it's possible this effort might have ended up being something special.

As it is, there is still plenty to love, Weitz putting together a motion picture that treats its audience with respect while it subtly builds to an earth-shattering conclusion that had me reaching into my bag searching for a handful of tissues. The emotional core of Orton's script is nakedly raw, the level of honest authenticity it exudes casting a palpable spell upon the proceedings that held my eyes glued to the screen. The scenes between Isaac and Kingsley as they sit in a tiny bedroom on the top floor of an Israeli safe house are stunning, the actors engaging in an effortless back-and-forth that offered up a great deal of perceptively complex themes that are worthy of further dissection afterwards.

Unfortunately, the relationship between Klaus and Sylvia is never as compelling as I felt it needed to be, their whole relationship rather perfunctory as far as the larger narrative is concerned, their scenes more about setting up events happening later in the film than they are in doing anything substantive. This is a shame because had their romance been more believable, if it had had more of a kick, the overall effect that would have had on what transpired could potentially have been magnificent. As it turns out, while Richardson and Alwyn are quite good, I found it difficult to be moved by either of them, Sylvia relegated to being picturesque feminine window dressing while Klaus became a one-dimensional Aryan monstrosity who was a twirling mustache away from descending into pure cartoonish caricature.

But Isaac is superb, and subpar CG de-aging effects for the WWII scenes notwithstanding, so is Kingsley. As stated, the two actors reach stratospheric heights whenever they share the screen, their moments having a kinetic virtuosity that's merciless in their intellectual minutia, Weitz and Orton pulling out all the stops as each man attempts to psychologically one-up the other as they pursue their own individual agendas. These sequences are the story's beating heart, everything building to that will-he-or-won't-he moment where time has run out and Eichmann's signature is the only thing standing between the Israeli operatives completing their mission or ending up getting captured by Argentinean authorities loyal to the German and his Nazi collaborators.

As the outcome is never in doubt, Eichmann's trial a vital part of the historical record, the fact there is any suspense at all as the clock ticks closer to doom is honestly rather incredible. But Weitz does a nice job staging and cutting the action in a way that heightens the inherent trauma of the situation, editor Pamela Martin (The Fighter), cinematographer Javier Aguirresarobe (Thor: Ragnarok) and composer Alexandre Desplat (The Shape of Water) all at the top of their respective games as they strive to give the film its pulse-pounding life. While likely not the breakneck thriller the ads and trailers may have promised, Operation Finale is nonetheless a fascinating drama that recounts a piece of lesser known history that should never, ever be forgotten.


Imaginatively inventive Kin a frustrating sci-fi mess
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

KIN
Now playing


I keep trying to convince myself that I liked the science fiction road trip suspense-thriller Kin more than I actually did. It features a lovely central performance by newcomer Myles Truitt as the 14-year-old hero Eli Solinski who is forced to go on an unforeseen adventure with his ex-con older brother Jimmy (Jack Reynor). There are some inspired visuals, especially considering the film's relatively modest budget. I was also impressed by the sound design supervised by Joseph Fraioli, and the same goes for composer Mogwai's (Before the Flood) inventive electronic score. Then there is the suitably whack-a-doo performance from James Franco as the story's primary villain Taylor Balik, his exuberantly sleazy magnificence a thing of disgusting beauty that, while reminiscent of similar turns in features like Spring Breakers and Homefront, is almost worth the price of a matinee ticket all by itself.

But the movie is a mess, a tonal nightmare that never manages to create an authentic time or place that's even moderately believable. Few of the human beings populating this story ever do anything that feels natural, and once the central narrative kicks into high gear things just keep getting more and more ridiculous as they progress. Even though it's all based on directors Jonathan and Josh Baker's striking 2014 short film Bag Man, it almost feels as if they and screenwriter Daniel Casey are making things up as they go along. It's a hodgepodge of various ideas that are reminiscent of any number of '80s and '90s favorites like Stand by Me, Flight of the Navigator, The Last Starfighter, Explorers, The Terminator and The Matrix, and while I appreciate the fact the filmmakers don't shy away from a number of tragically adult themes, the fact they do so little of affecting merit with them is too big a problem to be easily overcome.

Eli Solinski is a quiet, inquisitive teenager who spends his nights secretly scavenging copper and other precious metals from condemned building sites in downtown Detroit. His adoptive father, Hal (Dennis Quaid), a respected construction foreman, is an authoritative taskmaster who doesn't want his son to follow in his older brother Jimmy's previously incarcerated footsteps, the young man just out of prison hoping for a fresh start. But after a brutal tragedy leaves him shell-shocked, Jimmy convinces Eli to join him on an impromptu trip to Lake Tahoe to visit their mother's favorite vacation spot, promising him Hal will join them later when he can.

But this is a lie. Jimmy is running from vicious criminal Taylor Balik, the local Detroit underground powerbroker determined to put bullets in the entire Solinski family as revenge for a heist gone murderously wrong. Also following the brothers are a pair of mysterious motorcycle riders clad in futuristic metallic outfits utilizing technology well beyond anything currently possible. They're after Eli, the youngster concealing a lethal secret he has no clue is as dangerous as it ultimately proves to be.

There are about half-a-dozen plot strands fighting for supremacy at the heart of the Baker brothers' feature debut, none of which are developed enough to make anything that happens have a lasting impact. During one of his clandestine explorations Eli finds a room filled with robotic-looking corpses as well as an electronic black box that when opened transforms into some sort of rifle with massive destructive capabilities. There's also a section of the story where the two brothers make a brief pit stop at a strip club where they pick up a woman, Milly (Zoë Kravitz), with a proverbial heart of gold while also making instant enemies with her violent brute of a boss. At a certain point the FBI also gets involved led by inquisitive agent Morgan Hunter (Carrie Coon), her pursuit of Jimmy and Eli becoming increasingly complicated as she learns more about what led them to go on the run in the first place.

It's a crazy sequence of events, and rarely do the Baker's show they're able to keep control of it all. It does not help that Casey's script does Jimmy no favors, and while his narrative arc is supposed to be redemptive, his character is such an obnoxious dimwitted jerk caring about him is next to impossible. Other than a couple of solid scenes, one in a Las Vegas hotel room and another in an isolated jail cell, Reynor has a devil of a time trying to get a handle on the character, displaying precious little of the charisma, complexity or charm he so effortlessly brought to features like Sing Street, Free Fire and Macbeth in the recent past. Quaid is also wasted in a thankless role, and if not for the ruggedly gruff parental concern he shows where it comes to Eli it's honestly amazing he makes any sort of memorable imprint.

All of that being so, there are such moments of creative gusto littered throughout the picture it's hard not to want to cut Kin a break and tell people to take a chance on it even with its frustrating cavalcade of shortcomings. Truitt is quite strong as Eli, delivering a thoughtful, emotionally nuanced performance that's reminiscent of River Phoenix in Stand by Me or Sean Astin in The Goonies. There's also a crackerjack, if still nonsensical, climactic twist that, while not unexpected, is so expertly executed it couldn't help but make me smile. None of which is enough to make the film work, but it does make me wish it did, and here's hoping that whatever the Baker brothers attempt to do next is a little bit better plotted and thought out than their admittedly imaginative debut sadly proves to be.


Foul-mouthed Happytime a surprisingly toothless puppet comedy
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE HAPPYTIME MURDERS
Now playing


The cast of '90s television favorite 'The Happytime Gang' are being murdered. Recently sold into syndication, all seven of the principal actors, puppet and human alike, were all set to be splitting $10-million amongst themselves at the end of the year. If one or more of them were to die? Their take would either go to their spouse or to the remaining cast members, and someone out there wants all of that money for themselves and no one else.

After his movie star brother Larry (Victor Yerrid) ends up torn to pieces by a vicious pack of tiny dogs, hard-boiled private investigator Phil Phillips (Bill Barretta), a one-time Los Angeles cop forced to leave the force in disgrace, takes it upon himself to solve the crime. His old boss Lieutenant Manning (Leslie David Baker) decides the best course of action is to bring the determined puppet back onto the force as an advisor, assigning his angry ex-partner Detective Connie Edwards (Melissa McCarthy) to work with him hoping they'll rekindle their former law enforcement magic and catch the murderer. But things go sideways when all of the clues start pointing back at Phil as far as these killings are concerned, puppet-hating FBI Agent Campbell (Joel McHale) ready to hall him off to jail even if all the evidence linking him to the crimes is suspiciously circumstantial.

Brian Henson, the director of The Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island, son of the late Jim Henson, branches out into Who Framed Roger Rabbit meets Team America: World Police meets Meet the Feebles territory with the R-rated absurdist noir comedy The Happytime Murders. This is a film that posits a world where puppet and human live side-by-side and not altogether in perfect harmony, most of the flesh and blood majority treating their fluff-filled, felt-covered counterparts as second class citizens worthy of nothing short of constant ridicule. It's an insane premise but one that isn't nearly as original or as imaginative as it possibly could have been, and for an uncouth, disturbingly offensive comedic potboiler Todd Berger (It's a Disaster) plays things surprisingly safe for most of its thankfully brief 91-minute running time.

I don't have a lot to say here. I didn't hate this movie. There are some decent jokes, and Henson knows how to stage a visually imaginative sight gag featuring puppets doing a whole cacophony of very strange things better than just about anyone save likely his late father or living legend Frank Oz. There's a great supporting turn from Maya Rudolph as Phillips' devoted secretary Bubbles, and McCarthy has a marvelous hysterical moment at a puppet-filled poker table where she cuts loose with inspired foul-mouthed ferocity as only she can. I'd be lying if I didn't admit to chuckling a handful of times, and when the film finally came to an end I basically left the theatre with a shrug of the shoulders practically nonplussed about anything I'd just sat through and endured.

But endured is the right word. The pacing of this comedy is rather excruciating, things moving so slowly and with such ponderous precision maintaining interest in what is happening at any given moment is spectacularly difficult at times. More frustrating, while I wasn't ever offended by any of the film's humor some of Berger's jokes do grow tiresome, especially ones involving McCarthy's gender, while a lot of the rest of it just comes across as lazily mean-spirited and little else. Unlike Team America, there's no edge to all of this Philip Marlowe meets Mike Hammer meets Eddie Valiant sleaziness, and not even the sight of Elizabeth Banks twirling around a stripper pole slicing up carrots for a trio of horny fuzzy rabbits ended up being anything particularly memorable. Unlike Meet the Feebles, easily the worst film Peter Jackson has ever been associated with, this one doesn't have the guts to become truly, unfathomably exploitive in order to risk becoming a rancid piece of cinematic excrement more deserving of being flushed down the toilet than it does a theatrical exhibition.

Instead this movie just sort of is. I'm sure a person could get offended by certain elements, but with so shockingly little imagination fueling things I can't say my reaction to what was happening ever rose to that level. I'm positive some viewers will find some of what transpires between Phillips and Edwards to be absolutely hysterical, but with so few of the jokes striking my funny bone the laughs the film did happen to generate for me were few and far between. Henson's journey into adult filmmaking isn't a disaster; it's just not anything worthwhile. If this is how the puppet impresario intends to get the R-rated side of his career started, there's little about The Happytime Murders that's sensational, less that's inspirational, and almost nothing that's celebrational, making closing the curtain on this bit of comedic mayhem especially easy to do.




September 2018 theater openings - back to school edition
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Cirque du Soleil hoists 'grand chapiteau' tent at Marymoor Park for their latest show, 'Volta'
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Photographic Center Northwest presents BY THE BOOK: 9+ Designers
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Seattle Humane - Pets of the Week
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Seattle Erotic Cinema Society announces SECS Fest erotic film festival Sept. 7-9
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Dramatically astute Operation Finale a visceral hunt for historical truth
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Imaginatively inventive Kin a frustrating sci-fi mess
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Foul-mouthed Happytime a surprisingly toothless puppet comedy
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