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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 9, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 45
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Malek's magnificence notwithstanding, Bohemian Rhapsody a musical disaster
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY
Now playing


I'm not going to say that Bohemian Rhapsody is the worst film of 2018. I will say it is the year's most disappointing release to come out of a major Hollywood studio this year, this biography of legendary singer Freddie Mercury chronicling Rock 'n' Roll supergroup Queen in the 1970s and '80s an inept melodramatic slog that never met a troubled musician cliché it didn't want to enthusiastically embrace with open arms. Even more frustrating, it wastes a titanic, suitably larger-than-life turn from Rami Malek as Mercury that is gutsy, daring and overflowing in carnal, sexually ambiguous charisma. It's the type of once-in-a-lifetime performance every actor dreams of giving, and for Malek it's unfortunate that he gives one in a motion picture as instantly forgettable as this sadly proves to be.

Forget about the film's behind-the-scenes travails, which resulted in the firing of director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men) just weeks before production wrapped and the handing of the project over to Dexter Fletcher for completion. The real problem is the script approved by Queen band members Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon. Working from a story he conceived with Peter Morgan (The Queen, Frost/Nixon), Anthony McCarten's (The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour) screenplay is an outright disaster. It falls all over itself reveling in any number of biopic tropes that one wonders if he watched Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story back in 2007 and thought Jake Kasdan, Judd Apatow and John C. Reilly meant for audiences to take their low budget satirical comedy seriously. It's like he didn't get that it was a parody and instead used it as the template for his script here, and as such taking any of what happens regarding Mercury and his Queen bandmates seriously is virtually impossible.

I'm not the first one to make the Walk Hard comparison, and I really hate trotting out an idea a number of others have already hit on before I had the chance to write about the film myself. But these similarities are just so blatantly obvious it just seems apt to call them out. Every tired piece of formulaic pabulum Kasdan and company made fun of in their cult comedy is unfathomably trotted out here as if audiences are supposed to be taking them seriously. It's disastrous on any number of levels, but especially as they pertain to the relationship between Mercury and his immigrant family, most notably as things concern his conservative father. But there's so much else that doesn't work it's just stunning that Singer and McCarten thought any of this was a good idea. Even the relationship between the singer and the other members of the band wallow in histrionic pabulum, and as such the familial bond that we're supposed to believe that they've formed never feels genuine or emotionally sincere.

The crazy thing is that Malek still goes all-out as far as his performance is concerned. This is an audacious turn, one that always feels on the cusp of going completely off the rails, which fits Mercury's rock star persona magnificently. This isn't just a great actor taking on his subject's body movements and emotive tendencies, this is more than just impersonating a historical figure's mannerisms, instead it is a portrayal that slinks across the stage with tenacity, purpose and sexually adventurous bravado. Even when the film lets him down Malek still disappears so completely that it becomes difficult to know where his portrait of the Queen lead singer begins and the real Freddie Mercury ends. He's sensational, and I'm hard-pressed to recall outside of Meryl Streep's Oscar-winning turn in The Iron Lady the last time I watched an actor be this superb in an otherwise risibly mediocre motion picture.

Maybe I shouldn't be so harsh. Gwilym Lee (as Brian May), Ben Hardy (as Roger Taylor) and Joe Mazzello (as John Deacon) are all just fine as the rest of Queen, and Lucy Boynton gives it her all as Mercury's one-time girlfriend and lifelong best friend Mary Austin. There's also a masterful turn by an unrecognizable Mike Myers as a record label executive who doesn't quite get what the band is attempting to do, especially when they hand him over the demo of the six-plus minute 'Bohemian Rhapsody' wanting to release it as the lead single from the latest album. This isn't a cameo, it's a bona fide scene-stealing tour de force, the couple of moments featuring him having a magnetic urgency the rest of the movie frequently lacks.

I'm not going to get into why all of the stuff regarding Mercury's sexuality is so offensive, just know that it is. As presented here, all of the bits dealing with his various romances is ghastly, almost as if Singer watched William Friedkin's ugly, borderline vile 1980 Al Pacino thriller Cruising and thought to himself that it presented the ideal outline as to how gay relationships in the late '70s, early '80s should be depicted. It's just despicable, and it goes without saying Mercury deserved a better illustration of this important facet of his life than what is showcased here.

I don't want to keep attacking the movie more than I've done. Sitting here trying to figure out what to say, thinking more about what Singer and McCarten have splashed across the screen, it's just making me angry. Honestly, considering how much I love Queen's music, I'd likely have forgiven many of the blatant historical inaccuracies had Bohemian Rhapsody been willing to take one bold, dangerously virile risk with how it depicted this decade-and-a-half or so of Mercury's life. Even with the climax revolving around the band's triumph at the 1985 Live Aid concert, even though I think Malek is close to flawless as Queen's mercurial lead singer, it's possible I hate this overblown mess of a musical biopic, and I'd rather not say another word about it.


Imaginative possession drama Mercy a welcome surprise
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WELCOME TO MERCY
Now playing


After returning home to a remote corner of Latvia when her father (Andrey Yahimovich) falls deathly ill, single mother Madaline (Kristen Ruhlin) suddenly begins to showcase violent signs of the stigmata. Urged by her childhood priest Father Joseph (Juris Strenga) to get help before she inadvertently hurts someone, likely either her estranged mother Alyona (Ieva Seglina) or her beloved daughter Willow (Sophia Massa), the young woman agrees to be taken to the secluded island convent Mercy to be treated by their Mother Superior (Eileen Davies). She is familiar with the family's complex theological history and as such she's certain she can be of service to Madaline.

But where showcasing elements of the stigmata is oftentimes more of a blessing than it is a curse, this is unfortunately not one of those instances. Madaline, an atheist who gave up on her religious beliefs as a child when her parents sent her away to be raised abroad, isn't happy about being separated from her daughter and forced to live in an isolated convent. Additionally, her bouts of bloody supernatural behavior appear to be born from demonic possession and deep-rooted familial trauma more than they do anything godly or virtuous, and as such overcoming this affliction will prove to be difficult. Only Mercy novitiate August (Lily Newmark) seems willing to listen to the young mother's pleas for help with anything approaching genuine concern, the two women quickly forming a close, almost unbreakable bond that might be doing Madaline more harm than good.

I give Welcome to Mercy all kinds of credit for attempting to put its own uniquely imaginative spin on the demonic possession story. Director Tommy Bertelsen (Feed) and writer/star Ruhlin go out of their way to ground events in a heartfelt, complex emotionalism that is born from unimaginable tragedy, allowing Madaline's story to be more about concepts of forgiveness, sacrifice and regret more than it has to do with anything purely supernatural. It's an interesting take on this horror subgenre, giving things a little more character-driven gravitas than they otherwise might have had.

Is it enough? That's hard to say. I never felt as deeply as connected to what Madaline was going through as I kept wanting to be, and as committed as Ruhlin is to giving a frazzled, psychologically discombobulated performance, I still had trouble caring about what was happening to her. The script the actress has composed is almost too indistinct and ephemeral, and while I appreciate that she and Bertelsen trust their audience to assemble this puzzle for themselves, they've made it so difficult to do so putting forth the effort to put the pieces all together isn't always worthwhile.

But the ambiance that the director manages to concoct is sensational. Bertelsen creates an air of uncertainty that fits Madaline's wavering mental state perfectly. This might be the first time I can recall a film dealing with possession where the primary point-of-view is of the person who is currently under demonic assault. For the majority of the story the audience must see things through Madaline's eyes, joining her as she attempts to figure out what is going on with her as she tries to determine who she can trust and whether or not she's as much of a threat to her daughter as those at the Mercy convent keep trying to make her believe she is.

The effect of tackling this story in this a fashion is that it allows the twists and turns of the final act to not feel cheap or inauthentic. It also ratchets up the emotional content to a level that I did not anticipate. This movie becomes more about the lengths that parents will go to in order to keep their children safe from harm more than it does anything else. It is also a tale about the search for forgiveness, Alyona ultimately far from the uncaring, self-centered mother she purposefully allowed Madaline to believe she was for most of her daughter's life. The final 15 minutes are explosive, not so much for their scares (there really aren't any) but because of the way Bertelsen and Ruhlin so deftly pull at the viewer's heartstrings. It's pretty stunning, asking questions regarding faith, religion, parenthood and self-sacrifice I found incredibly moving.

I could have done without the film's final scene, a standard fade to black that's only there to be something of a final stinger designed to send the audience out of the theatre reeling from one last little scare. It's a dumb add-on that also has the unintended side effect of diluting the emotive power of the events of the climax, this little coda playing to the sort of stale genre tropes the filmmakers had managed for the most part to avoid up until this point. Still, I really liked all of the risks the movie takes as it presents its tale of family tragedy and demonic possession. Bertelsen and Ruhlin should be commended for their ingenuity and imagination, and even if Welcome to Mercy doesn't get everything right, this still manages to be an effective, character-driven shocker I feel is worthy of a look.


Forgettable Spider's Web a lackluster return of the girl with a dragon tattoo
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER'S WEB
Now playing


It's been three years since hacker and cybernetic vigilante Lisbeth Salander (Claire Foy) spoke with journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason), his last story chronicling her selfless heroics while also dissecting her family's sordid criminal history driving a wedge between them that has left their friendship on the edge of collapse. But she needs him now. Lisbeth agreed to help scientist Franz Balder (Stephen Merchant) steal his latest program, codename 'Firefall,' back from the American government for whom he designed it for. But he feels it is too dangerous for them, let alone anyone, to possess, and wants to see it destroyed before it can be utilized.

Initially successful, Firefall is taken by mysterious assailants and Lisbeth's hidden warehouse home is destroyed. She needs Mikael's assistance to figure out who it was that attacked her, and she's willing to put their disagreements aside so they can work together as they have done in the past. Thing is, they're not the only ones trying to get their hands on Firefall. American operative Edwin Needham (Lakeith Stanfield), who worked with Balder to create the program, has come to Sweden to reclaim it. Also interested, and equally determined to put Lisbeth behind bars, is Swedish homeland security chief Gabriella Crane (Synnøve Macody Lund), and she's not altogether pleased about Needham's presence on her country's soil, either. But the most dangerous threat comes from a mysterious woman who everyone thought committed suicide years ago, a shadowy blonde dressed in red who controls a lethal band of assassins known as the Spiders. She is Camilla Salander (Sylvia Hoeks), Lisbeth's estranged sister, and Camilla's personal vendetta is to see her sibling fall from the public's good graces and watch as all she holds near and dear is destroyed.

The Girl in the Spider's Web is the fourth book involving Stieg Larsson's iconic characters Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist and the first written by someone else after his death in 2004, in this case author David Lagercrantz. Instead of continuing on with the other two entries in Larsson's original Millennium trilogy (The Girl Who Played with Fire, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest) after the moderate success of David Fincher's 2011 adaptation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, producers decided to go with this lesser known title in order to continue the franchise. They also chose to sub Evil Dead and Don't Breathe director Fede Alvarez in for Fincher and hired Foy and Gudnason to replace Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig in the roles they played in that 2011 film.

All of that should be fine. Alvarez is a risk-taking young director who brings energy and enthusiasm to his projects that at times can feel dangerous and uncomfortably unhinged, allowing for a dynamic spontaneity to occur that's captivating. Foy is one of the most gifted actors working today, her work in television's 'The Crown' and in this past year's double-whammy of Unsane and First Man speaking for itself, so her taking over the role from Oscar-nominee Mara isn't the step down some might have initially assumed it was going to be. As for Gudnason, I can't say I'm that familiar with his work. Still, he was excellent as Björn Borg in Borg vs McEnroe, and as good as Craig was in Fincher's film, having a Swedish actor in this role for some reason just feels right.

And yet, while Foy is superb, putting a new spin on Salander that makes the character her own outside of Mara's or Noomi Rapace's (star of the original Swedish trilogy based on Larsson's books) takes, the movie itself is a substandard thriller that rarely goes anywhere worth talking about. Working from a script he co-wrote with Jay Basu (Monsters: Dark Continent) and Steven Knight (Locke, Dirty Pretty Things), Alvarez's movie is shockingly boring. Even though it presents a handful of intriguing new characters including Vicky Krieps as a potential love interest for Lisbeth, Stanfield's covert operative Needham, Lund's slippery bureaucrat Crane and, obviously, Hoeks' wraithlike angel of death Camilla Salander, the story fails to do practically anything of interest with the lot of them. Even Blomkvist is wasted here, the journalist more of a bystander observing the action hoping not to get killed instead of a key piece of this thriller's ignition system helping drive it to conclusion. It's a waste talent, and I had a devilish time maintaining interest for most of the film's 117-minute running time.

It's kind of odd, really. Take away the technology and erase the high-powered weaponry Needham is particularly skilled at utilizing and what I found myself left with was a substandard, ploddingly plotted retrograde spy thriller that felt more like a 1988 made-for-TV adaptation of a Robert Ludlum novel than it did anything else. The fascinating character nuances that made all three of Larsson's best-sellers so incredible has been perplexingly stripped away, which is inexcusable considering this story revolves around two polar opposite sisters who were both victims of their father's monstrous appetites and took wildly divergent paths in order to make new lives for themselves. But none of that resonates or matters, and as hard as both Foy and Hoeks try to give their scenes together a semblance of emotional heft or meaning, everything falls weirdly flat, building to a maudlin conclusion that had me rolling my eyes in frustration.

Alvarez is too good a director for things to be a total loss. He stages two noteworthy sequences. The first is a chase where Lisbeth is drugged, framed for murder and left to be discovered by the police only for her to creatively find a way out of her predicament utilizing the dead person's medicine cabinet, a stolen police car and a cell phone to turn the tables on her assailants. The other is an ingenious escape from an airport holding facility, the resourceful hacker throwing things into total comical disarray as she helps someone she hopes to convince to assist her in regaining possession of Firefall from being deported by Crane. Both of these sequences are masterfully staged with Alvarez in complete control, each climaxing with a bit of subversive virtuosity I thoroughly enjoyed.

But it isn't enough. While I appreciate that Alvarez and company didn't waste a lot of time recapping what has happened to Lisbeth in the past, there is still such a lack of character development that connecting emotionally to what is happening is close to impossible. This is particularly true as it pertains to Blomkvist. There's really no reason for him to be a part of any of this mystery other than he was a key cog in Larsson's original trilogy and I guess all involved felt he needed to be part of this as well. Having never read Lagercrantz's book I can only imagine he had more to do there than he inexplicably does here. But even if that were so this is one whodunit where the journalist's investigative skills aren't relevant or useful other than they're really good at putting him in harm's way, thus making Blomkvist excess baggage the film maybe could have done without.

I think Lisbeth Salander is a fascinating character. Even with Larsson's death, I'm all for bringing more of her stories to the screen. But as good as Foy is in the role, if they end up being as flat and as undercooked as The Girl in the Spider's Web I'm going to reassess that opinion sooner rather than later. While not so much a bad movie as it is an instantly forgettable one, new adventures featuring the girl with the dragon tattoo are supposedly still forthcoming. Here's hoping they're a heck of a lot more interesting than this one is.


Watch films by Transgender filmmakers, then try 'speed friending' at the Seattle Public Library Nov. 12
Join us for an evening of short films made by transgender filmmakers, followed by a speed friending activity, from 6pm to 7:30pm, Monday, Nov. 12 at The Seattle Public Library, University Branch, 5009 Roosevelt Way NE, 206-684-4063.

Library events are free and open to the public. Registration is not required. Free parking is available in the branch parking lot. We have two public single occupancy restrooms located upstairs and one single occupancy restroom in the basement adjacent to the event.

Tired of impersonal dating apps and looking for a way to meet other queer and trans folks in a friendly environment? Look no further! Join us for some fun movies, speed friending and refreshments. After the film screening, everyone will have a chance to get to know each other during an activity with discussion prompts.

FILM SCREENINGS
Rebellious Essence (Uporni Duh), directed by Ana Cigon; 2017; Slovenia; 5 min. This kaleidoscopic animation follows a psychedelic genderfluid cat requesting a passport at the Office of the Ministry for Cat Affairs, only to be met by the bureaucratic nightmare of clerks demanding to know the cat's gender.

Pastor Megan - 'I Am Beautiful' on Cosmopolitan.com, directed by Jason Ikeler; 2017; USA; 4 min. Reverend Dr. Megan Rohrer opens up about faith and gender as an out transgender minister. Content Warning: swearing or verbal abuse, implied violence, discussion or depiction of rape.

Purity, directed by Pedro Vikingo; 2018; Spain; 5 min.; in Spanish with English subtitles. A refreshing, celebratory look into the truth, spirit and hearts of trans children in Spain.

Time Marches On and So Do We, directed by Kim Boekbinder and Jim Batt; 2017; USA; 4 min. Narrator Laverne Cox takes us on an animated journey through trans history and resistance. Content Warning: implied violence. Angela, directed by Sean Horlor and Steve Adams; 2016; Canada; 11 min. Explore a week in the life of Angela, a Canadian roller derby jammer and transgender rights activist.

This event is presented in partnership with Three Dollar Bill Cinema and TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival. The Library brings people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. We support universal access to information and ideas, and form strong partnerships with community organizations like Three Dollar Bill Cinema and TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival to offer performance art and films that are accessible to all.

For more information, call the Library at 206-684-4063 or Ask Us at https://www.spl.org/


Poetically violent Suspiria a brutally bloody dance of death
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SUSPIRIA
Now playing


Living in a bleak, barren netherworld residing between past and present, between pleasure and pain, between love and hate, sits director Luca Guadagnino's (Call Me by Your Name, I Am Love) and screenwriter David Kajganich's (A Bigger Splash) unrelentingly corrosive reimagining of Dario Argento's 1977 horror masterwork Suspiria. Not so much a remake as a total reinvention, this is a movie dripping in crippling, almost assaultive atmosphere, detailing the levels of female torment, pain, grief and agony that exist within the confines of a world built on patriarchal artifice and that's still reeling from the wounds of a war that destroyed virtually everything it came into contact with. This is not a movie interested in delivering comforting niceties to its viewing audience, and as such sitting through all 152 mesmerizing minutes of it without squirming is a practical impossibility.

Pretentious? At times. Unfocused? I could see how some are going to think so. Exploitive? Insulting? Deranged? Mawkish? Disgusting? It won't surprise me a lick if a few viewers walk out of the theatre thinking all of that and so much more. But the simple truth is that Guadagnino's take on Suspiria is all of those things yet is also the exact opposite of every single one of those descriptive sentiments. It is a movie of opposite extremes, a polarizing descent into madness, art, imagination and self-sacrifice that only grows in power as events progress towards their shockingly carnal conclusion. In short, this is likely the love it-hate it event epic of 2018, and I can't imagine we'll see its like again soon at any point in the foreseeable future.

Only the bones resemble Argento's masterpiece. Both films concern an American ballet student abroad. Both are set within a dance studio that is secretly controlled by witches. But in all honesty that is really where the similarities end. Guadagnino's effort isn't as interested in scaring the living daylights out of its audience so much as it is in leaving them in a constant state of unsettling shock, forcing them to ponder a plethora of themes and ideas that are both attractive and repellant in the very same breath. It also wants to analyze the aftereffects of trauma and oppression, especially as it pertains to women, all of which is inherently intriguing.

Whether it answers any questions or offers up new topics for discussion, however, is a different matter entirely. As masterfully composed as all of this mayhem and bloodshed is, there are times where I couldn't help but wonder if Guadagnino and Kajganich were truly the right two people for this particular job. More specifically, I wondered if they were the right MEN to be undertaking this challenge. There is an observational timidity to the experience of watching their film that's mildly distracting, and while their scenario is a fascinating one overflowing in topical ideas worth scrutinizing, it's hard not to imagine what a female director might have made out of all of this if given the opportunity.

Yet, Guadagnino's film still borders on incredible while also fitting in a box labeled 'essential' as far as all 2018 theatrical releases are concerned. It explodes onto the screen with an intimately shocking gracefulness that's hypnotizing, things having an immaculate devilish fluidity that grows in cantankerous viciousness until the point its rage-filled venom can no longer be contained. But when that moment comes, when this anger is unleashed, it comes from a place of mourning, a place of sacrifice and most of all a place of love, the selfless act of a simple caress or a comforting embrace enough to make the problems of a fractured soul melt away into blissful nothingness with surprising ease.

Split into six acts and one epilogue, the plot follows American Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), an unknown dance prodigy who has journeyed to Berlin in the winter of 1977 to study with the renowned Helena Markos Dance Company. She makes instant friends with fellow dancer Sara (Mia Goth) while also catching the eye of revered choreographer and instructor Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). But the dance company hides a terrifying secret. It is a coven for witches, all of the instructors devoted disciples of the mysterious and secretive Markos. She claims to be the fabled Mater Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs, one of three ancient sorceresses who reportedly leave death and destruction in their wake. In Susie, practically the entire coven believes they have found the perfect human instrument to bring their beloved Mother Markos back to full strength, Madame Blanc the only one who isn't certain the American dancer is a suitable candidate for the magical procedure they're all hoping to successfully perform.

There are other narrative strands at work, too, including Sara's search to find her missing best friend Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) and an elongated subplot involving an elderly Jewish psychologist, Dr. Josef Klemperer, who begins to suspect the goings on inside the Helena Markos Dance Company are lethally supernatural. These pieces of the puzzle add additional insights as to what is going on while also planting hints as to where things are likely going to end up. Kajganich's script layers these additional pieces in with cunning precision, Sara's story in particular an emotional whirligig that left me bruised, broken and shattered by the time it came to conclusion.

As magnificent as she is, and she's pretty stunning, I'm not entirely certain why exactly Swinton is playing three different characters, including Klemperer under layer upon layer of old age makeup and via the pseudonym Lutz Ebersdorf. But this doesn't make her anything short of spectacular, and there's a final scene between the actress and Johnson during the epilogue that filled my eyes with so many natural tears I worried for a moment that I wouldn't have enough tissue to sop them all up. There's also a magnificent sequence right before all hell literally breaks loose and drowns the dance studio in rivers of blood that I was positively floored by, Swinton giving herself over so completely to the material she practically disappears inside the celluloid never to reemerge.

Then there is Johnson. Susie is not an easy character to portray and yet the Fifty Shades of Grey actress is up to the challenge. The dancer's initial passivity is only a façade, the young woman analyzing all that is happening down to the most benign detail. Johnson couples this with the athletically vile physicality of the dance numbers, tossing herself to and fro with dreadful abandon, bringing the abhorrent darkness lurking at the center of the choreography into the cold light of day with cocksure conviction. It all builds to scenes during the sixth act and in the epilogue that I don't want to talk about in any detail other than to say the actress is magnificent. Johnson takes command of the character and of the film, her ability to take what was once unseen and ephemeral and suddenly make it visibly concrete extraordinary.

I can't say I understood all of what Guadagnino and Kajganich were attempting. I also won't claim that I liked every choice they made for the material, most notably musician Thom Yorke's adventurous score, which sounds just incredible on its own outside of the film but is disconcerting and ill-fitting when utilized within it. But none of this changes just how monumentally transfixing this new Suspiria ends up being. Guadagnino doesn't so much improve upon Argento's original (which isn't possible) so much as he makes his interpretation exist as its own, ingeniously idiosyncratic entity outside of the original source material. Watching it cast its bloody, violently unhinged spell is a thing of poetical majesty, ultimately making it a viewing experience I'm not soon to forget.


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Comedy legend Rita Rudner returns to the Greater Puget Sound area for a one-night only show in Federal Way
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Seattle Humane - Pets of the Week
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Malek's magnificence notwithstanding, Bohemian Rhapsody a musical disaster
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Imaginative possession drama Mercy a welcome surprise
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Forgettable Spider's Web a lackluster return of the girl with a dragon tattoo
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Watch films by Transgender filmmakers, then try 'speed friending' at the Seattle Public Library Nov. 12
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