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Hair: The history of the first rock musical
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Kelli O'Hara a holiday gift for Seattle Men's Chorus
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Beach Girl5 headed our way
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Seattle Rep stages Albee's Pulitzer-winning Three Tall Women
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Gorillaz irradiate Key Arena with visually stunning show
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Did it take George Harrison to bring us Ravi Shankar?
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Baltic States of ecstasy
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Young soloist and conductor light up Benaroya Hall
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Hearts Are Monsters a strange premiere
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Intriguing Monsters a journey to nowhere
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Franco rocks playing Ginsberg in Howl
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Todd Verow's delightful Deleted Scenes
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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Deck the Hall Ball, Feist, Best of Music 2010
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Letters
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Joey Arias pays tribute to Billie Holiday and explores his Docufantasy
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Deck the Hall Ball, Feist, Best of Music 2010
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Intriguing Monsters a journey to nowhere
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Monsters
Opening November 5


In a discovery straight out of 2010: The Year We Make Contact, NASA learns that there is extraterrestrial life within the solar system, dispatching a probe to Europa to collect samples and bring them back to Earth. But complications ensue, and the vessel crash-lands in the wilds of Central America. Suddenly over half of Mexico is an 'Infected Zone,' crawling with octopus-like creatures which cause mass devastation and havoc.

Andrew Kaulder (Scoot McNairy) is a photojournalist who has been working on the outskirts of the Infected Zone for three years. Sam Wynden (Whitney Able) is a tourist who has suffered a recent loss and just so happens to be the daughter of the owner of Andrew's publication. Andrew agrees to transport Sam through the Infected Zone and back to the United States. The two are forced to travel through the heart of the most dangerous areas after the military cuts off all the normal routes due to increased creature activity.

Former visual effects BBC whiz kid Gareth Edwards (he's worked on projects as varied as In the Shadow of the Moon and the 2006 program Perfect Disasters) makes his theatrical narrative debut with the low-key science fiction effort Monsters, an independently produced feature that is far more mismatched love story and travelogue than it is interstellar thriller. But not only did he direct this film, he also wrote its screenplay, is listed as the production designer and headed up the visual effects department. This is his vision, 100 percent, and as such all kudos and all finger-pointing should be sent in his direction - and there are plenty of both to go around.

I loved the simplicity of his story, the directness of the narrative. Right from the start I knew what kind of film this was going to be and where it was more than likely going to go. Sure, there were surprises as to how it would get there and what wonders would be showcased, but in the end this was nothing more than an eerie, mostly jungle-set road trip where the main characters would learn just as much about themselves as they do the gigantic creatures they're hoping to avoid.

And I was perfectly fine with that. Both Sam and Andrew are interesting people with intriguing backstories that are subtly flushed out as things progress. They share some intimately dynamic moments, more than a few of which were almost spiritual in the way they produced a sense of awe. Edwards doesn't overstate things and he doesn't try to pound his points home with a sledgehammer; he lets things develop at their own unhurried pace, though he keeps the danger level for the protagonists high.

On the flipside, however, it simply must be said that nothing much actually happens here. The movie is very predictable and can even be accused of being a tiny bit slow. While a signature sequence at an empty gas station almost achieves a Close Encounters of the Third Kind-type elegance, the scenes right after it are both obnoxious and way too clever for their own good. Worse, they make Sam and Andrew's journey relatively pointless, as viewers who have been paying attention are sure to realize the circular, non-linear nature of what they just sat through.

I'm good with a film like this being a tragedy if I feel like it's earned the distinction, but the reality here is altogether different. Edwards plays with the audience in a way that's almost indefensible, making people care about what is going on and root for their heroes, but keeping them unaware that what they're watching is actually a flashback. I didn't appreciate this at all, and as laudable as the majority of the film is, I felt cheated by the time it was over.

Not to say I do not respect the filmmaker's vision or his uncanny ability to create a visually intriguing world on a miniscule budget. His use of sound is downright extraordinary, and I love it when a movie realizes that the scariest and most thrilling sequences are those that happen just outside of what a person can see. Additionally, he really has written a pair of flawed, three-dimensional characters a person almost can't help but root for, and a lot of times I found that the sense of amazement, or of wonder, or of sadness, or of outright terror they were feeling were passed directly onto me.

Yet Monsters almost can't help but leave a bad taste in my mouth. As laudable as much of it is, I did not value the way it wrapped itself up. I found the last scenes to be silly - almost laughable - tricking the audience in a way that's borderline insufferable. Essentially the voyage becomes all for naught, and while I assume a lot of viewers won't notice the relation between first scene and last, if they do, I have this uneasy feeling they'll ultimately be just as disappointed and as exasperated by it all as I eventually was.


Franco rocks playing Ginsberg in Howl
by Scott Rice - SGN Contributing Writer

Howl
Now Playing


James Franco playing Allen Ginsberg in a film directed by wonder twin powers Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman is enough to make any Queer fall on the floor writhing in ecstasy. Toss in a little Mary-Louise Parker and mine the soap opera circuit for handsome dudes to play the three great loves of Ginsberg's life, and I won't be the same for weeks.

Epstein, whose first film with Friedman was 1989's Oscar-winning documentary Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt, is a Queer hero. He directed the seminal and groundbreaking documentary Word Is Out: Stories of Some of Our Lives in 1978, a time when Queer film meant grainy un-looped Super 8 shorts starring hirsute muscle men in leather kit that arrived wrapped in plain brown paper. Epstein's filmography reads like a Queer culture primer and includes The Times of Harvey Milk (another Oscar-winner), The AIDS Show, The Celluloid Closet, and Paragraph 175 - all required viewing for every member of the LGBT community.

James Franco is a god.

The above paragraph is not hyperbole. Franco has played James Dean and Harvey Milk's lover Scott Smith, he is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Yale, and he got his first small break playing Daniel Desario on the ill-fated but surprisingly good television series Freaks and Geeks. It doesn't matter whether he's slumming in Nicholas Sparks schlock, taking on General Hospital with a wink and nudge, starring in Hollywood blockbusters, or making small films that matter - Franco makes it all work, and he looks mighty fine doing it.

Franco's take on the young version of Ginsberg is nothing short of brilliant. The awkward gestures, the black glasses. The impossible sexiness of the nerdish Jewish kid who dropped out of Columbia and dropped into Bellevue. Franco gets it all, even the voice with its odd cadence and tinny nasal quality.

Mary-Louise Parker is a goddess.

I know, I know, Parker has only a small role in Howl - a small but pivotal role as Gail Potter, the embodiment of the collectively shocked voice of middle America. Potter is American post war denial personified and Howl is the poem that rattled that cage. Parker - all sexy and quirky just as we love her - is perfect as the sexually repressed literary critic who believes real literature must reflect prevailing moral values.

The filmmakers, somehow intersecting with Franco's recent sweet fascination with soap operas, mine the world of soaps for hot guys to play Ginsberg's three great loves: Aaron Tveit of Gossip Girl plays Peter Orlovsky, Todd Rotondi of As the World Turns plays Jack Kerouac, and Jon Prescott also of As the World Turns plays Neal Cassidy. They are, as mentioned above, hot and they all do solid work.

Howl, the film, is part narrative biopic, part experimental film trying to capture the elusive magic that is good poetry, and part courtroom drama. While the film works on every level, the real reason to see Howl is because the poem is so good, and because the poem - and the obscenity trial it triggered - changed our world. Howl, the poem, is the jazz riffed song of a disillusioned generation of drug-addled angels who looked around at the excesses and incongruity of the '50s era cultural landscape that seemed to exclude everyone other than WASPy heterosexuals with two kids and a penchant for missionary style sex and called bullshit.

who howled on their knees in the subway and were dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim, the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love


Enough said.


Todd Verow's delightful Deleted Scenes
by Gary M. Kramer - SGN Contributing Writer

Deleted Scenes, now out on DVD, is the latest compelling and explicit romance from Queer writer/director Todd Verow. The film chronicles the relationship between Wolf (Ivica Kovacevic) and Sean (Michael Vaccaro) through 20 episodes. These scenes that were 'deleted' - a title card informs viewers - 'because of length, denial, melodrama, believability, dubbing and sexual content.'

Sitting in a café in New York City, the buff, 40-something Verow explained why he chose these criteria for his Deleted Scenes. 'I was thinking in terms of my own films - reasons why I cut things out. A lot of times, I'll have really long sex scenes that I've cut down. For this, I wanted to just keep them long, so your mind sort of wanders. I've always have a lot of technical problems because I'm not anti-technical perfection, so I amped that up even more.'

Verow's manipulation of time and narrative pulls the viewers in and forces them to think about the characters and their relationship in unexpected ways. By showing the 'deleted' moments, audiences are prompted to fill in the blanks and/or consider their own relationships. There are also numerous deliberate continuity errors that Verow includes to keep the viewer off guard, and paying attention to the story.

The soft-spoken filmmaker asserts, 'What frustrates me about movies these days is the obsessions with continuity, and believability and being able to identify with a character, and character arc, and a three-act structure. So these were things I wanted to attack.'

In Deleted Scenes, Verow is successful in breaking down narrative elements. While the central romance between Wolf and Sean is interesting, a subplot featuring Fast Eddy (the adorable Brad Hallowell, who starred in Vacationland for Verow in 2006) proves far more dramatic.

The writer/director acknowledges that Fast Eddy is an appealing rogue who will seduce viewers. Verow admits, 'There has always been a character [in each of my films] that's fascinating to me, that I want to see more of,' before demurring, 'Eventually, I'll get around to making a whole movie about them.'

Like all of his films, there are autobiographic elements, and Deleted Scenes was based on personal moments stemming from one of Verow's past relationships. Another theme that resurfaces throughout the filmmaker's work is that of a character who 'disappears.'

'I am always interested in people who fall through the cracks,' he confesses, 'People who have potential and are just forgotten. Too often, the people who aren't interesting are the ones that survive. I wanted to give a voice to those who are lost. Growing up in the 1980s, lots of people who died [from AIDS] were forgotten, and that's something that haunts people my age, and it's terrifying that younger people don't sort of get that.'

The mention of AIDS prompts a question about a scene in the film between Wolf and Sean in which a character's HIV status is disclosed. Verow shrewdly leaves the answer unclear, expecting the viewer to decide what the truth could be.

Verow's also uses the film to explore the morality of another recurring feature in his work, that of a hustler. The filmmaker pauses, before responding thoughtfully to why he favors sex-for-money scenarios, 'I think in films, traditionally, [prostitution] is treated as punishable and also in society - it's a victimless crime, but it gets a bad rap. It's demonized and criminalized and at the same time, glamorized. The truth is right down the middle. It is just a job, but it's a job where you are constantly bombarded by the criminalization and the glamorization. So, if you are in that profession, you are sort of caught in the middle.'

Verow speaks from experience, having worked in the trade in the past. Ironically, where he once played the hustler in his film, he now plays the john.

'I'm too old,' he deadpans when asked about this role reversal. 'I am sort of the john - the one who hires these people, and to a certain extent exploits them by filming them. For this movie, I did have an actor to play the [role I took], and he did not show up, so I was forced into it. Which was a happy accident, because it tied the two stories together. My character's scene with [Fast Eddy] was not originally the same person, but when the actor didn't show up, I had to rethink that, and it actually made it better.'

It's amusing to think that Verow may have been deleted from his own film. But this is what Deleted Scenes is all about; it allows viewers to imagine their own versions of what happens with the characters. It is also what makes this film so engaging.

© 2010 Gary M. Kramer






 
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