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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 23, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 47
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Noble truths
A Royal Affair is a lovely triangle of romance and sacrifice

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

A ROYAL AFFAIR
Now showing

Englishwoman Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander) is betrothed to marry Danish King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard) and become that country's new queen, a position that in many ways this extremely young lady is completely unprepared for. Especially because her husband-to-be is borderline insane, a puppet of the nation's Parliament.

Enter Dr. Struensee (Mads Mikkelsen), a man of intense idealism and a follower of Enlightenment principles, who through a series of unique events ends up becoming King Christian's personal physician. Poked and prodded by some of those around the monarch wishing he'd do more for the people he rules and less for the nobles who suck them dry, the doctor suddenly finds himself in a unique position. Quite by surprise, he and the king have become the best of friends, the man's sanity more grounded thanks to his presence. But in the process he also starts to become open to his potentially groundbreaking ideas, slowly and surely the pair enacting laws the ruling class finds increasingly dangerous.

But there is another threat, other than the lingering potential of a coup, that Struensee and Christian should fear. It appears that the intelligent physician and the compassionate queen, two individuals from completely different worlds who at first can't stand each other, have been engaging in a clandestine affair. They love one another, consequences be damned, and as long as they can keep their romance a secret they shouldn't have anything to worry about.

STRANGER THAN FICTION
In all honesty, if the story presented in A Royal Affair wasn't true, it's doubtful anyone would believe it. The whole thing sounds so melodramatic, like something out of a piece of tragic romantic fiction. It's a scenario so bordering on silly implausibility I kept having to check the film's production notes to remind myself that it all actually happened, the 18th-century erotic shenanigans and political imbroglio born of nothing less than historical fact.

Even more bizarre is that outside of Denmark, almost no one knows this story or is aware of its significance. How this hasn't been given a star-studded treatment by the BBC, Hollywood, or even the Danish film industry before now boggles the mind, and even though European history isn't exactly my forte I should have heard something about this tragic tale well before now.

Director Nikolaj Arcel and his co-writer, Rasmus Heisterberg (the pair were responsible for the script for the 2009 version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), have done a meticulous job of bringing this to life, using Bodil Steensen-Leth's novel Prinsesse af Blodet as the basis for their screenplay before doing their own research to fill in the blanks. They cover years of history, sometimes speeding through events so fast it's difficult to keep up, all of the palace intrigue and political double-crosses at times hard to keep track of.

But the central trio is so splendidly written, so gloriously fleshed out, it becomes increasingly easy to lose oneself inside this drama as events propel things forward. This isn't just an affair between a queen and a doctor, but also a love affair of two men finding friendship in chaos and brotherhood in conflict. The triangle that develops is a complicatedly intricate one I found continually fascinating.

MIKKELSEN A STANDOUT
To probably no one's surprise, veteran character actor Mikkelsen is superb as Dr. Struensee. Not your typical romantic lead, his growing infatuation with Queen Caroline is immediately palpable, watching it blossom into affection and concern equally so. But just as strong is the man's admiration and understanding of the mentally fracturing monarch he at first wants to manipulate but later only wants to help, the pair's growing friendship masterfully realized. Mikkelsen embodies his stoic figure with pinpoint ease, his final moments of startling understanding as to just how far his enemies will go to see him undone heartbreakingly poignant.

Yet it is the two newcomers, Følsgaard and Vikander, who caught me the most by surprise. The way they handle their respective characters, the journeys they take them on, each actor delivers complex portraits of astonishing depth and quality. Følsgaard, in particular, walks a remarkably fine line, his inhabitation of a monarch on the edge of sanity one that so easily could have fallen into self-indulgence. Instead, his depiction of a man struggling to do his best for his country, wife, and friend while also battling mental illness, in an age when even the idea of such an ailment was beyond the pale, is close to astonishing, and as tragic as this story proves to be for the two lovers in the end it was his story arc that brought the biggest onslaught of tears to my eyes.

A TALE FOR OUR TIME
Arcel directs with quietly assured confidence, elements of his production reminding me in some ways of Patrice Chéreau's Queen Margot, Jean-Paul Rappeneau's Cyrano de Bergerac, and Shekhar Kapur's Elizabeth. At the same time the filmmaker divinely cuts his own path, assuredly making this saga of the late 1700s feel as if it could be a behind-closed-doors story of the political here and now. There is an immediacy to all of this that's striking, and while elements echo similarly themed epics much like the ones I've already mentioned, by and large Arcel does a grand job of delivering a motion picture in many ways I felt like I was seeing for the very first time.

I adored just about every element of this effort, especially the gloriously romantic and emotionally chaotic final hour, Arcel and company transporting me right into the center of this drama in a way that came close to consuming every fiber of my being. This story - what Caroline, Christian, and Struensee went through, what their saga meant to the future well-being of the country all of them loved - honestly and elegantly captured me. A Royal Affair is a tale of friendship, love, and sacrifice the world at large would do well to become more familiar with.


Above the clouds
Funny, honest Silver Linings Playbook a heartfelt stunner

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK
Now showing


There is something euphoric about a movie that consistently hits all the right beats even as it teeters on the brink of outright chaos. It's a high-wire act - a feat of balancing that allows the viewer to feel something akin to an adrenaline-filled contact high watching it succeed, every facet bringing joy and happiness because the knowledge that it could all come crashing to earth at any second, leaving all the goodwill shattered into a million pieces, is constantly there.

That is the feeling generated by Silver Linings Playbook. David O. Russell's sensational adaptation of Matthew Quick's novel borders on extraordinary. More than that, much like two of the filmmaker's past successes, Three Kings and The Fighter, he's taken a relatively tired genre - in this case, romantic comedy - and revitalized it, making it feel fresh, new, and entirely original.

The story revolves around former Philadelphia high-school substitute teacher Pat Solatano (Bradley Cooper). He's just been released from a Baltimore mental hospital into the care of his mother, Dolores (Jacki Weaver), who has promised the court that she and her husband, Pat Sr. (Robert De Niro), will watch over him and make sure he follows the orders of his psychiatrist, Dr. Patel (Anupam Kher).

DOUBLE WHAMMY
See, Pat has anger management issues rivaling those of his father but at the same time had been living with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, the combination of the two leading him to a rather startling bit of violence when he discovered his wife, Nikki (Brea Bee), was having an affair. After spending time in the hospital the younger Solatano has decided to transform his life and make something positive out of this negative, and even though Nikki has gotten a restraining order he's certain that if he can prove he's truly changed, she will give him a second chance.

That's the setup. The crux of the movie, however, revolves around Pat's relationship with his parents and with the arrival of free spirit Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence), who is also dealing with mental health and sexual addiction issues after the death of her policeman husband. The two of them forge a fragile friendship based on ever-evolving truths (which might not be wholly honest). There's a connection there, something intimate, both needing the other to ease a pain that neither is willing to admit exists.

Where things go from there are hardly surprising. What is, however, is just how magnificently Russell juggles all of this, making everything that happens seem natural and honest even though in actuality events are as contrived as any romantic comedy that's ever seen the light of day. The dialogue is whip-smart and invigorating, the interactions between all of the characters is lived-in and true, and everything builds to a freewheeling and energetic coda that in theory has no business working but in reality had me wanting to stand up in the middle of the theater and cheer.

AWESOME ACTING
The actors are all-in and then some, Cooper's performance bordering on revelatory. Pat, speaking his mind with no thought to the consequences, unable to hide his disdain for certain ideas and thoughts, puts forth traits that are unlikable as all get-out. Yet somehow, someway, Cooper, speaking 2,000 words a minute and barely able to catch his breath between syllables, makes this guy someone to root for and care about, his journey toward a silver lining one I wanted to applaud.

Equally magnificent, and almost certain to win a Best Actress Oscar (coupled, in some ways I would think, with her equally complicated, if entirely different, turn in The Hunger Games), is Lawrence. Her Tiffany at first appears to be nothing more than a male fantasy, a romantic comedy figment of the imagination that could never exist in the real world. But Lawrence grounds her, makes her flesh, and gives her a soul, revealing intimate layers of pain and suffering that mask the young woman's innate longing to make a connection beyond the physical. It's an incredible, freewheeling performance, and one that gets better and better the more I think about it.

I could go on, especially as it pertains to Weaver and De Niro (both are excellent), but I'm sure at this point you get the idea. Russell has proven himself to be a master storyteller, finding the heart and soul of a piece while grounding into a tactile reality that is immediate as it is true. Silver Linings Playbook made me feel excitedly alive as I walked out of the theater, reveling in the complicated emotional nuances of its main characters in a way I could relate to and understand. Plainly and simply put, it's a seriously great film.


Love's last bite
Latest Twilight installment signals breaking of new dawn

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN - PART 2

Now showing


The great thing about The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 is that it does bring closure to these cinematic adaptations of author Stephenie Meyer's freakishly popular series of novels revolving around a pouty vampire and the teenage vixen he inexplicably falls in love with. The overblown and overlong courtship, and eventual union, of undead Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) and Forks, Washington, resident Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) comes to something of an end, and while the folks at Summit Entertainment do leave the door ajar for further sequels, it's doubtful they would involve this pair (at least not as protagonists).

Are there other great things about this presumably final installment in the series? Actually, there are - not least a climactic battle between the Cullens, a bunch of their vampire brethren, and Jacob Black's (Taylor Lautner) pack of werewolves against the seemingly unstoppable Volturi, led by the power-mad Aro (Michael Sheen). It's borderline spectacular, returning director Bill Condon (Dreamgirls, Gods and Monsters) pulling out all the stops, producing a slam-bang, head-ripping (quite literally at times) finale that's easily the best single moment or sequence this entire series of films has ever offered.

Still, much like its predecessors (especially last year's first installment of Breaking Dawn), this conclusion to the Twilight saga isn't exactly good. Meyer's story is as wet behind the ears as it has ever been, and while screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (Step Up, 'Dexter') once again does her best to make the most out of it, the soggy nature of this maudlin romance can't help but do her and everyone else in at seemingly every turn. For a series that has been as freakishly popular as this one (over $2.5 billion worldwide and counting) even its biggest fans tend to consider each film little more than a guilty pleasure. This is arguably the most insufferable big-budget high-profile franchise in Hollywood history, its somewhat baffling success sure to debated and discussed for years to come.

MEETING THE FOLKS
For those out of the loop, when we last left Edward and Bella she had just died giving birth to their baby girl Renesmee and was reborn as his vampiric bride, just as she'd always (at least throughout high school) wanted. Complications arise, not the least of which is the fact Jacob has imprinted on their rapidly growing girl, vowing to be her wolfy protector no matter what sort of threat might arise. There's also the job of introducing her to Bella's concerned dad Charlie (Billy Burke), doing so without letting on his daughter is now an immortal and his granddaughter is a human-vampire hybrid.

The threat ends up coming in the form of the Volturi. When a relative of the Cullens, Irina (Maggie Grace) of the Denali Coven, inadvertently mistakes Renesmee as an immortal child (apparently a big no-no), she sets off a chain of events that could lead to war between the vampire clans. Sensing things are about to go from bad to worse to absolutely untenable thanks to the all-seeing Alice (Ashley Greene), Cullen patriarch Carlisle (Peter Facinelli) instructs his family to scour the globe for supporters who can witness Renesmee for the miracle that she is, hopefully averting a war they have little chance of surviving.

It's as silly as it sounds, but unlike any of its predecessors something is actually happening in this second chapter of Breaking Dawn - a real threat for Bella, Edward, and Jacob to overcome. More than that, our heroine is no longer a passive creature standing around moping, waiting for her beloved to transform her into his undead paramour. She has energy and she showcases emotion. More than that, it took the darn girl dying for her to suddenly exhibit a bit of life, and for the first time in the entire series Stewart is actually asked to do something of interest.

But showcasing once again just how derivative Meyer's stories are, the whole thing borrows liberally from other sources - most notably, of all things, Bryan Singer's first two X-Men movies (and the comic-book mythology they were obviously sourced from). You see, vampires all have their own specialized super powers, each one unique, giving them something of an edge when in combat. So, instead of a bunch of demons and werewolves ripping one another to shreds (which, admittedly, there is plenty of) we get a battle featuring the Justice League versus the Legion of Doom, everyone using their abilities to decapitate their foes with as much carnivorous fury as possible.

POSSIBLE SEQUELS
If this series does continue (heaven forbid), my guess is that it will involve some of the secondary vampires we're introduced to in the lead-up to the big, bad finale. Newcomers like Revolutionary War veteran Garrett (Lee Pace), Irina's Denali sisters Kate (Casey LaBow) and Tanya (MyAnna Buring), mysterious European wanderer Alistair (Joe Anderson), and Romanian warmongers Stefan (Guri Weinberg) and Vladimir (Noel Fisher), each of whom brings a bit of spunk and flair to the proceedings, adding a sense of jovial mystery the films have lacked up to now. There's also the obvious chance that young Renesmee (played for the majority of the movie by Mackenzie Foy) will take over as lead, subsequent adventures more than likely revolving around her relationship with Jacob - which, let's be honest, truly is as creepy and as unsettling as it sounds.

But this movie, this enterprise, does it stand apart from the previous efforts? Is it the one that's actually worthwhile? Sure, in its way it is, and even though it's not really a standalone motion picture, it really should be edited together with Breaking Dawn - Part 1 and released as a single three-hour film (there's a lot of filler in both halves that could be chopped with no continuity issues whatsoever), I can't say there wasn't any fun to be found here. While I could have done without the annoying 'twist' that wraps the entire five-film anthology with a shiny red bow and makes it all OK, that final fight in and of itself truly is a thing of beauty.

Yet I feel like I'm exulting Breaking Dawn - Part 2 with faint praise, because the elements damning it have been present since director Catherine Hardwicke's initial installment. As a movie, as a singular story, this monstrosity is as cheesy and as melodramatic as it has ever been, and in the cold light of day I still can't say I find Bella to be a particularly good role model for young women. I'd be uncomfortable if in the future my three young nieces (the oldest just started kindergarten) discover these films and want to be like her. While steps in the right direction have been made, it all feels like much too little and way too late, this saga of undead romance as emotionally soapy now as it was when Meyer's first book hit the bestseller list.




Forever Kylie: The iconic singer/actress looks back at 25 years of Gay fans, bad fashion, and girl kisses
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The ultimate love triangle
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It's a Dina Martina Christmas!
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Be sure to visit Avenue Q (if you can get tickets!)
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Death takes a holiday
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Hometown heroes
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Good times
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Scoping out the 2013 Grammys
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Noble truths
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Above the clouds
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Love's last bite
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Best of Music 2012 coming Dec. 21
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Northwest News
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Letters
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