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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 1, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 9
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Jack the Giant Slayer: More than just a hill of beans
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

JACK THE GIANT SLAYER
Opens March 1


To steal a line from Disney, it's a tale as old as time. Young kid - farmer's son - forced to go into town to sell the family's favorite horse, comes back with a handful of 'magic' beans instead of cash, gets berated for his stupidity, discovers the beans really are magical when a massive beanstalk grows from the earth into the heavens, climbs up, discovers a race of man-eating giants, rescues a princess, gets everything he ever dreamed of and more - like I said, it's a familiar story.

But that didn't stop X-Men and The Usual Suspects filmmaker Bryan Singer from wanting to bring it to life. Working from a story from Darren Lemke (Shrek Forever After) and David Dobkin (Fred Claus), crafting a screenplay alongside Lemke, frequent collaborator Christopher McQuarrie (Jack Reacher, Valkyrie), and television veteran Dan Studney ('Weird Science'), the filmmaker has attempted to rework the fairytale for modern audiences while still staying true to its classical roots, using the latest in CG and motion-capture technology to help him do it.

The result is Jack the Giant Slayer, originally slated to open last summer but pushed to early this year to avoid comparisons to Snow White and the Huntsman and to get out of the way of Marvel's The Avengers, all of which was probably a good decision on the part of Warner Bros. Happily, unlike many movies delayed to later dates this one is a rollicking good time sure to put a smile on the majority of the faces it plays for. Unhappily, there is something a little tired about the film, something a little rudimentary and routine, and as beautifully as much of it can play and as handsome as the production is there is a slight been-there-done-that aura that's sadly omnipresent.

Still, Singer know how to orchestrate stuff like this with breathless confidence, setting up his version of the story effortlessly, introducing us to our hero, Jack (Nicholas Hoult), and our heroine, Princess Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), with dexterous simplicity. He and his team also get their pieces strategically placed on the board, giving us all we need to know about the Princess's stubborn father, King Brahmwell (Ian McShane), her supposed protector, Sir Elmont (Ewan McGregor), and her duplicitous betrothed, Lord Roderick (Stanley Tucci), with magnetic grace.

PREDICTABLE BUT POLISHED
From there events move forward with a speedy charm that's somewhat unusual for most Hollywood blockbusters of this size and scope, Singer jovially bouncing toward the preordained events concerning pint-sized Jack facing off against towering giants with giddy enthusiasm. Sure, the plot points concerning a magic crown, Roderick's trickery, and the desire of the leader of the giants (dimwitted, two-headed monster General Fallon, voiced and portrayed by Bill Nighy, with John Kassir as his unnamed smaller head) to suck on Isabelle's bones gets a tad silly at times, but the story itself still works and is constantly compelling, never once belittling the intelligence of the audience for the sake of a cheap joke or a supercilious thrill.

But as nice as all of this is, as fetching as the production might be, as fun as certain elements are and as glorious as the chemistry between Hoult - as quick a rising star as there is right now - and Tomlinson proves to be, the forgone nature of all of this coupled with the aftereffects of the likes of Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, ABC's 'Once Upon a Time,' and other various fairytale adaptations is difficult to dismiss. While the movie hits all its beats and goes through its motions with energetic aplomb, I can't say I was continually engaged every step of the way, and as fun as it is on the whole, the movie suffers from current fairytale overload (some would say hysteria).

Not that this is Singer and company's fault. By and large they've staged a gorgeously refined epic filled with interesting characters (I think this is the best McShane has been utilized in years, while McGregor is obviously having a blast filling the shoes of the courageous, self-sacrificing knight not above a sarcastic putdown or two) and dynamic moments that kept me more often than not happily entertained. While it's somewhat apparent the director would have liked to have taken some darker turns, what he has in fact delivered is a family-friendly adaptation of the timeless tale kids and adults should enjoy equally, and for that fact alone I find Jack the Giant Slayer to be a towering success that's sure to grow on me.


An Oscar night to forget
Argo takes center stage in lackluster ceremony

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE 85TH ACADEMY AWARDS February 24

I'm having a hard time coming up with anything of note to write in regards to Sunday's Academy Awards. Argo was obviously the big winner, taking home three Oscars for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay (Chris Terrio), and Editing (William Goldenberg), but as nice as that news is (the movie did make my personal top 10 for 2012, after all), it doesn't exactly have me excited. This year's telecast was something close to a disaster, as preordained by none other than Captain Kirk himself. 'Family Guy' creator and Ted director Seth MacFarlane lorded over a tired, unfunny, tasteless, sexist, homophobic, oftentimes sad, and overall embarrassing 210-minute-plus abomination offering precious few highlights.

It really was that bad. A celebration of James Bond showcased a poorly edited montage of clips succeeded by the legendary Dame Shirley Bassey belting her heart out but with the sound mix so off you could barely hear her until the final, beautifully breathless note. A tribute to the last decade of movie musicals was really nothing more than an excuse to showcase Chicago, Dreamgirls, and Les Misérables and forget about every other entry in the genre (no Hairspray, no Mamma Mia!, no Nine, and gosh-darn-it no The Muppets, just to name four) that also saw release in that timeframe. Adele sang the theme to Skyfall but faced the same sound-mixing issues that vexed Bassey (as did Norah Jones when it came time to belt out the theme to Ted). The Avengers re-assembled (sans Chris Hemsworth) and managed to look like fools who couldn't order decent shawarma, let alone save the planet. MacFarlane sang a song about 'boobs' with the Gay Men's Chorus of Los Angeles, which sounds much better in concept than it was in execution. Worse, his final number with Kristin Chenoweth was a borderline disaster, and by the look on their faces it was apparent both performers knew it.

LINCOLN ASSASSINATED
As for the awards themselves, Oscar didn't play favorites, doling trophies out left and right making sure no single movie left the auditorium with more than four. Ang Lee once again went home as Best Director-winning bridesmaid seeing his film (in this case Life of Pi, not Brokeback Mountain) lose out on the big prize yet still win multiple statues (in this case for Visual Effects, Cinematography, and Original Score). Les Misérables nabbed a trio of awards, Anne Hathaway singing her way to Best Supporting Actress while the film took home additional Oscars for Makeup and Sound Mixing.

In many ways Steven Spielberg's Lincoln came out the night's biggest loser, the critically revered historical epic managing to win only two of the 12 categories it was nominated in. Granted, while victory for Production Design was something of a surprise, Daniel Day-Lewis walking away with his third Best Actor Oscar, a record for the category, certainly was not, his trip to the podium to receive the award from last year's Best Actress winner Meryl Streep as forgone a conclusion as any the night possessed. But overall, Lincoln's poor showing was something of a minor shock, the film entering the pantheon of Spielberg awards-bait 'sure things' like The Color Purple, E.T., Munich, Saving Private Ryan, and War Horse that underperformed at the actual ceremony.

NO SILVER LINING
If there was another loser, though, it had to be director David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook. While Jennifer Lawrence did beat out stiff competition from Amour's Emmanuelle Riva and Zero Dark Thirty star Jessica Chastain for Best Actress, the widely admired comedy-romance-drama hybrid came out a loser in all seven of the remaining categories in which it was nominated. For a while many, including myself, thought this box-office hit was going to prove to be a serious contender for the top awards.

Of moderate surprise were two wins for Django Unchained, one for Quentin Tarantino's screenplay and the other for Best Supporting Actor. Pixar's Brave, by most accounts the category's fourth- or fifth-best film (and this is coming from someone who liked it a ton), took home the prize for Animated Feature, while Michael Haneke's devastating Amour came out on top as Best Foreign Language Film. In the Documentary Feature category the suitably entertaining, but not exactly deep or transformative, Searching for Sugar Man managed a win, while the 007 adventure Skyfall hit the bull's-eye twice, scoring for Original Song and Sound Editing. That latter victory did come with an asterisk, however, Zero Dark Thirty tying in the category a rare Oscar feat that has happened on only five previous occasions (the last coming in 1995 in the Live Action Short category).

THE OBAMA SURPRISE
I don't have a ton more to say. There were some great speeches - Day-Lewis, Haneke, Affleck, Tarantino, Lawrence, and Documentary Short winners Andrea Nix and Sean Fine the obvious standouts - and I loved Barbra Streisand's tribute to Marvin Hamlisch during the In Memoriam sequence, but for the life of me I don't seem to have the energy or the passion to transcribe any of what they said right now. I'm still too annoyed at the telecast in general, upset at large chunks of it (Visual Effects winners Bill Westenhofer, Guillaume Rocheron, Erik De Boer, and Donald Elliott were callously played off to the main theme of Jaws just as they were delivering a heartfelt thank-you to currently bankrupt effects house Rhythm & Hues), so much so even the winners I'm happy for and a surprise appearance by First Lady Michelle Obama to announce Best Picture can't erase the bad taste the show itself left in my mouth.

This is unfair, of course, as 2012 did prove to be one of the strongest years for cinema we've seen in quite some time. The 85th Academy Awards did recognize this fact, the diversity of nominations and the way the actual Oscars were divided between so many quality entertainments representative of the fact. But as an entertainment writer and a passionate lover of film I feel that every viewer who suffered through this abomination deserved better, and while we're not talking about Rob Lowe dancing with Snow White, part of me can't help but think as far as long-term memories are concerned the aftereffects of this monstrosity could prove to be far worse than anything we can imagine at the present time.


Cabaret finally gets its due
New Blu-ray release features interviews with Liza Minnelli, Michael York

by Chris Azzopardi - SGN Contributing Writer

THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER
First-time director Stephen Chbosky sensitively explores high school self-discovery and outsider hardships in his bighearted teen drama about the pains of youth and the people who help us through them. Based on Chbosky's semi-autobiographical book of the same name, Charlie (Logan Lerman) is a troubled loner who sits by himself in the school cafeteria until a band of misfits - including an out Gay class clown (Ezra Miller) and his charming stepsister (Emma Watson) - open their hearts to him and demonstrate love, kindness, and the transcendental power of friendship. With sophisticated and sympathetic performances all around, Miller especially emerges as a major talent to watch, bringing levity, spunk, and a sad, secret pain to his award-worthy portrayal of Patrick. Chbosky's emotionally poignant screen gem - a film that the Academy Awards unjustly snubbed despite deserving screenplay recognition for its sincere, zeitgeisty writing - is one of the best of last year and a clear all-time standout in the coming-of-age genre. Hearing the author-turned-filmmaker thoughtfully reflect on specific scenes during one of two commentaries (the young cast engages in friendly banter during the other) is almost as inspiring as seeing these teens prevail in a broken world.

CABARET
For the first time on Blu-ray, the big mama of movie musicals, Bob Fosse's stylish romp Cabaret, gets a vibrant restoration that's as lively as Liza's beaming cat eyes. Any good Gay knows the story: Set in 1931 Berlin, a freewheeling tryst emerges between cabaret ingenue Sally Bowles (Minnelli, as magnetic as ever) and two men - the new kid in town, Brian Roberts (Michael York) and rich playboy Maximilian von Heune (Helmut Griem). Inside the Kit Kat Klub there is fancy dancing, live music, and a playfully freakish emcee, while outside, Nazi thugs attack anyone they perceive as opposed to their regime. Cabaret isn't just chic and immaculately crafted, from Fosse's flawless direction to Minnelli's star-making performance, but for a film over 40 years old, it was also remarkably revolutionary in tackling not just totalitarianism but abortion, bisexuality, and threesomes. A new Liza interview is featured in a segment titled 'Cabaret: The Musical that Changed Musicals,' during which York reflects on his character's swinging sexuality (Neil Patrick Harris narrates). With the classic looking better than ever in this near-perfect transfer, and housed in a divinely illustrated Digibook, life really is a cabaret, ol' chum.

PINA
The legacy of late modern-dance icon Philippina 'Pina' Bausch is preserved in this mesmerizing and life-affirming dance doc that rightfully earned an Oscar nomination last year. Shot in the German city of Wuppertal, where Pina died of cancer in 2009 at age 68, the exquisitely performed bits of unbelievable physicality - captured through director Wim Wenders' stream-of-consciousness style of filmmaking - celebrate humanity in all its dark, ugly, and beautiful forms and are vividly captured with a wonderfully immersive use of 3D. Its genre specificity (dance, dance, and more dance) won't appeal to everyone, but an appreciation for total body dexterity isn't necessary to recognize the lovely poeticism of Pina. A zest for life, though, certainly is. The peerless Blu-ray presentation (it's a Criterion Collection release) is suited with an array of supplements that further observe and honor Pina's artistic influence on her dancers' lives. Besides an interesting making-of feature and the thorough book companion, Wender's commentary complements Pina with striking context not present in the visual feast of the film.

CELESTE AND JESSE FOREVER
With inside jokes and gushy gag-me 'I love you' gestures, Celeste and Jesse don't seem like they're about to sign divorce papers, but they are, indeed, on the road to splitsville. Even their closest friends don't believe they're acting enough like sad-sack divorcees - and, actually, neither do Celeste (Rashida Jones) or Jesse (Andy Samberg). So they start dating other people. When Jesse gets serious with another woman, Celeste falls into a pool of self-pity, cynicism, and the kind of bleakness that derailed Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids. (Hey, at least it's good comedy.) You know you've reached a low when a strange street-roamer dressed up as a teddy bear hugs you and it's adorable and sweet instead of awkward and creepy. Celeste and Jesse Forever is sometimes weird like that, but always charming as it zigzags through the rom-com formula with genre-busting flair. The pleasing-but-noncomformist ending defies expectations and a surprising level of chemistry exists between Samberg and Jones, who also wrote the screenplay. To boot, Elijah Wood finally goes Gay as Celeste's Queer-challenged co-worker. Extras include a Jones/Samberg commentary and a behind-the-scenes feature.

BULLY
Lee Hirsch's sobering and revealing look at the effects of youth-targeted bullying in schools was part of a larger initiative to curb such awful hate. Controversy that initially counteracted the film's intentions when it was released last year gave Bully necessary buzz once the MPAA wised up and swapped the unbefitting R rating for a PG-13. A version edited for a younger audience is included on this release - and will probably, and hopefully, be used for educational purposes - but the real-life language isn't anything kids haven't heard on the playground. Bully mostly focuses on the lives of three young kids in rural America who are victims of bullying: Alex is ostracized for the way he looks; Kelby's not accepted because she's Lesbian; Ja'Maya fights back with a gun. Missing, though, is the film's namesake: the bully. Hirsch's harrowing footage of schoolyard browbeating would've been more effective if the actual problem had a face, too. Bully, then, isn't so much a great film as it is an important one. Important enough to get Meryl Streep to endorse the doc in a short talk, where she recalls being bullied herself. Other extras include additional footage, follow-ups on Alex and his Sioux City community, and a short feature on a middle school's involvement in The Bully Project's '1 Million Kids' campaign.

PETER PAN: DIAMOND EDITION
I've always been more partial to the pretty Disney princesses, but a forever-boy in tights who flutters about with a fairy sidekick still appeals to all my Gay instincts - he has his fruit fly, he's a little effeminate, and in musicals he's often a girl in drag. You know, if Peter Pan ever did grow up, he probably would be Gay. We can continue to speculate about that, now that Peter Pan pops more than ever in flashy hi-def with new extras that include 15 minutes of never-before-seen footage and a feature doc on the core animators. The whimsical story itself, even six decades later, still registers a sweet simplicity (and, of course, the blatant bigotry of those Indian scenes), but it can't hold a flame to many of the greater Disney classics. The storytelling lacks the memorable hook - no, I don't mean Captain Hook - of an oft-told love fable or a triumphant lion life-lesson. Instead, it's the legendary characters that turn J.M. Barrie's book into an enchanting burst of childhood nostalgia and magical make-believe.

Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. Reach him via his website, www.chris-azzopardi.com.




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