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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 17, 2017 - Volume 45 Issue 11
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Seattle Jewish Film Festival March 25-April 2 Festival highlight: GAY GEZUNT! on March 26
22nd annual Seattle Jewish Film Festival March 25-April 2 is a nine-day celebration of Jewish and Israeli life, culture, and history

Take-off with Opening Night film Harmonia and return-home Closing Night with locally-made Big Sonia at the Seattle Jewish Film Festival, March 25-April 2. The festival, presented by the Stroum Jewish Community Center, the festival will be held at the AMC Pacific Place 11 (600 Pine St, fourth floor), the SIFF Uptown Cinema (511 Queen Anne Ave N) , and at the Stroum Jewish Community Center (3801 E. Mercer Way, Mercer Island).

The festival includes an advance screening of The Zookeeper's Wife, starring Jessica Chastain, and is among 24 films inviting viewers to journey into and celebrate global Jewish and Israeli life and culture. Exploring a theme of 'Arrivals,' all selections will give audiences the opportunity to satisfy their wanderlust through international cinematic travel to France, the Netherlands, Greece, Israel and beyond. Closing night will bring guests back home with the documentary Big Sonia, from Seattle-based award-winning filmmakers Leah Warshawski and Todd Soliday.

The Seattle Jewish Film Festival (SJFF), which is marking its 22nd year as one of the longest-running film festivals in the region, is an important part of Seattle's cultural make up and offers a diverse spectrum of films that welcomes everyone aboard.

'The Seattle Jewish FiIm Festival is the largest Jewish event in the Pacific Northwest and an important arts and culture destination for diverse arts-loving audiences. While the 'destination' is the festival, people will be transported and transformed through cinema. Audiences should get ready to 'fasten their seat belts' and prepare for exhilaration and reconnection, says Festival Director Pamela Lavitt. 'In keeping with our mission, we're building bridges and forging connections with unique and rarely seen films. It's like we are all going on vacation somewhere exotic and soul-filling together!'

The first to arrive will be Ori Sivan's Harmonia, opening the festival on Saturday, March 25th at AMC Pacific Place 11. The Jerusalem Philharmonic Orchestra is the romantic setting for this modern talove triangle of Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. Lead actor Alon Aboutboul will attend.



Audiences will be in for a trip at the much-loved Matzoh Momma Sunday Brunch, which includes a screening of The Last Laugh on March 26 at AMC Pacific Place 11. Exploring the question 'Can the Holocaust be funny?' top comedians (Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Judy Gold) and Holocaust survivors weigh in with a wide range of answers, illustrated by archival footage and movie clips. The Brunch begins at 9:30am at AMC Pacific Place 11, and will be hosted by Matzoh Momma Catering and accompanied by a live musical performance from perennial favorites The Klez Katz! The film begins at 10:45am. A special event ticket provides entry to the Brunch and film, and film-only tickets can also be purchased.

Another highlight will be an advance screening of The Zookeeper's Wife, directed by Niki Caro and starring two-time Academy Award® nominee Jessica Chastain. The film tells the real-life story of a working wife and mother (Chastain) who became a hero to hundreds during World War II. It will show Sunday, March 26 at 5:15pm at AMC Pacific Place 11.

One beloved highlight of the festival is the Gay Gezunt! featuring Who's Gonna Love Me Now? on Sunday, March 26 at 8pm at AMC Pacific Place 11. The screening will include a pre-film performance by members of the Seattle Men's Chorus, and director Barak Heymann will be in attendance! Following is a synopsis of the film:

Having been barred from his conservative kibbutz in his wilder youth, Saar, a Gay Israeli from a religious family, took refuge in London, where he lives and loves freely. Now 40, he's has a good job, a loving boyfriend, and has found a supportive community and surrogate family in the London Gay Men's Chorus, in which he sings. Saar still craves his family's love, even while they struggle with fears and prejudices surrounding his life and HIV diagnosis. Torn between comfort and freedom in exile and moving back to Israel to reconcile with his religious family, Saar wavers between withdrawal and confrontation. A series of frank reunions with his gruff father, tearful mother, and righteous siblings in Israel and London illustrate the misunderstandings and ignorance that led to their estrangement, even as each side professes their love and desire to be closer. Performances by the chorus enhance this tender, honest, and intimate film by acclaimed directors Barak and Tomer Heymann (Paper Dolls, SJFF 2007; Lady Kul El Arab, SJFF 2008; Almost Friends, SJFF 2015; Mr. Gaga, SJCC 2017) about the powerful pull of home, no matter how far we stray. Winner of the Panorama Audience Award for Best Documentary at the 2016 Berlin International Festival.

Younger audiences can look forward to two half-price Teen Screens (Age 13-19 pay just $6.50 with a paying adult), including Supergirl, which screens on Tuesday, March 28th at 6:30pm at SIFF Cinema Uptown. Supergirl is the story of a typical teenager, Naomi Kutin, who goes to school, does her homework, and hangs out with friends - but she may be 'the strongest girl in the world.' Director Jessie Auritt and editor Erik Dugger will be in attendance.

The Closing Night Centerpiece returns audiences home after a 9-day journey, with the Seattle premiere of Big Sonia on Sunday, April 2 at the Stroum Jewish Community Center (SJCC), followed by a reception. Holocaust survivor, public speaker, and diminutive diva, 4'8', 91-year-old Sonia's towering personality, leopard-print panache, and life's lessons have a big impact. Her story comes to life in this documentary by her granddaughter, Leah Warshawski.

'It is important that SJFF feature, work closely with, and cultivate the work of local Jewish filmmakers, giving them feedback and a forum for works-in-progress opportunities and premieres,' says Lavitt. 'Leah and Todd have already presented short work-in-progress clips at our year-round screenings. Now that the film is finished, we are proud to have played a supporting role launching the film.'

TICKETS AND FILM SCHEDULE
Tickets for selected special events are on sale now, along with SJFF Full Festival Passes and a discounted 8-Pack of tickets. Always popular, the SJFF Full Festival Pass is priced at $225 ($200 for SJCC members/students/seniors 65+/youth) and includes access to all film screenings and ticketed special events. New this year, 8-Pack can be redeemed for up to 8 tickets total with a maximum of 2 tickets per film or event for $125 ($100 for SJCC members/students/seniors 65+/youth). There are no restrictions on the type of ticketed event. 8-Packs can be redeemed for special event tickets (valued at $20-25 apiece), including Opening Night on 3/25, Matzoh Momma Sunday Brunch & Film on 3/26, and the Closing Night Centerpiece on 4/2, as well as regularly priced general admission screenings. Passes and 8-Packs are available at http://www.seattlejewishfilmfestival.org/ The complete film schedule is also available at http://www.seattlejewishfilmfestival.org/

The 2017 Seattle Jewish Film Festival will be held at AMC Pacific Place 11 (600 Pine St., fourth floor), SIFF Cinema Uptown (511 Queen Anne Ave. N.), and the Stroum Jewish Community Center (3801 E. Mercer Way, Mercer Island). SJFF's programming continues year-round at SJCC. For more information, contact sjff@sjcc.org; 206-388-0832; www.seattlejewishfilmfestival.org. About Seattle Jewish Film Festival: www.seattlejewishfilmfestival.org
In its 21st year, the Seattle Jewish Film Festival is a nine-day annual event and year-round international cinematic exploration and celebration of Jewish and Israeli life, culture, and history. Founded in 1995 by AJC (American Jewish Committee) Seattle, SJFF is now a cornerstone program of the Stroum Jewish Community Center and a vital cornerstone of its Cultural Arts season and programming. Central to the J's community-building mission, SJFF brings people together to inspire learning and new perspectives by showcasing the virtuosity and diversity of Jewish cinema and talent.

About Stroum Jewish Community Center: www.sjcc.org
The Stroum Jewish Community Center inspires connections to build community and ensure Jewish continuity. Together we create outstanding programs, partnerships and spaces that welcome everyone to learn, grow and celebrate Jewish life and culture.

Courtesy of Seattle Jewish Film Festival and Stroum Jewish Community Center


Live action Beast a tone-deaf disappointment
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Now playing


Disney has had a pretty good run of late taking their animated classics and transforming them into live action box office smashes. Last year both Pete's Dragon and The Jungle Book, the latter winning the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects, sold a high volume of tickets as well as set critical hearts aflutter. In 2015, Cinderella was a massive success as well, earning an Oscar nomination for its rich, luxuriously imaginative costumes, rave reviews and over $540-million at the global turnstiles. Then there is 2010's Alice in Wonderland, and while critics were hardly kind to Tim Burton's take on the Lewis Carroll literary classic, that didn't stop the 3-D spectacular from earning over a billion dollars worldwide.

The one thing all of them have in common is that they all aspired to be more than just scene-for-scene retreads of their animated (or, in the case of Pete's Dragon, live action-animated hybrid) namesakes. While some of these have been more successful at doing this than others, all of them still made a clear case for their existence outside of their predecessors, and as a result audiences have warmly and enthusiastically responded to them all. As business models go, for Disney this has been unquestionably a good one, the fact they've at least made something of an effort to allow their filmmakers the freedom to make each story their own an additional positive worthy of appreciation.

All of which makes director Bill Condon's (Gods and Monsters, Mr. Holmes) takes on the studio's 1991 animated classic Beauty and the Beast monstrously perplexing. While that Best Picture nominee, the first ever animated feature to be so honored and the only one to do it when there were only five contenders, obviously owed a huge debt to Jean Cocteau's landmark 1946 adaptation of the classic Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont fairy tale, thanks to lush characterizations, superb animation, brilliant set pieces and a marvelous soundtrack it instantaneously entered the pantheon of all-time great Disney classics. It transcended the art form and showed that the studio was ready to charge into a new era of storytelling, offering up a heroine who was strong, smart and willing to forge her own way into the world without the aid of a man.

Condon's film, save for a handful of new songs and one key moment near the end that grants a heartsick Beast (Dan Stevens) a moment to individually shine, essentially duplicates the animated film in the same way Gus Van Sant's 1998 version of Psycho was a shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 horror classic. The best moments, the ones that jump off the screen and force the viewer to sit up straight in their seat and revel in their awe-inspiring glory, are direct pulls from the 1991 Academy Award-nominee, straight-up reenactments that are, if not duplicated exactly, close enough so to feel like they are. As such, the movie never takes on a life of its own, it's pulse stranded at middling for almost the entirety of its obscene 129-minute running time, all of which makes the watching of it far more of a frustrating chore than it by any and all rights should have been.

The story remains the same. After her eccentric father Maurice (Kevin Kline) goes missing in the woods, headstrong Belle (Emma Watson) heads out into the unknown to find him, discovering the hiding place of the palace of the monstrous Beast in the process. Giving her word to remain with the creature as his guest if he lets her father go, the pair slowly get to know one another, the enchanted knickknacks and objects, led by the gentlemanly candlestick Lumière (Ewan McGregor), the authoritative clock Cogsworth (Ian McKellen) and the kindly tea kettle Mrs. Potts (Emma Thompson), going out of their way to lend support to this blossoming friendship. Meanwhile, back in town, the pompous and self-possessed Gaston (Luke Evans) conspires to figure out a way to make Belle his bride, his sniveling compatriot LeFou (Josh Gad) inadvertently fanning the brute's ego with every word he says in support.

All of composer Alan Menken's (Tangled) and the late lyricist Howard Ashman's (The Little Mermaid) songs are here, including the Oscar-winning title track, while the composer teams up with frequent collaborator Tim Rice (Aladdin) for a handful of new ones that help pad out the film's running time. The best moment in the entire motion picture is a spectacular reenactment of the 'Be Our Guest' number, McGregor throwing himself into the performance with wild, giddy abandon, while Condon's orchestrates some Busby Berkeley-like visuals that are beyond fantastic. It was the only time in the movie where I sat up in my seat and peered at the screen in childlike awe, the filmmaker both capturing the spirit of the animated original while also making a signature mark upon the material that is winningly his own.

In regards to positives, that's the best I've got. Featuring inconsistent visual effects and spotty motion capture work that goes from being brilliant (all of the stuff with Cogsworth, Lumière, Mrs. Potts and the majority of the animate inanimate objects is exemplary), to good (the Beast's icy battle with the wolves is wonderful, as are any of the moments where he and Belle try and slurp soup together), to borderline terrible (the film's signature sequence, the dance between Beast and Belle in the grand ballroom, is downright awful, looking like a cut scene from a subpar, under-produced video game), not all of the film's guestimated $200-million or so budget appearing to have made its way up onto the screen. There is an unnerving artificiality that never allows this fantasy fairy tale world to come to life, a mechanically lifeless sheen smothering things, keeping me continually at arm's length.

But that's not the worst of it. As nice as Watson is as Belle, as much effort as Stevens puts into his performance as the Beast, there just isn't any emotion traveling between the two of them, their blossoming love never coming to life in the same way it does in the best adaptations of the de Beaumont story. There just isn't any heart, no soul, Condon so busy trying to manufacture the world the two live within he for some reason forgets to give the audience a reason to care about whether or not they end up living happily ever after. Screenwriters Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and Evan Spiliotopoulos (The Huntsman: Winter's War) struggle to do anything other than copy almost word-for-word what had been done before, and other than a slight tweak here and there the screenplay oftentimes comes across as an almost exact facsimile of its far superior 1991 predecessor.

It isn't a total loss. Evans is magnificent as the villain Gaston, his scene-stealing turn a resplendently haughty bit of cinematic excess that had me grinning ear-to-ear every time he appeared on-screen. Stevens also is very good, nailing his early scenes with a morosely downtrodden belligerence that's agreeably unsettling, while his delivery of a new song, the poignantly tragic 'Evermore,' is sensational. There are also some nice character beats from Kline, McKellen, McGregor and Thompson, each having a moment to make their mark, doing it with feisty brio.

Even so, I can't bring myself to get all that excited about watching this version of Beauty and the Beast a second time anytime soon. While an almost certain Academy Award contender for Sarah Greenwood's (Anna Karenina) production design and Jacqueline Durran's (Mr. Turner) costumes, from an emotional standpoint this Disney effort is about as lively as a roomful of catatonic narcoleptics high on sleeping pills. Condon's adaptation does nothing to justify its existence, and while this tale might still be as old as time, the song it sings sadly no longer rhymes, making its tune nothing short of a bittersweet, tone-deaf disappointment not worth listening to.








Born This Way:

Seattle Men's Chorus stands up for LGBTQ community with Pride

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Dance Theatre of Harlem presents intricate program of classic and modern choreography
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Seattle Fringe Festival returns March 23-April 1
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Representative of the Ballard High Thespian Troupe presented a check to Lifelong on March 7th in the amount of $5,441.38
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Yankee Pickney a heart-opening walk to understanding
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Centerstage presents world premiere of SQUATCH! THE MUSICAL
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Seattle Fringe Festival 2017
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Seattle Fringe Festival returns March 23-April 1
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Letters
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Seattle Men's Chorus to present empowering concert 'Born This Way' April 1 & 2
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Seattle Jewish Film Festival March 25-April 2 Festival highlight: GAY GEZUNT! on March 26
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Live action Beast a tone-deaf disappointment
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