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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 5, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 40
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Elegantly sumptuous Colette a marvelous showcase for Knightley
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

COLETTE
Now playing


After falling in love with gregarious author, poet and showman Henri Gauthier-Villars (Dominic West), known to all of France as 'Willy,' Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (Keira Knightley) is whisked away from her countryside home to the hustle and bustle of Paris after the two are married. Initially amazed by the artistic and creative opulence her new husband's career and the city as a whole offers her the opportunity to revel in, the young woman still initially has trouble fitting into this crazy new world with any sort of ease. But soon Colette's confidence and enthusiasm blossoms, especially after Willy asks her to ghostwrite a couple of minor stories to help augment their current income streams.

What's most amazing is how popular these little novellas prove to be. Inspired by her own experiences growing up in the French countryside, getting married, moving to Paris and becoming enmeshed inside the artistic and amorous goings-on happening in all corners of the city, Colette's stories are instant bestsellers. But all is not wine and roses. While she and Willy do desperately love one another, the fact he's taking so much credit for her work is starting to rankle. As Colette's fame grows, so does the certainty that she needs to take control of her life outside of her husband's demands, even if doing so means letting Willy fend for himself no matter what the consequences.

Originally a project spearheaded by his late husband and filmmaking partner Richard Glatzer, writer/director Wash Westmoreland makes his solo directorial debut with the beautifully elegant Colette, a lively and intimate biopic of celebrated French writer and entertainer Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette. The author of classic works like Chéri, Gigi and Claudine à l'école, Colette was an artist who spearheaded her own personal revolution long before it was considered appropriate for women to do so. Thanks in large part to the focused, emotionally multifaceted script written by Westmoreland, Glatzer and Disobedience and Ida scribe Rebecca Lenkiewicz, the movie is an absorbing drama of an artist fearlessly standing up for herself, all of it centered on a performance from Knightley that's arguably one of the two-time Academy Award nominee's absolute best.

Chronicling almost exclusively the years Colette and Willy were married, the film shows with deft, unhurried precision how the young woman creatively evolved only to discover not everyone, especially her husband, were so keen to embrace every facet of her artistic development. This included her affairs with other women, sexual explorations that are initially given Willy's blessings just as long as Colette kept them secret and also didn't make a big deal out of his own frequent affairs.

But when her relationship with the Marquise de Belbeuf (Denise Gough), known to her friends and acquaintances as 'Missy,' becomes common knowledge, the subsequent scandal puts the writer's career in jeopardy. It is during these sections of the story that Westmoreland's film shines, the intricate human complexities involving sexual attraction, artistic expression and gender identity handled with an intuitive specificity that's magnificent. Much like he and Glatzer achieved with their 2006 stunner Quinceañera and to a somewhat lesser extent also accomplished with their 2014 Oscar-winner for Best Actress Julianne Moore, Still Alice, the filmmaker allows for a subtle dimensionality to develop as events build towards their conclusion.

It can all be pretty spectacular. A sequence where Colette and Willy watch auditions for a stage adaptation of the first Claudine book is masterfully handled, as is an early moment where the two attend their first Paris party as husband and wife. Even better is a subplot involving Georgie Raoul-Duval (Eleanor Tomlinson), an American visitor who catches Colette's eye and becomes her first sexual tryst outside of marriage. Then there is a passage devoted to the author's own theatrical appearances with Missy, these sections of the story overflowing in vigorous feminine energy that is as empowering as it is hypnotically multifaceted.

As bravura as all of this is, there is also an episodic quality to the screenplay that can be slightly disconcerting. While not a complete examination of Colette's life, even this small portion is almost too broad, too consequential to easily reside in one 111-minute motion picture. Certain side characters enter in and out of Colette's story in ways that are both intriguing and inconsequential. With rare exception, there just isn't enough time to flesh any of them out, many of these characters coming and going so infrequently a part of me began to wonder if they even needed to be part of the narrative in the first place.

Yet I loved how Westmoreland presents Willy and also the freedom he gives West to portray him. While his actions can be monstrous, Colette's husband never acts the monster. Instead, he's a man lost in his own ego, so certain that he is the only reason his wife is a success it never occurs to him that she could become an even greater one without his aid. His determination to continue the ruse that the Claudine stories are his brainchild and not Colette's is laced with an emotional timidity that feels especially appropriate in light of current political events. West portrays the character with a cocksure authority that is nothing more than a false front, the actor slowly stripping the charlatan to his naked essentials as reality begins to set in and Willy comes to understand that his wife is going to achieve far more in a handful of years than he will in an entire lifetime.

But make no mistake, Knightley is still the primary reason this film works as splendidly as it does. She's spellbinding. Whether it is her initial girlish timidity as Colette falls into Willy's arms and is whisked away to Paris or her steadfast, unembarrassed resolve where it pertains to her relationship with Missy, Knightley digs into the core of the character in ways that are continually enthralling. This is as deeply personal a performance as any the actress has ever given, her mesmerizing and unapologetic grace driving to the center of what it means to be an artist and the emotional caterwauls, both euphoric and heartbreaking, such creative expression can oftentimes produce.

Intimately shot by cinematographer Giles Nuttgens (Hell or High Water) with a keen eye and exquisite attention to detail, featuring Andrea Flesch's (The Duke of Burgundy) sublime costumes, Michael Carlin's (The Duchess) magnificent production design and composer Thomas Adès' sumptuous score, Westmoreland has crafted something marvelous. If Colette doesn't make my list as one of 2018's best films, it's still certainly deserving of being an honorable mention, this historical biography of one of the great writers of the 20th century a fascinating treatise on artistic, sexual and gender expression I'll not soon forget.


HOT TO TROT documentary about the fascinating world of same-sex competitive ballroom dancing at Grand Illusion October 10
HOT TO TROT
GRAND ILLUSION CINEMA
October 10 @ 6:30pm


An intimate, deep-dive look inside the fascinating but little-known world of same-sex competitive ballroom dance, HOT TO TROT follows an international cast of four men and women, on and off the dance floor, over a four-year period.

An immersive character study - and an idiosyncratic attack on bigotry - this powerful and celebratory story unfurls with the rhythms and energy of dramatic cinema.



'A warm and involving documentary.... The social, sexual, political and artistic power ... gives the topic its unique heft and vitality.' - Los Angeles Times

'This documentary ... is just as much about life and gender politics as it is about dance.' - New York Times

'Sizzles with artistic, political passions.' - San Francisco Bay Times

'Breathtakingly stunning.' - QueerGuru



HOT TO TROT will screen one-night only in Seattle at the Grand Illusion Cinema (1403 NE 50th St) on Wednesday, October 10, at 6:30pm. www.grandillusioncinema.org. Director and producer Gail Freedman will be in attendance for a Q&A following the screening.

For more information: www.hottotrotfilm.com



Courtesy of HOT TO TROT


'An inspiration for today' - Director Wash Westmoreland's chats about bringing his biographical drama Colette to life
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

COLETTE
Now playing


The first major interview of my career was speaking to directors Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer way back in 2006. The pair's sophomore drama Quinceañera had just made its local debut during the Seattle International Film Festival, and the two directors and I had been shuffled into a hospitality suite for visiting talent when the conference room we were originally supposed to be chatting in at the W Hotel suddenly became unavailable. What initially was supposed to be a quick 15 minute Q&A suddenly turned into an hour-long conversation, the three of us sitting on a couch near a window overlooking the city as we discussed a wide variety of topics, not all of them relating to their superlative motion picture.

It was an extraordinary act of kindness. At least, that's what it felt like to me as a relatively young journalist still in the early days of her transition and not at all secure about speaking with people she didn't know in a public setting, especially individuals she was supposed to be interviewing. But Westmoreland and Glatzer were beyond giving with their time, our easygoing back-and-forth one of the more spectacular memories of my entire career and it goes without saying it is a moment I shall never forget.

'I remember that!' exclaims Westmoreland as we began our brief phone interview to talk about his latest directorial outing, the divine biographical drama Colette. 'I'm so glad you got to meet Richard. He was such a big part of Colette. It was a project that meant so much to him. I'm glad you knew him. That you met him. That means a lot.'

Glatzer was more than just Westmoreland's creative partner. He was also his husband. The two made a small handful of films together including LGBTQ favorite The Fluffer, the Errol Flynn drama The Last of Robin Hood and the movie that won Julianne Moore an Oscar for Best Actress, 2014's Still Alice. Glatzer died in March of 2015 of ALS, making Colette Westmoreland's first trip back behind the camera since his husband's tragic passing.

The story of French literary titan Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette, the movie focuses on roughly 15 years of the artist's life, most notably on her marriage to author, poet and showman Henri Gauthier-Villars, known throughout Paris as the one and only 'Willy.' As portrayed by Keira Knightley and Dominic West, this pair engages in a multifaceted back-and-forth that deftly explores sex, gender and artistic expression in ways that feel intimately current. Colette was a force of nature well ahead of her time, her battles to take charge of her literary career nearly as incredible as her unapologetic enthusiasm to express her sexual urges outside of perceived societal norms.

Featuring a stunning performance from Knightley ranking as one of her best and an intelligent, niftily lissom script written by Glatzer, Westmoreland and Ida scribe Rebecca Lenkiewicz, Colette is an exquisite drama that I adored. More than that, though, the thing I think I loved most about the film is the way it so freely embraced its subject's views on life, love, literature and artistic expression. It is a feature that thinks outside of the box in an imaginative variety of ways, the majority of its key themes and ideas refreshingly current.

These were just a few of the topics of conversation as Westmoreland and I reconnected for the first time since May of 2006. Heck, one moment near the end of our interview had me feeling particularly unprofessional, the director's answer to one of my questions regarding Transgender representation in modern cinema having me unsuccessfully attempting to choke back a few tears.

Sara Michelle Fetters:If you could talk to me a little bit about what you think it was that drew Richard to Colette's stories back in, what was it? 1998? 1999? What got you both so excited in telling her story?

Wash Westmoreland: Richard was an avid reader and he was also a huge fan of strong female characters. He started reading both biographies and novels by Colette and was just like, there's a film here. She's extraordinary. There's something about the way she lived that just, you know, makes your jaw drop open even a hundred years later. [Richard] really saw that there was this great story in the first marriage of Colette and Willy. That you have this natural narrative of someone who's incredibly talented being kept down by another person who's both mentoring and exploiting her. So that was the idea at the beginning. We just both thought this will be an incredible film.

Sara Michelle Fetters:And it was a project that you both felt the need to stick with and keep working on for a very long time. Why was that?

Wash Westmoreland: You know, when you write a film in a way you sort of see it in your mind's eye, you sort of see what the film is and what it is going to be. We both felt it would be a terrific film. We wrote it in 2001 in 10 days in isolation in the French countryside and we were like, 'Oh, that was easy.' So easy it's only taken like, you know, 16 years and probably over 15 rewrites to finally get made. [laughs] Three title changes. A couple of false starts. It was a process to get this film made.

We always worked on a variety of projects at the same time. We always had two or three scripts going. Sometimes a movie will happen, which is great. Sometimes a movie just fades away and you realize it's never going to happen, and it's a sad thing. You just realize it's no longer got relevance.

But Colette just wouldn't fade away. It became more resonant with the discussions that were happening in society as time progressed. Certainly just the timing of it coming out now, when there's such a conversation about the Me, Too movement and the Times Up! movement, and about LGBTQ rights, it just seems bang-on the moment for the cultural conversation we're having right now.

Sara Michelle Fetters:And that's the crazy part watching this movie. I mean, I knew from looking at the production notes and from reading some of the other interviews that you'd given about that long, almost torturous process that existed in regards to bringing this story to the screen. Yet right now feels like the perfect time to be revisiting Colette's story. This movie had to come out now.

Wash Westmoreland: It's the perfect time. Yes. It's funny. In early 2002 we'd been pitching this story and we'd say, 'When you least expect it, when their marriage is kind of like going through a lot of strain, rather than going into this sort of melancholy reflective moment, Colette starts having an affair with a woman who is completely male identified and uses male pronouns.' They could be seen as a forebearer of today's Transgender community. It was just so obvious. And people just sat there and stared. It's like we were mad, you know?

Now, of course, because of the huge progress with Transgender visibility, mainstream audiences are actually welcoming that development within the story. That is good to see. It's long overdue.

In a way Colette's story was too ahead of its time for the movie to happen earlier than it did. We also had to springboard into this film from a success within our career, because it's a bigger budget and a more demanding production. It involves a lot more of our time and resources than our earlier projects. We needed to have a film like Still Alice on our resume to be able to make a film like Colette.

But after Still Alice Richard was very ill with ALS. I still asked him what he would want to do next, and he was using a typing device at the time with his toe. He typed Colette. That's what he wanted to do next.

He passed away a few weeks later, but I knew that when I came out of my deepest grief this would be a way to be close to him, to work on this film, and make it happen. I wanted to get his name up there [on the screen] again. I wanted to see his dialogue come out of the mouths of great actors.

Sara Michelle Fetters:I have to admit, when I saw his name pop on the screen, it made me so happy. It just made me very, very happy.

Wash Westmoreland: Thank you for saying that. It obviously means a lot to me, too.

Sara Michelle Fetters:But, talking about that dialogue. While I would never admit to being intimately familiar with Colette's works, I've read Gigi and Chéri but that's about it, the words you have coming out of the mouths of Keira Knightley and Dominic West are pretty glorious. Also, it seems to me they were both reveling in the opportunity to be able to spout it, too.

Wash Westmoreland: Oh, thank you so much! We worked hard on that, getting the dialogue right. It took a lot of effort.

Sara Michelle Fetters:It felt so organic to Colette's world during that time period. At the same time, if you've read even one of her books, it was so richly comparable to what she herself wrote.

How difficult was it to get all of that right? To get the actors to be able to zing it back and forth with such richly naturalistic authenticity?

Wash Westmoreland: It started with Keira and Dominic. They just got there. There was something about Colette and Willy, the way they had of entertaining each other. They were both very strong characters with very strong minds. They had these great intellects and they played verbal tennis with each other, passing barbs back and forth. When I first rehearsed with Keira and Dominic it just sprung to life. I was like, thank you so very much! I knew right away this film was going to work because of their chemistry. They became Colette and Willy, which was so essential. I couldn't have been happier.

So many period pieces are adapted from literary sources, and many times they take the dialogue straight off the page which so often is just this rich, wonderful dialogue written by great authors. But that doesn't necessarily reflect the way people spoke at the time. It could often be looser and more colloquial, perhaps even less articulate than what we see represented in our high literature. Also, because this was a French story that was being told in the English language, there was a need to loosen up the idiom of the language in order to kind of capture the spirit of the characters. That took some work.

Sara Michelle Fetters:You never like to say only one certain actor could only play one certain part. All the same, how difficult is it to imagine anyone but Keira playing Colette? She's extraordinary.

Wash Westmoreland: No. I can't. But, to be honest, when we were originally writing the script and first trying to get it made Keira was like, what, 14-years-old? Obviously, if it had been then someone else would have had to portray Colette, so that goes back to how this truly was just the right time for us to make this film. So there were many Colettes. I don't want to name names, but we had a number of actresses we were initially considering. There were plenty of women we initially thought would be the perfect Colette.

When we saw Pride and Prejudice, and Keira was only like 21 at the time, we were both struck by her unbelievable performance. When she rips Mr. Darcy a new one we were like, wow, she's got something very Colette about her. But she still seemed on the young side. It was only after Still Alice and started asking once again who the perfect person was to be playing Colette. Keira was just the natural candidate. She's so electric, so charismatic. She's so smart. She has a sensuality and a dry wit. She read the script and connected to it, and I think we all knew it was exactly the right match of actress and role.

Sara Michelle Fetters:I love that when you watch Keira in this, you can in a way see how she has evolved from role to role. Not just from Pride and Prejudice to now, but also in films like Atonement, The Duchess and even the Pirates of the Caribbean adventures. It's like all of those performances have given her the wherewithal to fully inhabit this character to the point she practically disappears inside of her.

Wash Westmoreland: Thank you for saying that. She's amazing, and Keira goes through an incredible transformation going from 19-years-old at the beginning to 34 at the end. You see her growing into her own skin.

We worked a lot on how to create that effect because, obviously, we shot the film out of sequence. We had seven phases of Colette. We would map it all out and it would be about body language, about her voice. It would be about costume and hair and the makeup. But mainly it was about the energy that Keira was bringing to the character at different stages of her evolution. She starts off like a country girl, a little sort of unsure of herself in the Parisian high society, but by the end she just completely knows who she is. She has this tremendous power from this sort of self-realization. She just speaks her truth loud and clear.

Sara Michelle Fetters:And there's Dominic. You could easily have portrayed Willy as a monster, because so much of what he says and does is kind of monstrous. But you all depict him as this real, authentically complex figure, and by the time the film comes to an end you kind of care about him in some ways. A lesser film and a less confident actor wouldn't have done that. They'd have let Willy be a monster and leave it at that.

Wash Westmoreland: It's so weird, but a lot of men, powerful men who behave badly, they don't appear like Lord Satan. They're actually very charming; they're seductive and funny to be around. They are the life and soul of the party, and they use all those weapons to get their selfish needs met.

That was very much who Willy was. He was an extraordinary character. His relationship with Colette was very complex. He was her mentor, but he was also an exploiter. She says at the end of her life she would never have become a writer without Willy. But at the same time she would never have become a great writer until she left him. The movie had to show what was good about their relationship as well as what was bad and how difficult it was for Colette to break away. The hold he had over her wasn't just economic and cultural, it was emotional, psychological and sexual. He had a lot of weapons in his armory to keep her down.

Sara Michelle Fetters:I also love the fact that you guys just focus on this portion of Colette's life, these formative years and this relationship between her and Willy. You very easily could have extended things out and we could have seen her great successes with Gigi and all those other books and this movie easily could have become overly cluttered and unfocused. Either that or it would have been about five hours long.

Wash Westmoreland: Yeah. We would have needed multiple seasons on HBO to get through all of that. [laughs] Colette had this rich, complicated life. She lived fully. She had so much going on. It's incredible! She became a journalist. She became a movie reviewer. She flew in airplanes when they'd just been invented. She has affairs left and right. She was just living large all her life, and it was all going into her writing, it fed directly into her process.

But while there's a lot happening in Colette's life this section of it really appealed to us because it was like the birth of her as an artist. It was her genesis.

Sara Michelle Fetters:As a Trans woman, I love that you talk up how this movie deals so much with gender, gender identity and gender politics. And to think, we're talking about them in the context of a story that happened at the turn of the 20th century.

Wash Westmoreland: Thank you so much for saying that. I think, what is particularly interesting in that respect is that Missy was someone who was very much adopting masculinity as a way of reaching his authentic self. He can be seen as a forerunner of today's Trans Community, although it's hard sometimes to say that because it's such a modern self-definition to give that designation to someone who during their time wasn't even aware of the word 'Transgender' or the prospect of a 'Trans Community.'

In a way, it's almost like seeing the origins of that identity, of those concepts. The words gay, lesbian and bisexual were also not commonly used around that time as well. It's kind of like that as well as telephones, motor cars and cinema being invented, it was also a time when new sorts of ideas around sexuality were flourishing and people were really starting to explore gender. They were exploring their own sexual desires in very profound ways.

Colette was one of the first people who was really at the forefront of exploring her desires and writing honestly about them. This inspired a whole generation of readers to think differently about their own lives.

Sara Michelle Fetters:I know we're running out of time, but I have two questions to finish with, and the first one is a little bit selfish.

Wash Westmoreland: Ask away.

Sara Michelle Fetters:With the kerfuffle that happened with Scarlett Johansson, I love that you have Jake Graf and Rebecca Root in this movie just quietly playing cisgender characters. I think that's extraordinary. Did any of the conversations regarding Trans actors playing Trans roles ever cross your mind while you were casting? Or was it just the case that they were the best actors to play these roles?

Wash Westmoreland: As far as casting goes, when I was considering how to cast Missy I had a Transgender consultant, Christine Clark, who is this incredible documentarian whose been working for 30 years making work about gender and sexuality. We sort of got into a lot of the issues together about Missy. As part of that process, because Missy had the body of a cisgender woman but something in his mind was reaching towards masculine identity, there were a lot of very complex issues around the casting of Missy.

We went to a Transgender actor's workshop and I just listened. So many of the actors that were saying, 'We want to tell our stories, but we also want the freedom to act in cisgender roles and to explore characters that are not Trans.' This light bulb went off in my mind. There were so many talented actors there! I had to explore that more.

And then I met Jake, and he's just is such an incredible actor, exactly the right personality to sit in with the whole kind of world we were creating. Super smart. Super educated. Speaks French. He had this very intuitive feeling for that character. And then also there was Rebecca Root, who's also appearing in the Jacques Audiard movie The Sisters Brothers, playing a cisgender character. She's just an extraordinary talent and I loved working with her.

So I just feel like there is this quiet revolution that happens while you're watching the movie because most of the audience isn't aware. They don't know who Jake and Rebecca are. They're unfamiliar with their backgrounds. By the time people do become aware, the case has already been proven. It's completely successful. Of course, it's just attributable to their talent. With the emerging generation of Trans actors I think we're going to see this happening more and more. But I would also think Colette would be very happy that I got to work with such an inclusive cast on Colette.

Sara Michelle Fetters:And finally, at the end of the day, what do you want people talking about when they exit the theatre?

Wash Westmoreland: I feel like Colette was someone who kind of had this unstoppable life force. Anytime she came up against a barrier she'd find a way of breaking through it. I feel most of us have things in our lives that we have to face, we have situations where you are frightened or that are frustratingly difficult. Definitely the process of coming out for a lot of LGBTQ people can be hard, so can be making honest claims about who you are as a person.

Colette was very much about all that. She wasn't about what society thought you were, she was about who she felt, who she knew, she was. She declared her voice loud and proud, and that's why I think she's an inspiration for today.


Energetic Hell Fest an uneven thrill ride
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

HELL FEST
Now playing


Much to her former roommate Brooke's (Reign Edwards) delight, Natalie (Amy Forsyth) has unexpectedly decided to join her best friend for a weekend of frivolity. But this first night back together is going to be even more freewheeling than she anticipated. Turns out the guy Natalie has something of a minor crush on, Gavin (Roby Attal), has scored VIP passes to Hell Fest, a local horror-themed pop-up amusement park that has the whole town talking. This trio is joined by Brooke's boyfriend Quinn (Christian James), current roommate Taylor (Bex Taylor-Klaus) and her beau Asher (Matt Mercurio), all of them prepared to experience a night of thrills and chills they'll hopefully never forget.

Unbeknownst to all of them a seventh individual has laid eyes upon their little group and he's more than a little infatuated with them, especially Natalie. Following them around from attraction to attraction, they mistakenly dismiss this hulking 'other' in a dark hoodie and ghoulish mask as just another entertainer paid to scare them. But his intentions are far more murderous than any of them know. By the time Natalie puts the pieces together and figures out how much danger they're all in it might be too late for her, Brooke or any of the others to survive the night and not have their lifeless corpses hidden inside Hell Fest as an all-too-real prop of gory mayhem to unsettle the park's clueless patrons.

Basically a combination of Tobe Hooper's Funhouse, John Carpenter's Halloween and a random episode of 'Dexter,' Hell Fest is a straightforward horror throwback that features an inherently creepy idea, an admittedly unsettling killer in 'The Other' and a couple of suitably gruesome kills that got my pulse racing. It's also frustratingly by-the-numbers, depressingly formulaic and disappointingly rushed during its climactic stretch. Director Gregory Plotkin's (Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension) latest is wildly uneven, and as much as I want to urge genre fans to head out and support original horror I'm just not certain this is a title I can recommend people take the time to see, not even as a matinee.

Not to say I didn't find plenty to like. As stated, there are a number of things Plotkin and his team of five credited writers do get right. The best thing about the film is undeniably the setting. This is the one horror entry where the overabundance of jump scares is all part of the plan. It's a theme park designed to scare the living crap out of the attendees, so a variety of freakily-dressed individuals leaping out unexpectedly at the six protagonists at any given moment is just par for the course. For Plotkin, all of these little jolts are pure nightmare fuel helping set up the more austere, classically presented scares to come, the director using all of this sound and fury as visual misdirection to help make his killer far more terrifying than he otherwise would have been.

The other thing that works is 'The Other' himself. Faceless. Nameless. He's a hulking beast who stalks his prey with cunning efficiency and brutal certainty. He's a force of nature, his infatuation with Natalie a lethal mixture of desire, anger and admiration that only builds in toxic misogynistic authority as he gets closer to making her his. He is legitimately menacing, and even if the movie doesn't always utilize him as well as I thought it maybe could have, that doesn't make him any less petrifying as far as the bigger picture is concerned.

Also worthy of mention? Bear McCreary's (Backcountry, 10 Cloverfield Lane) thunderous, creatively ominous score works overtime to augment the on-screen action, while Michael Perry's (It Follows) richly imaginative production design and Mark Dillon's (God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness) lush, colorfully macabre art direction both add a level of creative ingenuity that's appealing. But it's all exasperatingly rudimentary. There are no narrative tricks up this film's sleeves, no instance of clever subterfuge that could have helped build up the tension and get me to wonder which members of Natalie's gaggle of friends were going to make it out of this night of terror alive. I just wasn't emotionally invested, and as far as problems go it seems to me that's a fairly difficult one to easily dismiss.

I liked Forsyth, she and Edwards have strong, naturalistic chemistry that's kind of wonderful. I also liked that the script doesn't spend a lot of time dwelling on why Natalie and Brooke are such strong friends or what has happened in the former's life that's made her so reticent to open her heart to someone as obviously charming, honest and wholesome as Gavin. There's also a terrifically staged sequence of unhinged, quietly nauseating dread when one of the six friends finds themselves stranded in a funhouse ride all alone after it appears to have mysteriously broken down, Plotkin doing a grand job of ratcheting up tension utilizing the most basic of cinematic techniques.

If the final act had been just a little stronger, had there been any mystery as to what was going to happen, there are more than enough positives at play here for me to have left the theatre happily content. Instead the script doesn't have any zing, doesn't make any attempt to do anything other than what is expected, Plotkin unable to breathe any additional life into the proceedings directorially. Even a fun little cameo from horror icon Tony Todd didn't do much more than bring a passing grin to my face that was quickly forgotten about mere seconds after it happened. While Hell Fest has its moments, while there is plenty here worthy of praise, none of that is strong enough to overlook the film's more irritating missteps. Maybe I'll change my mind later, but as of right now I just can't do it.


Lackluster Smallfoot unremarkably ho-hum
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SMALLFOOT
Now playing


At the top of the Himalayas, yeti Migo (voiced by Channing Tatum) is unbelievably excited. Their community's leader the Stonekeeper (Common) has officially given him permission to start training to take over for his loving father Dorgle (Danny DeVito) ringing the giant gong every morning that signals the dawn of a new day. After an accidental mishap during his first practice session, the young, gregarious yeti finds himself out in the wintry desolate wilds outside of town. While there, he sees a strange flying machine crash into the side of the mountain, an odd two-legged creature with incredibly small feet floating to safety carried by the wind.

According to the Stonekeeper, the most valued member of the yeti society who protects the various laws that help govern the clan's day-to-day actions, these creatures, nicknamed 'Smallfoot,' aren't supposed to exist. But when Migo insists he saw one he's summarily stripped of his duties and exiled outside the village until he admits he was in error. However, the inquisitive and outgoing Meechee (Zendaya), the Stonekeeper's daughter, believes him when he says he saw a Smallfoot. In fact, she thinks Migo should break the rules that their community lives by and descend down the side of the mountain into the unknown below in order to see if he can find where that Smallfoot happened to disappear to.

Based on the book Yeti Tracks by Sergio Pablos, the animated family comedy Smallfoot is a middling effort that never lives up to its potential. While the majority of the voice cast acquit themselves admirably, Tatum, Zendaya, DeVito, LeBron James (yes, that LeBron James) and Common in particular, and even though there are a couple of strong musical moments that brought a smile to my face, overall this is a blandly forgettable affair only the youngest members of the audience are likely to find captivating. Director Karey Kirkpatrick is sadly a long way from the imaginative cornball goofiness of Over the Hedge, and no matter how much potential this scenario might possess the film version born from Pablos' source material sadly delivers on precious little of it.

The human portions of the story are by far this adaptation's most obnoxiously underwhelming elements. When yeti talk about 'Smallfoot' they are unknowingly talking about people, and it is the developing relationship between Migo and one particular person, Percy (James Corden), a downtrodden television personality whose long-running nature program is on the verge of cancelLation that forms the foundation upon which the majority of the movie's narrative is built upon. Problem is, their blossoming friendship isn't interesting. If anything, it often feels like nothing more than a complete waste of time. Percy is an insufferable blowhard whose eventual redemption is hackneyed, forced and not even moderately believable. It just doesn't work, and considering the core of the story revolves around the two of them this is something of a significant issue.

Don't get me wrong. There are a number of nice little moments, including a rather powerful musical number where the Stonekeeper lets Migo in on a massive secret it's been his and his predecessors' job to protect for countless generations. The opening montage introducing yeti civilization is also rather winning, the whole sequence achieving a Dr. Seuss meets Looney Tunes exuberance that had me grinning like a six-year-old standing in the middle of a candy store. Kirkpatrick and his co-director Jason Reisig stage these and other scenes with a goofy bravado that's undeniably appealing, and if the movie would just have shown a bit more flair and spent more time developing its characters there might have been something winning here we could be talking about.

But the script gets more and more tiresome as it goes along, and Percy is as annoying a secondary protagonist as any I've had the unfortunate displeasure to come into contact with in quite some time. The last third of the movie is a giant mess that's incoherent to the point that it becomes obnoxiously aggravating, and it almost feels at timES as if Kirkpatrick threw the script out altogether and just let his animators do whatever the heck they wanted no matter what the consequences. I just didn't enjoy myself, and while I didn't exactly hate sitting in the theatre watching events play out to their conclusion that doesn't mean I didn't want to throw snowballs at the screen while I did so.

Not that little kids will care. Smallfoot is just pleasing enough younger viewers will likely have a grand time watching Migo and his fellow yeti's juvenile antics. While I didn't like the movie, that doesn't mean I can't admit I'm not exactly in the prime age group it's been designed to entertain, either. Kirkpatrick and his team should have kept adults in mind, of course, as they attempted to give their story life, and I'm not about to let them off the hook for not doing so. But I won't get angry if parents decide to grab the DVD or Blu-ray for their family library when the movie becomes available sometime around the start of next year, this frosty animated effort not so much abominable as it is boringly ho-hum.


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