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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 2, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 44
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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McCarthy and Grant shine in eloquently moving Can You Ever Forgive Me?
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME?
Now playing


Once upon a time Lee Israel (Melissa McCarthy) was a vaunted celebrity biographer who chronicled the lives of artists like Katherine Hepburn, Tallulah Bankhead and Estee Lauder. But now, in 1991, years after her heyday, the author barely has the money to keep a roof over her head and buy her beloved feline its favorite brand of cat food. It doesn't help that no one wants to hire her because she comes across as being mean and uncaring while also having something of a foul mouth. It also doesn't help that she's a raging alcoholic who refuses to admit she has a drinking problem. Heck, even Lee's agent (Jane Curtin), someone who believes in her talent, wants little to do with the author, their last one-on-one meeting devolving into a shouting match where far too many unkind, if still truthful, words ended up being splashed between them as if they were verbal neutron bombs.

And then, seemingly just like that, everything changes. Almost by chance Lee lucks into a new money-making enterprise that not only puts food on the table, but also makes her feel like a successful writer again. Thanks to her intimate knowledge of various celebrities due to her biographical research skills, she discovers she has a knack for crafting forged typed letters purportedly written by the likes of Dorothy Parker and Noël Coward (just to name two). She is so good at it she's able to turn her life around in a metaphorical blink of an eye. But when collectors grow suspicious that these letters might be something less than genuine, Lee is forced to bring friend and fellow drunkard Jack Hock (Richard E. Grant) into her confidence and utilize him as a middleman to help facilitate additional sales. All the while the FBI is getting closer to busting up the author's little impersonation game, and if she's not careful the next place she's going to be doing any writing will be behind bars at a federal penitentiary.

Adapted from Lee Israel's best-selling memoir Can You Ever Forgive Me?, director Marielle Heller (The Diary of a Teenage Girl) and screenwriters Nicole Holofcener (Enough Said, Lovely & Amazing) and Jeff Whitty have done a tremendous job bringing this fantastical story to the screen. Featuring a performance from McCarthy that's an undeniable triumph and arguably the Bridesmaids Academy Award-nominee's best work yet, the movie leaps over author biopic clichés to become something incredible. It's a tremendously entertaining motion picture overflowing in laughs, tears, insights and numerous other indelible moments, all of it centered on an unforgettable character whose larger-than-life antics confirm once again that truth truly is far stranger than fiction could ever hope to be.

The heart and soul of the movie is the relationship between Lee and Jack. Their 'meet cute' moment is anything but, the two making fast friends in a local New York City gay bar as they get increasingly sloshed. What follows is a pure friendship with more than its fair share of speed bumps and potholes. This only makes their bond all the more believable, allowing their emotional fissuring as Lee's forgery scheme starts to fall apart to feel heartbreakingly authentic as they slowly turn on one another for reasons neither of them fully comprehend

One of the great, unsung character actors of the past three-plus decades, Grant is gifted a role far beyond the ones he's typically been offered these past few years. It is a spectacular reminder of just how marvelously talented he's always been, and whether in films as varied as Robert Altman's Gosford Park, Jane Campion's The Portrait of a Lady, Philip Kaufman's Henry & June, Bruce Robinson's Withnail & I and even Michael Lehmann's Hudson Hawk, his ability to steal scenes from his oftentimes more vaunted co-stars has always been second to none. His Jack is more than an early '90s effete gay caricature. Instead, he is a soulful wanderer trapped in the middle of a world and a society that doesn't know what to do with him, his excessive neediness to assist Lee while battling his own self-destructive tendencies to undo anything good that might be happening to him a continual wonder to behold.

It helps considerably that McCarthy burns up the screen as Lee Israel. A perfect melding of actress and role, after seemingly being content to slum in a handful of forgettable comedies like the harmless Life of the Party, the disastrous The Happytime Murders and the ghastly Identity Thief, the talented comedian elevates her game to a level I don't think she's ever quite risen to before. McCarthy's performance is a complex thing of brutal beauty, the level of regret, angst, anger and despair bubbling beneath the surface just plain spectacular. But there is an underlying beauty to Lee that cracks through the façade of her distrusting and frightened exterior, the innate joy she feels as each letter brings unabashed happiness to those she's selling them to fueling her creative engine as it has never been energized before. The way McCarthy is able to bounce back and forth between so many assorted emotional plateaus is extraordinary, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to being gobsmacked by just how much I was moved by a pair of climactic monologues that don't so much bring this story to conclusion as much as they encapsulate all the various themes Heller, Holofcener and Whitty have been cleverly playing coy with for the majority of their film's breathlessly paced 106 minutes.

It should be said that there were times where I was unexpectedly taken out of the story. While none of the supporting actors give a bad performance, a couple of them are so recognizable (most notably McCarthy's frequent collaborator and husband Ben Falcone) they unfortunately stand out inside the feature for reasons that have nothing to do with the narrative. They just don't vanish into the proceedings as easily as the two headlining stars do, and other than a spellbinding Dolly Wells as a bookshop owner, who Lee has romantic longings for, most of the secondary characters don't have that much room to live and breathe within the confines of this story as richly as I hoped they would. I'll also say that when the hammer falls and the FBI make their move, Heller rushes things somewhat, and I felt like the brutally sharp edge of the knife the majority of her film had been delicately dancing a jig upon was inadvertently dulled somewhat because of this.

Not that it matters. Brandon Trost's (The Disaster Artist) clever, painterly cinematography is a constant revelation, while editor Anne McCabe (Margaret) cuts many of the signature scenes together in ways that are viscerally enthralling even when they're just showcasing quiet little moments of two people drinking scotch in a dimly lit bar. Much like she did with the criminally underappreciated The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Heller's empathetic attention to detail cuts through all the bull while also never allowing the crap to rise to the surface with any lasting urgency. Instead, she allows Can You Ever Forgive Me? to focus on the truth above everything else, in the end constructing a personalized drama of creativity, friendship, regret and recompense I'll be pondering each and every little facet of for quite some time to come.


Delicately intimate What They Had an emotional powerhouse
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WHAT THEY HAD
Now playing


After her mother Ruth (Blythe Danner) leaves the house to walk the streets during a raging snowstorm, California chef Bridget (Hilary Swank) rushes home to Chicago with her college-aged daughter Emma (Taissa Farmiga) along for the ride to help find her. When she arrives at the airport her brother Nick (Michael Shannon) lets them know mom's been found and is currently at the hospital with their father Burt (Robert Forster). But their problems are far from over. Ruth's memory loss and dementia due to Alzheimer's is reaching the point where maybe she should no longer be living in the family home. Additionally, Burt might not be the best person to be caring for her.

Nick has found a place he thinks is perfect for their mother, but he needs Bridget to convince their dad to sign the paperwork so she can get a placement. If Burt refuses, he then hopes his sister will see the bigger picture and make the decision for him. Bridget can do that because her parents gave her power of attorney back when Ruth was initially diagnosed. But as she's been living in California she wants to assess all that's happening and try to do what's best for everyone before she makes a decision, this period of review angering her brother as he doesn't understand why it's taking his younger sibling so long to reach what he views is the only logical conclusion.

Writer/director Elizabeth Chomko's What They Had is magnificent. Incredibly acted by its stellar all-star cast, most notably the core quartet of Swank, Shannon, Danner and Forster, the movie manages to avoid nearly every 'family dealing with illness' cliché one could ever imagine. Instead, Chomko grounds her debut drama in ways that are frequently astonishing, the inherent humanity sitting at the core of the narrative she has so fastidiously constructed revealed layer-by-layer as events progress. Unlike the recent Still Alice, which was admittedly also nicely acted and won Julianne Moore a well-deserved Academy Award, this effort eschews melodramatic treacle in order to achieve something deeper, longer-lasting and far more memorably intimate. In short, this is one of 2018's best motion pictures, one I hope people take the time to search out and see.

Inspired by her own grandmother's battle with Alzheimer's, Chomko doesn't let cheap sentiment slip itself inside her story. Instead, she chooses to showcase the truth. Sometimes it's shockingly funny, uproarious laughter birthed from almost unimaginable trauma. Sometimes it's heartbreakingly upsetting, the unrelentingly brutal way the disease attacks its intended victim causing unfathomable hardships every member of the family must find a way to deal with. This psychological minefield can also bring people together in ways they maybe never have thought possible beforehand, each step of the journey its own impenetrable mystery that needs to be solved before the next footstep in the sands of time can be taken.

Chomko knows all of this because she lived through it. As such she doesn't sugarcoat any piece of this drama. Watching Bridget, Nick and Burt try to come to an agreement as to the best course of action as it affects Ruth put more than a few lumps in my throat, all of their discussions and disagreements coming from a place of love and concern which allowed them to resonate on an even deeper level than they would have otherwise. These moments can explode with humor at the most unforeseen yet also the most naturalistic of instants, things just as quickly shifting back to tearful melancholy or outright grief at the drop of the hat.

As stated, the acting is universally sublime. Swank, the holder of two Oscars for Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby, delivers one of the finest performances of her career, the lived-in magnificence of her deeply passionate and multifaceted work as Bridget absolutely incredible. This is made even more impressive considering all that Chomko asks of her. Bridget's indecisiveness as to what she should do isn't an easy thing to portray, those years of constantly being told by her conservatively Catholic father about what she should be doing with her life leading her to constantly second guess just about every decision she makes. Swank brings a stirring, confident rigidity to the story that's overflowing in emotional permutations, all of which adds an additional layer of believability to the proceedings that give it additional weight and magnitude.

Danner might have the most difficult task, forced to showcase Ruth's declining mental state without allowing her performance to become too flamboyantly showy, too overtly sentimental or too artificially constrained for it to resonate in a meaningful way. The actress manages a complicated balancing act where she navigates through a myriad of tight emotive corners and in the process makes her character grow in powerful majesty as she pushes through toward the tragic exit of this cryptic psychological maze. It's a beautiful, elegantly lithe performance that builds to a stirring moment of intimacy between mother and daughter that left me a euphoric mess of cascading tears and quiet laughter, and I can't imagine this story being told without her being a part of it.

Shannon and Forster are equally up to the challenge, each finding a way to give their respective character a magnetic vibrancy that's utterly unique to them and to no one else. The former rarely gets the chance to be as funny as he is here. At the same time, by finding the humor in this situation Shannon allows Nick's anger and rage to have a ferocious energy that's captivating in its jarring suddenness. As for Forster, he's nothing short of perfect. The selflessness of Burt's unwavering love for Ruth is tinged with a form of patriarchal male privilege coupled with a healthy dollop of Catholic guilt that's far more nuanced than I would have thought possible. It's an endearing turn that in the hands of a lesser actor could have been didactic and off-putting, Forster finding the innate humanity of the character with hypnotic ease.

It's Chomko's script that might be the true revelation. Having gone through my own family travails when my beloved great-grandmother fought against Alzheimer's when I was a freshman in college, What They Had spoke to me with such astonishing clarity I almost couldn't believe it. Chomko constructs these characters and their situations in ways that are refreshing in their candor and specificity. I saw facets of my own family's story splashed right there up on the screen, and it is that glorious ability to tap into the viewer's everyday life that ultimately gives the film its undeniable majesty. As I said earlier, this is one of 2018's best films. See it at once.


Finding truth in family tragedy
Writer/director Elizabeth Chomko on bringing her acclaimed Alzheimer's drama What They Had to life by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WHAT THEY HAD
Now playing


My great-grandmother suffered from Alzheimer's. When I was a freshman in college I would sometimes borrow a friend's car and drive from Seattle down to Olympia to visit with her at the care facility my grandfather, my mother and her siblings decided was the best place for her. I did this oftentimes without letting anyone in my family know I was doing it, mainly because it was something I felt was personal and intimate just between the two of us. We would sit together quietly for an hour or so and she would gently hold my hand. For some reason she always remembered who I was, and as such the doctors felt it was good that I would visit every so often to help her hold on to important pieces of her past.

While these trips were fewer and further between than I maybe would have liked them to be (I was just getting used to being a collegiate scholar, after all), and as difficult as these moments between us could be, there's something priceless about them that moves me towards tears every time I think back on them. I loved my great-grandmother deeply. I think she knew me better than almost anyone else, and before Alzheimer's grabbed a hold of her psyche I can't help but believe that there was an unspoken understanding between us where she knew more about what I was secretly dealing with in regards to my struggles with gender identity than I did, just the touch of her hand letting me know that no matter how traumatic things were she was going to continue to love me no matter what.

Writer/director Elizabeth Chomko based her extraordinary debut drama What They Had on experiences pulled from her own life. While a fictional film, elements of it were pulled straight from her own memories watching her family figure out the best course of action when her own beloved grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. As such, for anyone who has lived through similar experiences her story here is a heartrending revelation. The filmmaker is unafraid to let humor and tragedy collide in order for the emotional typhoons that are an essential part of a narrative such as this ring with an electrifying authenticity they never would have possessed otherwise.

'Thank you for saying that,' says Chomko after listening to my recollections about my great-grandmother and my observations as to why I think her film works as well as it does. 'Thank you for sharing your story. I appreciate that. I'm sorry about your family, too. This disease; it takes a toll. There's like a generational grief. It's not just about the person losing their memory. It's also, quite frankly, it's painful to be forgotten. With that being the case, the grief that I had watching my family struggle with her loss - that was something I just wanted to kind of capture as best I could. It was a story I knew I needed to tell.'

The filmmaker was making a brief pit stop in Seattle before heading out to showcase What They Had at the Orcas Island Film Festival. The plot follows California chef Bridget (Hilary Swank) as she is pulled back to her hometown of Chicago to help her brother Nick (Michael Shannon) decide what would be the best thing for their ailing mother Ruth (Blythe Danner). Her dementia due to her battle against Alzheimer's is getting progressively worse, and Nick doesn't believe their devout Catholic father Burt (Robert Foster) is currently the best person to be caring for their mom. As she has power of attorney over their parents, he wants Bridget to sign off on his plan to place her in a care facility, and while Burt is adamantly against this plan, in the end whether he likes it or not ultimately this is his daughter's decision to make and no one else's.

Featuring incredible performances from all four leads (as well as a fifth, magnetically subtle supporting turn from Taissa Farmiga as Bridget's college-aged daughter Emma), Chomko's drama has a stunning ability to mine difficult emotional terrain with an observational restraint that suits the material nicely. While the film wears its heart on its sleeve, it is equally willing to let the audience laugh at any number of surprising moments, things briskly moving through a myriad of emotions ranging from anger, compassion, understanding and regret with a beguiling specificity I found stunning.

'I didn't set out to be a filmmaker,' comments Chomko unprovoked. 'It just ended up being a very organic process for me. I was a playwright and an actor, and I just felt like, frankly, at my grandfather's funeral, I felt like I didn't know what to do with this feeling of loss and grief and not wanting to accept that this was the end of this family lore. I didn't want to think this was the end of my grandparent's love story. I couldn't accept that this grief was just what we had to go through. You get to that place of grief where you just want to climb out of it, that physiological response of there's got to be a workaround to get over it. You feel like there's got to be a shortcut. I'm the eldest grandchild. There had to be a way for me to tell their story and help everyone heal.

'I wrote the screenplay very quickly and I didn't expect any of this to happen with it. It [the screenplay] just kind of kept guiding me to continue to work on it and work through whatever it was that I was trying to work through. From whatever organic place that all came from, I think it allowed other people to want to be a part of this journey. I just am incredibly fortunate that those other people were the kind of collaborators that I ended up with. Those were good moments. This was a good thing.'

One of those good things happened to be Chomko's script winning the prestigious Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting. 'That was a wonderful day,' says the filmmaker happily, 'I did not expect to win by any stretch. I got the call from Robin Swicord, who's the head of the committee, and then I heard the rest of the committee on speakerphone. I don't remember what was said, but I got off the call and I remember bursting into tears. We had this luncheon where they all spoke about the script and what it meant to them, speaking to all of us who had won. Just hearing these committee members validate this story and my voice as a storyteller was everything. It was life-changing.'

'The Nicholl really got the film a bit more exposure,' continues Chomko after a quiet moment or two of reflection. 'It certainly helped with my confidence, but it also got the film just more momentum and exposure. It got people to start to notice [the script] and to read it. Our producer, Albert Berger, he was on the Nicholl committee, so he and his partner Ron Yerxa, they decided they would come on as producers.

'They're legends. They're so beloved by the independent film community. It just really gave the project a validity and a sense that these A-list actors we were talking to like Hilary and Michael would really be able to trust that they were coming aboard something good. It was their presence as producers that actually allowed us to show the script to Hilary. Thankfully, she read it and loved it. Hilary really helped me see that character, Bridget, which was sort of an enigma to me because it was like the one that was the most me. Her insights helped push the details forward. She became this woman that I was trying to conjure. More, Hilary really was a partner and a champion. She just helped at every stage. Hilary helped keep the project to keep moving forward.'

Her affinity and connection to the material is instantly obvious. A two-time Academy Award winner for Boys Don't Cry and Million Dollar Baby, Swank's performance as Bridget ranks right up there with the best the actress has ever given. What makes her work even more impressive is that her character spends almost as much time observing what the others are doing and saying as it pertains to Ruth as she does trying to figure out for herself what's the best thing to do for her mother. There is a level of heartfelt indecision to her performance that's uncomfortable to witness, Swank allowing Bridget to live in the moment in ways that are truthful, heartfelt and unbearably poignant.

'That's the challenging thing, isn't it?' asks Chomko candidly. 'The conventional wisdom about screenwriting is that you want to have a hero who's got agency, who's got an objective, and they will pursue that objective no matter what obstacles get in their way. But what happens if that objective is that you don't quite have your agency developed? How do you deal with that type of indecision in the midst of a crisis? I think that's a female experience. I think that's what it means to sometimes be female in a nutshell. It's often a female challenge. All these men telling you what you need to be doing, what the right thing is, never giving you the freedom to make your own decisions and live your own life. That's just some of what Bridget has been dealing with and yet now, in this instance, she's the one with all the power. How do you deal with that?

'I'm not sure what the right thing is. I don't want to just bully through it all, to bulldoze through these questions. I want to try to figure it out. A woman discovering her agency for the first time or for the first time in her own family, I think that's a story deserving of being told. It's such a female trajectory. It's a female coming of age.

'That's something Hilary and I really connected on in a very instinctual way. She lived in that beautifully. I think it makes Bridget a real woman, a woman that I know and I am. Hilary really showed that. It was a joy to be able to show that in a character with her. It was such a joy, I think, for us to be able to do this together.'

As essential as it was to showcase this side of the story in such exacting, if slightly prickly, detail, it was equally important to Chomko to bring humor and levity into the film. This is mainly accomplished through Shannon's Nick, the overworked, over-stressed bar owner, the one who has constantly been trying to help their father care for Ruth as he's the only one still living in Chicago. The director grants the actor the freedom to make the character his own. But as funny as he can be there is an exhausted pent-up rage bubbling beneath the surface that Shannon unleashes with a sudden ferocity that can be startling, comedy and tragedy intermingling with a deft precision I personally found incredible.

'He's such a great actor,' flatly states the director. 'He just is. You know the moment you meet him he's going to do something incredible and you just hope you're lucky enough to catch it with the camera.

'The role, Nick, he started off as being inspired by my uncle. But then as I was writing the script, Hilary's character is very much me and the things that I struggle with about myself. I'm a pleaser, and I'm a caretaker, and I'm always worried about what everybody else needs. I have that voice in my head that is like, what are you doing? Just be honest. Who cares what they think? Stop being a liar. You're being such a chicken-shit about it.

'It was that voice that helped Michael's character develop as it did, and he just seemed to tap into that without my even having to say anything. It's like he heard those two voices in my head, understood what it is they're constantly trying to figure out and instantly knew what facet of that he was supposed to be playing. Michael and Hilary together, they just stepped into that. They just got it. I have no idea how. It's a testament to how amazing both of them are.

'With Michael specifically, I just think he got this guy. He knew who Nick was. We didn't really talk that deeply about it. We didn't have a lot of time to prepare. The approach that I had was like there was so much that I had to deal with and consider, so much I had to do and make decisions about and oversee, that I really just wanted all of the actors to take these characters who were perfect for them and then make them their own. I thought everyone was perfectly cast. I wanted them to run with it. And if a line didn't work, I wanted them to say something else. I wanted to do things a few different ways. I knew if there were any problems that we would find a way to figure them out.

'Michael tapped right into that. He just got the guy. For whatever reason, it just felt like such an easy thing for him. It looked so effortless. He's a guy who can do anything. Michael is one of the greatest actors of our generation. I mean it. He can do anything.'

It's apparent speaking with Chomko just how impressed she was with the collective efforts of her cast, continually singing their praises at every opportunity. No more so than when she gets to Danner, who arguably had the most difficult task in the entire film portraying Ruth with a care, sensitivity and a restraint that allowed the character's mental struggles to resonate on a personal level and not feel melodramatic or facile. 'She's wonderful,' says the director when asked about the actress. 'I can't sing her praises enough. Blythe was so brave to come into this with very little time to do any kind of preparatory work, and she knew nothing about Alzheimer's. She had never encountered or spent any time with memory loss in her family. She really took an incredible leap of faith to play this character. She threw herself into my hands and just sort of let go in the most beautiful way. I was constantly amazed.

'She did do research. She looked at a lot of the family video that I have of my grandmother. That was who I wanted to really celebrate in the film and Blythe responded and understood that. My grandmother just became this sort of childlike presence and childlike spirit. She was this ghost kind of hovering in the margins. Blythe is really lyrical with her depiction of this, and I think it's so beautiful. It feels very true to the way that I remembered my grandmother being.'

As for Forster, in many ways Burt is the driving force behind all the underlying angst, turmoil and trauma Bridget and Nick are being forced to deal with. But, as belligerent and as unyielding as he appears, everything this man does still comes from a place of unadulterated, unvarnished love. Love for his granddaughter. Love for his son. Love for his daughter. And, most of all, an undying love for his wife.

'Robert is just a special actor,' remarks Chomko. 'That character is so vital to the story. I think he's a product of growing up the way he grew up on the farm. Men of that generation who served in the military, it's a Midwestern sort of boundary-lessness to kind of tell your generation how to live, right? Let me tell you what your problem is. I'll tell you what your problem is. There's your problem. You gotta just do this. It's that easy. It's that simple. These were the standbys men like this were raised on. It's all they know.

'Of course, life is complicated and has only, I think, gotten more complicated for subsequent generations. Certainly as it concerns gender dynamics, and that was something that was very important to me as a woman to spotlight. It was just instinctual to me to emphasize that.

'I mean, I didn't set out with a political agenda, but this is the kind of stuff I think about. I think that those gender dynamics, as you get older, I think there's a kind of thing where you think to yourself, 'You young kids. You think you know everything.' And, of course, we do, we do think we know everything. But that doesn't mean the older generation actually has all the right answers, either. This was something I felt like I needed to explore.

'There's this domineering streak. It's just that kind of conventional Midwestern morality. Church, parish, family; that's what you're loyal to. You don't ask questions. You don't get weird about it. You just sort of put your head down and do their version of the right thing. But here's this situation where there is no right thing, right? How does that unravel when suddenly we have to look at everybody else's morality? Or of these other generations and the diasporas of moving to a place in California with totally new, totally different moral codes? How does that then unravel this kind of old school, Midwestern morality? Robert had to portray all of that and more. I just think he's a tremendous actor.'

As for the movie itself, while Chomko is understandably happy about the critical response to her debut, it is the reactions from audiences that she takes the most pleasure in. 'I wish I would have had a movie like this 16 years ago when my grandmother was diagnosed,' she states plaintively. 'I was 21 and absolutely devastated because she was 68 and way too young. I think if there had been a movie like this, I just might have had a little more hope because I think Alzheimer's is brutally painful, and it only gets more painful as things progress. As things got worse with her, she just died a few months ago actually, but as things got worse with her, I kind of look back on those earlier days where she was still in that place where we were still having fun and where I was able to hang out with her as though we were schoolgirls together and imagining this could've been what she was like at 12. It was like being able to time travel with her. That was a precious thing. It was something to be enjoyed.

For audiences, though, I think the questions about morality and mortality; those are all there to ponder if they want to. If their families are dysfunctional, well then I hope that by watching this they get the chance to feel that they're not alone. I think that's what I hope that people take away from the film. But whatever they feel, whatever they feel, I just hope that feeling is what they take home with them. That, really, is the only thing I could ever really, truly hope for.'


Watch films by Transgender filmmakers, then try 'speed friending' at the Seattle Public Library Nov. 12
Join us for an evening of short films made by transgender filmmakers, followed by a speed friending activity, from 6pm to 7:30pm, Monday, Nov. 12 at The Seattle Public Library, University Branch, 5009 Roosevelt Way NE, 206-684-4063.

Library events are free and open to the public. Registration is not required. Free parking is available in the branch parking lot. We have two public single occupancy restrooms located upstairs and one single occupancy restroom in the basement adjacent to the event.

Tired of impersonal dating apps and looking for a way to meet other queer and trans folks in a friendly environment? Look no further! Join us for some fun movies, speed friending and refreshments. After the film screening, everyone will have a chance to get to know each other during an activity with discussion prompts.

FILM SCREENINGS
Rebellious Essence (Uporni Duh), directed by Ana Cigon; 2017; Slovenia; 5 min. This kaleidoscopic animation follows a psychedelic genderfluid cat requesting a passport at the Office of the Ministry for Cat Affairs, only to be met by the bureaucratic nightmare of clerks demanding to know the cat's gender.

Pastor Megan - 'I Am Beautiful' on Cosmopolitan.com, directed by Jason Ikeler; 2017; USA; 4 min. Reverend Dr. Megan Rohrer opens up about faith and gender as an out transgender minister. Content Warning: swearing or verbal abuse, implied violence, discussion or depiction of rape.

Purity, directed by Pedro Vikingo; 2018; Spain; 5 min.; in Spanish with English subtitles. A refreshing, celebratory look into the truth, spirit and hearts of trans children in Spain.

Time Marches On and So Do We, directed by Kim Boekbinder and Jim Batt; 2017; USA; 4 min. Narrator Laverne Cox takes us on an animated journey through trans history and resistance. Content Warning: implied violence. Angela, directed by Sean Horlor and Steve Adams; 2016; Canada; 11 min. Explore a week in the life of Angela, a Canadian roller derby jammer and transgender rights activist.

This event is presented in partnership with Three Dollar Bill Cinema and TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival. The Library brings people, information and ideas together to enrich lives and build community. We support universal access to information and ideas, and form strong partnerships with community organizations like Three Dollar Bill Cinema and TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival to offer performance art and films that are accessible to all.

For more information, call the Library at 206-684-4063 or Ask Us at https://www.spl.org/


Poetically violent Suspiria a brutally bloody dance of death
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SUSPIRIA
Now playing


Living in a bleak, barren netherworld residing between past and present, between pleasure and pain, between love and hate, sits director Luca Guadagnino's (Call Me by Your Name, I Am Love) and screenwriter David Kajganich's (A Bigger Splash) unrelentingly corrosive reimagining of Dario Argento's 1977 horror masterwork Suspiria. Not so much a remake as a total reinvention, this is a movie dripping in crippling, almost assaultive atmosphere, detailing the levels of female torment, pain, grief and agony that exist within the confines of a world built on patriarchal artifice and that's still reeling from the wounds of a war that destroyed virtually everything it came into contact with. This is not a movie interested in delivering comforting niceties to its viewing audience, and as such sitting through all 152 mesmerizing minutes of it without squirming is a practical impossibility.

Pretentious? At times. Unfocused? I could see how some are going to think so. Exploitive? Insulting? Deranged? Mawkish? Disgusting? It won't surprise me a lick if a few viewers walk out of the theatre thinking all of that and so much more. But the simple truth is that Guadagnino's take on Suspiria is all of those things yet is also the exact opposite of every single one of those descriptive sentiments. It is a movie of opposite extremes, a polarizing descent into madness, art, imagination and self-sacrifice that only grows in power as events progress towards their shockingly carnal conclusion. In short, this is likely the love it-hate it event epic of 2018, and I can't imagine we'll see its like again soon at any point in the foreseeable future.

Only the bones resemble Argento's masterpiece. Both films concern an American ballet student abroad. Both are set within a dance studio that is secretly controlled by witches. But in all honesty that is really where the similarities end. Guadagnino's effort isn't as interested in scaring the living daylights out of its audience so much as it is in leaving them in a constant state of unsettling shock, forcing them to ponder a plethora of themes and ideas that are both attractive and repellant in the very same breath. It also wants to analyze the aftereffects of trauma and oppression, especially as it pertains to women, all of which is inherently intriguing.

Whether it answers any questions or offers up new topics for discussion, however, is a different matter entirely. As masterfully composed as all of this mayhem and bloodshed is, there are times where I couldn't help but wonder if Guadagnino and Kajganich were truly the right two people for this particular job. More specifically, I wondered if they were the right MEN to be undertaking this challenge. There is an observational timidity to the experience of watching their film that's mildly distracting, and while their scenario is a fascinating one overflowing in topical ideas worth scrutinizing, it's hard not to imagine what a female director might have made out of all of this if given the opportunity.

Yet, Guadagnino's film still borders on incredible while also fitting in a box labeled 'essential' as far as all 2018 theatrical releases are concerned. It explodes onto the screen with an intimately shocking gracefulness that's hypnotizing, things having an immaculate devilish fluidity that grows in cantankerous viciousness until the point its rage-filled venom can no longer be contained. But when that moment comes, when this anger is unleashed, it comes from a place of mourning, a place of sacrifice and most of all a place of love, the selfless act of a simple caress or a comforting embrace enough to make the problems of a fractured soul melt away into blissful nothingness with surprising ease.

Split into six acts and one epilogue, the plot follows American Susie Bannion (Dakota Johnson), an unknown dance prodigy who has journeyed to Berlin in the winter of 1977 to study with the renowned Helena Markos Dance Company. She makes instant friends with fellow dancer Sara (Mia Goth) while also catching the eye of revered choreographer and instructor Madame Blanc (Tilda Swinton). But the dance company hides a terrifying secret. It is a coven for witches, all of the instructors devoted disciples of the mysterious and secretive Markos. She claims to be the fabled Mater Suspiriorum, the Mother of Sighs, one of three ancient sorceresses who reportedly leave death and destruction in their wake. In Susie, practically the entire coven believes they have found the perfect human instrument to bring their beloved Mother Markos back to full strength, Madame Blanc the only one who isn't certain the American dancer is a suitable candidate for the magical procedure they're all hoping to successfully perform.

There are other narrative strands at work, too, including Sara's search to find her missing best friend Patricia (Chloë Grace Moretz) and an elongated subplot involving an elderly Jewish psychologist, Dr. Josef Klemperer, who begins to suspect the goings on inside the Helena Markos Dance Company are lethally supernatural. These pieces of the puzzle add additional insights as to what is going on while also planting hints as to where things are likely going to end up. Kajganich's script layers these additional pieces in with cunning precision, Sara's story in particular an emotional whirligig that left me bruised, broken and shattered by the time it came to conclusion.

As magnificent as she is, and she's pretty stunning, I'm not entirely certain why exactly Swinton is playing three different characters, including Klemperer under layer upon layer of old age makeup and via the pseudonym Lutz Ebersdorf. But this doesn't make her anything short of spectacular, and there's a final scene between the actress and Johnson during the epilogue that filled my eyes with so many natural tears I worried for a moment that I wouldn't have enough tissue to sop them all up. There's also a magnificent sequence right before all hell literally breaks loose and drowns the dance studio in rivers of blood that I was positively floored by, Swinton giving herself over so completely to the material she practically disappears inside the celluloid never to reemerge.

Then there is Johnson. Susie is not an easy character to portray and yet the Fifty Shades of Grey actress is up to the challenge. The dancer's initial passivity is only a façade, the young woman analyzing all that is happening down to the most benign detail. Johnson couples this with the athletically vile physicality of the dance numbers, tossing herself to and fro with dreadful abandon, bringing the abhorrent darkness lurking at the center of the choreography into the cold light of day with cocksure conviction. It all builds to scenes during the sixth act and in the epilogue that I don't want to talk about in any detail other than to say the actress is magnificent. Johnson takes command of the character and of the film, her ability to take what was once unseen and ephemeral and suddenly make it visibly concrete extraordinary.

I can't say I understood all of what Guadagnino and Kajganich were attempting. I also won't claim that I liked every choice they made for the material, most notably musician Thom Yorke's adventurous score, which sounds just incredible on its own outside of the film but is disconcerting and ill-fitting when utilized within it. But none of this changes just how monumentally transfixing this new Suspiria ends up being. Guadagnino doesn't so much improve upon Argento's original (which isn't possible) so much as he makes his interpretation exist as its own, ingeniously idiosyncratic entity outside of the original source material. Watching it cast its bloody, violently unhinged spell is a thing of poetical majesty, ultimately making it a viewing experience I'm not soon to forget.


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