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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 9, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 32
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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John Cameron Mitchell to appear at special screening of new 4k restoration of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at SIFF Cinema Uptown August 17
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH
SIFF CINEMA UPTOWN
August 16-22


Writer/director and star, John Cameron Mitchell's iconic punk rock, genderqueer musical odyssey, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, returns to the big screen in a brand new 4k restoration to be shown at SIFF Cinema Uptown (511 Queen Anne Ave. N.) August 16-22.

Mitchell will be in attendance at the 6pm screening of Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Saturday, August 17 to introduce the movie and participate in a post-film Q&A after the show. Tickets: $14 at https://www.siff.net/year-round-cinema/cinema-venues/siff-cinema-uptown and at the box office, with student/senior discounts.

Based on Mitchell's own original musical (conceived for the stage in collaboration with composer Stephen Trask), Hedwig and the Angry Inch focuses on Hansel (Mitchell), an East German kid who falls for an American soldier and has a bungled sex reassignment operation in an attempt to become legally married to him. Having gone from Hansel to Hedwig, and left with a one-inch remnant of her birth gender, it's not long before the love affair is over and Hedwig, now in America, is alone and channeling her rage as the frontwoman for her critically reviled and woefully obscure band Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Using Greek myth to explain to herself and her audience the genderqueer reality of her being, Hedwig is ultimately both a phenom and a cipher, defined only by the art and life she lives.

Courtesy of SIFF Cinema


Indie Ladyworld a haunting psychological natural disaster
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

LADYWORLD
Now playing


After a massive earthquake, eight teenage girls at a birthday party find themselves trapped inside a house after it is buried in a series of landslides. While at first they work together to find a way to escape their predicament, it soon becomes apparent that there is no way for them to get out. Realizing they'll have to wait to be rescued, and with the power out, drinkable water scarce, their cell phones dying and precious little food other than a giant birthday cake, things are looking noticeably grim.

Practical-minded Olivia (Ariela Barer) believes all will be okay as long as they stick together as a group and don't give in to fear, paranoia or any other feelings that could damage their cohesion. Unfortunately, that's not what happens. After one of the girls swears she saw a man hiding in the house, cracks in their collective psychological foundation begin to show. Later, when one of the teens mysteriously vanishes, those fissures get even worse. The manipulative Piper (Annalise Basso) isn't above taking advantage of the situation, soon creating her own little fiefdom with a few of the other girls in one of the bedrooms.

Writer/director Amanda Kramer's Ladyworld is basically a micro-budget, gender-flipped Lord of the Flies contained to a handful of sets with a scenario that plays itself out over the course of a few days. It's a talky, not always coherent drama that makes up in viscerally authentic menace what it lacks in narrative cohesion. The movie is also strongly acted by its talented group of youngsters, Basso, Barer, Ryan Simpkins and Maya Hawke the clear standouts as far as this stellar ensemble is concerned. As obvious as many of the plot developments prove to be, Kramer crafts an aura of unnerving apocalyptic certitude that grows in power as events progress, the final scene a breathlessly haunting coda that sent chills racing up and down my spine.

After an opening where Olivia and one of the other girls, the aptly nicknamed 'Dolly' (Simpkins), discover just how trapped they are, both getting drenched in the process, I can't say I was initially excited to spend 90 minutes with this collection of characters. Piper is already something of a devious queen bee long before the paranoia of their situation has a chance to start working its dark magic upon them all, while a couple of the girls closest to her show signs of going utterly out of their gourds barely 10 minutes into the movie.

But Kramer makes the most of her few sets, production designer Noel David Taylor doing an inventive job of making all of the individual rooms and crawlspaces claustrophobically unique while cinematographer Patrick Meade Jones' camera glides through them with discomforting grace. The film also features an exquisitely disturbing sound design that when coupled with composer Callie Ryan's equally eerie score (most of it made up of a melodic series of shrieks, moans and yelps that's beyond alarming) becomes a thing of terrifying beauty that eloquently augments the emotional and psychological degradation that the characters are all dealing with during their ordeal.

The director also gets outstanding performances out of her cast. Barer, likely best known for her role on Hulu's Marvel teenage superhero show 'The Runaways,' balances Olivia's inner strength with her growing sense of helplessness nicely, while Simpkins' creepily prescient childlike timidity is surprisingly affecting, especially so given that Dolly is seemingly the only one who immediately understands the full extent of the danger they're all facing. Hawke, daughter of Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman, has a ferociously building intensity that took me by surprise, her portrayal of one of the girls who shifts allegiance between Olivia and Piper overflowing in magnetic authority. As for Basso, after her terrific work in Ouija: Origin of Evil, after holding her own in Oculus and Captain Fantastic, she's nothing less than superb. I don't think I could have taken my eyes off of Piper had I wanted to try, the complex viciousness of her performance sticking with me long after the film had come to end.

The rapidity of the group's collective descent into madness, no matter how horrific their situation might be, is honestly hard to believe. Additionally, there were moments where I wondered why they didn't break a window and let some of the dirt surrounding the house tumble inside in order to see if they could climb out that way to safety, as I never got the feeling that doing so would have put them in any worse of a situation than they already were in. Most of all, I can't say I entirely bought all of these girls would have been friendly enough with one another to attend an overnight birthday party, the cliquish fracturing of their group appearing to have happened long before the quake rocked their world into catastrophic oblivion.

Even with all of that being so, I still ended up liking Ladyworld quite a bit. Kramer shows decisive directorial insights, deftly structuring her story in a way that incrementally increased my emotional investment bit by bit as things went on. She also stages a couple of marvelous face-offs between the actresses, Barer and Hawke sharing a moment near the heart-stopping climax that rattled me something fierce. While not for everyone, Kramer's film ended up getting to me, its freeze-frame conclusion nothing less than disquietingly marvelous.


Energetically joyous Dora a golden family-friendly adventure
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

DORA
Now playing


After spending the first 16 years of her life exploring Central American jungles with her zoologist mother Elena (Eva Longoria) and archaeologist father Cole (Michael Peña), energetic and intelligent teenager Dora (Isabela Moner) has been sent to the wilds of Los Angeles to attend high school. She'll be living with relatives, most notably former childhood best friend and cousin Diego (Jeff Wahlberg) and her beloved Abuelita Valerie (Adriana Barraza). It's a new sort of jungle for Dora to explore, one with its own individualistic dangers, mysteries and social hierarchies, and the teenager is determined to tackle every obstacle tossed her way with the same positive, can-do attitude that served her so well out in the middle of a tropical rainforest.

But while on a school outing to the Natural History Museum, Dora is kidnapped by a band of mercenaries and Diego, fastidious wannabe valedictorian Sammy (Madeleine Madden) and astronomy-loving social outcast Randy (Nicholas Coombe) are accidentally abducted at the same time. After being rescued by college linguistics professor Alejandro Gutierrez (Eugenio Derbez), a friend of Elena and Cole's, it's clear to the four classmates they're no longer in California. Instead, they're in the middle of a giant, unexplored jungle, and the mercenaries want Dora to help lead them to her parents who are in turn searching for a lost mythical Incan city that purportedly hides priceless golden treasures. Instead, with the assistance of Diego, Sammy and Randy, not to mention her peppy pet monkey Boots, she intends to outwit these nefarious treasure hunters, find the lost city, save her parents and do whatever it takes to ensure she and her new friends survive their unanticipated adventure in the rainforest.

I had no idea what to expect walking into Dora and the Lost City of Gold. I hadn't seen a trailer or a commercial. While I knew who the character was (who doesn't), while I knew of her popularity and cultural significance, I honestly can't say I've ever seen a single episode of Nickelodeon's animated 'Dora the Explorer.' Other than knowing she had a pet monkey named Boots and often spoke with a talking backpack, I ended up going into this movie as cold as I likely ever have in my long career as a professional critic. Heck, I didn't even know the theme song, the two eighth-graders I ended up seeing this one with making sure to rectify that hole in my pop culture knowledge long before we even set foot inside the theatre.

Directed by James Bobin and co-written by his The Muppets and Muppets Most Wanted bandmate Nicholas Stoller (with an additional assist from Monster Trucks scribe Matthew Robinson), I'm happy to report that this freewheeling kid-friendly adventure is nothing less than terrific. Intelligent, spirited, culturally respectful, age-appropriate and beguilingly character-driven first frame to last, I had an amazing time sitting in my seat watching this one play itself out to conclusion. Putting it simply, this is one of the most entertaining movies of the entire summer, Dora's teenage adventure into the unknown an exploratory wonderland of imagination I flat-out loved.

Things take a second or two to get going. The opening prologue, while almost certainly going to please fans of the animated television show, isn't great, and for a moment I did start to wonder if the film's cartoonish atmosphere was going to prove to be too hyper and inauthentic for me to be able to enjoy myself. But the moment Dora ages up, lucks her way into a major discovery that helps her parents discover the potential whereabouts for that fabled lost city and then ends up heading to Los Angeles to attend high school, things begin to look up. When she gets to the city, reconnects with an image-conscious Diego, catches the ire of Sammy and makes instant friends with Randy, things get even better.

But it is when the kids get kidnapped and flown to that South American jungle where things really begin to soar. There is a hyperactive enthusiasm that's never so rambunctious it could potentially become annoying. Better, Bobin allows each of the teenagers room to blossom and grow. As absurd as the situation they are all involved in might be, as much they are all playing various 16 or 17-year-old archetypes, the script still allows each of them to grow and evolve in an emotionally affecting manner. Their excitement feels real. As does their worry, fear, apprehension, resolve and, most notably, courage. They are the heart and soul of the film (not to mention I could listen to Randy giddily scream, 'It's a jungle puzzle!' for a solid week and likely never grow annoyed at hearing it from him), and it is their growing affection for one another and collective camaraderie that makes all of this work as well as it does.

I'm not going to go into specifics as I don't want to ruin any of the surprises. All the same, rest assured there are plenty of callbacks to the animated televisions series, and a nefarious mask-wearing thief does indeed make a couple of memorable appearances. There's also an absolutely sublime fantasy sequence smack dab in the middle of the story that showcases Bobin, Stoller and their crew all working at the absolute top of their respective games, this phantasmagoric assault on the senses a visual whirligig of wondrous delights that will have fans of the show doubling over in euphoric laughter and everyone else giggling so madly they'll be right on the verge of doing the same. It's the same magic the pair brought to The Muppets and it shows in every single frame of this motion picture as well, and I have a hard time visualizing the type of person who could walk out into the sunshine after watching this and claim to have been underwhelmed. I just don't think it's possible.

There are some storytelling missteps here and there, and it makes zero sense to me how the majority of the mercenaries just summarily disappear during the film's climactic third. But Moner, after already making memorable impressions in films as disparate as Sicario: Day of the Soldado and Instant Family, is nothing less than spellbinding as the title character, bringing a level of charismatic elation to her performance that's spectacular. Dora and the Lost City of Gold is superb, and here's hoping this live-action teenage take on the material is a modest hit if only because selfishly I want to watch this pint-sized adventurer head out into the wilds to continue exploring immediately. Or, at the very least, just as soon as she gets her hands on a new map, fills that backpack with necessities and makes certain Boot's boots are tightly tied. I could live with that, too.


Bloody Wicked Witches doesn't cast a memorable spell
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WICKED WITCHES
Now playing


When his wife throws him out of the house and files for divorce, Mark Griffith (Duncan Casey) is suddenly homeless. Spying an ad in the paper, he's shocked to discover his former best friend Ian Pickering (Justin Marosa) is renting out a room at Dumpling Farm, a secluded spot in the middle of the countryside located in a small, close-knit town. Mark looks at this as being the universe looking out for him as this happens to be the town he grew up in before leaving school and heading for the city, and a return home might just be what he needs to clear his head after a brutal break-up he has no one to blame for other than himself.

Not that this stops him from throwing a raucous party overflowing in booze and drugs just like he used to do in his youth. Who cares if Ian is acting a little deranged, the young man doing a bunch of disturbingly strange things in the woods that surround the farm. It also doesn't register with the him that all of the women now living in town are preternaturally beautiful and keep looking at Mark as if they were eager to eat him as an after-dinner snack, literally so, and not as some sort of devilishly macabre, thinly veiled euphemism for sex. He doesn't seem to notice any of that, and no matter how weird things appear the only thing on Mark's mind is having a grand time at his party and maybe spending an erotic evening with one of these erotic women who look like they'd love to snack on his heart and drink his blood as if it were palate-cleansing cabernet.

Indie U.K. import Wicked Witches, originally titled The Witches of Dumpling Farm when it played the festival circuit, is a gruesome little shocker that doesn't skimp on the blood and gore. It's nicely shot by co-writer and co-director Martin J. Pickering (his brother Mark Pickering the other half of that writer/director coin), and at barely 79 minutes the movie never overstays its welcome. It also features a reasonably solid, emotionally-modulated performance from Casey that I found solidly compelling, the growing fear that something wrong is going on at Dumpling Farm gnawing at the corner of his psyche before it blossoms into full-blown terror when the truth is horrifically revealed.

I don't have much more to say that's anywhere near as positive. While I don't think the Pickering brothers have made a bad little horror movie, that does not mean I believe they've crafted one I intend to watch again or will recommend others take the time to see for themselves. It all feels strictly by-the-numbers, almost as if the two filmmakers watched Michael Dougherty's 2007 cult favorite Trick 'r Treat and thought they'd make a feature-length sequel to the Anna Paquin-led story about seemingly gullible attractive young women getting all carnivorous on a bunch of twenty-something virile men during a drunken party out in the middle of the woods. Unfortunately, as lovely as all the ladies might be, they just as visibly don't have any individualized characteristics to speak of. They just exist, nothing more, and honestly not anything less, and while the threat they present to Mark and the other men attending his party is genuine, that doesn't mean their presence oozes with anything resembling tension or suspense.

I do get it. This is Mark's story, and as he is the one who ends up discovering what is going on it is his fight for survival that the film understandably focuses all its attention on. But that does not mean I ever felt his friendship with Ian was genuine, their backstory not fleshed out enough as far as I was concerned. Additionally, while the threat from the women is likely supposed to feel almost primal and animalistic, because these flesh-eating beauties all blend together I found it hard to be at all scared by them. I also never got a good idea of exactly what their respective powers or their collective intentions were towards Mark, all of which diluted the impact of the film's climactic moments a considerable amount.

The Pickering brothers do stage a couple of nice set pieces, not the least of which is the moment where the women drop their gorgeous façade and show their true monstrous forms to the unlucky souls they're about to gleefully gorge upon. There's also a nice underground sequence with Mark trying to evade these supernatural predators that almost feels as if it were lifted from a well-made found-footage shocker like The Devil's Doorway or even 2016's Blair Witch. Finally, as I already stated I do think Casey is quite good, his reasonably complex performance adding an emotional layer to the narrative the motion picture frustratingly never does quite enough with. Wicked Witches isn't a total loss by any means. It just doesn't cast a very memorable spell, the whole thing lacking in the type of magic that might have gotten under my skin and made this one worthwhile.




SMC & SWC Executive Director Steve Smith steps down from Seattle Choruses
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SGN EXCLUSIVE: Don't miss 'RuPaul's Drag Race' star Derrick Barry at this Sunday's Leo Party August 11
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Salty - also sweet
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Rainbow City Band presents 2019 Rainbow Ball Sept. 28
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
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John Cameron Mitchell to appear at special screening of new 4k restoration of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at SIFF Cinema Uptown August 17
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Indie Ladyworld a haunting psychological natural disaster
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Energetically joyous Dora a golden family-friendly adventure
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Bloody Wicked Witches doesn't cast a memorable spell
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