Monday, May 30, 2011

The Kills (Showbox at the Market) (May 9)

Photo by Mr. MAfter discovering The Kills in 2010, I listened to Midnight Boom (their third offering) over and over. When news hit their fourth CD Blood Pressures was due out, I learned Seattle was granted a date. It turned out to be a Monday-night all-ages show that would sell out.

Singer Alison Mosshart and guitarist Jamie Hince, collaborating since early 2000s, give The Kills their signature bluesy punk a choppy, fuzzy edge. Their chemistry is palpable, especially live. Mosshart whips and shakes her enormous mane of teased black hair while belting out tunes with her bold voice. Hince, surrounded by a sea of pedals, plays his guitar like a weapon, creating thick, dirty sounds. Their energy is contagious. The two often share the mic, singing so closely their lips practically touch. Hearing selections from Blood Pressures (Future Starts Slow, Heart is a Beating Drum and DNA) arranged among Midnight Boom favorites URA Fever, Tape Song and Sour Cherry (as well as songs from their first two CDs) made the crowd go mental. The leopard-print wall hanging behind the band and Mosshart’s matching shirt were nice touches. Hince threw us a bone when he said New York had nothing on Seattle. Sweet but untrue.

The Showbox crowd danced most of the night due to what the two opening bands started. Appropriately named The Entrance Band, a three-piece from Los Angeles showcased their upside-down-playing (a la Jimi Hendrix) guitarist. Their psychedelic jamming got the crowd moving for the second band, Cold Cave—an excellent synth pop band. Also a three-piece, these showmen took the crowd to actual dancing with their ‘80s-revival-meets-new-millennium sound. Using samples, they made it sound like a female singer was on stage singing with them. The three bands made up one of the best shows I’ve seen in months.

Single White Female (1992)

Single White Female...the good timesBased on the novel “swf seeks same” by John Lutz, this movie is a frightening over-the-top tale about a girl obsession turned fatal.

The movie rolls with a couple planning their future together. Quickly, Allie (Bridget Fonda) and Sam’s (Steven Weber, remember him from Wings?) bliss is shattered over a situation involving his ex and Allie sets out to find a roommate.

Enter Hedy (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who excels at creepy) and her subdued manipulations to win the room. The ladies forge a friendship and Hedy is a quick study in gaining Allie’s trust. Hedy blocks Sam’s attempts to get Allie back. When Sam gets to her, Hedy’s mental illness goes into overdrive pushing her to eliminate anyone who gets in her way. Hedy’s behavior is overdone and implausible, as is the eventual explanation for her behavior (but Leigh is compelling).

SWF is a disturbing study of a sociopath, leaving you uninterested in seeking a roommate situation. Similar to 1987’s Fatal Attraction, the psychic horror scores but SWF has a trace of propaganda that warns young single women to stay out of NYC or, at minimum, be vigilante for potential troubled roommates. SWF highlights Allie’s helplessness: despite being bright enough to have her own design biz, her first client assumes he will bed her (even after he’s already coerced her into taking his job for peanuts). In addition to his stereotypical repulsion factor, he gives her no hint he will pay her nor recommend her, as she hopes.

This is just one of many nuanced roles by the inimitable Jennifer Jason Leigh. What happened to Bridget Fonda? We didn’t hear from her again after she married Danny Elfman of Oingo Boingo fame.

Director: Barbet Schroeder

Country: USA

Genre: Thriller

Run time: 107 minutes

Scale: 2.5

Noise (2007)

NoiseThe opening scene of Noise hooks you as you follow Lavinia (Maia Thomas) boarding a commuter train in Melbourne and making a horrific realization.

It’s just before Christmas and Constable Graham McGahan (Brendan Cowell) gets stationed in a police caravan in the neighborhood close to the train incident. He suffers from tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and black-outs, and he’s a slacker, not doing much while on duty, except for realizing he’s chosen the wrong career. Even when clues and potential leads fall in his lap, he cannot be bothered; the viewer has a better chance at solving the crime.

The story is confusing and abruptly told. So much so that you think you’ve missed key details. As the plot progresses, you realize it’s the manner the screenwriter/director have chosen to unfold the story. Characters resemble one another and the darkness of the movie doesn’t help. Noise is supposed to be a noir thriller, but some scenes are so dark, faces are obscured. The dialog is 2 fast and 2 furious to keep up. The frequent ringing and irritating cacophony repeatedly  assault the aural senses. Noise tricks you into thinking it’s going to be terrific. It grabs you with that gripping opener, but never takes goes full circle. The missing links don’t make sense. Too many questions are left vague or unanswered. Who committed the crime? What really happened on that train? Why won’t Lavinia tell reveal the full story? Who was #3 and how did they find a guy who resembled the guy from the train, yet who supposedly wasn’t there? Oy!

Writer/Director: Matthew Saville

Country: Australia

Genre: Drama (supposed to be thriller)

Run time: 108 minutes

Scale: 1.5

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bridesmaids (2011)

Do you know that feeling while watching a trailer where it looks incredibly funny and you are sold on it? Then, when you actually see it, it turns out the bits in the trailer are the only comedic ones? This is NOT that movie.

Annie (Kristen Wiig), a late 30s-something is broke and unhappy following the demise of her bakery. When her best friend Lillian (Maya Rudolph) gets engaged to Dougie, it (Tim Heidecker) only underscores Annie’s singledom. As maid of honor, she’s determined to make Lillian’s bridal shower and bachelorette party off-the-hook, but when Lillian’s new friend Helen (Rose Byrne) shows up with the same mission and a full wallet, Annie’s hackles go up and the battle is on. At every turn, Helen effortlessly tops Annie.BridesmaidsIn an unforgettable scene, Lillian and her five bridesmaids are in a swanky bridal shop trying on dresses when the afternoon goes awry with a twist so wrong, you almost don’t believe it’s happening. Bridesmaids has one great scene after another. Most are over-the-top and that’s what makes them so enjoyable. (Only one goes on unbearably long—the dueling one-up speech at the engagement party.)

Wiig has impeccable comedic timing and physical wit; she’s also able to pull off dramatic moments. Ellie Kemper as Becca is always a delight, but the standout here is Melissa McCarthy as Megan, Dougie’s sister. With that mad look in her eyes, each scene in which she appears ends too soon. Rudolph is the throwaway character (the Vincent Chase of the movie)—the BORING one. I cannot forget to mention Officer Nathan Rhodes (Chris O’Dowd) who is a perfect addition to this cast and holds his own opposite Wiig.

If you don’t like crude scatological humor or cannot accept life without political correctness, this movie is not for you. It deals with friendship, jealousy and good intentions gone way wrong and has a jolly time exploiting them for our viewing pleasure. If you’ve ever served as a bridesmaid, you may laugh with sinister schadenfreude.

Director: Paul Feig

Country: USA

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 125 minutes

Scale: 4

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

League of Seven Evil ExesScott Pilgrim vs. the World is an ocular delight. You will be regaled by its energy, music and hijinks.

Twenty-two-year-old Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is dating 17-year-old Knives Chao (Ellen Wong). Knives is excited about everything—Scott, his band Sex Bob Omb, video games, music. Scott has a loyal crew, including his gay roommate Wallace (Kieran Culkin) who is constantly on the horn relaying minutiae of Scott’s life to Scott’s sister, Stacey (Anna Kendrick), who in turns calls Scott with her commentary. Scott  and Knives are happy enough until Scott lays eyes on fuchsia-haired Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). First, he faces a choice. Then, he faces the wrath of the League of Seven Evil Exes. Will Scott get the girl? And, if so, which one?

Based on the Oni Press graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World plays with its running theme of video games, points scored, coins won boldly jumps onto the screen. The choreography is incredibly fun during synchronized video dance numbers and the many fight sequences. The wit is frolicsome. Some shots are made to look like actual pages from a graphic novel. A delightful viewing choice.

Director: Edgar Wright

Country: USA

Genre: Comedy entwined with Action

Run time: 112 minutes

Scale: 4

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Washington Serpentarium / Reptile Zoo (Monroe, WA)

Pictures 056I’ve driven past The Reptile Zoo many times on the way to other destinations, never having had the chance to stop. Today, the Reptile Zoo is a mystery no more.

Reminiscent of a large pet store, the serpentarium consists of two large rooms and, indeed, a few specimens are for sale. I have little knowledge of what it takes to keep a snake, lizard, turtle or alligator happy and healthy but some of the enclosures looked small. There’s information provided to patrons on the cage and tank sizes as well as what it takes to keep reptiles as pets.

Following are the most impressive residents:









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In a back room, you can observe large South American roaches (some of the hissing variety), scorpions, very hairy tarantulas, stick insects and other creepy crawlers that make you feel itchy as you exit.

Destinations: Leavenworth, Washington

100_6703When Seattleites seek a getaway in the Pacific Northwest, places that come to mind are the San Juans; Vancouver, BC; and Portland, OR. For a quick jaunt (approximately 118 miles from Seattle), “Little Bavaria” or Leavenworth, WA, awaits.There you will find no shortage of sausages, German-inspired décor and lederhosen. On most weekends, some type of festival is happening so it makes sense to consult the Leavenworth Events Calendar when plotting your trip.

The local tourism bureau boasts that Washington is one of the fastest growing wine regions in the world, competing with places like Napa Valley. In light of this, start your adventure at one of the nine Leavenworth wineries and tasting rooms (travel to nearby Cashmere, Peshastin and Wenatchee for more).


At the Willow Crest-Pasek Cellars Tasting Room (939 Front Street, #B), you can savor upwards of 10-12 wines for $2. (If you buy a bottle, your $2 is applied toward the purchase.)

The tastings are energetic, staffed with entertaining wine connoisseurs providing palate-cleansing treats like chocolate-covered almonds and posh crackers.

Once done wining, it’s time to explore. You’ll encounter several indoor malls (oddly reminiscent of Wall Drug); fudge and pretzel shops; restaurants serving…you guessed it…bratwursts and burgers; drinking establishments; and gift shops stocked with nutcrackers, music boxes and tchotchkes—including dog-themed gifts, Leavenworth souvenirs, shot glasses, tiles—and hats. An interactive choice for kids and adults alike is The Hat Shop (719 Front St.):

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After trying on hats, you will likely be hungry and thirsty. If it’s sunny, you may want to locate a place to bask and chow, where you can enjoy your friends and surround yourself with happy tourists. Once you discover the München Haus (709 Front St.), you are there—in a courtyard with wooden tables and benches with family-style seating. Beer and wine selections can be had at the outdoor bars. Sausages abound as do the 18+ mustards & sauces that complement the meat.


When you’ve had enough bratwurst (and cannot find the pulled pork sandwich you are craving for dinner and were told existed at a restaurant that only serves breakfast and lunch), you turn to the next best thing: Los Camperos Mexican Restaurant (200 8th St.). There, your crew will tell the friendly waitrons, clandestine-like, that it’s your birthday. They will make you wear the sombrero and take pictures, as the patrons laugh, happy not to be in that spotlight.

Once you are done exploring, you will want to check in at home base. The lodging choices are plentiful. The Adventure Inn (321 9th Street) is a good location (off the main drag) with a courtyard beer garden der Hinterhof with bands playing on Friday and Saturday nights, May through September. The headliners on this particular night—the funk-inspired Mugsy’s Grove—surrounded the birthday girl, still playing their instruments, honoring the day and being the impetus for the much-desired dance party. A memorable ending to an excellent day.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Blue Valentine (2010)

blue_valentineBlue Valentine is a gripper illustrating the breakdown of a marriage. It’s BLEAK and if you are having issues in your relationship, do not see it; you may not feel any better.

The story is told in flashbacks from the semi-happier beginnings down the path toward The End. Couple Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) are strained in their interactions. She barely looks at him; he keeps trying to get something going. She rejects him. They don’t connect. Dean’s goal is to be with Cindy and their child. Cindy wants him to do something with his life.

There are intense close-ups of grief, loneliness and pain. There’s explicit sex. Most scenes are tense and uncomfortable, but the acting is stellar. How did Williams and Gosling get through this without falling apart emotionally? The only ray of light wasn’t part of the movie. No, it was the guy doing yoga in the theater hallway entrance. From my left peripheral, I saw movement of his pointed hand changing as he shifted positions; a man wearing a flannel doing yoga as he watched Blue Valentine. It made me chuckle when I would have otherwise cried.

There are missing pieces, such as what happened to Dean’s moving job? A key moment where things must have gone amok but they were already on the dark track to emotional despair.

So much alienation.

Co-Writer/Director: Derek Cianfrance

Country: USA

Genre: Drama

Run time: 118 minutes

Scale: 4

Mary and Max (2009)

16maryandmaxMary and Max turned up on my library queue. I didn’t recall the seedling for this selection--the joy of surprise. I was smitten with this Claymation/stop motion film.

It begins in Australia in 1976 (in shades of browns with occasional pops of color) with eight-year-old Mary Daisy Dinkle (little Mary voiced by Bethany Whitmore; older Mary voiced by Toni Collette)living with her alcoholic mother and detached father who spends his free time in his shed drinking Baileys and stuffing road-killed birds. Mary has no friends and her favorite show is called The Noblets.

Mary has been told that babies come from beer glasses. She decides to ask someone in America if babies there come from cans of cola since Americans drink so much of it.

In New York City (in shades of blacks, white and greys with seldom bursts of red), enter a 44-year-old Autistic man, Max Horowitz (voiced by Philip Seymour Hoffman), also a fan of The Noblets. One day, he receives a question-filled letter from a young Aussie.

There begins a 22-year pen-pal relationship through pivotal events in both their lives. It’s isn’t, however, a movie for children. There are candid discussions on loneliness, depression, suicide, overeating, Asperger's Syndrome and where babies come from in America. Their letters are charmingly simple and direct. The details and opinions are rich, thoughtful and come to life quickly. You relish hearing the letters. Mary’s explanations of complicated situations and her interpretations are entertaining. Max doesn’t know how to pull punches in his answers and details of his daily struggles.

The clay figures possess great expressions and micro-movements. Color choices are excellent and make for a visual treat. Sound effects and music well suited to the action. The best film I’ve seen in months.

Writer/Director: Adam Elliot

Country: Australia

Genre: Animation/Dramedy

Run time: 90 minutes

Scale: 5

Monday, May 2, 2011

Hal Sparks @ Benaroya’s Illsley Ball Nordstrom Recital Hall (April 29)

Hal SparksI knew little about what to expect (only what my PIC had told me) from Hal Sparks and his act. I’d fallen asleep watching one of his DVDs (not a reflection on his talent but rather the logistical circumstances).

The recital hall was cozy. The crowd was a mixed bag—people of color, a variety of ages and, notably, many women.

I get it now. He’s not just adorable; he’s emphatic, dynamic and evocative. He jumps in, not going easy on his favorite fodder—rednecks. Since growing up in Kentucky, does he still have relatives there? Do they really walk like chimpanzees? More importantly, do they own up to being related to him and how do they feel about polar bears in zoos in the south?

Brimming with confidence, his performance runs rife with social commentary on race and gay issues. Stoners, bigots and homophobes, be leery (albeit for different reasons). The tight-jeans-wearing, interrupted-chuckle-delivering, air-punching (POW) comic also acts and fronts and plays guitar in heavy metal band Zero 1. He’s hosted Talk Soup and VH1’s I Love the 80s series.

I am now a fan and think you should look into it too.

Kráska v nesnázích (Beauty in Trouble) (2006)

beauty in troubleTattooed hot mom Marcela (Anna Geislerová) and her husband Jarda (Roman Luknár) are barely managing after devastating floods in Prague destroy their home. The ordeal forces them and their two children to live in a chop shop where Jarda is now running his business. Their marriage strikes a critical point and Marcela leaves, taking the kids and moving in with her mother Zdena (Jana Brejchová) and stepfather Riöa (Jirí Schmitzer). Riöa is a conniving bastard who’s jealous of any attention Zdena squanders on anyone but him.

When Jarda is busted stealing a car, he lands in the pokey. Marcela has a chance meeting with the victim, Mr. Benes (Josef Abrhám), and BANG! First, they’re meeting for sushi. Next, she’s travelling to Tuscany with him, seeing what a stable life with this gentleman twice her age would be like. Therein lies the theme…does Marcela chose a life with a calm and boring but rich suitor or stay with her good-for-nothing bad-boy husband who possesses carnal skills that always more than hit her mark? Worthy of note is that this is post-Cold War and folks now have options, but does that change things for Marcela?

Riöa is a scene-stealer (possibly the entire movie). He’s sadistic and vengeful, but with a twist of dark humor you cannot deny. Another terrific performance comes from Kuba (Adam Misík)--Marcela and Jarda’s son--especially in his scenes with Riöa. Jarda’s mother, Libuse (Emília Vásáryová), is another standout. She’s devoted to her  son and to her church. Unbeknownst to her, her church is led by a crooked man who is trying to screw Benes out of land and money.

I didn’t love Beauty in Trouble, but it was beloved and received high  marks from ‘the critics’ (Rotten Tomato gave it an 85!). I cannot agree. It’s slow and uneven. Too many of the main characters are unlikeable. Much of the music (were they songs from Once?) was ill suited and manipulative. They should have added more of the lively accordion numbers.

Director: Jan Hrebejk

Country: Czech Republic

Genre: Drama

Run time: 110 minutes

Scale: 3.5

Sex and the City 2 (2010)

The Sex and the City series had a good run and ended on a high note before it reverted to jumping the shark. I enjoyed the first SATC movie and despite SATC 2 getting panned, my curiosity lingered.

Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Big (Chris Noth) are having issues…again.Livin' La Vida Loca Not issues about menial tasks, such as taking out the trash or forgetting to pick up limes, but rather those that crop up when the newness of a relationship has worn off.

Work is keeping old man Big tired. He wants to be home, watching TV and decompressing with Carrie; for her, a night on the town is the answer. When she takes a few days away, Big retorts with a counteroffer that could cause a serious rift. At the same time across town, Samantha (Kim Cattrall) gets an all-expense paid trip to Abu Dhabi (UAE) to meet with a possible new client. The deal includes a plus 3 for Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), Charlotte (Kristin Davis) and Carrie.

Once they arrive, you are imbued with the visual opulence of Abu Dhabi--the colors, the veils and the stunning wealth. As this montage ends, the movie starts losing me. Carrie runs into Aidan (John Corbett)--give me a break…too far-fetched they’d chance meet like this, especially here. Miranda and Charlotte discuss the dark side they’re experiencing raising their kids. I loved this. This scene fits awkwardly but it’s a genuine conversation. How often do you hear women admit that rearing kids is much harder than expected and isn’t all that they dreamed? After this, the movie takes a mind-boggling turn, equally unbelievable and offensive (even for Samantha).

SATC 2 is uneven, predictable and way too long, but I wasn’t entirely disappointed; I attribute this to my loyalty to the franchise, but please, stop here. The original high note is being challenged.

Director: Michael Patrick King

Country: USA

Genre: Comedy

Run time: 145 minutes

Scale: 2