Category: A+E

February 20, 2017 Jacob Holley-Kline

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It’s hard to add to an artistic legacy like Edgar Allen Poe’s. The first adaptation of his work was released over 100 years ago, and more have come out steadily since then. Master of the cinematic macabre Roger Corman secured his place in horror history with adaptations of Poe’s work, the best of them starring Vincent Price.

That’s one end of the spectrum. On the other, you have giallo master Dario Argento and George Romero’s “Two Evil Eyes” and the 2013 reimagining of a Poe masterpiece “The Mask of the Red Death.” The Luxembourger animated anthology “Extraordinary Tales” lands squarely in the middle. Some stories are better told than others, but none achieve greatness. Weirdly enough, the most inspired parts happen in the frame narrative.

Poe, in the form of a raven, lands in a graveyard and argues with Death about his obsession (or inspiration, as he calls it) with her. Each of the five stories told, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” and “The Masque of the Red Death,” are points in their debate, and the result is a humanizing look at Poe’s life. The stories themselves are (mostly) beautifully animated, but some are just boring.

“The Pit and the Pendulum” looks like a PlayStation 2 cinematic and moves just as stiffly. Guillermo del Toro as the narrator doesn’t help much. He’s a director, not an actor, and it shows. The final segment “The Masque of the Red Death” is wonderful thanks to its sharp visual style and near-absence of dialogue. At the end, though, two characters speak and it just takes the mystery of the adaptation away. Why include those three lines at all? They add nothing to the telling.

The opening story, “The Fall of the House of Usher,” fares better. Christopher Lee’s aged narration adds serious poignancy, especially considering he died just four months before the movie’s release. At points, it sounds like he’s struggling to deliver a line, and that’s all-too-perfect for a tragedy like “Usher.”

The movie’s peak comes early, though. “The Facts in the Case of Mr. Valdemar,” acted and narrated by Julian Sands, is a vigorous callback to the heyday of horror comics. The art is just the right shade of sickly and warm with stark color contrasts built into every scene. It’s just an excellent piece of animation enlivened even more by Sands’ eclectic delivery.

But in the end, “Extraordinary Tales” doesn’t rise above its flaws. The point of an anthology like this is the stories, and the movie misses that point. Instead, it glues each segment together with a far more fascinating meditation on Poe’s work and identity. That alone is a worthy contribution to Poe’s legacy in cinema, but “Extraordinary Tales” adds little else.

February 20, 2017 Madison Mcenaney

With the isolation of Alaska from the rest of the country, it can be hard to get anything instantly for most that reside here. Packages take a few extra days in the mail, plane rides are always a day long venture and that can leave most Alaskans feeling like the rest of the country is a little too far away and a little too inconvenient. This is easily applied to concerts as well.

Most Alaskans feel that they don’t truly get the experience that most get when it comes to attending shows, for multiple reasons. Whether it be the smaller venue or the less popular artist, many feel forgotten about up here when their favorite artist releases a tour list and Alaska isn’t on the list again.

“I’ve never really gotten why Alaska gets so overlooked by artists. I think that our concerts have gotten better over the past couple years but I would still really enjoy seeing some bigger musicians paying a visit,” Hunter Meyer, a frequent concert goer in Anchorage, said.

Since the opening of their business in summer of 2013, Showdown Productions has proven to be one of the primary event companies that brings new artists to Alaskan cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks. Helen Payares, one of the owners of Showdown Productions, manages events and marketing for the company. Payares and the rest of the agents at Showdown Productions work hard to bring up as many artists as they can and have many things they must take into consideration when deciding who to host next.

“We have an entire budget sheet that outlines general costs and break even points among different venues. We take the artist’s fee plus overall production budget and then look at ticket costs. For us, ticket cost to our audience is huge. We’re not here to be millionaires and we don’t want to take advantage of Alaska. However, we also have to break even and generate some income to keep us going, so it’s a healthy compromise of taking all the costs and figuring out the ticket prices in each venue. Wherever it makes sense and makes sense to the consumer is what we go with,” Payares said.

Once Showdown Productions figures out what artists they want to reach out to, it becomes a matter of figuring out which of those artists are most willing to make time for Alaska. Since the state is so out of the way, artists have to be willing to carve a little extra time out of their schedule to make their appearance here.

“Because Alaska is not a regular tour stop for tours, most of the shows that we produce in Alaska are considered ‘One-Offs.’ The process we use is to reach out to management and agencies and try and route the band [or] act when they are going to start or finish a West Coast tour,” Payares said.

Once an artist has made the decision to come to Alaska is when the production companies’ real work begins. Venues such as Williwaw, the Alaska Airlines Center, and the Sullivan Arena are a few of Anchorage’s top spots for bigger artists, and tickets go on sale for those venues as soon as the artist books a date for a show. From there, advertising comes into play, and anyone who is involved in the show gets word out about the artist’s upcoming visit. Anchorage has been known to have some of the greatest and loudest audiences, but those audiences wouldn’t be there if they had no way of finding out about the concert.

In order to keep concerts happening in Alaska, all of these aspects must work hard together to make the show a success. While there are factors that make it difficult to bring artists to our state, they are not impossible, as companies such as Showdown Productions have made apparent. Concerts in Alaska will only get bigger and better so long as the cities have an audience that wants the artists here.

February 14, 2017 Jacob Holley-Kline

There’s a moment in “The Last King,” a Norwegian historical action flick, where farmers turned royal bodyguards Skjervald (Jakob Oftebro, “Masteren”) and Torstein (Kristofer Hivju, “The Fate of the Furious”) improvise a story for the baby they’re tasked with protecting, and heir to Norway’s throne, Hakon Hakonson (Jonathan Oskar Dahlgren). They’re taking shelter in an abandoned barn while a snow storm rages outside.

It’s a sweet sequence, if a bit on the nose, with a rare kind of heart not usually found in action movies. Oftebro as Skjervald and Hivju as Torstein both have a fierce physical presence, but they’re skilled enough actors to soften those edges. When they do, “The Last King” slows down and lets the tension break. There’s no threat and no conflict: just two men trying to calm an upset kid.

Even then, the movie has remarkable momentum. The numerous ski chase sequences have a hypnotic speed that carries through even in the quiet moments. They’re made even cooler knowing they likely happened in medieval Norway. “The Last King” is based on the exploits of the Birkebeinar, a rebel party formed in 1174 around a pretender to Norway’s kingship.

When the movie starts, it’s 1206 and Norway is ravaged by civil war. Gisle (Pal Sverre Hagen, “What Happened to Monday”), the king’s opportunistic stepbrother, poisons the king. As he dies, the king declares his illegitimate son, Hakon, heir to his throne. Little does Gisle know, the boy is guarded by Skjervald and Torstein, two stalwart warriors and farmers. Now on the run, the two bodyguards have to get Hakon back to Norway’s capital before he’s killed by Gisle’s men.

The unique setting makes for some exhilarating action, but it’s not all excitement. Gisle’s storyline is mostly a drag save for Kristin, the daughter of the queen, and her exploits (Thea Sofie Loch Naess, “Mogadishu, Minnesota”). But her hamfisted relationship with her brother, Inge (Thorbjorn Harr, “Karsten og Petra ut pa tur”) bores quickly. Gisle himself is a typical Machiavellian figure. He’s shallow, power-hungry and helped little by Hagen’s comparatively boring performance.

Archetypal villains aside, “The Last King” isn’t your typical action movie. It’s willing to sideline the action for some serious character-building, and never loses focus of its emotional core. The setting is unique and makes for the kinds of sweeping vistas reserved for serious epics. Jakob Oftebro and Kristofer Hivju have an easy chemistry that makes those central warm moments all the warmer, and the propulsive set pieces even more dynamic. When a movie as relatively quiet as this goes by so quickly, why not stick around for the ride? It’s more than worth the time.

February 6, 2017 Jacob Holley-Kline

There’s something to be said for the horror genre repeating itself. Like other genre fiction, horror has some very specific tropes and archetypes it returns to. Recently, it’s been thorny parent-child relationships in movies like “The Babadook,” “Goodnight Mommy,” and, now, the haunting “Under the Shadow.” It’s hard to blame Shideh (Narges Rashidi, “Tigermilch”), the…

February 5, 2017 Madison Mcenaney

The gallery in UAA’s Student Union has held dozens of art shows since its opening, each unique and crafted by students on campus. Starting on Feb. 17 and lasting through the first half of March, bachelors of fine arts students Jade Ariah and Danielle Morgan will be taking their turn showcasing their art in the…

January 30, 2017 Jacob Holley-Kline

The martial arts genre is built on Wong Fei-hung’s life. Born in 1847, the Chinese folk hero ran a martial arts school and medical clinic in Guangzhou City in the day and moonlit as a bodyguard for local businesses at night. Over 100 Hong Kong action flicks are based on his exploits, from Jackie Chan’s…

January 22, 2017 Jacob Holley-Kline

It’s hard to make violence in movies meaningful. So hard, in fact, that most movies, especially big budget releases, can’t get their head around it. The Norwegian action “In Order of Disappearance” looks, on the surface, like it treats death with gravity. If you look any deeper, however, this isn’t the case. Thankfully, the movie…

December 11, 2016 Jacob Holley-Kline

Finals week crushes even the strongest students. It’s a stressful, grating time where it’s not unheard of to break down every once and a while. With so much on our minds, it’s nice to escape in some mindless entertainment, and it doesn’t get more mindless than “Baskin.” This homage to Italian horror will shut viewers’…

December 4, 2016 Jacob Holley-Kline

The post “Breaking Bad” glut of anti-hero centric crime flicks only had so much to work with. A man, seeking fortune or some means of providing for his loved ones, descends into the criminal underworld and discovers his true self. “Serra Pelada,” save for an abrupt turn at the end, follows these beats exactly. Besides…

December 4, 2016 Madison Mcenaney

The highly anticipated delivery of Childish Gambino’s newest album has finally arrived – and been just as game-changing as we expected it to be. Titled “Awaken, My Love!” Gambino takes you on an 11 track, 50-minute journey through an entirely new genre of music he has never stepped foot in, until now. Childish Gambino’s alter-ego…

November 21, 2016 Jacob Holley-Kline

Movies with a one-track mind can be frustrating. The needlessly titled “When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism” has just such a mind. Watching it is a frustrating, sometimes maddening experience, but it’s hard to deny its brilliance. Over 90 ponderous minutes, director Corneliu Porumboiu breaks cinema down to its bare essentials. But to what…

November 21, 2016 Madison Mcenaney

With the recent comeback of record players, everyone seems to be dusting off their old turntable and playing their old favorite album, just as it was before music streaming services like iTunes and Spotify were at our disposal. There is something about owning an album on vinyl that feels timeless, and people appear to be…

November 13, 2016 Jacob Holley-Kline

So many documentaries about North Korea focus on Kim Jong-un’s regime. Interviews with the citizens emphasize the horror they live under, but not who they are as people. In Álvaro Longoria’s excellent “The Propaganda Game,” however, those people are the focus. It’s a refreshingly humanist approach, one the opts for honesty over exploitation, and the…

November 6, 2016 Jacob Holley-Kline

It’s tiring sitting through the same horror movie time and again. There are a few diamonds in the rhinestones, but “When Animals Dream” is just another rhinestone. It’s got a diamond’s sheen, but with none of its strength. Sometimes, that sheen raises the atmosphere and tone well; however, the rest of the movie never follows. In fact, “When Animals Dream” is so underwhelming that it’s hard to form an opinion about it. At its deepest, it’s an average horror flick veiled by artistry.

Marie (Sonia Suhl) lives in a lonely fishing village with her father, Thor (Lars Mikkelsen, “The Day Will Come”) and her seemingly catatonic mother, Mor (Sonja Richter, “Gentlemen”). After a strange rash appears on Marie’s chest, she begins to change. Something is amiss in the village, however. It seems that everyone knows what’s happening to her better than she does.

Transformation narratives, broken down, are more about the “before” than the “after.” “Before,” the character is built up, given dimension while the affliction spreads. “After,” the man becomes the monster, and the attributes of both get too mixed up to tell who’s who. The problem with “When Animals Dream” is that the before establishes nothing about Marie, opting instead to build her relationships with other, equally vague people.

So when the after hits, it’s not scary or effective in any way. Things just kind of happen, and they’re left there. Viewers have to take it on faith that, without knowing who she was before, Marie is very different now, so she will do very different things. Horrible things. Look at how monstrous she’s become! But when you only see the monster, is it really monstrous?

Even worse, the movie falls back on the usual thematic territory: the dangers of female sexuality. This doesn’t hurt the movie, it just lumps it in further with most horror out there. It just feels so safe. And in a world with horror like “The Witch,” “The Babadook,” and “It Follows,” “When Animals Dream” just doesn’t cut it.

In the end, this movie is your typical werewolf flick, but it’s got enough of an artistic sheen to feel different. And that’s its biggest trick. Truly, the movie wants to be subversive and interesting. Its fascinating texture is evidence of that. But it just isn’t. It’s too familiar and indistinct to take on a life of its own. For a movie so focused on transformation, it’s ironic that “When Animals Dream” never evolves itself.

October 30, 2016 Madison Mcenaney

Alaska is one of the most beautiful and untouched places our world gets to wonder about, and we are lucky enough to get to call the mountain ranges and aurora night skies our playground. In the world of photography, Alaska is a gold mine, practically bursting at the seams with beautiful scenery begging to get…

October 30, 2016 Jacob Holley-Kline

Title: “7 Años”

Director: Roger Gual

Release date: Oct. 28, 2016

Genre: Crime drama

Country: Spain

Rating: 4 out of 5

Stick five desperate people in a room and bullets are bound to fly. But the tense and compact crime drama “7 Años” nixes the gunplay and focuses solely on character. After the nihilistic glee of Tarantino’s similar, though far less interesting, “The Hateful Eight,” “7 Años” plays like a return to the basics of cinema in the best way possible. There are five characters in one room with one problem. In the end, however, it feels too short. It doesn’t overstay its welcome, but it never really settles in.

Under pressure from the IRS, four friends are facing jail time for mishandling funds in their software firm. Here’s the catch: with a simple money transaction, only one of them needs to take the fall. So Marcel (Alex Brendemuhl, “Longing for a Kiss”), the CEO, Veronica (Juana Acosta, “Vientos de la Habana”), the CFO, Luis (Paco León, “Kiki, Love to Love”), and Carlos (Juan Pablo Raba, “Shot Caller”) hire a mediator, Jose (Manuel Moron, “Cerca de tu casa”), to figure out who that one person will be.

The movie’s short running time forces the characters to be direct. The dialogue is blunt but never boring. Viewers can be sure that what narrative layers it peels back only leave room for more. As the characters are stripped to their core, the dialogue only gets more terse. Honestly, while no grand battles take place, “7 Años” is violent in its language. Marcel and Veronica share the most brutal exchanges, and Carlos and Luis the most heartbreaking.

The characters start out vague, however. Carlos and Luis’ introduction is fairly bland. It tells us a little bit about them both. Marcel and Veronica’s opening scenes aren’t any better. As it goes on, however, the characters’ dynamic deepens and, frankly, gets pretty sad. When they come to blows, it’s not fun to watch. They just cut so deep with everything they say.

Director Roger Gual is careful in setting up these climaxes. He’s not one for visual flourishes. More than anything, his style serves the characters. It lacks the freneticism of Fabian Bielinsky’s similarly character-driven Argentinian crime opus “Nine Queens,” but has David Mamet’s command of dialogue ala “American Buffalo.”

It’s a damn good movie. It never tries to be anything other than what it is: an exploration of four characters during the tensest moment of their lives. Even with a light plot, “7 Años” feels too short. The conclusion certainly would have hit harder if viewers knew these characters more intimately. Director Gual’s barebones style helps move it along at a steady click. When the credits roll, no one is spared. Not even the viewer.

October 24, 2016 Madison Mcenaney

The Alaska Humanities Forum is a nonprofit organization in Anchorage that focuses on connecting Alaskans through stories and ideas, and this year they have decided to host their second annual art showcase, called UPSTART. This showcase is set to feature both visual and literary artists, but have honed in the focus on young Alaskans between…

October 24, 2016 Madison Mcenaney

While successful musicians are often widely known for one specific instrument they excel in, or genre they play to, they likely dip their toes into other aspects of music as well. Alberto Alcala is one of those individuals. Most people in Anchorage know him as the vocalist for local hardcore band Old Hounds, but few…

October 24, 2016 Jacob Holley-Kline

It’s easy to drive a joke into the ground. “No Filter,” for some reason, makes it a point to do so. Every gag, and there are many, are super hit-and-miss. Truthfully, some of the funniest moments in the movie happen early on. It has the patina of a studio comedy, always flirting with edginess but never getting there. As it goes on, the movie gets weaker, but the charismatic Paz Bascunan picks up the slack that her co-stars leave behind.

Pia (Paz Bascunan, “Alma”) is a middle-aged, down-on-her-luck, marketing firm representative. Her husband ignores her, she isn’t respected at work by her boss or coworkers, and, when she’s not being ignored, she’s constantly inconvenienced by everyone around her. Constant chest pain and a regiment of pills sends her to the doctor where she finds out that all her pent-up rage is bound to kill her and the only cure is to let it all out.

Pia’s not a hard character to wrap your head around. But “No Filter” spends a lot of time with the “down-on-her-luck” part. It’s the Rodney Dangerfield school of comedy. “I don’t get no respect” rings true through most of the movie, but it gets tiring just thirty minutes into the movie. The repetition is jarring, to be certain, but any fans of the James Franco and Seth Rogen school of improv won’t likely be off-put.

When stuff hits the fan, Pia confronts all these people. And while she does get brutal, the movie’s tone is too positive to let her get truly mean. In that way, it lacks the edge that it really needs. But it’s not all bad. There are some hilarious moments, and it’s easy to admire the weird progressive world that director Nicolas Lopez has created.

The true draw of the movie is Paz Bascunan’s performance as Pia. While the movie has the generic sheen of a studio comedy, Bascunan brings honesty to her character’s very real pain. In an especially poignant moment, Pia shares a hug with her ex. She nestles against him as if it’s the first time in years. More than anything, bordered by generic side character, she carries the movie on her own.

With a few gut-busting moments, “No Filter” is just funny enough to not feel like a waste of time. It takes a bit to gather momentum, and when it does, it’s a fun ride. It wouldn’t be as fun, however, without the Paz Bascunan’s presence. It doesn’t have the bite of a great comedy, but it’s got the filtered fun of a worthwhile one.