Category Archives: Arts & Entertainment

‘The Green Inferno’ Brings the Gore but Misses the Mark

Director Eli Roth’s The Green Inferno opened last week, after sitting in distribution limbo for two years. So now that the latest effort from the architect of horror hits like Cabin Fever and Hostel is making a frontal assault on theaters near you, it begs the question: Was it worth the wait? The short answer is yes and no, in maddeningly equal measure.

The movie follows a group of campus radicals planning a protest against deforesting loggers in the Peruvian jungle. Led by magnetic douchebag Alejandro (Ariel Levy), the activists chain themselves to deforestation equipment, seemingly halting the company’s destructive progress and garnering mucho social media attention with their smartphone recordings of the event.

Any glad-handing gets cut short, however, when the puddle jumper shuttling the students back to civilization crashlands in the thick of the jungle. The would-be social justice warriors, still clad in their neon logger undercover togs, are then mistaken for loggers by one very pissed-off—and very cannibalistic—tribe of locals.

The Green Inferno is a love letter of sorts to one of the most disreputable sub-genres in the already sketchy pantheon of exploitation cinema. Cannibal movies  flourished in grindhouses throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, and they all followed a similar, nihilistic pattern: Several usually unlikeable outsiders would run afoul of cannibals in a remote jungle before being graphically tortured, killed, and summarily chowed upon. The sub-genre represented the ultimate test of intestinal fortitude: Their grainy shot-on-location rawness and crudely effective gore scenes exuded a queasy documentary realism, with truly contemptible interludes of actual animal cruelty occasionally thrown in for good measure. It says something (I’m not sure what) that after four decades of sensory overload media and sideshow-freak reality TV grubbiness, the cannibal movies can still pimp-slap and shock the hell out of even the most jaded viewers.

By comparison, this modern-day contribution to the cannibal oeuvre comes off as damn near artful in places. Director of Photography Antonio Quercia captures the Peruvian locations in sweeping aerial shots, with impossibly lush carpets of green foliage (you’ll never see a cannibal-infested jungle Hell look so ravishing). Roth can’t totally avoid the borderline racism inherent in his antagonists, but the red ochre-covered and charismatic tribespeople in this movie are allotted much more dignity than the pathetic mud-caked extras munching on entrails in the old grindhouse cannibal flicks.

That said, hardcore gorehounds can expect their money’s worth. The director delivers the gruesomeness with intestine-yanking, eye-popping gusto (sans any animal abuse, thank Gods). And contrary to the complaints of some of his detractors, Roth also backs up the gouts of blood and mountains of innards with equally effective doses of well-engineered suspense. The dude’s got raw talent and genre love to burn, so if you’re signing on for nothing more than a nerve-rattling roller coaster of a horror movie, The Green Inferno does deliver on that mission during its best moments.

At a time when modern cinemas are glutted with numbingly focus-grouped and unthreatening piffle, you’ve gotta admire the fact that someone got a movie this openly transgressive into multiplexes in the first place. It’s just a damn shame the end result isn’t better. The idea of literally and metaphorically skewering hashtag activist poseurs is a fertile one, but Roth’s and Guillermo Amoedo’s iffy script fails to run with that ripe conceptual fruit. Few of the characters make any real impression, and bro humor trumps sardonic wit far too frequently.

Worse yet, the movie’s climax plays like an asinine, contractually-obligated setup for a sequel, not the bone-chilling coda it could’ve (and should’ve) been. Yeah, it’s only a gross-out horror movie, but with a sharper screenplay The Green Inferno could’ve jostled and challenged a viewer’s brain with as much ferocious imagination as it jostles and challenges a viewer’s stomach.

PNB Shows Off Versatility in ‘See the Music’

Presenting a repertory program, “See the Music,” as the opening of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s 2015-2016 season Friday night at McCaw Hall, is a great way for the company to show off its dancers in a wonderfully varied program.

From Christopher Wheeldon’s abstract Tide Harmonic, created for PNB in 2013, to Balanchine’s Prodigal Son, 86 years after its premiere and as immediate as the original Biblical parable, to Jerome Robbins’ 1956 The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody) with scenic design by Edward Gorey that heralds what follows, the evening had something to appeal to everyone.

Keeping in mind Wheeldon’s title, Randall G. Chiarelli’s changing backdrop lighting gave a sense of ocean depths up to tidal pools and Joby Talbot’s music enhanced the feel of tidal movement, while the choreography created a sense of water flow as well of sea creatures stalking or scrabbling across pool or ocean floor.

Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Joshua Grant and principal dancer Maria Chapman in Christopher Wheeldon’s "Tide Harmonic." (Photo © Angela Sterling)
Pacific Northwest Ballet soloist Joshua Grant and principal dancer Maria Chapman in Christopher Wheeldon’s “Tide Harmonic.” (Photo © Angela Sterling)
Of the four couples dancing with a fine watery feel, Benjamin Griffiths had the most complete sense of continuity in the work while Joshua Grant, newly promoted to soloist, did notable work partnering Maria Chapman. (PNB’s artistic director, Peter Boal, also announced eight new member to the corps, two of them promoted from apprentice.)

When dancing with New York City Ballet, Boal was coached in the role of the Prodigal Son by Jerome Robbins, who learned it from Balanchine himself, and now Boal has coached the three company members who dance it this time around. It’s a role, said Boal in a preview lecture last week, that involves more acting than dancing. Nevertheless, the role requires strength and speed from the dancer.

Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers James Moore and Laura Tisserand in "Prodigal Son," choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. (Photo © Angela Sterling)
Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancers James Moore and Laura Tisserand in “Prodigal Son,” choreography by George Balanchine © The George Balanchine Trust. (Photo © Angela Sterling)
James Moore undertook the role Friday, and while he had all the technique required, he didn’t invest the part with quite enough rage and frustration at the start and it was not until the end, returning home as an exhausted penitent, that he fully inhabited the role. Laura Tisserand could have used more sensuality as the imperious, sexy Siren. Prodigal Son is a strong, wonderful work not to be missed, with unusual choreography for the drinking buddies which fits beautifully with Prokofiev’s commissioned score.

Pacific Northwest Ballet pianist Allan Dameron and soloist Elizabeth Murphy in Jerome Robbins’ "The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody)." (Photo © Angela Sterling)
Pacific Northwest Ballet pianist Allan Dameron and soloist Elizabeth Murphy in Jerome Robbins’ “The Concert (or, The Perils of Everybody).” (Photo © Angela Sterling)
It takes skilled proponents of their art to be really funny, whether it’s circus performers, actors or dancers, and PNB came through in spades with The Concert. The slender story is similar to the reason for our painted pianos in the parks, when anyone can play and anyone can come and listen.

Even a company pianist, in this case Allan Dameron, gets into the act, performing on stage. He gave an inimitable presentation of a finicky player as he got started, beginning the ripples of laughter which pervaded the whole work. Bringing chairs with them we had among others the Committed Listener, the Society Lady with a roving-eyed Spouse on a string (a memorable Seth Orza), the Casual Passersby, and most prominent, the Devotee in a hilarious performance by Sarah Ricard Orza. Groups of dancers rehearse in the park with many mistakes, and a rain shower requires umbrellas galore, all while Dameron continues to play Chopin unconscious of his surroundings. This is one of Robbins’ funniest and sheer delight to watch.

Agave Baroque Makes ‘Heavenly’ Seattle Debut

A distinguished national early music group, Agave Baroque, made its Seattle debut last Tuesday night at Trinity Parish Church with a superbly played and sung program of music by a composer virtually unknown to most of us. The audience was sophisticated and knowledgeable on early music, but sparse, probably due to a combination of Chairman Xi’s visit, the beginning of Yom Kippur, and a plethora of performances in Seattle this latter part of September.

Non-attendees missed a fascinating concert. Isabella Leonarda was a 17th-century Ursuline nun who composed prolifically and self-published about 200 of her works in 20 collections during her lifetime. Agave Baroque has performed around the country (and recorded on Vgo) the program they played here, titled “Queen of Heaven: Music of Isabella Leonarda in honor of the Virgin Mary.””Counter-tenor Reginald Mobley joined the four instrumentalists, Aaron Westman and Anna Washburn, baroque violins; Gretchen Classen, baroque cello and Henry Lebedinsky, harpsichord and organ, for three sonatas and three solo motets.

Leonarda’s music is a welcome addition to the 17th-century repertoire. May we hear more of her. It’s original in content, harmonically interesting, beautifully designed and expressive. Two of the three motets sung by Mobley were published in her last collection when she was 80 and still with all her musical faculties as sharp as ever. The first, “O Maria, quam dulcis,” is one of praise for Mary, the second, “Venite, laetantes,” a rare instance of the librettist—quite likely Leonarda herself—putting words in Mary’s mouth inviting supplicants to join her to find peace, love and everlasting life. The last sung and longest, “Quam dulcis es,” was earlier composed and is an outpouring of love for Mary.

Mobley was an ideal exponent of these. The gentle, warm quality his voice gave to the words, and the exquisite timbre, knowledge and complete ease in encompassing the style, melismas, and baroque ornamentation conveyed their meaning. The strength of his middle and lower countertenor range is unusual. He never needed to revert to tenor on those lower notes, so that the whole range remained smooth.

The instrumental works could easily be sung, if there were words to them. Leonarda used much the same style as in the motets, with instrumental recitatives included in the different sections. Seattle is no stranger to top quality baroque instrument playing and these four players, not until now familiar to Seattleites, will be welcome whenever they appear, particularly if they bring such unusual programs as this.

Lebedinsky is also the mover and shaker behind the new Early Music Underground here, which aims to bring early music back to informal concerts in more casual venues like bars or house concerts, with refreshments—a bit like what Simple Measures does with a more modern repertoire. Their next performance is September 27 at Mercer Island’s Emmanuel Episcopal Church, with “Song of Songs,” music of J.C Bach and others, at which Mobley will be singing.

Cover Me: Local Acts Give Their Influences Some Love

Kris Orlowski and keyboardist Torry Anderson take on Gershwin with The Gershwin Sessions. (photo: Tony Kay)
Kris Orlowski and keyboardist Torry Anderson take on Gershwin with The Gershwin Sessions. (photo: Tony Kay)

It’s fun to hear bands do the odd cover song, but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for full-on cover records. Not creative dead-ends like Rod Stewart’s wheezy-Muppet takes on American standards, mind you, but minor classics like David Bowie’s Pin-Ups and the Dirtbombs’ Ultraglide in Black. The best all-covers records don’t just serve as sonic love letters to influences: They often give artists a chance to relax, cut loose, and experiment. It’s good news for my fetish, then, that two local acts have crafted recent cover records of their own, and that both efforts are definitely worth checking out.

I’ve long been fond of the work of singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, whose warm and smoky voice has always added texture to his brand of folk-tinged pop. There’s an unassuming good nature about Orlowski, so the fact that he’s just finished up The Gershwin Sessions Volume One feels less like pretentious hubris and more like good old-fashioned artistic stretching.

Orlowski and his band have been moving towards a grander, more expansive sound over the last two years, and in its own easygoing way this six-song EP sees that adventurer’s spirit flowering. It’s a fair bet you’re not really gonna go wrong by covering one of the greatest pop songwriting teams in history, but Volume One frequently finds Orlowski’s ingratiating earnestness ascending to incandescence. He and his band hit it right out of the gate with the opening track, a terrific rendition of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” sporting a James Bond movie-worthy swirl of strings and quasi-surf guitar driven along with an assertive stomp of a drum part. It’s one of those alchemistic covers that puts its distinctive stamp on an old chestnut without short-changing the original’s appeal.

Interesting touches pepper the production throughout Volume One. “Nice Work If You Can Get It” sounds almost prettily psychedelic as it starts out with Orlowski crooning sweetly over a gently-strummed electric guitar, until his voice reverbs into some lovely string orchestration. The stark piano and fuss-free drumming that join Orlowski’s voice at varying points of “Love Walked In” flirt with the gothic, while the quiet beauty of “Put Me to the Test” provides a ravishing companion piece to Orlowski’s recordings with the Passenger String Quartet. The biggest surprise overall turns out to be Orlowski’s singing, which is higher and more playful than in the past without sacrificing his engaging trademark rasp.

Singer/guitarist Tom Dyer doesn’t reach back into the American Songbook quite as far for the source material fueling History of Northwest Rock Vol. 1, his recording with loose-knit hired guns New Pagan Gods. Dyer, a 35-year local rock stalwart and head cheese at local indie label Green Monkey Records, dips into the well of first-wave Northwest rock and roll. The result is the joyous audio equivalent of the best sloppy-drunk sweaty house party you ever crashed.

Like any good band rocking a house party, Dyer and his bandmates play with grittily fun-loving chemistry, and that’s what makes this ragged little record sing. Lead guitarist Scott Sutherland contributes a versatile palate of six-string tones (spiky surf notes, flanged-out gothic brushstrokes, face-kicking punk power chords) unified only by their fuzzy roughness, while Dyer’s rough and ready voice booms over songs by The Sonics, The Wailers, The Ventures, and more. The rock numbers rock hard, and Stranger Genius Award winner Steve Fisk mans the production board with scrappy efficiency, doubtless with a beer in his hand and a smile on his face.

Some of Sutherland’s nasty solos sound like a dirty hand smearing mud on your face (in a good way), and Scott Vanderpool bashes at the drums with punk directness throughout, but the go-for-broke spontaneity thrumming through Vol. 1 results in some surprising side-journeys, too. Some of those detours, like a slightly faster funk-flavored “Louie Louie,” don’t quite work. But when Dyer and New Pagan Gods transform the fragile Fleetwoods ballad “Come Softly to Me” into a swooning hard rock shuffle guided by Dyer’s best wounded-thug voice, it’s proof positive that tipping sacred cows can be done with love.

The Gershwin Sessions Volume One drops on October 2; History of Northwest Rock Vol. 1 is available online and in stores now.

Kevin Ahfat Wins 2015 Seattle Symphony Piano Competition

This week has seen another of the Seattle Symphony’s new ventures under music director Ludovic Morlot, this one intended to encourage young pianists to study in depth and show their skills in French and American music, particularly works less often heard on the concert stage. The Seattle Symphony Piano Competition also filled the need to draw interested audiences in to hear competitors and to introduce them to music they might not otherwise feel compelled to come and hear.

Out of several dozen applicants, nine were chosen for the semi-finals last week. One dropped out a while back and one last weekend, so there were seven on Tuesday, the opening recital round.

Each played a Ravel piece, a work expressly commissioned for the competition by Portland composer Kenji Bunch, and a personally chosen piece. Out of these players, the jury chose five to return for the first concerto round Wednesday. Each had to prepare a French and an American concerto and perform with an accompanist in a piano reduction of the orchestral score. (Christina Siemens and Li-Tan Hsu gave remarkable performances of the orchestra reductions, each playing the same work with different competitors and their differing interpretations.) The contestants could choose which concerto to play in its entirety and the jury then directed them to play one or two movements of the other.

All in their early 20s, the three chosen for the final–Kevin Ahfat from Toronto, Kenny Broberg from Minneapolis, and Vijay Venkatesh from Laguna Niguel, California–performed their chosen concerto with the Seattle Symphony in Benaroya Hall Friday night, after which the winners were announced as well as an audience favorite.

The whole procedure has been absorbing to watch and hear, and the caliber of the players very high, with the players’ interpretations of the jazz-inspired Bunch work, Premonitions, fascinating in their variety. For this listener, it was Broberg who best found coherence in the work and seemed to comprehend it from the inside.

Venkatesh opened the concert Friday with Saint-Saens’ Concerto No. 2, in a performance with the orchestra which demonstrated profound musicianship as well as an unobtrusive technique which emphasized the atmosphere of the work. There was never a careless note in his performance, every detail shaped with thought for its place in the work and judicious use of pedal so that clarity came through in beautiful legato passages, full of tenderness and lucidity. At the same time the last movement felt light and easy despite lightning speed. This listener wouldn’t hesitate to go and hear him again, thanks to this moving, insightful performance.

Next came Ahfat with Samuel Barber’s Concerto, Op. 38, less frequently heard perhaps because it is less instantly appealing at first hearing, and technically tricky, though it needs less nuance in its presentation than the Saint-Saens. Ahfat seemed totally comfortable with it, sailing through the ferocious speed and thunderous notes of the first and third movement, and creating fine phrasing for the slower more contemplative second. His playing approach was decisive, appropriate for the work, though there seemed a few muddy moments.

Last came Broberg in Gershwin’s Concerto in F, always a work instantly pleasing to the audience with its sense of fun which Broberg displayed with ease. This is more a concerto for orchestra with piano than a true piano concerto, thanks to the chances given for orchestra soloists to shine also, including principal trumpet, flute and violin. There were times where he didn’t quite seem to feel the connections, the flow between sections where his entry felt a bit jarring, but overall it was clear he has a real flair for the jazzy side American music.

Morlot, conducting the orchestra, stayed closely with all the young soloists, seeming to watch over them to give them the best support he and the orchestra could.

He was on the jury, as was principal cellist Efe Baltacigil. It is surely unusual for jury members to be playing or conducting in a competition final and it must have given them both a chance to see from the inside how these pianists could work with orchestra. The other jury members included Simon Woods, president and CEO of the SSO, Samantha Pollack of Washington (D.C.) Performing Arts, Monica J. Felkel of Young Concert Artists, James Egelhofer of First Chair Promotion and the jury chair, pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet who will also be artist–in-residence at the SSO this season.

Woods announced the jury’s choice of winners after Friday’s performance. First prize, which includes a concert with the SSO this season and a cameo appearance at the SSO’s Opening Gala tonight (Saturday), went to Ahfat, with Broberg and Venkatesh tied for second. All three receive a financial prize and career help. Broberg, with the Gershwin, won the audience prize.

All in all, an exciting week.

Kelsey’s Five Favorite Bumbershoot 2015 Moments

1_Ellie Goulding
2_Kris Orlowski
3_Hey Marseilles
4_Robert Delong

British babe Ellie Goulding wore Moschino and ended a beautiful Monday evening.

Local singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski moments before he passed matching mustaches into the crowd.

Local singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski moments before he passed matching mustaches into the crowd.

Matt Bishop of Hey Marseilles played songs off their upcoming album.

Robert DeLong hired face painters to decorate the crowd.

23-year-old Hozier smiled all the way through his packed set.

1_Ellie Goulding thumbnail
2_Kris Orlowski thumbnail
3_Hey Marseilles thumbnail
4_Robert Delong thumbnail
5_Hozier thumbnail