Seattle Weekender: Joaquin Phoenix goes nuts and justice is served at Town Hall

Damien Echols, part of the West Memphis Three, wrote about his time on death row in Life After Death Credit: Penquin Group

The Master

Pervert, scoundrel, animal, drunk, lackey. Joaquin Phoenix’s character Freddie Quell in the newly released movie The Master is all of these and more. Skeptics of Phoenix’s acting ability after his Hollywood insanity stunt last year have been quieted. With Quell, Phoenix’s return to acting registers somewhere between completely effing nuts and bat shit crazy. He’s the standout in a movie wrapped in a riddle inside an enigma.

Writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson hasn’t made a movie this obscure since he made it rain frogs in Magnolia. Ostensibly based on the foundations of Scientology, The Master follows Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and his right-hand-man, Freddie Quell — master and pupil, prophet and apostle — as Dodd’s philosophical movement, 'The Cause,' catches on in America.

On first viewing, The Master is hardly comprehensible with barely an understandable storyline. As Freddie becomes more and more immersed in 'The Cause,'  Dodd's cultish philosophy becomes weirder and weider. He attempts to delve into a subject's past tragedies to restore the mind to a state of perfect. "Your fear of imprisonment is an implant from millions of years ago," he tells Quell at one point. The film rolls out one confounding scene after another, one warped ideology after another, leaving you with little more than just general brush strokes forming a plot. Although vague and mysterious, The Master is also challenging. And that's what propels in into high cinema. It’s like nothing you’ve seen in the theater this year. I assure you that.

If you go: The Master, The Guild 45th and other theaters, 2115 N. 45th, check theaters for showtimes, $8-$12.

Damien Echols reading

With three weeks to go before he was to be executed for murder, Damien Echols — thought to be the leader of the West Memphis Three — was released from prison a free but technically guilty man. Seventeen years ago, Echols, along with fellow teenagers Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, Jr, were convicted of murdering three young boys in West Memphis, Arkansas. The story spread like wildfire through the U.S. Some believed the teens were victims of a biased legal system that railroaded Echols and company because of their Metallica T-shirts and long hair. Johnny Depp and Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder were so convinced of the trio’s innocence they used their celebrity to spread a rallying cry for the trio: “Free the West Memphis Three.”

Nearly two decades later, when DNA tests finally proved their innocence, the teens were sprung from prison by a legal sleight of hand. The three boys were released on the condition they admit the prosecution had enough evidence to convict them and after entering guilty pleas. (One of the three, Jason Baldwin, moved to Seattle after the events.) Now a free man, Echols has written a memoir, Life After Death, which chronicles the abuse he suffered in hell-like living conditions and his indignation toward the justice system that put him on death row for a crime he didn’t commit. At Town Hall, Echols will speak in a conversation with KIRO radio host Luke Burbank, musician and activist Danny Bland, and attorney for The Innocence Project, Kelly Canary, about his infamous role as one of the West Memphis Three.

If you go: Damien Echols, Town Hall, 1119 8th Ave, Sept. 28, 7:30-9 p.m., $5.

Italian Festival

The Seattle Center never stops working. It hosts 5,000 events and generates about $1 billion annually. In 2012, the Center celebrates 50 years of operation with Festál, a year-long series of free events encapsulating the Center’s creed of cultural diversity. September's theme is all things Italian; specifically, this Friday, The Taste of Italy. The Taste, located at the Center House, features some 70 different Italian wines, live music by The Primo Basso Band, Italian antipasti, and crudités for palate cleansing.

On Saturday and Sunday things will get more family friendly (and cheaper) with the 25th Annual Italian Festival. Some notable Italian restaurateurs will be on hand for cooking demonstrations, including Nick Stellino of PBS's Cucina Amore. The adventurous can enter competitions like the Grape Stomp (crush the most juice from 20 pounds of grapes) and the Bocce tournament, before moving on to a show of historic Italian photos and a classic Italian car show. Kids can pet Italian dogs at the dog show (So why can't adults drive the Ferraris?), and practice their pizza dough tossing. And of course, there will be pizza, pasta, prosciutto, salami, focaccia, gelato, espresso and more.

If you go: Taste of Italy, Center House, Sept. 28, 7 p.m., $25-30: 25th Annual Italian Festival, Seattle Center, Sept. 29-30, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. (Sat), 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Sun), free.

Jeff Garlin

Although he has appeared alongside big acting names like Eddie Murphy and Jim Carrey, comedian Jeff Garlin is probably best known as Larry David’s manager on Curb your Enthusiasm. Despite his robust figure, Garlin's considerable acting chops have helped him keep a safe distance from the pathetic but lovable “heavy guy” comedian formula à la Kevin James. But those fat jokes are unavoidable, and Garlin has sometimes brought that stigma upon himself.

His 2006 movie, I Want Someone to Eat Cheese With, is about a man who deals with the turmoil in his life by stuffing his face. A touch of realism, no doubt, but more comedy than social statement. More true to life is his 2010 memoir, My Footprint: Carrying the Weight of the World, where he tracks his weight loss efforts while filming the seventh season of Curb Your Enthusiasm. As a standup comedian, Garlin’s jokes tend to gravitate toward his weight (“I understand krispy Kremes will kill me, but much slower than a bullet"); his wife’s desire for him to lose weight; and the cruelty of being on Hollywood’s virtually-unknown B-list.

If you go: Jeff Garlin, Triple Door, 216 Union St, Sept. 29, 8 p.m., $30, 17+.

Washington State University vs. University of Oregon

The Seahawks and CenturyLink Field have finally become immortal — but for all the wrong reasons. Those who once claimed that the NFL interim refs' (now replaced by the professional referees) horrific judgment would never determine the outcome of a game are now eating their words. Hawks fans still embittered about the 2006 Super Bowl reffing, however, are happy to accept last week's controversial game-ending call and move on to next week’s match with the St. Louis Rams. The NFL moves on.

This Saturday the action will continue, when the Cougs journey over from deep within the Palouse to slug it out with the number two ranked team in the nation — the Oregon Ducks. Don’t expect too many game-deciding calls here: The Ducks are expected to put up 65 points. The Cougars? They’ll be lucky to get to the end zone twice. Oregon is 4-0 and coming off a shellacking of Arizona, where Chip Kelly and the Ducks shut out the Wild Cats 49-O. The Cougars, well, they blew a 17-point lead over Colorado with just seven minutes left in the 4th quarter last week. If WSU can pull things together enough to lose modestly, it would be a huge victory and more than enough reason for alumni on this side of the Cascades to guzzle down some Busch Light.

If you watch: WSU vs. UO, ESPN 2, Sept. 29, 7:30 p.m., tickets still available on StubHub, $30-$55.

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