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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 12
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Insightful It Follows an elegantly disquieting terror
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

IT FOLLOWS
Now playing


Jay Height (Maika Monroe) thinks she's in love. The 19-year-old college freshman has met someone, Hugh (Jake Weary), and the young woman is starting to wonder if he's the one. So much so she doesn't think twice before laying down with him in the backseat of his car, bubbling over in contented satisfaction, daydreaming what their life together might look like after their canoodling has come to a climax.

Hugh, however, has a secret. He's not who he says he is. He's been running from something, a fantastical force that's been following him, slowly, methodically, step-by-step, without stopping, ever since he slept with a random woman sometime back during a one night stand. To get rid of it he must pass it on to someone else, sleep with them so this demonic presence will stop chasing him and turn their eye in their direction. That someone is Jay, and now it is her turn to be followed.

There is little flashy about It Follows, writer/director David Robert Mitchell's magnificent follow-up to his award-winning The Myth of the American Sleepover. It moves at the same measured, self-assured, deliberately unsettling pace as the evil force stalking Jay, achieving a chilling intimacy that sent shivers down my spine and shockwaves through my soul. Powerfully astute, deceivingly complex, this is one of the better horror yarns I've seen in ages, and without question Mitchell's latest is almost assured to be regarded as one of 2015's best come the end of the year.

The director sets the mood and the tone right from the start, showing a young woman piercingly staring piercingly into the distance at some unimaginable terror no one else can see let alone would believe exists. Mike Gioulakis's (John Dies at the End) camera deftly surveys things, moving in ever more purposeful circles as it allows what's happening to develop with sinister melancholy. Things culminate on a beach, a body crumpled to the point of dismemberment, a look of introspective dread still plastered upon a mournful, distraught face.

But this is only a precursor. Recalling the best of John Carpenter, Brian De Palma and David Cronenberg, this is a mournful journey into the unknown revolving around a pure yet still not-so-innocent flower who slowly but surely is compelled to give up the best of what she believes herself to be in order to chart a course towards survival. It is an examination of the choices we make as youngsters and the impact they end up having on the remainder of our lives, making the film both a complex dissertation on growing up as well as a sneakily compelling ghost story.

Monroe, her star on the rise for some time now, but most notably for her mesmerizing turn in Simon Barrett and Adam Wingard's The Guest, gives a performance for the ages. Her joy in meeting Hugh is playful, childlike. Her exultation after their coupling filled with warmth and wonder. Her growing panic as to what is happening, the way she evolves, transforms into something close to an entirely new person, all of it is genuine, a sad, lonely little tear during one quiet reflective moment speaking volumes as to what has happened as well as what is still to come.

Mitchell doesn't let his star down. He surrounds her with a plethora of young talent, most of whom aren't known by name, but whose faces are decidedly familiar. Keir Gilchrist, Lili Sepe and Olivia Luccardi portray Jay's core group of friends and family, while Daniel Zovatto is the all-too-sexy boy next door who throws himself into the middle of the proceedings for reasons decidedly his own. Much like The Myth of the American Sleepover, the interactions between these youngsters is frank, amusingly authentic, thus when things spiral into chaos the overall effect is distressingly mind-blowing in its emotional forcefulness.

Comparisons to films as diverse as Halloween, The Grudge, Rosemary's Baby, Ringu, Body Double and The Shining are probably inevitable, and without question Mitchell had to have been inspired by the directors I've already mentioned, as well as by a whole slew of additional ones whose identities are probably obvious to most genre fanatics. But his film is more than just a deft homage; it's also its own uniquely captivating animal, telling a story that's as dexterous and disquieting as it is simple and straightforward.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the score. Composed by Rich Vreeland (a.k.a. Disasterpeace), this is an ambient throwback that feels like the second cousin to Carpenter's music for Halloween and Escape from New York combined with the unearthly undulations of Louis and Bebe Barron's 'electronic tonalities' composed for Forbidden Planet. The whole film feeds off this music, thrives on it, each composition, change of tone and audio thwack! augmenting what's happening on the screen to perfection.

There's plenty more, but this is one of those times where it's better to let the picture speak for itself without much more in the way of embellishment from me. A stunning piece of cinema, It Follows is a darkly bleak sojourn into adulthood that's more than just your run-of-the-mill genre entry, Mitchell crafting a modern American masterpiece of disaffected youth dealing with the repercussions of their revolt that will undoubtedly stand the test of time.


Disturbingly breathtaking Tales a wild ride
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WILD TALES
Now playing


A group of individuals, including a beautiful woman (María Marull), a talkative busybody (Dario Grandinetti) and a learned professor (Mónica Villa), find themselves on a plane filled with strangers all of whom have far more in common than they initially know. A lovely waitress (Rita Cortese) comes face-to-face with the mobster (Julieta Zylberberg) who helped ruin her life even though he doesn't know he's responsible. Two men (Leonardo Sbaraglia, Walter Donado) meet on a desolate highway and let their anger get the better of them. A demolition expert (Ricardo Darin) takes issue with a parking ticket and the subsequent towing of his car. An influential businessman (Oscar Martínez) colludes with a shady lawyer (Osmar Núñez) to keep his son out of prison only to discover doing so might be more trouble than it's worth. On her wedding day, a newlywed wife (Érica Rivas) discovers her new husband (Diego Gentile) has been keeping secrets that jeopardize their chances of future happiness together.

These are the six tales showcased in writer/director Damián Szifron's gleefully energetic, dazzlingly anarchic Argentinian anthology Wild Tales. A Best Foreign Language Film Oscar nominee, this deliriously entertaining, confidently composed satire of cultural, gender and class politics and mores is astonishing, deftly moving from one story to the next with freewheeling enthusiasm. While each segment is unconnected from those surrounding it, they all manage to convey common themes eviscerating the status quo, showing while catharsis and vengeance can go hand-in-hand, the price extracted for revenge is almost always worse than the cost of turning the other cheek.

Think of the film like a ribald, no-holds-barred homage to the anachronistic works of Pedro Almodóvar (who produces), Quentin Tarantino and the Roger Corman-directed, Vincent Price-starring Edgar Allan Poe-based anthology films of the 1960s. It's a lovingly nasty bit of mockery, unafraid to shed blood or blow things up while just as equally willing to dive into the heart of melodramatically emotional excess. Szifron is in control every step of the way, nothing happening that he doesn't intend, each little vignette resonating with the impact of a Road Runner cartoon crossed with a Mad Magazine parody infused with the intelligence and insight of a Paddy Chayefsky satire.

All six shorts border on genius, but, for me at least, three stand clearly above the rest. Exhibit A is the opening pre-credits segment featuring a planeload of passengers who end up knowing more about one another than they initially realize. It starts with a cute, borderline saccharine buoyancy, initially tricking one into thinking they're about to see some dimwitted, if still pleasingly clever, romantic trifle and not a coal black comedy of revenge and liberation. But then things explode into chaos, spinning on a dime in ways that are impossible to see coming, building to a climactic moment that catapulted me to the edge of my seat in rapt, dumbfounded jubilation.

I also loved the road rage evisceration, otherwise known as part three of this sextet, the two warring parties careening far out of control yet doing so in a way that still feels oddly believable and unforced no matter how far out on a very extreme ledge things ultimately end up on. But the belle of the ball is the climactic chapter entitled To Death Do Us Part, and the less you know about this particular wedding party before watching the better. Safe to say, even knowing what's happened in the previous five shorts, nothing prepared me for where this was headed, all of it anchored by a performance from the devastatingly beautiful Rivas that is as magnetic as it is complex.

It's safe to say 2014 was a terrific year for foreign language imports. Of the five films that battled it out for Oscar glory, the four I saw - this, Russia's Leviathan, Mauritania's Timbuktu and Poland's Ida (which won) - all were magnificent, each arguably deserving of the Academy Award. Without a doubt, Wild Tales was the most bizarre, the least typical of the group, riding along in its own idiosyncratic way and not caring a bit if some viewers were put off by that fact. Make no mistake, however, this cements Szifron as a major directorial talent, his anthology epic a beautifully disturbing calling card sure to be debated and discussed for years to come.


Visually stunning Insurgent still a silly sequel
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE DIVERGENT
SERIES: INSURGENT
Now playing


After believing they'd exposed the flaws in the faction system and revealed the duplicitous Jeanine (Kate Winslet) as a power-mad despot in the making, former Dauntless members Tris (Shailene Woodley) and her boyfriend Four (Theo James) find themselves and their closest allies on the run. Somehow the Erudite leader has managed to convince most of the remaining factions - Amity, Candor and the few surviving members of Abnegation - that they, not her, were responsible for the massacre of that latter group three days prior, initiating a city-wide hunt in hopes of seeing them under her thumb.

Why? It turns out Tris' late mother Natalie (Ashley Judd) was hiding something from her, a box containing an all-important message from the Founders that only a Divergent, someone who possesses the abilities of all five factions but is beholden to none of them, can open. This teen, this insurrectionist who ripped power out of her hands (if only for what appears to be a brief moment), she is the key to opening the box and making Jeanine's plans come to fruition, a delicious irony not lost on the genocidal madwoman one iota.

If any of that synopsis for The Divergent Series: Insurgent made sense to you, then congratulations, you're either a fan of Veronica Roth's popular series of dystopian books, you saw last March's minor box office hit Divergent or have had things explained to you so many times - likely ad nauseum - by someone who is a fan so many times your head is about to explode trying to keep track of all the ins and outs of this overly elaborate mythology. The basics? Tris is the hero. Four is the courageous boyfriend hiding secrets. Jeanine is the evildoer who is afraid of things outside her control and/or her understanding. Other than that, there's really not all that much more you need to worry about, for as convoluted as things appear, this is still pretty basic stuff when you get right down to it.

As for this sequel itself, it's safe to say director Robert Schwentke (Red), taking over the reins from the departed Neil Burger (who does stay on as executive producer), isn't particularly concerned with taking any of this too seriously. It's as if he gets just how inherently dumb all of this is, and as such puts more emphasis on thrills, chills and visual razzle-dazzle than he does anything substantive. He also keeps things relatively quick of pace, the film running just under two hours, making it all surprisingly easy to sit through.

Do not misinterpret what I'm saying. While this sequel isn't a disaster, while it's far from horrible, that doesn't make it a success. As silly and as stupid as the first chapter in The Divergent Series was, this middle effort is even more trifling, everything building to a conclusion that's so unintentionally hysterical it almost feels like a bad joke. It's as if Roth watched a few of The Village filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan's lesser efforts and decided to take their idiotic twists and imbecilic turns as gospel, penning an entirely trilogy of novels inspired by their most farfetched lunacies.

More than that, Jeanine's plan is so obviously evil it's head-scratching that the other faction leaders are so willing to take what she tells them at face value. It's like they don't want to believe their own eyes, are perfectly content to let her goons run amok around the city gunning down whoever they want. On top of that, the plot twists involving Four and his long-forgotten mother Evelyn (a clearly slumming Naomi Watts) are asinine, their relationship building to a not-remotely-shocking-shocker of a conclusion that only exists to set up events to come in the trilogy's final installment Allegiant (the film version to - surprise, surprise - be split into two parts).

But none of that compares to how the narrative treats Tris. While Woodley is a terrific actress, it's clear she's having at least a small bit of trouble keeping track of her character's ever-shifting mood swings and emotional states. Her reasons for doing things aren't always clear, and why she suddenly feels the need to go back for additional helpings of Jeanine's little black box just as the city is erupting in revolutionary fervor is beyond me. Woodley tries her best, delivers the emotional bang a couple of times, especially during a couple of the film's more impressively staged set pieces, but overall she struggles to make the young woman relatable or three-dimensional, and as such, caring about either her or how her relationship with Four is going to turn out is more or less a waste of time.

Still, Schwentke does come up with some impressive sequences filled with kinetic visual wonders I was impressed by, not the least of which being Tris' continued virtual reality descents into Jeanine's enigmatic box where she faces a quintet of tests each designed to represent one of the city's five factions. There is an inherent intensity coupled with a healthy dose of adrenaline fueling these tumbles into mystery and mayhem, giving these scenes a mesmeric quality the remainder of the sequel sadly lacks.

Much like its predecessor, it's hard for me to rustle up anything akin to hate for Insurgent. It's reasonably well made, and Schwentke does do a fine job of not taking the material seriously, attempting to play up the more inherently action-packed elements of the narrative whenever he can. But Roth's source material is as dumb as it's ever been, and while I appreciate that the filmmakers don't end things in a blatant cliffhanger, that doesn't make me any more excited to watch what happens next.


Tonally incoherent Gunman a star-studded misfire
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE GUNMAN
Now playing


Jim Terrier (Sean Penn) is a mercenary working for a humanitarian concern in the Congo. He's in love with aid worker Annie (Jasmine Trinca), the beautiful doctor stealing his heart and making him realize there's more to the world than bloodshed, violence and death. But things are hardly what they seem, and when Jim's real reason for being in the African nation is revealed, he's forced to leave, unable to let his beloved know what has happened, let alone say goodbye.

Fast-forward eight years. No longer a hired gun, Jim is back in the Congo attempting to put past demons to rest, helping build wells and set up health care clinics in the country's poorest neighborhoods. Thinking his violent days are behind him, three men show up at his latest work site with orders to put the former mercenary in the ground, their reasons for doing so tied to what happened almost a decade past. Determined to find out who wants him dead and why, Jim is thrust back into action, uncovering a global conspiracy that threatens, not only his own life, but also that of the woman he loved and lost not so long ago.

For all its Taken meets The Bourne Identity meets The Constant Gardener machismo, the action-thriller The Gunman is nowhere near as convoluted or as complicated as it sets itself up to be. Based on the novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette, sporting a script co-written by Don MacPherson (Absolute Beginners), Pete Travis (Dredd) and Penn himself (who also produces), the film is a relatively straightforward bit of corporate skullduggery, the reasons Jim is in trouble having more to do with profit margins and stock prices than they do even slightly anything else.

Be that as it may, the film is frustratingly uneven, so tonally unbalanced it's hard to figure out what it is exactly Penn and his director Pierre Morel (District B13, Taken) are going for. If they are attempting to shine a light on the situation in the Congo and other African nations, the surrounding elements concerning Jim and his plans to extricate himself from his situation are too silly and melodramatic for the viewer to take said attempts seriously. On the other hand, if they were just setting out to craft a simple, B-grade international thriller then the fact they've stuffed things with so much social commentary makes giving into the pyrotechnics and fisticuffs exceedingly tough. The film is so all over the map maintaining interest in the outcome becomes increasingly difficult as events escalate, the disjointed and haphazard state of the narrative a gigantic stumbling block impossible for the filmmakers to overcome.

It doesn't help that every single actor comes across as if they're appearing in a different motion picture than their costars. Worse, they're all giving good performances, just not ones that fit in the same world as any of the other actors. Penn is all business, so deathly serious you feel like the fate of the world is riding on his ability to constantly hit the target. Ray Winstone pops up as Jim's most trusted friend, a rolling boilerplate of British sarcasm and wit who is quick with a quip even if his advice is strictly by-the-numbers. Idris Elba is in full-on 'Luther' mode, the talented actor a charming Interpol agent who seems to be on hand only when the script runs out of options and needs someone to supply a fresh infusion of energy.

Then there is Javier Bardem. The Oscar-winner is in manic overdrive, portraying a former confidant of Jim's who not only instigated the mission that got him sent out of the Congo in the first place, but also happens to be the guy the mercenary tasked with taking care of Annie for him. He's out of control, freewheeling his way through things with uninhibited, bordering on cartoonish, abandon. Bardem is all swagger and braggadocio, everything hiding insecurities and misgivings that have led to the situation Jim now finds himself in. He's a hoot, his performance building in eccentric intensity every step of the way, his absence unavoidably felt whenever he isn't around.

Morel knows action, no argument from me on that front, and I did appreciate how every set piece is driven more by the evolution of the main character than it is anything else. But the actual dramatics fueling things, the dynamics propelling events forward, all of that is tiresome, caring about what happens to Jim and discovering whether or not he and Annie are going to make it out alive hardly worth the worry. Throw in an idiotic subplot involving PTSD and traumatic brain injuries and the narrative becomes so scattershot keeping track of all that's happening and why is an outright impossibility.

It's hard for me to dismiss The Gunman entirely. There's a nifty sequence involving a booby-trapped door, Jim's handling of it and two thugs who can't keep themselves from wanting to discover how it is he didn't manage to blow himself up, while an assault on a Spanish villa by a team of assassins is expertly staged to be sure. But the movie is too serious to work as giddy action pulp and too stupid to resonate as a ticking clock drama and as such it's nothing more than an unfortunate misfire that utterly fails to satisfy.




Jacques Brel is alive... in Seattle
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Live! From the Last Night of My Life - A conversation and preview
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The making of Lizard Boy, the musical: An interview with writer Justin Huertas
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Pacific Northwest Ballet: 'The Vertiginous Thrill of Forsythe'
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The perfect team: Conductor, Orchestra, Engineer
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OUTSpoken welcomes Billy Gilman: All grown up and taking Country Music by storm once again
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Northwest News
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Hate Crimes on Capitol Hill
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Insightful It Follows an elegantly disquieting terror
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Disturbingly breathtaking Tales a wild ride
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Visually stunning Insurgent still a silly sequel
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Tonally incoherent Gunman a star-studded misfire
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