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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 15, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 20
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Max returns with furiously brilliant savagery
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

MAD MAX: FURY ROAD
Now playing


Max (Tom Hardy) wanders the apocalyptic wasteland alone, trying to do what he can to survive while ruminating on past failures and regrets. He is taken prisoner by the dictatorial Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), the disfigured madman lording it over a desert oasis creating a community of cutthroats and madmen while attempting to continue his bloodline using a quintet of beautiful young women as mothers for his progeny.

The trusted Imperator Furiosa (Charlize Theron) has stolen the Immortan's massive War Machine, a vehicular juggernaut used to transport water and gasoline across the desert. She has freed the Five Mothers, The Splendid Angharad (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Toast the Knowing (Zoë Kravitz), Capable (Riley Keough), The Dag (Abbey Lee) and Cheedo the Fragile (Courtney Eaton), hoping to whisk them away to freedom. But as capable as she is, as driven and as focused as this warrior might be, it soon becomes clear she cannot complete this task on her own. She's going to need help, and the only one willing to sit next to her is Max, this desperate loner who isn't above leaving those behind who cannot fend for themselves.

Mad Max: Fury Road shouldn't exist. Creator George Miller's return to the futuristic dystopian wasteland of Mad Max, The Road Warrior and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome was over 30 years in the making and included so many stops, starts, reboots and reimaginings the fact the sequel is now here is moderately flabbergasting. The reality it's this gosh darn magnificent even more so. Without a doubt, make no mistake, this is the best major studio blockbuster since The Bourne Ultimatum, probably since Avatar, maybe even since The Fugitive. It's an epic, ambitious, eye-popping spectacle of a world in constant chaos and the lengths those attempting to live within it will go to survive.

Even the cult fanatics who have watched The Road Warrior a billion times and can recite every line of dialogue from Beyond Thunderdome will not be prepared for what Miller and Fury Road have in store for them. There is no letup. There is no time to breathe. For a 120 straight minutes the film is in motion, propelling forward right from the jump, developing characters and their backstories as it goes along, trusting that the audience will be able to figure it all out without a lot in the way of handholding or expository silliness.

Not that Miller, working with co-writers Brendan McCarthy and Nick Lathouris (who was the Grease Rat in the original Mad Max), doesn't craft three-dimensional stories or tell a full-bodied, intricately layered story. Just the opposite. The difference is that he explores what is going on inside the world and who these characters are while things are in motion, allowing their actions and their decisions to define and shape them in ways nonessential bits of dialogue ever could. Everyone has their arc, all go on their journey, so when tragedy strikes or redemption is earned the overall emotional impact is staggering.

What's most interesting, and as good as Hardy is taking over the role that made Mel Gibson an international superstar way back in 1979, is that Max, for all his impact, for all his importance, is actually a secondary character. In many ways he is just here, the outsider allowing us an insight into this part of the world teetering out of control, along for a ride he hasn't the first clue where it will take him or what it will demand to survive. He is a steely, almost monolithic presence, a masculine bit of iron alongside which those looking for strength can latch on to in hopes of finding comfort and the inspiration to carry on.

No, the real star is Furiosa and Theron's jaw-dropping, absolute, all-encompassing immersion inside of her. She is the heart and the soul of the film, the true engine keeping things headed towards an unknowable destination. This is a warrior who has regret lurking within, hoping that by freeing the Five Mothers and leading them to safety she can find, not solace, but redemption. This is as complex a character - female or male - that has inhabited a big studio blockbuster in what feels like decades, the closest comparison I can make being Sigourney Weaver's Oscar-nominated work in Aliens.

Then there is the look and feel of the film itself. Veteran John Seale's (The English Patient, Witness) camerawork is a sea of light, shadow and color, the oppressive detail inhabiting the golds of the deserts, the blues of the sky and the greens of the scant few plants struggling to exist leaping off the screen. Jenny Beavan's (The King's Speech) costumes tell tales in and of themselves, while the film's overarching makeup design is an undeniable triumph. The score by Tom Holkenborg a.k.a. Junkie XL, is an immersive sonic landscape, the compulsive, almost assaultive rhythms becoming an essential ingredient as things move towards their climax.

Miller, working in tandem with editor Margaret Sixel (Babe: Pig in the City), is in absolute control of every moment, every frame, nothing happening that he does not intend. While none of this could have been created outside of the modern digital age, the fact the majority of what we see is practical, that the director is throwing vehicles around like iron-spiked bowling balls much as he did the first time around in 1979, is undeniably extraordinary. On top of that, the filmmaker's sheer cinematic acumen is astounding, and it's hard not to get the feeling that silent era greats like Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd wouldn't look upon what Miller has accomplished and cheer.

I honestly don't know what general audiences will make of Mad Max: Fury Road. I do know that, if they choose to buy a ticket, they undoubtedly will not see anything else like it in all of 2015. Not so much a sequel as a reigniting of a franchise that's been sitting in neutral since 1985, at 70 years young Miller again has announced himself as one of the gutsiest, most aggressively innovative directors of, not just his generation, but quite possibly of all time, creating an adrenalized masterpiece in the process.


Anti-war polemic Tangerines a spellbinding treat
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

TANGERINES
Now playing


As the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazian continues to escalate, many in Ivo's (Lembit Ulfsak) close-knit Estonian community have chosen to flee instead of staying to see the violence get worse. But his and his friend Margus' (Elmo Nüganen) crop of tangerines are ripe and ready for picking so he decides to stay to see the job of harvesting them completed, hoping he can work in quiet as war begins to rage around him. Things get complicated when a pair of soldiers, Chechen Ahmed (Giorgi Nakashidze) and Georgian Niko (Misha Meskhi), appear upon his porch at death's door. He must help them but, in doing so, he threatens bringing the war inside his home, their distrust and disgust for one another potentially trumping the gentle tranquility of Ivo's tangerine harvest.

The Estonian import Tangerines, a Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award nominee, is a spellbinding treat, a delectable antiwar polemic of understanding and forgiveness that breaks the heart just as it uplifts the soul. Featuring a stupendous central performance from legendary character actor Ulfsak, writer/director Zaza Urushadze's pacifist melodrama might wear its intentions on its sleeve yet that doesn't make its central message any less powerful. Subtle, intimate and emotionally authentic, this is one motion picture deserving of just about every award and bit of praise thrown its way over the past year.

None of this is meant as hyperbole. Urushadze's scenario might not be full of any surprises - not a one - but that somehow doesn't make it any less impactful. In Ivo he crafts a strikingly delicate, miraculously nuanced central character easy to get behind and root for, his decisions making perfect sense even if one's initial instincts might be almost entirely opposite of the one's he is working by. His reasons for staying are heartfelt, deeply personal, while his decision to care for both wounded soldiers, even though they're on opposite sides of the conflict, are intimately multifaceted.

It helps considerably that, in Ulfsak, he has a star who is completely unafraid to wear his thoughts, opinions and his heart on his sleeve, the actor delivering a strikingly complex performance that's marvelous. His initial reactions to both Ahmed and Niko's appearances are sublime, while his early interactions with Margus crackle with friendly sincerity. While not familiar with him myself, it's immediately clear why Ulfsak is considered an Estonian treasure, his performance coming remarkably close to perfection.

Visually, there's not a lot to talk about, Urushadze content to let his camera observe free from any additional flourishes on his or cinematographer Rein Kotov's parts. And, again, the point of all this is never in doubt, the filmmaker's comments on war and friendship decidedly obvious. As antiwar treatises go this one doesn't offer up anything new, things coming to a close exactly as anticipated back when the film first begins. Yet Tangerines works, oftentimes spectacularly, watching it an ebullient joy start to finish.


Pitch Perfect 2 sings a happy tune
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

PITCH PERFECT 2
Now playing


The general rule is that comedy sequels rarely, if ever, work. Ghostbuster 2? Terrible. The Hangover Part II and The Hangover Part III? Both close to unwatchable. Grown Ups 2? Even worse than its predecessor - which is saying something, considering the first was fairly terrible in and of itself. The Nutty Professor 2: The Klumps? Irredeemable in every single way. Caddyshack 2? The less said about that all-time disaster the better. What's more, this list isn't even the tip of the iceberg, the sheer volume of putrid cinematic tedium filling the comedy sequel Hall of Shame mortifying in its enormity.

It is into these waters, then, that Pitch Perfect 2 fearlessly wades, confident in its certainty that it will not fall to the same frustratingly disappointing, borderline infuriating fate of so many of its genre predecessors. Directed by producer Elizabeth Banks (who also returns as a quippy a cappella play-by-play announcer), with another assertive and self-assured screenplay by Kay Cannon, this is a rare sequel that is more than content to be what it is and not try to overreach. The filmmakers understand what made the 2012 surprise hit first film work, realize that they are not trying to reinvent the wheel, and as such they've crafted a second narrative for the Barden Bellas that's actually a heck of a lot of fun.

Not that there are no speed bumps along the way. Rebel Wilson was the last effort's breakout star, that goes without saying, but that doesn't mean her 'Fat' Amy should become such a focal point for the madness and mayhem this time around. The sequel puts her front and center far too often, and while the actress is still an undeniable screen-stealing talent, as far as this character is concerned less is most definitely more. If anything, I found myself shrugging and squirming in my seat every time she took the spotlight, and while some of her bits do produce chuckles, the majority left me decidedly cold.

There's also a rather ho-hum dynamic running through one of the film's subplots involving Anna Kendrick's wannabe music producer Beca, her reticence to reveal to her fellow Bellas that she's gotten a plum internship at a local record label (they're producing a Christmas album for Snoop Dogg) not exactly overflowing with drama. While there are laughs and giggles infused within these bits, how they relate back to the Barden singers and their close-knit sisterhood is tenuous at best, pointless at worst, everything building to a throwaway climax that, while honest, isn't exactly worth all the effort it took to get there.

But the basic plot itself? The reason this sequel purports to exist? On that front Banks and Cannon do both themselves as well as their gaggle of talented actresses proud. Yes, all of this climaxes at another competition (this time a World Championship event against the best a cappella groups from around the world). Yes, everything that transpires is ignited by an unfortunate on-stage calamity that stops the Bellas embarrassingly cold (Fat Amy splits her pants - sans underwear - in a special Kennedy Center performance in front of the President and the First Lady on the former's birthday). Be that as it may, the film knows these characters and their world with emphatic clarity, the Bellas path to redemption, as obvious as it might be, an awfully difficult one to resist.

Hailee Steinfeld makes for a wonderful, spunkily energetic addition to the cast (she's Emily, an excitable newcomer with a knack for writing her own original songs), while a detour shepherded by an almost unrecognizable David Cross into the world of underground a cappella fighting is gloriously hysterical. The main foils standing in the Bellas' way this time around is a German group calling themselves 'Das Sound Machine' and they are a total hoot right from the start, their staging of a certain Muse anthem magnificent in its melodious insanity.

I can't say Pitch Perfect 2 hits all the right notes, and it certainly isn't the out-in-left-field treat its predecessor proved to be. At the same time, Banks and her talented group of actors and fellow filmmakers have done a nice job, composing a solid, fitfully funny operetta that's far more of a treat than comedy sequels more often than not have proven themselves to be. It's an entertaining lark, the tune I was humming as I exited the theater an undeniably pleasant one.


2015 Summer Preview - May & June
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

Technically, the Summer Movie Season began two weeks ago with the release of Marvel's massive Avengers: Age of Ultron on May 1. But that sequel was always preordained to be a gigantic hit, its path to worldwide box office domination set in stone the very moment its predecessor, 2012's The Avengers, came to an end. It also meant that last week's offering, the Reese Witherspoon/Sofía Vergara biddy comedy-action hybrid Hot Pursuit, was equally destined to underwhelm no matter what its actual qualities (of which it had only a precious few), making the talking about it a relative waste of time.

For a variety of reasons, this third Friday of May finally seems to be the appropriate time to talk about what Hollywood has in store for the first two months of the Summer. Not only do we see the 30 years in coming Mad Max: Fury Road, there's also fellow sequel Pitch Perfect 2, the a cappella musical comedy generating a ton of excitement ready to enjoy another concert by Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson and the rest of the Barden Bellas. Most importantly, with yesterday's gala screening of director Paul Fieg's star-studded comedy Spy, this year's Seattle International Film Festival has begun its annual 25-day assault on local theaters, over 400 features, documentaries and shorts scheduled to play at some point between now and June 7.

But what else does Hollywood have up its sleeve for May and June? Let's just say Max Rockatansky's return isn't the only comeback relying about fans fond remembrances of cinema decades past. Next week sees a new Poltergeist, while early June offers up a return to Michael Crichton and Steven Spielberg's dinosaur theme park playground with the release of Jurassic World. Other sequels include horror trilogy capper Insidious Chapter 3 and ribald talking stuffed animal comedy Ted 2, while Warner Bros raids HBO's television vaults in order to unleash a big screen continuation of Entourage.

There are some notable original properties, not the least of which is director Brad Bird's ambitious, shrouded in mystery Tomorrowland, while Pixar impresario Pete Docter animates arguably his most outlandish family-friendly fable yet, Inside Out taking place almost entirely inside the mind of an adolescent girl. There's also a pair of breakout favorites from the Sundance Film Festival, both Me, Earl and the Dying Girl and Dope generating the kind of buzz usually only associated with Oscar frontrunners, while one-time wunderkind (and Seattle legend) Cameron Crowe makes his return to the multiplex with the quirky drama-comedy-romance Aloha starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams and Alec Baldwin.

The following is a short list of some of the films scheduled to hit Seattle screens throughout the remainder of May and all of June. As always, release dates are subject to change, so check with the venue before heading out to the theater.

May 14 - June 7
The 41st Annual Seattle International Film Festival

May 15
Animals, Heaven Adores You, Mad Max: Fury Road, Pitch Perfect 2

May 22
About Elly, Good Kill, In the Name of My Daughter, Poltergeist, Réalité, The Sacrifice (1986), Tomorrowland

May 29
Aloha, Gemma Bovery, Heaven Knows What, I'll See You In My Dreams, San Andreas, Set Fire to the Stars

June 3
Entourage

June 5
The Connection, Insidious Chapter 3, The Kidnapping of Michel Houellebecq, La Sapienza, Love and Mercy, Spy

June 12
Jurassic World, The Wolfpack

June 19
Dope, Inside Out, Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, Manglehorn

June 26
Big Game, A Little Chaos, The Little Death, Max, The Outskirts, The Overnight, Ted 2




2015 Seattle International Film Festival
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: An interview with Tab Hunter

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Neil Diamond rolls out the hits at Key Arena
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Centerstage presents For All That - A Major New Musical
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Pacific MusicWorks and UW School of Music's expertly performed Magic Flute undermined by sardonic new 'text-adaptation'
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Wynonna unleashes her inner rock girl at Snoqualmie Casino
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Margaret Cho to stalk Seattle in October with 'The psyCHO Tour'
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Gertrude Stein and Pablo Picasso meet onstage in MOR opera premiere
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Efforts to pass SB 5870 to ban conversion therapy in Washington state fail
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Max returns with furiously brilliant savagery
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Anti-war polemic Tangerines a spellbinding treat
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Pitch Perfect 2 sings a happy tune
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2015 Summer Preview - May & June
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