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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 22, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 21
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Imaginative Tomorrowland reawakens the inner child
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

TOMORROWLAND
Now playing


The line between corny, kitsch and inspirational is a thin one. It's very easy for the latter to transform into either of the former, sometimes both at once, lapsing into frustrating melodramatic excess at the drop of a hat. There's a reason the term 'Capra-corn' came into being, after all, as by and large It's a Wonderful Life, Meet John Doe, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and It Happened One Night director Frank Capra was one of the few that could walk that line and do it with an expert form of precision that made him a legend.

In the same breath, what's inspiring and fuels the imagination for a youngster on the verge of entering their teenage years, thinking of those between 10 and 12, is entirely different than it is for adults, especially film critics. We're conditioned to be rather cynical, narratives revolving almost entirely around the power of positive thinking and traversing in hope above all else not ones that typically float our collective boats. But when we were kids? When we were young? Could we honestly say the same? My guess would be that, for the majority, that answer would undoubtedly be no.

For my part, as a kid I thrilled to Flight of the Navigator, adored The Last Unicorn. I will loudly proclaim the virtues of Ridley Scott's Legend even though many will talk about it as if it were the director's biggest failure. While the greatness of fantasy endeavors like Excalibur, Dragonslayer, The Secret of NIMH and even Ladyhawke are rarely in dispute, I'll happily cheer for the likes of Flash Gordon, The Last Starfighter and even Krull on any given day, all of them engaging my intellect and fueling my imagination in ways I continue to hold dear all these years later.

While all of the above might initially appear superfluous as far as my reaction to Brad Bird's Tomorrowland is concerned, trust me when I say it is not. Co-written with Prometheus and World War Z scribe Damon Lindelof, working from a story the two came up with alongside Jeff Jensen, even with a sprawling, wide-ranging life and death scenario featuring a world on the brink of destruction, what this 130-minute opus ends up being all about is hardly surprising. In the end it is nothing more than a story of hope and love conquering all things evil and nefarious, the power of positive thinking the one thing the Earth needs to put itself back on the right track.

It's pretty thin stuff, never doing anything more than what's obvious, building to a climax that's foregone the moment our heroine, whip-smart teenager Casey Newton (Britt Robertson), figures out what's going on and why. At the same time, Bird does something here that I find impossible to dismiss and, more than that, even harder to resist. Much like he did with his animated classic The Iron Giant, the filmmaker gets me to try and reconnect with a 12-year-old self I honestly wasn't sure still existed, reminding me in many ways of the emotions I felt after watching Flight of the Navigator or Flash Gordon for the very first time.

Is it simplistic? Does this childlike, Spielberg-esque look at the world and its ills amount to anything substantive? Are the flaws hiding inside the storytelling masked by Bird's filmmaking expertise? While the first question offers up a rather obvious affirmative, the pair of no's involving the latter pair of questions isn't quite as cut and dried. I can't disagree with either statement, the script rather sophomoric as far as its themes and its ideas are concerned. Yet the film still taps into a sense of wonderment, a feeling of awe, that I found compelling, and even with all the rambling excess there wasn't a single second where I felt bored or upset by anything taking place up there on the screen.

The plot is an ecological fable revolving around Casey coming into contact with a bizarre lapel pin, which allows her to see visions of a futuristic city where science, exploration, art, creation, togetherness and community are treasured above everything else. Determined to find this place, she's led by a mysterious British child, Athena (Raffey Cassidy), to the doorstep of reclusive genius Frank Walker (George Clooney), an inventor with intimate insight into this fantastical city as well as potentially the means to go there.

The threat hiding inside of all of this concerns the actual end of the world, a seemingly never-ending horde of smiley-happy murderous robots and a downtrodden scientist, Nix (Hugh Laurie), who seems more than content to let the Earth die than attempt to come up with a solution to solve the problems fueling its destruction. Climate Change, religious fanaticism, nuclear proliferation, all of this and more help turn the dial towards crisis, and as far as Athena and Frank can surmise it's only a problem solver like Casey who can stave off Armageddon.

Michael Giacchino's (Up, The Incredibles) score hits all the requisite John Williams-like grace notes, while Claudio Miranda's (Life of Pi) luminous, sumptuously glossy cinematography achieves a 1980s-like luminescence that fits events perfectly. Bird is in total control no matter how disjointed or nonsensical the script might become, his passion allowing for the film to achieve a starry-eyed eloquence that's sublime. If anything, the director has managed to make an '80s-style Disney fantasy traversing in many of the same ideas and concerns Christopher Nolan's Interstellar did just last year, only doing so in a way that's more kid-friendly than that sci-fi epic proved to be.

I'm not sure how Tomorrowland will age. I have no idea if the 10-year-olds, the 12-year-olds of today will connect and become lost within its imaginative embraces the same way I did when I first viewed Flight of the Navigator or The Last Starfighter when they were first released and I was just beginning to realize the power cinema had upon a captivated audience. What I do know is that Bird's effort, for all its frustrating faults and creatively inspired ambitions, brought that child back out of me as I sat there watching it, and for that reason, and maybe that reason alone, I'm excited to find out what the target audience ends up thinking about it a decade or so down the line.


Drone drama Good Kill searches for truth
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

GOOD KILL
Now playing


Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) is one of the best pilots in the Air Force. After six tours flying missions in the Middle East, he's the kind of guy you want in the skies above, willing to do whatever it takes to see every job accomplished and each soldier under his watchful eye return home safely.

Yet he's been mothballed all the same, stuck on assignment in the Nevada desert just outside of Las Vegas working for Lt. Colonel Jack Johns (Bruce Greenwood) as the primary drone pilot for combat operations in Afghanistan. Still fighting the same war, only now doing it from several thousand miles away, he discovers the moral gray area these missions require him to navigate through are exacting a heavy toll. Now breaking in a new copilot, Airmen Vera Suarez (Zoë Kravitz), while also having to take clandestine assignments from the CIA, things are reaching a point of no return, his mental state so withdrawn and tattered wife Molly (January Jones) is at her wits end.

No one is going to accuse Good Kill writer/director Andrew Niccol of subtlety where it comes to his latest drama. The man behind features as diverse as Gattaca and Lord of War, his focus now turns to the debates involving drones and their destructive capabilities. More than that, he wants to see what is happening to the crews tasked with carrying out missions where collateral damage is a virtual given, their mental and physical states after completing countless sorties of varying impact and importance what he is most interested in examining.

This he does in exhausting detail, doing all he can to flesh out Egan in a multitude of ways. Granted, the man is fairly damaged right from the start, a not-so-subtle alcoholic who loves his wife and two children yet hasn't the first clue as to the best way to relate to or interact with them. He's further from them now that he's living with them at home than he ever was when he was a world away in mortal danger, the fact he has no actual skin in the game doing his current job something he can barely stomach let alone comprehend.

It's always nice when Hawke gets the chance to connect with a character, to disappear inside a role, because even with two Oscar nominations for acting (Training Day, Boyhood) under his belt, it's far too easy to forget just how terrific a talent he is. Even though the struggles his Egan is facing are as timeless as can be (films as diverse and as far apart as All Quiet on the Western Front, The Best Years of Our Lives, Platoon and American Sniper have been trading on them for decades) he still manages to make them feel fresh and immediate. He takes the melodramatic clichés inherent to the character and spins them into gold, crafting a heartbreaking portrait of a good man - and a better soldier - teetering on the edge of sanity that is consistently gripping.

For his part, Niccol doesn't seem to be all that interested in concealing his point of view. While he does make the attempt to showcase the good that drones can do - there's a terrific little bit where Egan and Kravitz find themselves playing watchful guardian for a tired troop of soldiers in desperate need of a few hours rest - his point in regards to the current usage of the machines is hardly heartwarming. The film is filled with moralistic discussions about how destroying 'bad guys' abroad is preferable to the alternative, the weighing of how much collateral damage is okay and how much is abhorrent a debate all the characters engage in multiple times over.

Yet for all the didactic sermonizing, Good Kill works. It works because the characters live and breathe. It works because the visual compositions have an unsettling universality to them that transform American suburbia into inhospitable Afghani wasteland with striking, nerve-wracking ease. It works because all of the actors, including Jones, who's seldom as terrific as she is here (not even on 'Mad Men'), do subtly dexterous work no matter how maudlin or on-the-nose-long stretches of their debates and discussions might turn out to be.

Most of all, though, it works because Niccol, for all his speechifying, doesn't actual spend a ton of time preaching, allowing circumstance and situation to speak for itself in ways that are emotionally profound. His documentary-like approach suits the material beautifully, allowing for a naturalistic ebb and flow that's persuasive. On top of that, he honors the soldiers while deftly still calling the mission into question, never belittling their decisions even as he heaps scorn and accusation on the heads of those coldly and callously giving the orders to attack. Good Kill isn't a direct hit, but it does speak its mind with forthright tenaciousness, Niccol searching for truths on a bloodied battlefield disinterested in revealing a single solitary one of them.


Austere Slow West a superbly melancholic Western
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SLOW WEST
Now playing


Scotsman Jay Cavendish (Kodi Smit-McPhee) has come to the United States to be reunited with the woman he loves, Rose Ross (Caren Pistorius). Making the slow trek into the sparsely inhabited western expanses of the still young country, he is taken under the wing of loner Silas Selleck (Michael Fassbender), the gunslinger agreeing to take the wilderness neophyte to his destination for a $100 in cold, hard cash.

Silas has his additional reasons for wanting to find Rose, his fortune in finding Jay going to make his search all the easier. But he's not the only one on the woman and her grizzled father John's (Rory McCann) trail, cutthroat bounty hunter Payne (Ben Mendelsohn) and his bloodthirsty band of associates keen to track the pair down as well. Not that Silas is going to share this information with his new acquaintance, instead perfectly content to make the journey westward with Jay clueless as to just how lethally high the danger level actually is.

Writer/director John Maclean's debut feature Slow West is a cold, stark Western that does the genre proud. Displaying an uncanny sense of time and place while also showcasing a darkly absurdist sense of humor that's as pitch black as it is uncomfortably silly, the movie is a beautifully destructive drama that builds to a freewheeling, bullet-riddled conclusion that devastates in its emotional callousness. The film is gloriously shot by Robbie Ryan (Philomena) and even more exquisitely scored by composer Jed Kurzel (The Babadook), while editors Roland Gallois (The Hunter) and Jon Gregory (In Bruges) team up to put the pieces together with astonishing precision.

For Maclean, the whole film is a delicate, modestly paced balancing act, the pitch black humor confidently juxtaposed between both the blossoming friendship developing between Jay and Silas as well as the coldhearted depravity lurking at all times just outside the frame. While never spelling things out the filmmaker still plants a number of clues revealing aspects of his central characters' personalities, all of which, while never becoming completely clear, starts to come into powerful focus as the pair finally stands face-to-face with Rose.

It is almost too austere at times, and flashbacks to Jay and Rose in Scotland, while arguably important, almost feel lifted from a completely different motion picture. There's also a bizarre sequence involving a conversation between Silas and Payne while one of the pair is under the influence of absinthe, all of it leading to a boneheaded mistake it's difficult to believe a killer of either's stature would end up making. It almost feels as if this surrealistic turn of events only exists to increase the level of danger for Jay and Silas as they reach their destination, this one incident arguably the only inauthentic moment the film offers up.

Thankfully, it ends up not mattering terribly much, Maclean unleashing a furiously magnetic finale that's full of heart stopping surprises. Things do not go entirely as expected, the filmmaker defying convention as heroes and villains trade places and acts of unimaginable valor happen in the same moment life leaves the body. It's stupendous, Fassbender (who was born to be in a Western), Mendelsohn, Pistorius and especially Smit-McPhee collectively rising to the occasion each delivering a performance in these climactic seconds that left me dumbstruck in awe.

I'm not entirely sure what Maclean was doing before this (his credits on IMDB range from a BAFTA-winning short film, Pitch Black Heist, to helping write a few of the songs appearing in movies as diverse as High Fidelity and Remember Me). What I do know is that I'm eager to see whatever he has up his sleeve next. As debuts go, Slow West is a stupendous one, the film an elegiac Western triumph both fans of the genre and newcomers alike will hopefully enjoy in equal measure.


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




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OUTBOUND: Delta Air Lines welcomes Pride flyers with first class deals
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Dave Koz is opening for Barry Manilow, among many other things
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Imaginative Tomorrowland reawakens the inner child
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Drone drama Good Kill searches for truth
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Austere Slow West a superbly melancholic Western
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2015 Summer Preview - May & June
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