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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 12, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 24
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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French Connection an aggressively masculine thriller
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE CONNECTION
Now playing


Marseilles magistrate Pierre Michel (Jean Dujardin) is upset. He's tired of watching as notorious drug kingpin Gatean 'Tany' Zampa (Gilles Lellouche) continues to grow his empire, recently moving into transporting lucrative shipments of heroin into the United States, right into the heart of New York City. Assembling a crackerjack taskforce, he's going to use any and all means necessary to bring the man down, blurring the line between law enforcement and criminal activity in the process.

Director Cédric Jimenez's The Connection is the French flipside to William Friedkin's Academy Award-winning 1971 classic The French Connection. It tells the story from the Gallic perspective, a true crime procedural that attempts to showcase all its various twists and turns in as intimate detail as it can in the context of a 135-minute running time. It moves decently, but not quickly, and there are moments where it runs a little bit in circles. But thanks to an electrifying performance from Dujardin and a kinetic vibe that got my nerves jangling every which way, the fact the movie is a little on the longish side ends up being mostly okay.

While Michel is an obvious badass straight out of a Warner Bros. gangster flick from the 1930s, I like the fact that Jimenez and his co-writer Audrey Diwan go out of their way to make sure the magistrate knows the value of building a cohesive team in order to bring someone as smart, yet still lethal, as Tany proves to be to justice. They emphasize the fact this lone wolf acknowledges he needs to be a member of a pack if he's going to win, and as such it allows those who come and go throughout to make a greater imprint on events than they otherwise would have.

At the same time, trying to emulate Friedkin (I'm guessing as I can't really be sure) Jimenez attempts to make Tany - known as 'The French' to you and I who've watched The French Connection - an ephemeral evil, someone we watch mostly from afar, allowing his brilliance, depravity and psychological gamesmanship to materialize bit by bit. But the filmmaker backs off too much, keeps things too distanced, and while Lellouche does what he can, there's so little for him to work with it's not altogether shocking he can't make his character anything more than an intriguing figurehead and little else. The tension that needs to exist between Tany and Michel never materializes as completely as it should, making their grudge match moderately underwhelming as things progress.

Still, I like the aggressive machismo fueling the film, a trait Dujardin isn't afraid of embracing. He's a tornado tearing through the proceedings with fearless ferocity, becoming some sort of carnivorous, chain-smoking combination of Humphrey Bogart, Gene Hackman and Jean-Paul Belmondo all rolled into one. Jimenez also manages to stage a couple of electrifying set pieces, using motion, subterfuge and misdirection as allies in a driven quest to ratchet up tension. He's assisted considerably by Laurent Tangy's marvelous cinematography, the film's visual esthetic having a retro cool '70s-style vitality that's stunning throughout.

It doesn't come close to reaching the same heights as The French Connection, which, while not unexpected, doesn't help the film or its cause as it is essentially telling a purposefully similar story making comparisons unavoidable. None of which, however, makes The Connection less enjoyable. Even with its flaws it's still a terrifically entertaining procedural, and while the destination is never in doubt, getting there is hardly the challenge that in lesser hands than Jimenez's it potentially could have been.


Perceptive Results an energetic comedic workout
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

RESULTS
Now playing


Danny (Kevin Corrigan) should have had it all. But even inheriting a fortune the likes of which will set him up for the rest of his life, he's still mired in a deep, overpowering depression he's beginning to think he'll never overcome. Taking up residence in Austin in order to escape bitter New York memories he can't forget, he joins a fitness club run by health nut Trevor (Guy Pearce), claiming he'd like to get in shape, but in reality he's doing so because he's just plain tired of being alone.

After a bit of arguing with her boss, personal trainer Kat (Cobie Smulders) scores the gig of getting Danny into shape. She's got a history with Trevor, one that's nearly as complicated as her new client's past life back on the East Coast. For a variety of reasons the trio discover their lives intertwining in the most unusually of complex ways, little ending up as expected as mental and romantic fitness becomes even harder to obtain than its more body-centered counterpart.

Andrew Bujalski's (Computer Chess) Sundance Film Festival favorite Results isn't so much a romantic comedy as it is a perfect mumblecore counterpart to Joe Swanberg's Drinking Buddies in that it fits distinctly inside its filmmaker's low budget independent world yet does so featuring a bevy of high-profile movie stars. Yet where that 2013 crowd pleaser revolved around craft beer brewing, Bujalski's opus takes on the CrossFit craze and does so with somewhat surprising ferocity. As light and as frothy as it might be, it takes no prisoners as far as Trevor and his ambitions are concerned while also twisting fitness freak Kat's world upside down as she gets to know Danny. There's more going on than meets the eye, the breezy atmosphere concealing an emotional complexity that sneaks up on the viewer biting them right on their freshly toned behind.

The film is beautifully cast, Pearce delivering a delightful performance as the fitness-obsessed Trevor who has no idea about all that's happening around him as he puts all his efforts into trying to perfect his brand and make his club the go-to place or those looking to turn their lives around. His clueless narcissism is endearing, making his complicated history with Kat all the more intriguing, Danny's place in the middle bewildering especially as it becomes blatantly clear he's not as interested in obtaining muscular perfection as his two new friends are.

Smulders is equally wonderful, unafraid to take her character to some potentially unappealing places as she tries to use the new man in her life to goad the other to take more notice of her. As for Corrigan, he could play a guy like Danny in his sleep but that doesn't mean he's not going for broke, and I love the fact that his evolution never goes according to the stereotypical plan Bujalski cagily tricks the audience into thinking will transpire back at the start of the film. Supporting players include Giovanni Ribisi, Brooklyn Decker, Constance Zimmer and an absolutely hysterical Anthony Michael Hall, all of whom make an indelible imprint even if their collective overall screen time is relatively brief.

As perceptive as all of this might be it's just as equally slight, Bujalski playing it somewhat safe as things reach their conclusion. But the movie is constantly entertaining nonetheless, Corrigan, Smulders and Pearce all working in sensational tandem allowing the filmmaker's themes and ideas to come to life with delightful enthusiasm. Results isn't in tip-top shape, but it's certainly fit, its comedic athleticism never in doubt at any stage of the cinematic workout it zealously asks the audience to participates in.


Visually assertive Laurent uncomfortably incomplete
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SAINT LAURENT
Now playing


From 1967 to 1976 fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel) was at the peak of his creative prowess. He was in the process of changing the world of haute couture, asking more out of himself, his models, his assistants and his collaborators than many dreamt possible. He embraced the freedoms of the era, giving into his hedonistic impulses as he strived to innovate in ways other Parisian houses were afraid to emulate, by doing so taking his name to an iconic state he'd have trouble living up to for the remainder of his influential life.

Bertrand Bonello's (The Pornographer) non-linear, unorthodox biopic Saint Laurent is an eccentrically odd animal. At the same time, its idiosyncratic approach feels somewhat apropos considering the legend slinking to and fro up on the screen, and as such the film manufactures an intoxicating allure that's difficult to resist. Anchored by a strong, lithely serpentine performance from Ulliel (the young Hannibal Lector in the otherwise forgettable Hannibal Rising) and featuring a spectacular supporting turn by Jérémie Renier as the designer's partner Pierre Bergé, the movie has numerous charms, and as such is impossible to dismiss.

Even so, Bonello and co-writer Thomas Bidegain's (Rust and Bone) opus can be a bit of a chore to sit through, the pair's screenplay so ungainly and unfocused it's oftentimes hard to discern what is going on and why. The film jumps all over the map, and playing things so close to the vest peeling away Laurent's many layers can be more trouble than it is ultimately worth, the place they eventually take things not so much preordained as it is uninspired in its depiction.

Yet there is still much to adore, not the least of which is Josée Deshaies' (House of Tolerance) colorfully electrifying, eccentrically vibrant cinematography. The dreamy images he composes fit things beautifully, crafting a tactile allure that wrapped me up within its embrace like a brand new, exquisitely tailored evening gown designed specifically for me and me alone. Deshaies has an uncanny ability to give the viewer the feeling they are watching things transpire in the confines of their own psyche, things visually taking on the look of an ethereal dream-like screening room that's as imaginative as it is confidently refined.

But the structure is an odd one, and I can't say Bonello managed to hold my interest for every second of his film's epic 150 minute running time. He shortchanges actresses Aymeline Valade and Lea Seydoux (as important YSL models Betty Catroux and Loulou), their appearances more random and brief than they are essential or informative. Bonello and Bidegain also seem to feel like there's something important to be found in Laurent's dalliances with Karl Lagerfeld model Jacques de Bauscher (an inert, almost lifeless Louis Garrel), the pair spending more time on the designer's relationship with him than they do with his complicated, far more intriguing lifetime spent sleeping next to Bergé.

There are certainly reasons to watch Saint Laurent, not the least of which is Ulliel's superlative work as the titular character, I'm just not sure there are enough of them. Bonello's movie looks terrific, and it certainly goes out of its way to craft an intoxicating ambience that's beguiling, but it's so ungainly, unfocused and flat-out long, sticking with it beginning to end is frustratingly difficult. It all feels uncomfortably unfinished, the resulting motion picture just not ready to walk down the runway with anything approaching confidence.


Jurassic World opens Crichton's park to dino-sized adventure
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

JURASSIC WORLD
Now playing


It's safe to say few, if anyone, knew what to expect from Jurassic World. As sequels are concerned, this felt particularly unnecessary. More than that, the premise - 20 years after the historic failure of the original park the company behind the cloning of dinosaurs has 'fixed' their mistakes and now have their Costa Rican island paradise up, running and full of 20,000-plus guests - felt like nothing terribly inspiring. The film had the smell of being more of a larger scale remake than a continuation of the story begun in Michael Crichton's best-selling novel and brought to life in Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning 1993 film, and as such my interest in seeing what was going to happen and why was understandably muted going into the promo screening.

My bad. Director Colin Trevorrow, who allegedly rewrote the script with his fellow Safety Not Guaranteed scribe Derek Connolly, throwing out a great deal of what original writers Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) initially came up with and in the process makes the leap from micro-budgeted indies to large-scale Hollywood productions with smashing success. Fast-paced, character-driven, filled with spectacle and heart, the film is a surprisingly intimate coming of age saga for both its adult and adolescent characters alike, building to a suitably heart-pounding bit of creature-based carnage that is almost certain to elicit cheers from most in the audience.

There is nothing new; that should be pointed out right from the get-go. What we have is your basic saga of both science and corporatization run amok, the film rarely, if ever, treading into territory that could remotely pass as original. Ingen, the company John Hammond (the dearly departed Richard Attenborough) fronted and controlled in the first film, is still looking to make its mark in the world of dinosaurs. They've finally opened their theme park, aptly branded Jurassic World, and people from all over the world have descended upon the island to see creatures gone for 65-million years up close and personal as if they never went extinct.

But after 20 years of dinosaurs making headlines the public is growing tired of the antics provided by your random Tyrannosaurus Rex or Triceratops. They want more. Bigger. Better. More menacing. Something to scare the living daylights out of them. Problem is the cliché still applies, Ingen listening to the pleas of the public giving them, as well as their corporate sponsors, exactly what they want, proving once and for all its best to be careful what you wish for because in the end you might very well get it.

Mixed into this are a variety of subplots. The key one revolves around Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), Jurassic World's head of operations, her two nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) at the park for the week while her estranged older sister Karen (Judy Greer) finalizes her divorce from husband Scott (Andy Buckley). The timing couldn't be worse, as this is the week they're supposed to be debuting their newest creation to investors, a new dinosaur, a genetically modified hybrid smarter than a Raptor and more vicious than a T-Rex. Claire passes the kids off to an underling as she's forced to deal with billionaire park benefactor Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and animal behavioral expert Owen (Chris Pratt), the former wanting the latter to inspect the new dinosaur's paddock in order to see if there are any flaws in the enclosure's design.

What happens next shouldn't come as a surprise, the beastie breaking lose causing all sorts of havoc, Zach and Gray managing to plant themselves right in the middle of things as the dino, dubbed the Indominus Rex, goes on a park-wide killing spree. Claire ropes Owen into helping her save her nephews, while mysterious military man Hoskins (Vincent D'Onofrio) has a plan of action involving Velociraptors that only a deranged lunatic could ever have thought was a good idea. All of it goes pretty much as expected hitting most of the requisite beats, paying homage to Spielberg's film while also planting seeds of where the series could go in the future if (i.e., when) more sequels are made.

Thing is, Trevorrow and Connolly have actually done a pretty terrific job of manufacturing characters worth caring about, Owen and Claire extremely flawed, three-dimensional heroes whose transitions happen with invigorating clarity. Also, Zach and Gray are nowhere near the obnoxious nincompoops they could have been, their respective journeys, as well as their evolving, heartfelt sibling relationship, rooted in authentic emotions, the script parceling out the nuances of their situation with remarkable ease and even more impressive brevity.

Additionally, the director stages magnificent sequences of carnage and destruction, doing so with a keen eye to geography and location, allowing all that's happening to make physical and practical sense. Impressively edited by Kevin Stitt (Jack Reacher), Trevorrow allows the spectacle to amaze while just as importantly keeping it from overwhelming the delicate, if admittedly melodramatic, human story at the center of things, the characters staying in focus throughout no matter how crazy things might ultimately become.

The film does play quite a bit on one's affinity and appreciation for Jurassic Park, the sense of awe that Spielberg manufactured so easily sadly absent. But Trevorrow manages to make Jurassic World entirely its own distinct animal, unleashing a gleefully exuberant bit of climactic mayhem that's utterly delightful. It's a fitting continuation of the story begun 22 years ago, taking things in an intriguing direction I for one am eager to see where it all goes next.




LungFish Productions presents the Trial of the Century
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Seattle Rep presents Writers Group Showcase June 12-21
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SIFF 2015 recap / John Portanova interview
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Theater Schmeater delivers a solidly acted and funny production of Four Dogs and a Bone
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Opera video treasures
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Weavers singer Ronnie Gilbert dies at 88
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LETTER TO THE EDITOR
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Florence + the Machine, Chris Cornell plot Seattle shows
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French Connection an aggressively masculine thriller
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Perceptive Results an energetic comedic workout
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Visually assertive Laurent uncomfortably incomplete
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Jurassic World opens Crichton's park to dino-sized adventure
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