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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 18, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 38
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Outspoken Grandma a fearless generational road trip
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

GRANDMA
Now playing


Still stewing over the tragic loss of her longtime partner Violet not so long ago, acclaimed poet and college guest lecturer Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) unceremoniously breaks up with current, much younger girlfriend Olivia (Judy Greer) for reasons entirely her own. Not long after showing Olivia out the door, granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) arrives on Elle's doorstep in desperate need of $600 before the working day ends. Momentarily broke - Elle chose to pay off all her debt in one fell swoop, destroying her credit cards in the process - the depressed grandmother springs into action nonetheless, putting her own problems on pause as she attempts to help the terrified teen as best she can.

Writer and director Paul Weitz's Grandma is a return to form for the About a Boy and In Good Company filmmaker erasing the bad taste of American Dreamz, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant and Little Fockers in the span of a sensationally well-paced 79 minutes. A road trip drama littered with glorious comedic segments taking place in a single city over the course of only a handful of hours, this is a movie that knows exactly what it is, what story it wants to tell and the best course of action required in order to bring events to a satisfying conclusion. As slim and as slight as the central story might be, the personal stakes are exceedingly high, and the level of insight Weitz uncovers in the interactions between three generations of strong-willed women is extraordinary.

The anchor is Tomlin. Delivering a performance that by all rights should garner an Academy Award nomination, the veteran actress encapsulates an entire career, maybe even an entire life, lived under the public microscope brilliantly. There are layers to Elle that are revealed bit-by-bit, Tomlin refusing to overplay her hand even when her character revels in her outspoken, larger-than-life personality. In many ways, it's almost as if she's revisiting Nashville, re-inhabiting wide-eyed yet plain-spoken Linnea Reese four decades after she stood at the foot of the stage attempting to make up her mind as to what it was she really wanted from life. Elle never apologizes for who she is, doesn't feel bad about doing what she has done to get where she is, and as such it has made her just the kind of well-meaning, take-charge firebrand many would like to be yet so few find the courage to actually become.

Regret is key, because in a story where so many say they are sorry, no one ever apologizes for being who they are and that's significant. Elle feels bad for the way she has treated Olivia. She isn't entirely happy with how she treated her own daughter, dynamic corporate workaholic Judy (Marcia Gay Harden). Most of all, she does realize she once did former fling Karl (Sam Elliott) a disservice by withholding certain, highly personal facts from him until the point his input no longer mattered. All that said, not once does she feel bad for sticking up for what she believes in, for doing things in the way she felt was best. Elle knows she isn't perfect, understands her mistakes, but she's also comfortable with who she is and the life she's lived and, as such, while she's happy to say she's sorry for the hurt she might have caused that doesn't mean she's about to apologize for being her own woman.

The same can be said in regards to Judy, Olivia and Sage, each in their own way facing down their own individual demons, doing what they feel is best to battle them into insignificance. Yet all understand the choices they make will be ones they will live with for their rest of their respective lives, a stark truth none shy away from no matter what the problem their respectively battling might be. It's a level of intimate understanding that's inspired, everything leading to a quiet denouement of familial togetherness that's as unambiguous as it is authentic.

Weitz isn't above dipping into melodramatic sensationalism at times, and there are more than a few instances where I was reminded this is the same guy who, along with his brother Chris, brought American Pie to ribald, unabashedly vulgar life. It should also be said that, as big as the themes might be, precious little actually happens in the film, and it isn't like there are any gigantic revelations made about any one of the principal players by the time things come to their fully anticipated conclusion.

But isn't that the point? As sudden and potentially disastrous as events depicted within the film might be, Elle remains true to who she is and what it is she believes in. She loves her daughter and granddaughter with passionate ferocity, leaping to their aid no matter what might be happening inside her own personal stratosphere. Grandma is a brief snapshot into the life of this opinionated, idiosyncratic woman, nothing more, and in the end that's exactly as it should be.


Funny Other People a showcase for Brie and Sudeikis
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SLEEPING WITH OTHER PEOPLE
Now playing


Veteran New Yorkers Lainey (Alison Brie) and Jake (Jason Sudeikis) first met in college, losing their virginity to one another after a night of relaxed honesty that they'd remember fondly for over a decade. But neither has seen the other for 12 years, each going down a monogamy-challenged path that has grown to the point it's almost a running joke their closest acquaintances tease them about. Running into one another by chance, Lainey and Jake determine to prove men and women can indeed be friends, best friends even, making a pact that no matter how sexually adventurous their interactions with others might be their personal relationship will remain strictly platonic.

Written and directed by Bachelorette impresario Leslye Headland, Sleeping with Other People is a When Harry Met Sally... variation for the modern age, following in the familiar footsteps of that Rob Reiner directed, Nora Ephron scripted classic almost step-for-step. Granted, Lainey and Jake don't have to work very hard to become friends, and they get the sex out of the way within the first ten minutes of the film, these early interactions setting the template and direction both of them will be struggling to overcome once each reenters the other's life. Even so, it's never a shock where this is headed, the final scenes a foregone conclusion right from the start, Headland doing precious little to shake things up in ways that seldom feel fresh.

Thankfully, what the project lacks in originality it more than makes up for in a glorious collection of smarts, laughs and pleasing performances from both the leads as well as the supporting players all of which makes watching the film a breezy delight for every second of its 95 minute running time. Headland has a knack for crafting wondrous three-dimensional characters, especially as it pertains to the women, giving them tons of snappy one-liners and numerous quick-witted soliloquies that build narrative momentum as well as continually amuse.

The anchors are Brie and Sudeikis. The former has always been an underrated talent, and I'm not sure other than 'Mad Men' and 'Community' anyone has ever utilized the actress as well as they potentially could have. Even her stints on those critically acclaimed television series didn't allow her the freedom to evolve, the liberty to showcase her range, that is granted her here. Brie is sensational, elevating the overall familiarity of the piece to a level that's remarkable with her fearless, artifice-free performance that's as terrific as any given in 2015. It's the type of underappreciated star turn no one ever remembers come end-of-year awards time, and along with Melissa McCarthy in Spy and Amy Schumer in Trainwreck this isn't just a great comedic performance, it's simply a great performance period, no other superlatives required.

As for Sudeikis, while I've always been fond of the comedian I can't say I've ever felt he was especially multifaceted as an actor, performances in Horrible Bosses or We're the Millers hardly asking all that much of him. But Headland uses him rather marvelously, and as such he showcases dramatic chops that heretofore have gone unexplored by other filmmakers. There is a priceless scene of he and Brie lying in bed, just laying there, exhausted mentally and physically from the day's events. Sudeikis does something during this moment that's extraordinary, processes an awakening inside Jake, one that's been there the whole time, yet one all the same he's never brought himself to acknowledge, this yearning coupled with an understanding that's astonishing to behold.

The supporting cast is universally solid, and even if none of them make the same sort of indelible imprint Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher did in When Harry Met Sally... that doesn't make them less wonderful in their respective roles. Making the most of things is Amanda Peet, and even if her character - she's Jake's new employer who does her best to brush off his romantic advances even though she itches to do otherwise - doesn't get treated near as well as I felt she should have been. Yet the veteran character actress brings a smart, headstrong sensuality to her time on screen that's undeniably magnetic, her exit from the proceedings having an emotional, intimately affecting heft that caught me off-guard.

Adam Scott is fine as the adulterous, condescending doctor whom Lainey is trying to get over her infatuation to, while Adam Brody has a terrific cameo as one of her potential suitors whose reaction to her admission of sexual promiscuity is humorously over-the-top in a way that's more endearing than it is obnoxious. Jason Mantzoukas is perfect as Jake's plain-spoken, if adorably blunt, best friend and business partner, Andrea Savage matching him beat-for-beat and note-for-note as his acid-tongued if irascibly loving wife. As for Natasha Lyonne, she never overdoes it as Lainey's favorite female confidant and friend, making such a winning impression I almost wish her character could have come around a little more often than she actually does. Headland is talented. Bachelorette already proved that, so this film only confirms what we already knew. Same time, I can't help but wish she'd dug a little deeper, pushed herself a little more, because as superb as the cast might be and as great as the dialogue is, there's no denying the last few climactic scenes leave something to be desired. Still, Brie and Sudeikis shine, and as for laughs they are undeniably plentiful. Sleeping with Other People might be too familiar for its own good, but that doesn't mean it isn't entertaining, and as romantic comedies go it's one of the more enjoyable ones I've seen this year.


Shyamalan returns to form with creepily imaginative Visit
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE VISIT
Now playing


Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler's (Ed Oxenbould) beleaguered mother (Kathryn Hahn) hasn't seen her parents in 15 years, walking out on them when they refused to allow her to see the boy she would ultimately marry. Believing one of the reasons Dad walked out on them was Mom's inability to deal with the past, both teenage children are eager to go into the country and meet the elderly pair after a letter arrives urging them to visit. In fact, erstwhile filmmaker Becca believes documenting her and her brother's trip to see their grandparents, nicknamed Nana (Deanna Dunagan) and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie), could be cathartic for their mother, taking it upon herself to discover what led to her leaving and why reconciliation has sadly proven to be impossible.

Thus the stage is set for M. Night Shyamalan's return to suspense filmmaking with The Visit, the man behind The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable and Signs unleashing a found footage thriller where nothing is what it seems and every move proves to be suspicious. Displaying a delightfully mordant sense of humor, crafting two teenage heroes who are actually fun to spend time with even when their antics turn juvenile, the movie is an invigorating chiller that builds nicely, unleashing a series of final twists and turns that are as tense as they are surprisingly emotional.

Not that Shyamalan can escape all the traps of the genre, not the least of which is the eternal why-the-heck-are-they-still-running-around-with-cameras-when-all-sorts-of-crazy-hell-is-breaking-loose quagmire that so many of these sorts of productions fail to satisfactorily solve. Additionally, the filmmaker just glosses right over as to why a supposedly loving, devoted mother would be so willing to ship her children off to see grandparents she herself hasn't spoken to for almost half her life, that question hanging over the proceedings start to finish.

Even so, the movie is so well made, so confidently assembled and so terrifically acted this is an easy little thriller to get lost inside of. Becca and Tyler start learning believeably just what kind of trouble they're in, reacting to given moments and situations in ways that help their respective characters to grow and evolve in intriguingly naturalistic ways. Their decisions, while sometimes having the appearance of idiocy, still crackle with the thought patterns and rationality of early teenage years, making perfect sense to them even if adults with more life experience and seasoning would likely have chosen a different path to wander down.

More than that, though, I just got a kick out of the gruesomely playful tone Shyamalan establishes, things playing like a whimsically knowing twist on the adventures of Hansel and Gretel only with a modern day surveillance age digital twist. Skype, YouTube and Facebook are every bit as important to the outcome as mise-en-scène, montage and dénouement, Becca's stylistic tendencies owing as much to Errol Morris and Barbara Kopple as they do to Catfish and any random Cable reality television program. There is a 'here' and a 'now' quality that makes all the Grimm's Fairy Tale stuff come across as far more inspired and original than it otherwise would have, thus allowing the scares to happen with an eloquent sincerity that's agreeably sincere.

After so many missteps in a row, it's nice to see Shyamalan getting himself back on track, and even if The Visit can come off as a little slight, in the end he's still a strong enough filmmaker to remember to keep his characters and their journey at the center of proceedings in a way that's realistically grounded. While the set pieces impress, they are born out of circumstance and necessity, not out of thin air devil-may-care implausibility. Besides, not only does the movie have the best Katy Perry reference in recent memory, it also has more moments of pure, unabashed fright than almost anything I've born witness to in all of 2015. This is a good little film, and, honestly, it just might be one that only gets better the more I allow myself to think about it.






Green Day's American Idiot an exhilarating and exciting production
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Music of Remembrance launches 18th season with 'After Life' -
a FREE community concert-with-commentary at Seattle Art Museum on September 26

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The Mynabirds soar at The Sunset
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Express yourself at these Portland hotels for the big Madonna concert
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JAZZ ALLEY $10 FALL SPECIAL - Monday, September 28
Jazz Alley presents Louis Hayes and the Cannonball Legacy Band
Featuring Vincent Herring, Jeremy Pelt, Rick Germanson and Michael Glynn
Tickets: $10 (includes $4 service fee)

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JAZZ ALLEY $10 FALL SPECIAL - Tues/Wednesday, September 29 & 30
Jazz Alley presents Sonny Knight & The Lakers
Tickets: $10 (includes $4 service fee)

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Reflections on the county clerk in Kentucky
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Outspoken Grandma a fearless generational road trip
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Funny Other People a showcase for Brie and Sudeikis
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Shyamalan returns to form with creepily imaginative Visit
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