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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, October 2, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 40
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Visually thrilling Walk an emotional coup
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE WALK
Now playing


There is a sublime, quiet beauty to Robert Zemeckis' The Walk that sneaks up on the viewer, grabs them by the jugular and refuses to let go. It is an ethereal, ultimately hopeful journey into the unknown, the director of films as disparate as Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Castaway, The Polar Express and Flight delivering a soaring testament to the human spirit that's as inspiring as anything released in all of 2015.

Not that it doesn't take its time to get there. For roughly 90 or so minutes, Zemeckis toys with the audience much in the same way Jules Dassin did with his 1964 jewelry heist comedic classic Topkapi. That mercurial little gem took a while getting to the be-all and end-all driving the narrative forward, focusing roughly two-thirds of its plot on the bumbling mechanics of the crew of amateurs (led by seasoned veteran Maximilian Schell under the direction of the beautiful Melina Mercouri) attempting the impossible before finally depicting the actual theft they'd all been training for. It was an odd decision on the Rififi and The Naked City filmmaker's part, but one that ultimately paid out great dramatic dividends, the connection between this troupe of supposed numbskulls bracingly intimate when push came to shove and jewel-laden daggers needed to be stolen.

Zemeckis, working with co-screenwriter Christopher Browne, utilizes an audaciously similar approach, the pair's dramatization of Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the World Trade Center towers a miraculous feat of chutzpah and daring, a surprisingly jaunty and buoyantly comedic affair for much of its 123 minute running time. They present the daring showman's gambit as something akin to a lark, his assembling of his crew a keystone caper straight out of Mack Sennett silent comedy. The old school approach is disconcerting, in its way, and one can't help but wonder just how seriously they are supposed to be taking things as events continue to move forward to Petit's 'coup' (as he likes to call it) on the high-wire 110 stories above the streets of New York City.

But then the coup begins, and it is instantly obvious why things were orchestrated as they were. Much like a master magician using his wiles and his fanciful sleight of hand to distract, a lot like how Dassin fooled everyone into thinking Topkapi was a broad comedy before unleashing one of the tautest heist sequences in movie history (arguably only eclipsed by the director's own Rififi made nine years prior), Zemeckis has the viewer right out there on the wire standing alongside Petit. Featuring dizzying cinematography from Dariusz Wolski (who lensed Ridley Scott's The Martian, also opening this week), immersive 3-D visuals unlike anything dreamt of or experienced before, excruciatingly effective sound design and Alan Silvestri's (The Abyss, Forrest Gump) simple yet still sublime score, the filmmaker sees all his themes of faith, family, friendship and hope coalesce into one, the idyllic joviality of it all as thrilling as the wire-walk itself.

Granted, James Marsh's Academy Award-winning Man on Wire covered pretty much all of this in 2008 to glorious effect, the dramatics fueling Petit's adventure gone into in astonishing, resplendently gripping detail inside the documentary. But Marsh could never put the viewer 1,400 feet above the ground, could never recreate, at least in some small way, the feeling of weightless rapture that this high-wire magician found back in August of '74. Zemeckis is able to do just that and more, transporting me to a time and place I could barely fathom let alone believe, reminding us all once again that even the most outlandish and impractical of dreams have the power to engage and inspire in ways almost nothing else can.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt is Petit, telling the story in his own words as he stands atop the Statue of Liberty overlooking a city, and a pair of towers, he would slowly grow to love. Once you get used to the accent, he actually nails the high-wire walker's vocal patterns and inflections quite nicely, it's easy to get lost inside the actor's performance. He seems to understand the deceptively playful tone Zemeckis is gunning for, tapping into it straightaway, hinting at a carnal hunger lingering inside Petit that leads him to attempt what by all rational thought should have been impossible. He balances the man's ego with his gregarious roguishness, while at the same time making sure it is blatantly clear just how deep and powerful the man's commitment to his plan proves to be.

The rogue's gallery of friends and compatriots who make up the team who will help Petit in his quest include Ben Kingsley as mentor Papa Rudy, Charlotte Le Bon as girlfriend Annie Allix, César Domboy as best friend and photographer Jean-François, Clément Sibony as wide-eyed mathematician Jean-Louis and a scene-stealing James Badge Dale as fast-talking New Yorker Jean-Pierre. There are others who come into play as well, but these are the most important five, each of them working as one to bring the disparate elements of Zemeckis and Browne's script to life.

While the film can feel a little silly, especially early on, and while not all of the over-the-top shenanigans and caricatures work near as well as I'm sure the director intended them to (Ben Schwartz and Benedict Samuel as the final pair of conspirators who join Petit's team are too thinly realized and broadly performed to be anything other than pointless distractions), the air of magical electricity that travels throughout the feature is undeniable. Zemeckis, by bringing Petit's story to the screen in the way he has, reclaims the World Trade Center as a symbol of hope, a beacon of vision and enlightenment. The Walk is an entertainment coup for the ages, a family-friendly adventure of the human condition reminding us all a little madness now and then shouldn't just be encouraged, but oftentimes deserves to be celebrated for its inspirational genius.


Roth's Inferno a horrific descent into inhuman madness
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE GREEN INFERNO
Now playing


For a variety of reasons, Eli Roth hasn't directed a feature film since 2007's Hostel: Part II. While he's done a little acting (Inglourious Basterds, Rock of Ages), a little writing (The Man with the Iron Fists) and a lot of producing (Aftershock, The Last Exorcism, The Sacrament, Netflix's 'Hemlock Grove'), as far as being the driving force propelling a production forward he's been M.I.A. That changes as of now, two new features spearheaded by Roth hitting theatres and VOD in the next few weeks, his return to the director's chair very long in coming indeed.

The first of these is The Green Inferno. Originally premiering at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival, the Peruvian-set survivalist exploitation thriller was set to hit the multiplexes last September, but for a variety of crazy legal reasons this never happened. Bought back by Roth and executive producer Jason Blum, the movie is the first theatrical release for the latter's indie distributer BlumHouse Tilt, their other releases (notably Patrick Brice's terrifically disconcerting Creep starring Mark Duplass) going strictly VOD, eschewing theatres altogether.

It's easy to see why Blum chose Roth's unsettling, uncomfortable chiller as the one to send out to cinemas, because it's just made to be seen in the confines of a darkened auditorium alongside a squirming audience. The director has honed his craft during his hiatus, and as confident and as self-assured as he was before, his filmmaking chops are even more impressive now. He knows how to assemble scenes into a demoralizing whole, his use of splatter and gore as strong, and as disturbing, as it has ever been. Roth ratchets up tension in a way that is devastating, the knots my stomach found itself in beyond anything I could have prepared myself for before watching.

Do not be fooled. This is still exploitation filmmaking. The story of a small group of college activists led by the sexy Alejandro (Ariel levy) who go into the jungles of Peru to stop the bulldozing of the rain forest and the slaughter of indigenous tribes, the film quickly turns on its ear in ever-escalating extremes. After a plane crash over a remote part of the jungle, the survivors, including wide-eyed freshman Justine (Lorenza Izzo), discover they're next on the dinner menu, one of the tribes they were hoping to protect mistaking them for the soldiers and loggers that have been systematically destroying their villages.

What follows is indescribable, and not always in a good way. Roth is still prone to letting his more juvenile, adolescent tendencies get the better of him, and while influxes of humor are welcome, the way he goes about delivering on them at times is anything but. Additionally, considering the extreme low budget nature of the production, some of the acting leaves a little to be desired, the performances ranging from pretty good to barely passable amongst the primarily bilingual cast of college kids.

Then there is the elephant - or should we say panther - sitting in the middle of the jungle. The cannibalistic tribe at the center of things is not made up of professional actors. Instead, Roth went into the heart of Peru and found a real village and a real tribe, the Callanayacu, to star in his film. As effective as they are, and I honestly don't know how the movie could have been made without them, much like No Escape there is an air of xenophobia permeating throughout that's unavoidable, and how much that's going to matter depends entirely on just how politically incorrect a person allows themselves to be.

Those faults aside, The Green Inferno is a barnburner through-and-through. Filmed almost entirely on location, stunningly shot by Antonio Quercia (Aftershock), tensely edited by Ernesto Díaz Espinoza (Mandrill) and eerily scored by Manuel Riveiro (The Stranger), this is still Roth's show and his expert handling of all the carnage is undeniable. The introduction to the village and their carnivorous appetites is horrifying, while a later reveal as to the identity of an unexpected victim, leading directly to a shocking suicide, put a lump in my throat - I almost had to self-perform the Heimlich on myself in order to get back to breathing somewhat comfortably.

Roth's next, a home invasion thriller with a comedic bent starring Keanu Reeves called Knock Knock, hits limited theatres October 9, and as positive as early reviews from the festival circuit might be, it's hard to envision it will play near as well as this does. While not without its missteps, and certainly not going to satisfy the masses, for those knowing what it is they are about to see The Green Inferno is about as terrifying an experience as any that can be imagined. I'm not positive I liked it, but that doesn't make me any less glad I took the time to give the horror effort a look, Roth's directorial return a startlingly, efficiently brutal reminder of just how strong a genre impresario he can be when he's of a mind to be one.


Mercilessly tense Sicario a descent into drug-fueled darkness
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SICARIO
Now playing


In director Denis Villeneuve's world, hope and happiness are difficult to find. From Incendies to Prisoners to Enemy, the talented Canadian filmmaker looks straight into the darkest heart of the human condition and refuses to blink, going places few are comfortable hinting at let alone dealing with on an intimately personal level. He makes the viewer uncomfortable while also challenging their intellect, producing thought-provoking pieces of dramatic entertainment that blur every single moral and humanistic line they come into contact with.

Working with actor-turned-screenwriter Taylor Sheridan, Villeneuve has turned in his most unnervingly emotional cinematic effort yet with Sicario. Mercilessly tense, the film is a look at the dark side of the drug war, chronicling a driven, battle-hardened FBI Agent name Kate Mercer (Emily Blunt) who for all her experience is wholly unprepared for the moral and legal ambiguities she's about to face. Urged to volunteer for a covert project by mysterious government operative Matt Graver (Josh Brolin), she and her partner Reggie Wayne (Daniel Kaluuya) are suddenly so deep inside the rabbit hole 'up' instantaneously becomes impossible to differentiate from 'down.'

Then there is the item that's truly throwing the two for a loop. It's a man, a secretive gentleman in a suit calling himself Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro) that everyone, including the very much in-charge Graver, keeps deferring to seemingly at every turn. He's not a U.S. citizen, that much Kate can tell. But he's also by all accounts on their side, body and soul, ready and willing to do whatever it takes to see a downtick in violence permeating throughout the Texas/New Mexico/Arizona border area with Mexico no matter what the cost.

There are no heroes in Villeneuve and Sheridan's Sicario. There are, however, plenty of victims, and not all of them end up dead. Some have only the best of intentions, driven to do what it takes to see justice done as long as it follows the rule of law. But when those rules do not, cannot apply? When the villains doing the evil are beyond it? When they are protected in ways lawyers and courts can never penetrate? What happens then? And, for those who refuse to believe no one is above the law, what happens to them when their illusions are shattered and the wolves come braying at their door thirsting for blood?

Villeneuve pushes right into the middle of the carnage straightaway, Kate and Reggie leading an FBI tactical unit on a raid inside a cartel safe house in Arizona reportedly containing a handful of helpless hostages. But there are no hostages, and what they find inside the walls is beyond unspeakable. It is this discovery that leads Kate to accept Graver's offer. It is this discovery that allows her not to flinch when she finds herself part of a military convoy heading across the border to bring back a high-ranking cartel boss. It is this discovery that makes her force Graver into putting Reggie on the team, too, knowing he'll hopefully be a voice of reason as darkness descends.

And does it do just that.

Things get progressively murky, Villeneuve and Sheridan allowing the grey areas to wash away all the black and white so only indecision, chaos and mayhem remain. At the center, propelling things forward, is Alejandro, and even if events are not seen exclusively through his eyes, make no mistake, it is he that knows best what is happening and why. Del Toro inhabits this wounded, psychologically scarred man living in the shadows down to the marrow, his pain permeating every pore as he quietly longs for a justice he knows does not exist. It's a towering, deeply complicated performance, surpassing even his Oscar-winning turn in another drug drama, Steven Soderbergh's modern classic Traffic, that left me wowed by the depth and breadth of his magnificence.

At barely over two hours, the movie was over before I even knew it, in such constant motion, heading deeper and deeper into the gloomy waters of the subconscious, revealing answers to personal questions those who must grapple with them only thought they wanted to know, before finding themselves gob-smacked by the truth. Triumphantly shot by the great Roger Deakins (Skyfall, Unbroken), magnificently edited by Joe Walker (12 Years a Slave) and kinetically scored by Jóhann Jóhannsson (The Theory of Everything), every piece fits together perfectly. It's a relentless exercise in suspense. The anxiety throbbing through my veins was almost overwhelming as events ran their course, the emotional shock of the final moments so all-encompassing they overtook me completely.

Orchestrating all of this brilliantly is Villeneuve. The avenues left unexplored are few, far between and all by choice, the questions left dangling entirely by design. He allows Kate's growing uncertainty and despair to insidiously feed into every second of the proceedings, so even when we stop seeing things as she does and begin to look at events coldly, unsympathetically anew through Del Toro, the overall effect is shattering. Sicario lives up to its title, this Mexican slang for a hitman aiming its gunsights at the viewer, leaving those of us who watch broken and battered into a reinforced shell of regret and understanding we might not be able to emerge from anytime soon.


Emotion and nature walk hand-in-hand in Wildlike
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WILDLIKE
Now playing


When her troubled mother checks herself into rehab, 14-year-old Mackenzie (Ella Purnell) leaves Seattle to live with her mysterious uncle (Brian Geraghty) in the far off reaches of the Alaskan wilds. But things turn sour, the teenager compelled to flee, pulling out all the stops as she attempts to make the long, arduous trip home. Eager to find help, but unsure of how to go about it, Mackenzie runs across backpacker Rene (Bruce Greenwood), the grieving widower dealing within his own issues, so the last thing he needs is some kid following him around. Yet the two still manager to make a connection, and soon they're hiking across the countryside, in the process learning life lessons that will compel them to keep moving forward no matter what difficulties should arise.

Wildlike is the kind of simple, delicate, nondescript little independent film that sneaks up out of nowhere and melodiously breaks your heart clean in two. It's a flower of a film growing to unimaginable heights in the cruelest of conditions, never wearing its emotions out in the open yet showcasing them just enough so they have a searing power that earn their tears with subtle, barely perceptible precision. Writer/director Frank Hall Green has created a visually resplendent drama that never forgets the human story lurking at its center, Mackenzie and Rene's unanticipated parallel journeys taking both exactly where they need to go.

It's almost too subtle. Blink or turn away from the screen at just the wrong moment and you might end up thinking the reasons for Mackenzie trekking into the wilderness are not what they really are. The interactions with her uncle are almost overly friendly, the underlying tension and abhorrence voyaging through these times together close to imperceptible. As for Rene, while it takes quite a while until his reasons for helping the teen reveal themselves, in all fairness nothing that's disclosed comes as a shock, thus diluting their inherent power to move the emotional needle, if only just a little.

Yet less really is more the majority of the time, and the fact Green knows this, and relies upon it, even, is a blessing in more ways than one. Audiences are not dumb. They like to put pieces of an interesting, thought-provoking puzzle together for themselves. They don't need every nuance, every facet of the equation quantified and explained for them. What Mackenzie is running from, as horrible as it ultimately might be, is no great surprise. For that matter, neither is Rene's growing fatherly streak that begins to blossom by being in her company. The friendship that develops between the two might be born of necessity, but it's built of stronger material than that by the end, allowing for the ambiguity of the finale to have a hopeful ebullience that's naturalistic yet concrete all at one time.

Purnell's performance is strong. A teenager without direction, coming from a place of ineffable hardship, she's both streetwise and hopelessly naïve, thinking she knows exactly what it is others want from her, only to be caught dumbstruck when her advances are turned aside. Watching her grow as a young woman and yet find comfort by being allowed to digress into being a little girl under another's protection is amazing to behold, the Kick-Ass 2 and Maleficent bit player showing great potential and I'm eager to see what the actress is going to do next.

As for Greenwood, this is just another reminder at how superb, and consistently underrated, the veteran character actor continues to be. His work in films as diverse as Exotica, The Sweet Hereafter and Below speaks for itself, while a strong case could be made he should have received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his turn as John F. Kennedy in 2000's Thirteen Days. Here, Greenwood deftly underplays things, only letting his dander or his excitement level rise when absolutely necessary, maintaining an airy calm that's spellbinding.

Green uses his Alaskan exteriors magnificently, Hillary Spera's (Black Rock) cinematography showcasing these wide open vistas in ways that augments the on-screen journey of the protagonists, never overshadowing or minimizing it. He also finds just the right moment for a variety of actors to pop in and make their mark, Geraghty, Ann Dowd, Joshua Leonard and Nolan Gerard Funk all adding just the right touch to their respective scenes allowing for their appearances to matter as far as the overarching story itself is concerned. It really is a pity more people won't take the time to watch Wildlike, especially in a darkened theatre where it will be showcased the best. Even so, make no mistake, the movie is excellent, and here's my hope people out there will put forth the effort required to give it a look.




SLGFF OPENING NIGHT FILM: An interview with Freeheld co-star Ellen Page
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Seattle Women's Chorus presents
'Hallows in the Cathedral: Spirits Rising'
with Guest Star Rebekah Del Rio (10/23 & 24 ONLY)

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Pacific Northwest Ballet: 'See the Music'
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Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival celebrates 20th Anniversary October 8-18
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An interview with Audra McDonald
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The Art of Bad Men an unusual story brought to life with verve
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Glyndebourne La Traviata with Michael Fabiano
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'Queen: It's a Kinda Magic' recreates the Queen sensation
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October 2015 brings another month of exciting theater openings
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Philadelphia lives op to its name: City of Brotherly (and Sisterly) Love
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Horror Fest 2015 showcases radio thrillers
Puget Sound FM celebrates Halloween with a free collection and a month of programming specials.

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Reflections on the county clerk in Kentucky
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Visually thrilling Walk an emotional coup
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Roth's Inferno a horrific descent into inhuman madness
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Mercilessly tense Sicario a descent into drug-fueled darkness
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Emotion and nature walk hand-in-hand in Wildlike
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