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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 3, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 31
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Humorously incisive Blindspotting a rambunctious social commentary
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

BLINDSPOTTING
Now playing


Oakland native Collin (Daveed Diggs) has three days left on his probation. He's been working a job as a professional mover with his best friend Miles (Rafael Casal) for a company that just so happens to be run by his ex-girlfriend Val (Janina Gavankar). She's no longer angry about the antics he pulled to land himself in jail, but she still is disappointed in Collin, and even if she trusts him to always do a good job the chances she'll ever be able to forgive him for his past violent mistakes are highly unlikely.

Maybe things will change at the end of these three days. Maybe they won't. Either way, Collin intends to walk the straight and narrow from this point forward, especially for the next 72 hours. But just before midnight the mover inadvertently sees something that puts his whole life and the choices he's made in an entirely new perspective. At a secluded intersection Collin is a terrified witness to a police shooting, a lone White officer gunning down a Black suspect square in the back.

Blindspotting is a tough movie to talk about other than to say it's spectacular and I can't wait to watch it again. Please note, that's coming from someone who's already seen it three times, each viewing allowing me to notice even more deft nuances and politically vicious insights than I did the time before. Written by Diggs and Casal, the former a vaunted Broadway star and a best-selling rapper, the latter a spoken-word artist, educator and playwright, the film is born out of the pair's well-worn friendship born in Bay Area neighborhoods and nurtured as teenagers while attending Berkeley High School. This is a story that is fresh, funny and vital, the electrifying observational meditations at its center overflowing with a satirical edge that's frequently thrilling. I loved this movie. Full stop. And no matter what I say next that's the key statement that matters most.

Diggs and Casal have a lot on their minds, and not just on topics pertaining to racial inequality and police brutality. The pair riff on the gentrification of the inner cities thanks to the rise of giant tech conglomerates like Facebook and Amazon, gun violence, blended families and cultural appropriation. They balance humor and drama in ways that are less than subtle, getting right up in the viewer's face as they put the hammer down on these hot button issues with cravenly incisive rage. At the same time, they also craft a pair of complicated, three-dimensional characters who make a number of questionable decisions as they attempt to navigate the final three days of Collin's probation, Val frequently the voice of reason who must remind her former boyfriend what initially got him in trouble and what he now needs to do in order not to find himself in a similar situation all over again.

Newcomer Carlos López Estrada directs with fluid confidence, allowing comedy, drama, satire, suspense and outright terror to all coexist in a naturalistically humanist way that's wonderful. There's a spellbinding moment where a random nobody recognizes Collin and proceeds to tell a friend a story about an incident he happened to witness at a local nightclub. The way he recollects things, this is a spectacularly funny incident, one where a drunk patron's stupidity led to him getting what he felt were the guy's just deserts. But to Collin and especially Val, this is one story neither would like to be reminded of, the level of disappointment, regret and outright sadness filling both of their faces as this clueless guy standing in the moving company's lobby continues to flippantly tell his tale shattering my heart to pieces as the scene built to its crescendo.

While not as imaginatively original as Boots Riley's Sorry to Bother You, Estrada, Diggs and Casal have still put together a motion picture that's far more consistent and free of any dead spots. This film burns up the screen for every one of its lightning fast 95 minutes, things climaxing with a bit of razor-sharp lyrical poeticism that had me sitting on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen. Diggs delivers a sensational performance, one of the best I've seen this year, while Casal, Gavankar and a dead-eyed Ethan Embry, whose character I'm purposefully saying precious little about, add magnificent support throughout.

As I stated earlier in this review, I love Blindspotting. It's the kind of film I want to stand up and cheer the moment the end credits come up on the screen, the type of nail-biting human drama I wish studios made more of and the kind of incisive, take-no-prisoners satire viewers of all persuasions owe it to themselves to take a chance on and see. In short, this is one incredible piece of pop, character-driven madness where social commentary and entertainment value are blissfully one in the same.


Moving Christopher Robin a loving return to the Hundred Acre Wood
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

CHRISTOPHER ROBIN
Now playing


Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor) has put childhood behind him, seemingly for good. An efficiency expert supervising the luggage manufacturing department of a massive international conglomerate located in London, he's a shell of the man wife Evelyn (Hayley Atwell) fell in love with before World War II. Worse, he's quickly becoming less and less the beloved father he once was in the eyes of his daughter Madeline (Bronte Carmichael), the whip-smart youngster starting to wonder why she spends so much time trying to make him proud of her when he so rarely notices any of her achievements. No, it's clear Christopher Robin isn't the wide-eyed and imaginative youngster who made friends with a variety of fantastical creatures back in the Hundred Acre Wood when he was a six-year-old, and it's starting to look like he's going to stay detached from that child for the foreseeable future.

Thankfully, Winnie the Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings) has come looking for his one-time best friend, journeying all the way to London to get his help. All of his Hundred Acre Wood pals, Piglet (Nick Mohammed), Eeyore (Brad Garrett), Rabbit (Peter Capaldi), Owl (Toby Jones), Kanga (Sophie Okonedo), Roo (Sara Sheen), and Tigger (Cummings), have disappeared, and this bear with a very little brain isn't sure how to find them. But he knows Christopher Robin will have the answer, and even if he is a little bigger, a little stranger, and little wrinklier, he's still the greatest friend a silly old bear like Winnie the Pooh could ever hope to have.

I adored Christopher Robin. A sweet, surprisingly charming continuation of the stories featuring the classic characters created by A.A. Milne and E.H. Shepard once upon a time, director Marc Forster's (Finding Neverland, World War Z) delightful little fairy tale is a glorious surprise. Even with a story and script credited to five different writers - a list that includes the likes of Alex Ross Perry (Queen of Earth), Allison Schroeder (Hidden Figures), and Tom McCarthy (Spotlight) - there is an ebulliently innocent joy to this film that's difficult to describe. It just made me feel good as I sat there and watched it, and even if the basic plot mechanics are familiar in their rudimentary minimalism there is still a warmhearted gracefulness to this tale that makes watching things play out to fruition easy to do.

The conceit itself is presented with matter-of-fact certainty. Winnie the Pooh and the other residents of the Hundred Acre Wood might have begun their lives as imaginary playmates conjured up by Christopher Robin as a child, but whether by magic, sheer force of will, or something even more extraordinary, somehow they've all come into literal existence. An adult Christopher Robin can see, touch, and hold Pooh - and so can everyone else. As such, for obvious reasons this husband and father starts to question his own sanity, but not so much so he'll refuse to help the stuffed-with-fluff bear as best he can.

That's the secret to the movie's success. While it traffics in any number of familiar themes relating to adulthood, marriage, overwork, and parenthood that are as comfortingly familiar as a screening of It's a Wonderful Life a few days before Christmas, the way it treats them with straightforward authoritative conviction is divine. Christopher Robin, for all his insistence that he must put his work first above even his own family, at his core understands that a friend in need is one he must bend over backward to help. After his initial shock over Pooh's existence subsides, his primary instinct is to help his childhood friend. No debate, even less hesitation. There's a task to be done and Christopher has to do it, and in doing so he rediscovers a side of himself he came perilously close to losing forever.

There's not much more to it. Christopher feels he must hide this unexpected adventure from his wife and child only to realize that by doing so he's closing off an important part of who he is from the ones he loves most. He's driven to put work first because he believes doing so will make life better, not only for Evelyn and Madeline, but also for the employees in his department he feels duty-bound to protect. He forgets about the simple things in life, about the friendships that made him who he is and the quiet certainty that doing nothing is in some instances the greatest form of something a person can accomplish during a given day. Most of all, Christopher is reminded that home truly is where the heart is, and that no matter how hard he works to give his family financial security none of that matters if he isn't also present in their day-to-day lives to share their ups, downs, and gloriously uncertain in-betweens right alongside them.

I wish Atwell had been given more to do, and I was never altogether certain what was going on in Evelyn's life or what her passions outside of caring about Madeline and Christopher might have happened to be. There are vague allusions that after the war she became an artist of some sort but that's pretty nebulous to say the least, and if not for Atwell's emotionally astute performance I doubt there'd be all that much to talk about as it pertains to her character. I also found Christopher's solution to his vexing workplace conundrum, even for a sweetly simplistic Disney drama, to be a tad underwhelming, and I can't I say bought into it with anything close to fervent sincerity.

Not that it mattered. McGregor is delightful as adult Christopher Robin, and watching happiness and awe re-enter his life with such boisterous enthusiasm made me grin in obvious glee. I was also taken by young Carmichael. There's a scene where she meets Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, and Tigger for the first time and the actress plays it with such articulate charm I was positively beaming. Later on, she shares a moment with McGregor after an energetic chase through the streets of London that's melodiously understated, the two actors sharing a heartrending connection that leapt right off the screen.

Christopher Robin never rises to the same rarified level of magnificence that Paddington 2 did not so long ago. The script's various scenes and transitions from one writer to the next do show at times, and not every piece fits into the worldview Milne brought to his timeless stories as comfortably as I always wanted them to. But this movie touched my soul, speaking a language that swept me back to my own childhood days when my mother lovingly read The Complete Tales and Poems of Winnie-the-Pooh to me before I went to sleep for the night. Now, what about lunch?


Goofy Spy Who Dumped Me an enjoyably humorous lark
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME
Now playing


While at first grocery store clerk Audrey (Mila Kunis) believes her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) dumped her via text message for no apparent reason, turns out he's secretly a covert CIA spy who was just trying to protect her from harm. Out of options, he is forced to ask his now ex-girlfriend for an unthinkable favor. Unable to accomplish the task for himself, Drew needs Audrey to carry a secret item to Vienna for him, otherwise countless thousands could potentially die. While she is initially reluctant, her best friend and roommate Morgan (Kate McKinnon) convinces her to take a leap of faith and go on this unexpected adventure, agreeing to join her on the trip.

Soon the pair are bouncing around Europe avoiding Russian assassins, making the acquaintance of sexy British spy Sebastian (Sam Heughan), catching the ire of MI6 bureau chief Wendy (Gillian Anderson), and altogether getting into all kinds of mischief. Through it all Audrey and Morgan rely upon their friendship to get them through each and every perilous predicament, their bond the true secret weapon that might just prove these two unlikely women are the only ones willing to do whatever it takes to eventually save the day.

The Spy Who Dumped Me isn't going to change the world. It's a friendly, low-key throwback that's far more reminiscent of a film like 1985's Gotcha! than it is a certifiable fish-out-of-water action/comedy classic like 1984's Romancing the Stone. Director and co-writer Susanna Fogel's follow-up to 2014's wondrous Life Partners is as messy as it is elaborate, as disjointed as it is amusing. As such, the filmmaker's sophomore effort is wildly uneven and is never quite as entertaining as it continually felt like it was going to be, while at the same time providing just enough in the way of heart, laughs, and excitement to make its shortcomings nowhere near as egregious as they otherwise might have been.

The reason for this can be summed up in the form of 'Saturday Night Live' star and Ghostbusters scene-stealer McKinnon. While not at the top of her game or doing anything unexpected, she's so fantastically endearing as Morgan I found I could not take my eyes off of her anytime she was up on the screen. The way she twists Fogel and co-writer David Iserson's ('United States of Tara') dialogue to suit her character's needs is masterful, her ability to toss off a one-liner with such self-effacing ease a continual source of joy. It's always a question what McKinnon is going to do next, and by the time she climbed to the top of a Cirque du Soleil trapeze in full costumed regalia to conduct an aerial battle of wits and wiles with an angry assassin she had me giggling so boisterously I almost fell out of my seat.

But the other key to the film's success is the way in which Fogel presents Audrey and Morgan's friendship. Much like she did so effortlessly in Life Partners, the director cuts away all of the cliché and stereotypical fat that female relationships in most major Hollywood studio-produced motion pictures almost always rely upon. As silly and as convoluted as their adventure might be, their friendship remains authentic and pure no matter what. Even with the introduction of potential male love interests nothing gets between them. There is no third-act hiccup, no forced situation that makes them reconsider their connection. Instead, even when disagreements occur Audrey and Morgan are true to one another through thick and thin, a stunning turn of events that's far more radical and ambitious than I'm sure most casual viewers will comprehend, let alone notice.

The central mystery is predictable nonsense, and even as intricate as the plot the two women are trying to foil becomes there was never a moment when I didn't know what was going to happen or where things were going to go next. Additionally, Fogel has minor trouble sustaining forward momentum, and while I won't say the film runs long there were certainly times when I began to squirm in my seat waiting for things to pick up speed. I also think the movie wastes its most intriguing villain, a former Russian gymnast-turned-assassin magnetically portrayed by newcomer Ivanna Sakhno, and whether by her own hand or via studio meddling the fierce chemistry the actress shares with McKinnon is never explored as fully as I can't help but feel the director originally intended.

Be that as it may, I had a really wonderful time watching Fogel's latest. Kunis is a strong heroine, her reactions to all of the carnage and violence happening around her, some of which she ends up being directly responsible for, frequently priceless. Anderson makes the most of her few scenes, while Heughan is the sexy, albeit gender-reversed piece of eye candy James Bond films and their substandard knockoffs have been making hay out of for decades. Meanwhile, McKinnon steals scenes left and right making the type of impression that's impossible to minimize, all of which allows The Spy Who Dumped Me to be a humorously enjoyable lark I got a gleeful kick out of.


Well-made Darkest Minds an unsurprising YA adventure
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE DARKEST MINDS
Now playing


It has been six years since a mysterious virus wiped out most of the world's population under the age of 18. Since then, in the United States the surviving children have been rounded up and put into militarized detention centers and secluded into various groups based on a color system. The reason for this is simple. The surviving kids have developed a variety of astonishing powers, ranging from superior intelligence, to the ability to control electricity, to basic telekinesis. These are the Green, Blue, and Yellow groups. These are the children the government believes it can try and control.

Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) belongs to the Orange group, and kids with either that or the Red designation are executed immediately with no further testing. But she's managed to hide her abilities for these six long years, waiting for the moment she'll be able to escape imprisonment and hopefully return home to her mother and father. But when she does get out it is into a world far different than the one she knew as a 10-year-old girl. By complete chance she manages to hook up with a trio of fellow youngsters, Liam (Harris Dickinson), Chubs (Skylan Brooks), and Zu (Miya Cech), all of whom are also on the run. Together they are searching for a fabled hiding place filled with kids like them, believing if they can get there they can start a new life outside of the terrors inflicted upon them by the adults petrified of their powerful abilities.

I am not familiar with author Alexandra Bracken's best-seller The Darkest Minds or the series of Young Adult novels its success helped spawn. I do not know how faithful director Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2, Kung Fu Panda 3) and screenwriter Chad Hodge's ('Wayward Pines') adaptation is to the source material. What I can say with relative confidence is that, unlike films like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner it is doubtful we're ever going to see where Ruby's tale goes next after this chapter comes to an end. It strikes me that for all of this motion picture's plusses the chances a sequel will see the light of day just isn't one of them, the nature of the story and the forceful depiction of the violence - primarily directed at children separated forcibly by the government from their shell-shocked parents - not exactly making this dystopian science-fiction adventure all that appealing in light of current events.

Which is kind of a pity, because while the film has its fair share of weaknesses and missteps, the world Nelson and Hodge construct turns out to be an intriguing one, and even though much of this can play out like an X-Men origin story crossed with the doom and gloom of the unfinished Divergent series there's still enough going on I'd be curious to learn what happens next. It also helps that the cast the filmmakers have assembled of young talent is strong, not the least of which is Stenberg, an actress quickly growing into her abilities who is also no stranger to YA adaptations such as this. Once upon a time she was the ill-fated Rue in the aforementioned Hunger Games, her powerful death scene one of the more memorable cinematic moments in recent memory.

After her performance here and in last year's otherwise underwhelming Everything, Everything, it's safe to say Stenberg is a talent to keep one's eye on. She's outstanding as the conflicted Ruby, mining rich emotional terrain with a naturalistic effortlessness that's sublime. The actress subtly makes this young woman's transition from protected to protector intimately authentic, and I loved the uneven physicality she brings to the role. There is a fluidity to the ins and outs of what Stenberg is doing that's marvelous, and by the time she makes the decision to stand up and fight against the evils attempting to destroy both her and her friends I almost wanted to jump out of my seat and join her in doing just that.

If only the movie as a whole were equal to her performance. There's a lot happening here, and there are a number of instances where Nelson and Hodge can't seem to juggle all of the various balls they've tossed into the air with anything resembling success. This adventure tends to move in fits and starts, glossing over what appear to be major plot points only to give extra weight to others that unfortunately don't add a heck of lot as far as the overall narrative is concerned. There's also the fact that, as much potential as this scenario might have, there's nary a surprise to be found anywhere during the feature's 105-minute running time, its secrets blatantly apparent throughout even to audience members utilizing only a tiny smidgen of their available brain cells.

It's also apparent that the study and the filmmakers were hoping their film would be the start of another popular YA fantasy series, ending things on a cliffhanger that, while not as annoying as the one in that first Maze Runner or 2009's Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant proved to be, is still rather obnoxious and unsatisfactory. By insisting on setting up Ruby's next adventures Nelson and Hodge inadvertently undercut the emotional strengths much of this story utilizes as its foundation, and even an outstanding scene between Stenberg and Dickinson right near the end finds its power and humanistic messaging significantly undercut by the lack of anything resembling a coherent resolution a precious few moments later.

I still can't wait to see what Stenberg does next, and early buzz is that her performance in George Tillman, Jr.'s upcoming, highly anticipated drama The Hate U Give is going to be the one that potentially makes her an outright star. There's also something to be said of Nelson's jump from animation to live action, her ability to utilize the entire frame, especially during action sequences, coupled with her confident handling of actors getting me to hope she gets her next directorial gig sooner rather than later. There's a lot to applaud about The Darkest Minds, just not enough to believe audiences will give it the type of look it is going to need for 20th Century Fox to continue to adapt Bracken's books anytime in the immediate future.




An incredible journey, like you've never seen it before...
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Two anniversaries bookend 2018-2019 season for Seattle Men's Chorus and Seattle Women's Chorus
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Starting a conversation - Chatting about Blindspotting with director Carlos López Estrada
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August theater openings are few but mighty
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Bard on the Beach extends its record-breaking 29th season with added shows?
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Lauren Weedman Doesn't Live Here Anymore doesn't know where to go
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Three Dollar Bill Cinema returns to Capitol Hill's Cal Anderson Park with FREE outdoor movies!
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Seattle Humane - Pets of the Week
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SEAMEC rating unfair to Steve Hoffman
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Humorously incisive Blindspotting a rambunctious social commentary
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Moving Christopher Robin a loving return to the Hundred Acre Wood
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Goofy Spy Who Dumped Me an enjoyably humorous lark
------------------------------
Well-made Darkest Minds an unsurprising YA adventure
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