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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 1, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 05
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Hardwicke's agreeable Miss Bala an acceptably generic remake
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

MISS BALA
Now playing


While visiting her best friend Suzu (Cristina Rodlo) in Tijuana to help her prepare for the upcoming Miss Baja California beauty pageant, Los Angeles makeup artist Gloria (Gina Rodriguez) ends up in a terrifying situation far beyond anything she can control. After a night out at a popular local nightclub turns deadly, the young American makes the unwanted acquaintance of notorious drug cartel head Lino Esparza (Ismael Cruz Córdova) while in the same moment Suzu goes mysteriously missing. After performing a simple task for her captor, and with the promise he'll find her friend, things get even worse for Gloria after Lino releases her. DEA agent Brian Reich (Matt Lauria) takes her into custody and claims he's going to brand her a terrorist and put her behind bars for decades, forcing the frightened woman to go back to Mexico and start working for Lino in whatever capacity he so desires.

At first things go as planned. But after a deadly shootout between Lino's men, the Mexican police and Reich's agents goes spectacularly bad, Gloria learns that the only person she can trust to get both herself and the still vanished Suzu out of this mess alive is herself. Learning as much as she can, prepared to do whatever it takes, inching closer and closer to Lino while in the process of putting together a plan of action, this seemingly timid makeup artist turns out to be not as fragile as she appears. Gloria will survive this ordeal. She will find her friend. She will do this and more, discovering hidden talents as sharp as any knife and as lethal as any bullet as she does so.

A remake of writer/director Gerardo Naranjo's 2011 Mexican hit, director Catherine Hardwicke's and screenwriter Gareth Dunnet-Alcocer's Miss Bala isn't deep or profound. It isn't nearly as intricate or as involved as the original film was, isn't as interested in the minutia of the drug trade or in the incestuous nature of the rampant corruption that infects political and law enforcement apparatuses alike as if it were a virus. This is a streamlined and efficient reworking of the material, one that is more invested in delivering a series of tense, electrifying thrills than it is anything else. Hardwicke's latest is undeniably generic yet just as equally not entirely unappealing, the film managing to hold my attention for most of its 104-minute running time even if what ended up happening wasn't particularly memorable.

On a positive note, Rodriguez is terrific as Gloria, the 'Jane the Virgin' star impressively dominating the film. Her fear is real, as is the growing sense of determination and resilience as her character comes to realize Reich could care less if she lives or dies and that Lino might not be the assertive antihero battling a dishonest system as he attempts to sell himself as. Rodriguez's jittery physicality as she drives through the U.S. border with a massive shipment of cocaine hidden in her vehicle and thousands of dollars of cash taped to her waist is magnificent, and I loved the idiosyncratic authenticity of everything she does during this part of the story. In fact, my favorite scene might just be the organically jubilant squeal the actress unleashes as Gloria realizes she's not going to be stopped for inspection by border control agents, the mixture of joy, sadness and terror that leaps off the screen in this one moment simply extraordinary.

The rest of the movie is...fine. It's fine. Just fine. Not bad. Not good. Just fine. Unlike her last major studio calamity 2011's Red Riding Hood, the director is back to the somewhat relaxed, visually precise dynamic she's utilized in the majority of her directorial efforts including her still stunning debut Thirteen as well as the underrated Lords of Dogtown, the emotionally astute Miss You Already and her massively successful (and still best of the bunch) initial installment in the highly profitable Twilight franchise. But while her film is majestically composed by cinematographer Patrick Murguia (The Frozen Ground) and tightly edited by Terilyn A. Shropshire (Beyond the Lights), it's still fairly blasé and dramatically rudimentary as far as narrative specifics are concerned. While there's plenty of energy there's just as clearly not a ton in the way of urgency, the dividing line between the two rather distinctive in a fundamentally unavoidable way that's benignly frustrating.

Look, I'm not going to hate on Miss Bala. Rodriguez is great and I can easily imagine myself being perfectly content to give this one a second look when it's streaming on Amazon or Netflix, available as a free selection OnDemand or after it begins making the rounds on Cable television. But it just as equally isn't a thriller I'm going to make any plans to view again for the second time anytime soon. Hardwicke's latest is far from a disaster. It also isn't a motion picture I or anyone else is likely going to be celebrating all that vociferously at any point in the foreseeable future.


Cornish's kid-friendly Arthurian update King a royal success
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING
Now playing


After he is chased into an abandoned construction site walking home from school, ordinary everyday schoolkid Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) stumbles upon a sword embedded in a stone slab. Pulling it free, the next day he jokes with best friend and confidant Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) that it must be the ancient weapon Excalibur. Of course, if it was Excalibur that would make Alex the once and future king of Great Britain. It would also mean that all of those stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table had to have been true as well, and that figures like Sir Lancelot, the wizard Merlin and the evil sorceress Morgana were more than figments of a variety of famous authors' collective imaginations.

Yet the sword is Excalibur. It has chosen him to lead a fight against unimaginable evil. The wizard Merlin (Patrick Stewart), masquerading as a fellow student (Angus Imrie) at Alex's school, urges the boy to embrace his destiny but also warns him that Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), far from a fictional creation, will do whatever she can to destroy him in an attempt to get her hands on Excalibur. It's an epic adventure, one where this young boy will discover things about himself, his friend Bedders, his protective mother Mary (Denise Gough) and former enemies turned trusted allies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris) he never knew possible. Most of all, Alex will learn that there's more to being a leader than talking tough or carrying a magical sword, and if he isn't honest and forthright no amount of courage will allow him to ever find the strength to defeat Morgana.

It's been eight years since writer/director Joe Cornish made his stunningly spectacular R-rated debut with the rambunctiously crowd-pleasing Attack the Block and in the process made instant sensations of future Star Wars star John Boyega and current Doctor Who Jodie Whittaker. In the years since he helped Edgar Wright come up with the initial story and script for 2015's Ant-Man while also co-writing the screenplay for Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin. He also appears in an uncredited cameo as a Resistance fighter in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Other than that? Sadly there's not a lot to talk about, the talented filmmaker unable to get funding for a variety of projects even though his debut became an instant cult phenomenon that some feel isn't just terrific, but also happens to be one of the best films of the decade.

Cornish's far more family-friendly Arthurian legend reinterpretation The Kid Who Would Be King was worth the wait. This movie is a divine joy that treats both its characters as well as its audience with respect, this fiendishly entertaining fantasy-adventure overflowing in intelligence, imagination and wit that's as infectious as it is exhilarating. Perfect fodder for viewers of all ages, genders and races, this is a story that lives up to the classic legend that inspired it, Cornish achieving the near impossible as he crafts a kid-friendly update that maintains respect for the source material even as it modernizes it in some fairly radical ways.

What's interesting is just how much emotional weight the filmmaker injects straight into the heart of Alex's story. The youngster is obsessed with learning about his father, even coming to believe that the reason Excalibur came to him must have something to do with the man's disappearance not too long after his birth. There is an authentic give-and-take between Alex and Mary that craftily ponders a plethora of weighty topics, mother and son finding ways to learn from one another that are free of artifice and subterfuge, truth becoming their most effective weapon to combat potentially lethal combinations of fear and distrust that are conspiring to do them both harm. Additionally, much like Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and Star Wars: The Last Jedi this tale finds compelling ways to remind viewers heroes come in all shapes and sizes, a person's background, genealogy or lineage completely unimportant, the size of the person's heart and the selfless purity of their actions all that truly matters.

At just about two hours in length the film can feel a little long, and there are some portions during the middle where I thought Cornish was unnecessarily repeating a few of his expositional plot points. Stewart, as much fun as he appears to be having as the elder incarnation of Merlin, is somewhat underutilized, while an entire suspense sequence taking place in Morgana's underground lair is oddly inert as I personally found it obvious this was not a climactic encounter between hero and villain but instead was only a precursor for the bigger battle still to come.

But Ferguson is exquisite as the evil sorceress, the talented Mission: Impossible - Fallout and The Greatest Showman actress gleefully reveling in her character's wicked ways with infectious relish. Chaumoo steals scenes left and right as Alex's unapologetically candid best friend, while Imrie is a goofily eccentric hoot as the younger Merlin. Best of all might be Dorris as Kaye, her performance a sly mixture of timid uncertainty and defiant self-confidence that allows her character to grow in resonance as events progress to their suitably rowdy conclusion. I loved her in this, a sequence featuring Kaye showcasing unimagined skills behind the wheel of a car as she, Alex, Bedders and Lance outrace demonic knights intent on their dismemberment planting a giant smile on my face that would remain there for the remainder of the motion picture.

Young Serkis, son of The Lord of the Rings and War for the Planet of the Apes star Andy Serkis, is wonderful in the title role, the young actor exhibiting a mesmeric talent for emotional variance that's delightful. He jumps from comedy to drama with ease, and the naturalistic chemistry between him and Chaumoo is simply marvelous. But it is the scenes between Serkis and Gough that hit home the most, a quiet bit near the end involving them splitting my heart into a number of teeny tiny pieces that only made the events of the climax hit home with that much more invigorating authority.

All of which makes it no surprise that, even with a couple minor hiccups here and there, I ended up enjoying Cornish's sophomore outing one heck of a lot. The Kid Who Would Be King is a total blast, this Arthurian tale of thrilling derring-do and noble valor a royal success worth taking the entire family to the theatre to see.


Obnoxious Dragon Ball Super: Broly a fan-friendly animated hit
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

DRAGON BALL SUPER: BROLY
Now playing


In retrospect, watching Dragon Ball Super: Broly wasn't the greatest idea I've ever had. I have no idea what happens in the Dragon Ball universe. I am not familiar with any of the stories associated with it. I have never seen any of the other 19 films in the popular anime series that have been released over the past three-plus decades. But after this one unexpectedly made a massive $25-million at the domestic box office last week I felt like I needed to see what all the fuss was about. After all, a movie should be able to stand on its own outside of its predecessors, so it seemed to me jumping in for my first Dragon Ball experience here shouldn't have been too much of a problem.

So I think I could follow what was going on, but that's only because Dragon Ball Super: Broly utilizes so many traditional fantasy, superhero, comic book and Greek Mythology storytelling tropes that I was already familiar with. Because of this I believe I was able to keep up with the plot for the most part. But just barely. Even then I still had trouble knowing what was going on at any given time, screenwriter and series creator Akira Toriyama unleashing a furious overabundance of exposition with such blazing speed and efficiency it all got a little bit maddening at times. He and director Tatsuya Nagamine drop their foot on the accelerator and never let up, every second of this film's 100-minutes rushing by in the proverbial blink of an eye.

There's like three origin stories, each involving the survivors of a race of powerful beings known as Saiyans. Before their planet is serendipitously destroyed by the powerful Frieza (voiced by Christopher Ayres), future warrior and all-around nice guy Goku (Seán Schemmel) is sent to Earth by his parents in order to hopefully live in peace. At the same time, Prince Vegeta (Christopher R. Sabat) was also away from their home planet, out on a mission of conquest where he ignored Frieza's message to return not knowing that if he'd done so he'd have been killed with the rest of the Saiyans. Later, he would join Goku on Earth, the pair developing a brotherly love-hate relationship as they continually trained to protect those they love from destruction.

Meanwhile, years before any of that happened, Saiyan military leader Paragus (Dameon Clarke) disobeyed a direct order from his commander, Vegeta's father, to allow his only child to be sent to the desolate and dangerous planet of Vampa as the tools utilized to measure his future powers theorize his abilities will be too massive to control. The angry parent steals a ship and follows his son to Vampa, and in his haste accidentally crash-lands on the planet. Naming him Broly (Vic Mignogna), he raises him to be the ultimate fighter, Paragus' most fervent dream one that involves seeing his boy defeat Vegeta in single combat.

From there the film races forward into the future, and through a rather nonsensical series of events Frieza manages to orchestrate a confrontation between Broly, Goku and Vegeta in the isolated Antarctic nothingness where they'll be free to ravage and destroy with little fear of causing any collateral damage. The final forty or so minutes is one long battle between the threesome, first Vegeta versus Broly, then Goku versus Broly, and finally the two Earth-residing heroes joining forces to work together to stop their fellow Saiyan before he inadvertently destroys the entire planet. There's also this thing about seven magical items known as Dragon Balls that I'm certain fans of the series will know way more about than I do, while a pair of kind-hearted intergalactic scavengers (I think that's what they are; I'm honestly unsure) named Cheelai (Erica Lindbeck) and Lemo (Bruce Carey) end up playing an important role in the story's eventual outcome as well.

There's a lot to keep up with, and there are a plethora of additional characters who appear at various points who are obviously important to the ongoing series but won't make any sort of impact on a newcomer whatsoever and will only help to confuse things even more than they already are. Additionally, considering this is the twentieth film in the franchise it isn't a surprise that there is no real ending, just a big gigantic climax that sets up whatever is supposed to come next as far as Goku and Vegeta's ongoing adventures are concerned. It's all nothing more than an episode in a feature-length animated serial, each narrative building to a cliffhanger that hints at an explosive, earth-shattering culmination to the series that will likely never come.

The animation bounces back and forth from being of the humdrum 1980s-style television variety to being eye-popping in its dynamic inventiveness. But it's also often a visual blur as things rarely slow down, even the few quiet moments overflowing in whiz and supercharged with an excessive amount of bang. And yet the final confrontation in Antarctica, as ridiculous as it might be, is undeniably impressive. The animation and the camerawork are frequently extraordinary, and there is also some magnificent color work that knocked my socks off.

Listen, if I'd been a Dragon Ball fan from the beginning it's likely I'd have enjoyed the heck out of this latest entry in the series. Talking with people who have seen quite a few of these films, I can understand why they're so darned excited about this one. But for me, as impressive as elements are and as confidently brought to life as all of this might be, personally I'm not sure I get what all the fuss is about. In the end Dragon Ball Super: Broly gave me something of a tiny headache, and because of that I'm pretty positive that when the twenty-first chapter sees a domestic theatrical release I'm probably not going to be asking to get a look at it no matter how many countless millions it ends up raking in at the box office.






ArtsWest's M. Butterfly a truly compelling and transformative experience
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NYC Pride selects Times Square for WorldPride closing ceremony; Melissa Etheridge to perform
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The 2018 Gypsy Rose Lee Award winners!
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February 2019 theater openings
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Seattle Symphony's 'Celebrate Asia' was a day of music and culture
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'We Built This City: Seattle's Historic Music Venues' discussion at the Seattle Public Library February 4
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The UK hit concert, 'The Choir of Man,' hits the Northwest for seven shows on their first US Tour
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Maybe this time for I Do, I Do, it's 'I Don't'
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GLAAD announces nominees for 30th annual GLAAD Media Awards
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Seattle Humane - Pets of the Week
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LETTER TO THE EDITOR
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Hardwicke's agreeable Miss Bala an acceptably generic remake
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Cornish's kid-friendly Arthurian update King a royal success
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Obnoxious Dragon Ball Super: Broly a fan-friendly animated hit
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