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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 8, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 06
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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What Men Want a toothlessly feeble remake
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WHAT MEN WANT
Now playing


A gender-flipped remake of Nancy Meyers' 2000 hit comedy What Women Want starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt, director Adam Shankman's (Hairspray, Rock of Ages) shockingly unfocused and comedically inept What Men Want isn't just a waste of time, more egregiously it also squanders an appealing star turn from actress Taraji P. Henson. It is a tone-deaf retread that rarely evokes a slight giggle let alone a full guffaw, the film so devoid of satirical insight or comedic inspiration it's easy to wonder if the film was ever supposed to contain either trait to begin with. Shankman's latest has no energy, has no pizazz, and by the time it was over all I could do was stare at the screen in stupefied distaste wondering how something so insufferable made it past the planning stage, let alone ended up garnering a major theatrical release.

Pity, because Henson is a star. A singular talent who elevates everything she's a part of, she's the perfect person to be portraying veteran Atlanta sports agent Ali Davis. This is a singularly focused woman who has taken her boxing coach father Skip's (Richard Roundtree) tutelage to heart and has brazenly and confidently proven herself to be a winning talent who refuses to quit no matter what the circumstances. Henson delivers a ferocious performance that feels fresh, determined and, best of all, unapologetically feminine. While her character has taken on some masculine tendencies in order to compete against the men surrounding her, Ali is still very much a woman. More, she's not going to ask anyone's permission to be anything less, the actress' magnetic fortitude continually impressive even if the motion picture surrounding her performance far too frequently ends up proving to be the exact opposite of that.

While the basic concept that makes both Meyers' effort and this new variation tick are similar, there are still quite a few major differences as far as the core narrative is concerned. Where in the 2000 film Gibson's snobbishly sexist ad executive is determined to get more in touch with his feminine side in order to better relate with his new boss portrayed by Hunt only to end up getting an electrical shock that allows him to start hearing the thoughts of every woman he encounters, here Henson's Ali is angrily exasperated when her macho misogynist boss Nick Ivers (an impeccably cast Brian Bosworth) passes her over for a partnership promotion even though all her female clients bring in more money on a regular basis than any of her male counterparts with their high-profile NFL, NBA or MLB stars frequently do. This leads her to proclaim she's going to sign future NBA prospect Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie) before her coworkers can. But after a night out with her best friends, an evening that includes a reading from a deranged psychic named Sister (Erykah Badu), Ali arrives back at work the next morning to discover she can hear men's thoughts, and it's initially unclear to her whether this newfound ability is a blessing or a curse.

Apparently written by committee (there are four credited writers), things get even more convoluted from there. Jamal's father Joe 'Dolla' Barry (Tracy Morgan) is a domineering parent who oversees every aspect of his son's life. Ali's nearest and dearest girlfriends, Ciarra (Phoebe Robinson), Olivia (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and Mari (Tamala Jones), are excitedly planning the former's upcoming wedding. Her trusted assistant Brandon (Josh Brener) wants to graduate from being her aide to becoming a full-blown sports agent himself. Most of all, Ali ends up in an unexpected romance with single dad Will (Aldis Hodge), surreptitiously parading both him and his precocious son Ben (Auston Moore) around in front of the family-centric Joe Dolla as if she were a doting wife and mother and doing so without their knowledge.

It's a lot, and quite frankly the movie seldom knows what to do with any of it. Shankman and his writers are far too timid to actually craft a film that lives up to its title let alone its premise. This movie doesn't want to dig too deeply into what men might want as it's terrified of riling any feathers or making any waves. The men in this motion picture come in three different stripes: unrepentant misogynistic jerks, perfect paragons of masculine virtue or nonthreateningly gay. They think the worst thoughts imaginable, no thoughts whatsoever or nothing less than the unvarnished truth that should be spoken aloud and not timidly held inside no matter how painful it might be. There's no variation. No nuance. No subtlety. It's a cacophonous mess of platitudes and generalities that grow increasingly tiresome, and no matter how strong the performances or how charismatic the cast might be there's nothing any of them can do to make any of this even moderately passable.

There's one scene that conceptualizes all of this as far as I'm concerned. Ali goes out on a double date with one of her friends at a local pool hall. But where the guy her girlfriend is hanging on has lascivious thoughts about doing carnal things with one of the servers taking their drink orders, Will isn't thinking anything at all. The problem here is that Will would be thinking something, and considering his competitive nature it would probably involve the game of pool he and Ali are currently attempting to win against the other couple. Having him have a thought, any thought, would have made him an authentic human being and not some fantastical fantasy figure who only exists in romance novels. It also would have made Ali's affections for him grow in resonance and power because she'd be secretly seeing him as he truly is and understood in that moment his affections for her were undeniably genuine.

The movie overflows in missed opportunities like this, places where Shankman and his team go for the easy gag instead of the more insightful truth that would have given the comedy additional power that could have made it more emotionally evocative. Its sitcom platitudes are tedious, many of the third act twists and turns aggravating in both their stereotypical mendacity as well as in their unbelievable coincidental contrivance. As hard as Henson tries, and she's giving everything she's got in a valiant attempt to hoist this comedy up to at least a passingly entertaining plateau it could never ascend to without her, What Men Want just isn't good. This is a feeble remake, and the only thought that went through my head afterward was that the gifted actress starring in it deserved a much better motion picture to showcase her considerable talents in than this one ended up proving to be.


Everything still (sorta) awesome in The LEGO Movie 2
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE LEGO MOVIE 2:
THE SECOND PART
Now playing


It's been five years since the events of Taco Tuesday, the citizens of the city once known as Bricksburg now living in a dystopian wasteland ever since the invaders from Planet DUPLO came down from the stars and eradicated all they held dear. Each time they rebuilt these interstellar marauders returned, keeping LEGO society in a constant state of morose unease where good vibes and polite conversation have all but disappeared. Even Lucy, a.k.a. Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks), one of the heroes of Taco Tuesday, has begun to think their civilization is on the brink of collapse, and if not for her closest compatriot Emmet's (Chris Pratt) continual upbeat optimistic look at life and impossibly unfazed sunny demeanor she might have given up hope for salvation ages ago.

It helps that the DUPLO invaders have not made an appearance in ages and things are starting to look up as they haven't in quite some time. But just as Wyldstyle is beginning to think Emmet might be right and everything could be awesome once again, a new visitor calling herself General Mayhem (Stephanie Beatriz) arrives to mess things up even more than they already were. She kidnaps Wyldstyle, Batman (Will Arnett), Unikitty (Alison Brie), MetalBeard (Nick Offerman) and astronaut Benny (Charlie Day) in order to present them to her beloved monarch Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi (Tiffany Haddish). Emmet builds his own spaceship and quickly follows after them, meeting his broody, vest-wearing and raptor-loving doppelgänger Rex Dangervest during his travels, this gutsy, angst-ridden space traveler agreeing to help him stop the Queen's plans for universal domination and save his friends from danger.

That The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part isn't as imaginative or as surprising as its 2014 predecessor is hardly a surprise. That wondrous animated marvel was a vibrant, entertainingly thought-provoking shock to the system, filmmakers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller proving instantaneously they were far more than 21 Jump Street-style one-trick ponies. Their film was an eye-popping marvel full of twists and turns that also had some rather emotionally affecting life lessons to teach along the way to its marvelously unexpected conclusion, making it one of the more memorably charming animated features to see a theatrical release this decade.

That's a pretty tall staircase a sequel has to climb in order to just equal the picture that came before it, and while Lord, Miller and new director Mike Mitchell (Trolls) give it their best shot unfortunately the trio never quite set foot upon the top step. Still, there's plenty to love about this follow-up, this wildly idiosyncratic animated adventure far more entertaining than either of the other LEGO-inspired movies (The LEGO Batman Movie, The LEGO Ninjago Movie) that have been released since the first The LEGO Movie took the box office by storm five years ago. This latest journey with Emmet, Wyldstyle, Batman, Unikitty and other fan-favorite characters overflows in likable moments certain to delight audiences of all ages, while Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi is a lovely new addition to the cast who helps give this story a pleasing girl-power shimmer that's empoweringly divine.

The story is essentially split into two halves with a handful of live-action interstitials plopped in randomly to help augment the emotional core of what it is Lord and Miller's complex script is attempting to say. The first section involves Wyldstyle and her abducted friends meeting Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi and learning about her nefarious-sounding plans to unite LEGO and DUPLO worlds into one harmonious utopia. The second revolves around Emmet's adventures with Rex, the latter oddly insistent in his attempts to try and convince the former he has to emotionally harden himself against life's negative aspects and to stop being so gosh darn nice all the time. These dueling narrative strands entangle themselves with one another nicely, everything building to a shocking act of revolution that might not be as heroic or as egalitarian as it might initially appear to be.

As for the live-action bits, while Will Ferrell's voice can oftentimes be heard in the background, this time it is Maya Rudolph who is front and center, the scene-stealing actress portraying the harried mother of two precocious children who is inching closer and closer to the end of her rope. This brother-sister tandem, Finn (Jadon Sand) and Bianca (The Florida Project star Brooklynn Prince), can't seem to stop fighting, the two continually unable to find common ground as they play with their favorite toys. This leads their mom to make a proclamation just about every parent can likely relate to. At the same time, it also puts the continued existence of Emmet, Wyldstyle and their friends in jeopardy, in many ways Finn and Bianca the key to their collective salvation whether they all realize it or not.

That's a lot to process, and goodness knows Lord and Miller dig into the minutia of all this with a stunning amount of detail. Yet, as big as their pop culture bag of tricks might be and as heartfelt as their connection to this eclectic set of character undeniably is, there were a number of moments where I personally found a lot of this moderately redundant, particularly when the sequel is gallivanting around with Emmet and Rex. I couldn't help but feel like their part of the narrative kept losing focus, and as incredible as individual set pieces could be there were numerous points where they also felt more like time-wasting filler more than they did essential pieces of the plot. Also, as good as Rudolph, Sand and Prince are the trips into the real world kept happening far too frequently, stalling out the proceedings in order to provide brief explosions of exposition I didn't think were entirely necessary.

Even so, this sequel is a great deal of fun. Many of the more insightful gags are laced with a knowing emotional authenticity that's oftentimes sublime, while many of the visuals, especially as they pertain to the iconoclastic shapeshifting Queen Watevra Wa'Nabi, are spectacular. A couple of the songs are certain to get stuck inside the viewer's head (and that's by design), while the vocal work across the board is excellent. The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part might not be as awesome as its forerunner but that doesn't make it any less worthwhile, this amusing follow-up an irreverent gem that even with a few minor misgivings I couldn't help but enjoy.








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Whim W'Him and Seattle Baroque Orchestra join forces to present Pergolesi's enduring masterpiece Stabat Mater
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Seattle Humane - Pets of the Week
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LETTER TO THE EDITOR
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What Men Want a toothlessly feeble remake
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Everything still (sorta) awesome in The LEGO Movie 2
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