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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 12, 2019 - Volume 47 Issue 15
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Imaginative Missing Link a joyous stop-motion triumph
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

MISSING LINK
Now playing


Eccentric explorer Sir Lionel Frost (voiced by Hugh Jackman), eager to prove himself to the staid and traditional London adventurer community, heads to the United States and the wilds of Pacific Northwest logging towns in search of the legendary Sasquatch. He has received a letter ensuring him of the creature's existence, and never one to bow to convention Sir Lionel makes the 4,800-mile trip with the belief he is about to make history even though the majority of his peers scoff at what they see as nothing other than idiotic foolishness. This laughter includes the haughty guffaws of Lord Piggot-Dunceb (Stephen Fry), the elder statesman of British adventurers refusing to accept that a creature like the Sasquatch could exist as its doing so would be an affront to traditional theology as well the scientific status quo.

Turns out, not only is this Sasquatch (Zach Galifianakis) real, he's the one that sent the letter to Sir Lionel asking him to come to Washington state and 'discover' him. The gregarious creature is tired of being alone. He wants to meet more of his own kind, and after hearing stories of the mysterious Yeti that roams the mountains of the Himalayas, he figured Sir Lionel would be up to the task of assisting him in traveling around the globe in order to go and meet his snow-loving cousins residing in the undiscovered kingdom of Shangri-La. The bold explorer agrees, and after christening his tall, hairy new acquaintance Mr. Link (short for 'Missing Link') and a brief stop on the Mexican border to pick up the only known map of the Himalayan region they are off to from sassy widow Adelina Fortnight (Zoe Saldana) who subsequently joins them on their quest, they leave on a journey that's practically guaranteed to change their lives forever.

The latest animated sensation from the stop-motion maestros at Laika, the studio behind such family-friendly wonders as Kubo and the Two Strings, The Boxtrolls and Coraline, writer/director Chris Butler's (ParaNorman) marvelously entertaining Missing Link is a joyous absurdist frolic that's nothing short of wonderful. It is a freewheeling, energetic cross-continental adventure overflowing in good vibes, endearing life lessons and eccentric characterizations. It also offers up a few startling surprises, some of which are shocking in their violent finality, Butler's latest unafraid to show just what happens to those who choose ignorance, anger and intolerance as their guiding principles, their blind eye to science, acceptance and compromise the key to their own undoing.

The core of the story is unquestionably the growing friendship between Sir Lionel and Mr. Link. There's a stupendous moment where the explorer asks his new compatriot his first name, the look of shock that crosses over the Sasquatch's face when this happens is immediately coupled with a bright smile of ebullient delight as the animal is touched that someone, anyone, would take even a second of time to ask such a question. But the reality is Mr. Link has no first name. His parents never gave him one, and as he's been living in the forest for most of his life there's just never been a real need to come up with one. But this doesn't stop the Sasquatch from knowing what he would like to be called, of him having an innate sense of who he is and what name he would like the world, especially those he considers his friends, to call him by.

What's great about this moment is that, while initially played for a few tittering laughs, Sir Lionel immediately understands how important it is to Mr. Link to be called by his chosen name is. There is no hemming. There is even less hawing. Instead, he and Adelina immediately start referring to the Sasquatch by the name he has given himself, which brings the creature a sense of empowered confidence that allows him to become nothing less than a selfless hero by the end of the film. It's this little act of kindness, this understanding that to accept someone for who they proclaim to be can bring a powerful positivity to their lives unlike anything they've ever known before, and it's moments like this that help give Missing Link an enduring joie de vivre that's incredible.

The animation is stupendous, the folks at Laika once again proving to be masters of their craft. So many sequences just blew me away from a visual standpoint, Sir Lionel, Mr. Link and Adelina's arrival in Shangri-La crossing over a massive ice bridge that looks over a mist-covered cavern just plain stunning. The character designs are also so meticulously inventive I was frequently in a state of perpetual awe as I analyzed all of their varying facets, the Yeti ruler a notable standout that made my heart jump in giddy glee the second she was introduced.

There are villains here, and as I've stated Butler doesn't exactly pull his punches as to what he thinks about the lot of them. He unsympathetically, and rather unsubtly, draws ominous parallels between many of them and current religious and political leaders of today. Even though his film takes place during the tail end of the 19th century figures like the duplicitous Lord Piggot-Dunceb or his hired assassin Stenk (a magnificently cast Timothy Olyphant) aren't that far removed from the intolerant rabble-rousing fearmongers we see on Cable News channels as pundits or hear spewing their hatred on YouTube or Twitter on a daily basis right this very second.

What's great is that Butler doesn't so much make fun of them as he instead shows them to be the fools they are. More, he makes it clear that their time is reaching its conclusion, and while they will continually attempt to fill any room they are in with their hot air and fanatical gobbledygook, at a certain point the world can, should and hopefully will unsympathetically pass them by. They are figures of the past while figures like Sir Lionel, Mr. Link and Adelina are the heroes of the future, and seeing all three of them discover this for themselves ends up being one of this story's lasting charms. Missing Link is an amusing romp into the imagination that won a lasting place in my heart, and for Laika it's another stop-motion triumph that might just be the animated studio's best film yet.


Perfectly cast Little a big waste of comedic potential
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

LITTLE
Now playing


The most annoying thing about Little is just how much I wanted to like it even though I was coming perilously close to loathing every second I was sitting in the theatre watching its reverse Big scenario play out to conclusion. Regina Hall should have been perfectly cast as the main character, tech industry CEO Jordan Sanders, the ferociously nimble actress made to order to be wearing the designer heels of this Ebenezer Scrooge-like monster who gets magically transformed into her 13-year-old nerdy self of 25 years prior. On top of that, 'Black-ish' star Marsai Martin is a scene-stealing wonder as said middle-age adult now trapped back in her own teenage body, the young actress a delightful dynamo as she struts through the movie with a precocious hard-edged confidence that's superb. Throw in the luminous Issa Rae ('Insecure,' The Hate U Give) as Jordan's harried assistant April Williams and an incredibly gifted trio is unequivocally in place, and the thought they wouldn't be able to deliver the entertainment goods was the furthest thing on my mind as the film began.

But the script from director Tina Gordon (Peeples) and Tracy Oliver (Girls Trip) is a frantic muddle that doesn't know when to quit, frequently taking jokes much further than they need to go in order to retain their humor. At the same time, it does a horrible job of making its fantastical premise believable, alternating between grounding these happenings in honest human emotions and at other times taking things so far over the top it all becomes crushingly absurd. There's little nuance or subtly involved in any of this, the volume turned all the way up to 11 for almost every second of the feature's deadly 109-minute running time. It moves in fits and starts never achieving any comedic or dramatic momentum, and for every funny moment or moving scene there are countless others that are so ponderously leaden I let out an exasperated sigh every time the motion picture wasted more of its inherent potential.

The scenario is pretty simple. After an epically bad morning, the self-centered and domineering Jordan Sanders badgers a 13-year-old girl (Marely Taylor) for calling Jordan out for being mean to her employees only for the youngster to playfully curse her to be 'little' while twirling around a magic wand. Thing is, what was meant to be a joke ends up being anything but. The next morning Jordan wakes up in the body of her 13-year-old former self, a frizzy-haired youngster who spent middle school being pitilessly bullied by all the popular kids because of her peculiar looks and fondness for scientific experimentation. In order not to be put in the custody of Child Protective Services this adult in a kid's body is forced to reach out to her disgruntled assistant April for help. Jordan puts her in charge of her company until the two of them can figure out how to revert her back to normal, and in doing so learns a handful of life lessons that will hopefully make her a better person if the magic spell can be undone.

There's not a lot more to it. Jordan obviously ends up right back at the very middle school she was almost bullied out of 25 years earlier, making the acquaintance of the current set of eighth grade outcasts (JD McCrary, Tucker Meek, Thalia Tran) as well as the current queen bee (Eva Carlton) on her first day of class. As for April, she has to find the confidence to speak up for herself, discovering her voice after she's forced into this leadership role while at the same time showing her boss that treating others with kindness and respect gets more out of them than yelling and belittling their efforts on a regular basis could ever hope to. It's pretty straightforward and takes precious few risks, everything building to a foregone conclusion I can't imagine anyone anywhere being surprised by.

With a cast this talented, however, that honestly shouldn't be that big of a problem. The thing is, as terrific as Martin and Rae might be, Gordon's movie is at constant war with itself. It is as if the director can't decide if she wants to play things as broad fantastical farce, whether she wants to push the envelope of good taste as far as the sexual innuendo and more lascivious content is concerned, or is instead keen to embrace the scenario's more obvious melodramatic facets in order to force a few tears out of the viewer's eye sockets. There is no cohesion, no sense of pacing or time, character arcs having little meaning other than they need to get everyone to a certain place by an anointed time and for no other reason, any semblance of reality, nuance or character-driven purpose all but absent.

Then there is Hall. The actress gave my favorite performance of 2018 in Andrew Bujalski's Support the Girls. She has been masterful in movies as varied as the About Last Night remake, Love & Basketball and even Girls Trip. Here, however, Hall just isn't given material she can do anything with. She tries, goes above and beyond, but her version of Jordan Sanders simply doesn't work. It's impossible to believe anyone would keep working for this woman, let alone that April would have put up with being her assistant for three years considering the levels of mistreatment that is tossed her way. I just didn't care about her and as such I never believed anyone would be there for Jordan in a time of need, and while Hall does what she can there's just so little about the character that works none of her efforts end up mattering in any substantive way.

Most egregiously, the movie never knows when to say when. It has these individual moments that work beautifully, little snippets of humor and insight that are shockingly successful. Problem is, they are all almost immediately undercut because Gordon apparently didn't want to let go of them. Scenes go well beyond their breaking point, transforming what could have been an insightful humorous gag or a movingly sincere dramatic revelation into a detestable waste of time that dilutes the impact and power of everything that had just come before. Every time I felt like the film was starting to win me over, most often due to something either Martin or Rae happened to be doing, it would do something grotesque, smarmy or borderline repellent that would force me to shake my head in disappointed anguish, and like a guillotine blade covered in blood any chance there was for pleasure was severed right at the head never to be heard from again. Little is a big case of missed opportunities left to rot in the sun, the resulting stench so heinous here's hoping I'll never have to smell their like again anytime soon.








Marie, Dancing Still debuts at 5th Avenue Theatre
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Seattle Women's Chorus celebrate 'Legends of Rock' at Benaroya Hall April 28
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'Prince from Minneapolis' - Image is everything
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Announcing the 31st annual Lambda Literary Award finalists
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Bellevue Chamber Chorus recognized by City of Bellevue; hosting fundraising event Sunday, April 14
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Leslie Jordan wants Seattle to come to Exposed!
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LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
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Imaginative Missing Link a joyous stop-motion triumph
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Perfectly cast Little a big waste of comedic potential
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