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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 24 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 34
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Hypnotic Cosmopolis a descent into Cronenberg madness
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

COSMOPOLIS
Opens August 24


I have not read Don DeLillo's novel Cosmopolis, on which director David Cronenberg (A Dangerous Method, Eastern Promises) based his screenplay, so I do not have a clue how the Canadian auteur's hyper-sexualized adaptation compares to the source material. What I do know is that it fits distinctly within the director's canon, a second cousin to Videodrome and Naked Lunch, and from the first few moments I knew for certain whose world I was in and that I was in for a bumpy ride, seriously unlike anything else out there.

Is that good news? In part. This movie has passion, a kinetic drive bordering on hypnotic. This is a world similar to our own yet at the same time completely alien, the parallel energies running through the proceedings keeping me off-balance and continually on the edge of my seat. As stilted and as aloof as the dialogue and the mannerisms can be, as theatrically monotone as Cronenberg asks his cast to say their lines, there is reason to all the madness, a point to the tedium, everything building to a treatise on the here-and-now that packs a mighty wallop.

When I say wallop, boy, do I mean it. Star Robert Pattinson finds himself face-to-face with an oily parasitic bottom-feeder - or so he seems - played with ferocious relish by Paul Giamatti. The artifice of all that's preceded this sequence is slowly stripped away, the one-dimensionality of Pattinson's portrait proving to be just another of Cronenberg's illusions as the actor begins to awaken, evolve, and emote in ways heretofore unseen. The points the director is trying to make - the ideas about wealth, self, life, poverty, country, and community - come crashing to earth, and even if the final fade-out is as vague as they come, that doesn't make the effect it had on me any less palpable.

It's getting there that's the chore. The movie depicts a day in the life of financial whiz-kid Eric Packer (Pattinson), heading off in his limo to get a haircut on the other side of Manhattan even though his chief of security, Torval (Kevin Durand), urges him to do otherwise. Along the way he encounters his newlywed wife, Elise Shifrin (Sarah Gadon), has meetings with various members of his inner circle (Samantha Morton, Jay Baruchel, Philip Nozuka), hooks up with his artistic muse (Juliette Binoche), and has his daily medical checkup - almost all of these events taking place inside his high-tech vehicle.

These sequences, taken on their own, are more or less bizarre, disjointed, and only tangentially connected. They are brief vignettes, all delivered in some sort of monosyllabic hallucinogenic dream state that's decidedly unnerving. Emotions are raw, but you can't get a grasp on any of them, Cronenberg keeping an aloof air of pretense and artifice throughout that's hardly invigorating.

It all looks and sounds stunning, of course, and part of me is saddened by the fact that few will take the time to seek out this picture - from a technical standpoint alone, this is one of the better efforts of the year. Peter Suschitzky's (Spider) cinematography is particularly stunning, and when you consider that almost all of the action takes place inside a stretch limousine, that's high praise indeed. The film is also spectacularly edited by Ronald Sanders (The Bang Bang Club) and magnificently scored by Howard Shore (Hugo), their contributions key to making certain facets work as well as they do.

Even with my reservations - and I have more than I can easily get into here - I cannot get Cosmopolis out of my head. Where Cronenberg leads us, the final discussion he catapults Pattinson and Giamatti inside of, the filmmaker manages to bring things full-circle in a way I find fascinating. The acts and the illusions of the first 90 or so minutes are shown for what they were, the futility and drudgery of Packer's ambitions revealed for what they are. The film may be a mess, but it's a glorious mess, and those willing to take the ride will engage in a journey they're unlikely to soon forget.


Ill-fated Sparkle hopelessly out of tune
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SPARKLE
Opens August 17

Sparkle (Jordin Sparks) lives with her two older sisters, Sister (Carmen Ejogo) and Dolores (Tika Sumpter), in their iron-fisted, churchgoing mother Emma's (Whitney Houston) spacious Detroit home. It is 1968, and the Motown movement is sweeping the country. One night Sparkle persuades Sister to sing one of her songs at a club's open mic competition, the pair attracting the attention of wannabe music producer Stix (Derek Luke) in the process.

One thing leads to another and he deftly persuades all three ladies to form a group, with Sister as the lead and Sparkle responsible for the songwriting. Soon the trio's star is on the rise, and the young women catch the eye of a Columbia Records executive (Curtis Armstrong), who might be interested in signing them to a contract. But Sister has also sparked the affections of comedian Satin Struthers (Mike Epps), and the pair's destructive relationship has the potential to bring down the group and destroy Sparkle's dreams of musical stardom before they even have the chance to achieve liftoff.

A remake of the 1976 musical with Irene Cara and Philip Michael Thomas, director Salim Akil (Jumping the Broom) and his screenwriter wife Mara Brock Akil (TV's The Game and Cougar Town) have transported their version of Sparkle even further back in time, setting the proceedings right in the middle of the Motown explosion. Musically, this was wise - their film is filled with rhythms and sounds that can't help but make one enthusiastically move and groove even while sitting in a darkened theater.

Sadly, this might have been the only wise idea the pair had. Dramatically and structurally, this remake is an absolute mess, going the Dreamgirls meets A Star Is Born route but never in a way that makes what's happening feel fresh or original. The movie is a turgid slog of clich├ęs, empty melodrama, and wasted opportunities. Even with a couple of a show-stopping moments, on the whole the flick is a nearly two-hour mess that left me feeling bruised, battered, and bludgeoned, and aside from the glorious soundtrack there was hardly a single part of it I felt emotionally connected to.

That might be a little unfair. The subplot involving Sister and Satin, while tired and overly familiar, is acted with passion by Ejogo and Epps, who deliver their scenes with an electricity of purpose. The pair throw themselves into their portraits with conviction, letting every ounce of themselves seep off of the celluloid, making their tragedy at least somewhat compelling in the process.

Problem is, we've seen this story a billion times before, and we've seen it told a heck of a lot better. The price of stardom. The tragic nature of abusive love. The pain and suffering addiction can lead to. The heartbreak and bitter aftertaste of dreams unfulfilled. All of that and more is here, and none of it is very interesting. The Akils present their story with a turgid dogmatism that is almost insulting, slapping the viewer across the face when a subtle caress would have delivered the point with tons more power. They're going through the motions, time and continuity having no apparent meaning, everything leading to a foregone conclusion that's about as rousing as an American Idol finale.

I bring up that show for a reason - not because Jordan Sparks was its sixth-season winner (making comparisons to Academy Award-winning season-four also-ran Jennifer Hudson sadly inevitable) - but because of the way the final concert is shot, executed, and staged. Did anyone suggest that less might be more in the case of Sparkle's triumphant moment - that going over the top with a lot of unnecessary theatrics might call attention away from the innate power of the moment and instead bring back memories of Sparks beating out Blake Lewis for the American Idol crown?

If so, nobody listened, and that's the problem with Sparkle. No one here is bad, per se - all of the actors, including Sparks, read their lines with conviction and by and large do all that's required of them. But there is no restraint where the bigger picture is concerned. The volume is pushed past 11, making the mediocrity of the whole far more apparent, the one or two quiet moments with potential for real connection disappearing into the sonically maddening ether.

Obviously, this movie will be talked about more because of Houston than anything else. While she does OK here, while her performance as the bitter mother desperately trying to keep her daughters from repeating her own mistakes isn't an embarrassment (no The Preacher's Wife or Waiting to Exhale redux here), I hope the movie will be judged on its own merits and not treated as some sort of sacred document because of her supporting role. The bottom line is that while Houston's death was a tragedy, this doesn't make Sparkle any less pedestrian, and while I'll happily enjoy the singer's music for the foreseeable future and beyond, here's hoping I never have to think about this film and her involvement in it ever again.






'We all have Winterlings'
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Frenchie Davis goes all out
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VELO for victory
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Kenny Loggins proves his staying power
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A Dyke About Town: Rory Block: Nice country blues at Triple Door
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A magical Illusion - Sound Theatre scores with one of Tony Kushner's lesser-known works
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Old Times: Pure Pinter at ACT
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Huge Support for Chick-fil-A Day
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Hypnotic Cosmopolis a descent into Cronenberg madness
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Ill-fated Sparkle hopelessly out of tune
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Q-Scopes by Jack Fertig
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Joss Stone returning to Seattle next month
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Northwest News
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Letters
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