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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 30, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 48
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Tiger tale
Visually audacious Life of Pi another triumph for Lee

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

LIFE OF PI
Now showing


Life of Pi isn't an easy movie to talk about. Not because it has problems (though there are one or two) or because it does not entertain (it does that in spades), but more because its themes and morals are as ephemeral and as ghostly as the story spun by its central protagonist, Pi Patel (Irrfan Khan). Based on the lyrical, time-bending novel by Yann Martel, director Ang Lee (The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain) and screenwriter David Magee (Neverland) have crafted an elliptical visual poem where truth and fiction meld into one, discovering the heart and soul of the matter more important than solving the riddles revolving around its authenticity.

And what is that story told by the older Patel? As a young man (Suraj Sharma) he and his family, zookeepers by trade, were traveling from India to Canada by ship, their entire stock on board to be sold to a new zoo when they arrived at their new home. But tragedy strikes and their vessel is sunk, Pi the only survivor cast adrift on a lonely lifeboat in the middle of the hostile Pacific Ocean.

Scratch that, he's the only 'human' survivor. Pi is joined in his boat by a Bengal tiger with the curious moniker of Richard Parker. The pair engage in an uneasy battle of wills, each needing the other for survival but one knowing for certain that if he gets too close his compatriot will literally eat him for dinner. Together they travel across the ocean looking for signs of life, the ways of the universe colliding headfirst into them as their existence hangs by a tenuous thread.

MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
Is that it? Is this all that is going on here? Without a doubt, that's a gigantic highfalutin' No. Lee and Magee do their best to explore Martel's ideas and concepts, crafting a visually audacious enigma speaking to who we really are as well as the best of who we hope to be. The journey is the point - whether it is true or not is nowhere near as important as you'd think it should be, the lines between faith, spirituality, pragmatism, religion, science, and nature blurring into one in the process.

For many reasons there wasn't any way that Lee could have adapted Magee's ethereal book in a straightforward manner. For maybe the very first time - maybe the only time - a filmmaker has found a way to use modern 3D technology in a way that actually services the story and propels the narrative forward. Sure, James Cameron's Avatar and Martin Scorsese's Hugo looked fantastic, but they get the job done just as well in a standard visual format as they do in a three-dimensional one. Life of Pi, however, needs this third dimension and in many ways thrives upon it, the way it kept drawing me deeper and deeper inside the frame key to allowing me to feel everything Pi was going through and understand his final comments, and potentially his unspoken truths, in a way I do not think I could have otherwise.

There is a slight pretentiousness to all of this that is sadly unavoidable, and I can't say every element of the journey worked as well as I would have liked. But the way Khan tells the story and how Sharma in turn acts it out is something to behold, the latter's interactions with the (mostly, but not always, and I couldn't really tell which was which) CGI-generated Richard Parker bordering on astonishing. Even though neither actor shares a scene with the other - how could they? - the way they work in tandem is quite extraordinary, the pair together elevating the proceedings in a way I personally found stunning. They do wonders, both delivering performances ranking as two of the absolute best of 2012.

I'll be curious to see how Life of Pi holds up on subsequent viewings, interested to see if it plays as well in 2D as it does in 3D (a statement I honestly thought I'd never, ever make). Lee once again proves himself to be a master director capable of handling material of any kind, in every genre, his latest achievement just as amazing as his prior classics have been. He's a one-of-a-kind filmmaker who enjoys tackling one-of-a-kind projects, making his decision to dive into Martel's supposedly unfilmable novel nowhere near as surprising as it potentially might have been.


The other side of Santa
Visually seductive Guardians rises to the occasion

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

RISE OF THE GUARDIANS
Now showing


When the happiness of the world's children is in jeopardy, it falls to the Guardians to protect it. Selected for duty by the mysterious Man in the Moon, Santa Claus (voiced by Alec Baldwin), the Easter Bunny (Hugh Jackman), the Tooth Fairy (Isla Fisher), and the Sandman have protected the hopes and dreams of little kids around the globe for centuries, doing whatever it takes to make sure that the little ones' collective belief in the wondrous and fantastical never dies.

But now, a mysterious power is rising. Banished ages ago, the Guardians' long-forgotten enemy Pitch (Jude Law), otherwise known as the Boogeyman, has returned to wreak his vengeance. He wants to transform a child's dream into a nightmare - to make their belief in all that's well and good in the world vanish into the ether, knowing that by doing so the power his enemies use to battle him will slowly disappear.

JACK FROST TO THE RESCUE
Enter Jack Frost (Chris Pine). A playful sprite, he's spent the last few hundred years playing pranks and making kids merry, and even if they don't know he's around the smile on their faces as he brings forth an unexpected snow day has kept him moderately content. But now the Man in the Moon wants more from him, and tags Jack to become the newest Guardian - and while the others are not certain he's up to the challenge, when push comes to shove this winter-loving spirit might be the only thing standing between Pitch and the happiness of the world's children.

Based on the award-winning stories of author William Joyce, DreamWorks' Rise of the Guardians is a joy-filled frolic through the holidays that is as whimsical as it is energetic, as thoughtful as it filled with action. It never takes its audience for granted, doesn't speak down to kid and adult alike, bit by delectable bit revealing a story of sacrifice, understanding and togetherness that's virtually impossible to resist.

It begins with Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Lindsay-Abaire's (Rabbit Hole) thoughtful and multilayered script. He's taken these supernatural icons and made them real, grounding them in the here-and-now and allowing the ideas in Joyce's stories to take shape and materialize in a way that's honest and natural. The power of the Guardians comes from a child's belief in their abilities, and when that belief vanishes so does their magic. It's an interesting idea, one that is instantly relatable for any viewer of any age, the dreams of youth the passions that drive us as we enter into adulthood.

OUT OF CHARACTER?
Granted, seeing Santa and the Easter Bunny as yuletide, candy-colored, egg-throwing superheroes can be a little disconcerting. These are harbingers of peace and understanding, so watching them dispatch ghoulish black stallions with broadswords and boomerangs is something of a game-changer.

Yet Lindsay-Abaire and director Peter Ramsey don't go out of their way to make these beings of light and joy akin to second-rate X-Men. No, they make sure each of them maintains the core of who they are, remains beholden to the childlike beliefs that have driven their collective narratives for generations. There is action, but it isn't overwhelming or pointless - instead, it revolves around the idea that children are the driving force that keeps imagination and wonderment alive. The magic circling around this story is sprung forth from a place of love, a belief that fantasy and reality can combine together to become the most powerful of forces, this innate goodness a euphoric symphony of peace that permeates the proceedings start to finish.

The vocal work is universally excellent, but it is Law, Baldwin (who is unrecognizable), and Pine who stand out. They all dig inside their respective characters, making them come alive in a way that is continually surprising. Law in particular makes Pitch an odious yet pitiable villain, one you want to see defeated yet can't help but feel somewhat sorry for in the process.

But the star is the Sandman. Without saying a word, with only an array of facial expressions and magical signals made with his trademark sleep sand to get his points across, there is a benign serenity, a strange, surreal, comforting calm to this supernatural figure that's uniquely heartening. While the script's center revolves around Jack, and it is his story being told, the heart of the picture is without a doubt the Sandman, and whenever he is not around his absence cannot help but be felt.

DREAMWORKS DOES IT AGAIN
The animation is a stunning as ever, DreamWorks delivering a visual marvel that ranks right up there with their greatest achievements. In large part, I am sure, due to the help of executive producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) and visual consultant Roger Deakins (Skyfall), the movie has a look and a feel uniquely its own. It casts a mesmerizing spell, and in a year filled to the brim with outstanding-looking animated motion pictures (Brave, Wreck-It Ralph, ParaNorman, and The Secret World of Arrietty immediately come to mind), this one might be the most visually spectacular of the whole darn lot.

Rise of the Guardians builds to a moving climax of emotion and heart, a sequence that speaks to the very best of who we wish we could be and the imaginative power that fuels our collective fantasies both as children and adults. It is a moment where heroes, and not the ones you expect, rise and the truth behind villainy is revealed. It is a beauteous sequence showcasing what sacrifice - true, selfless, and coming from a place of eternal love - truly entails, revealing how the power of faith can battle even the most destructive of foes.


Not too tragic
Passion plays only a supporting role in Joe Wright's Anna Karenina

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

ANNA KARENINA
Now showing


I'm not entirely sure what I think of Joe Wright's take on Leo Tolstoy's Anna Karenina. The Atonement, Hanna, and Pride & Prejudice director certainly tackles the material in his own idiosyncratic way. He and screenwriter Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love) have centered the action within the confines of the proscenium, telling the story of Russian socialite Anna (Keira Knightley), her high-ranking politician husband Karenin (Jude Law), and her wealthy cavalry officer lover Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) on a lavishly designed and constantly shifting stage full of the usual theatrical artifices.

Yet not always. The story opens up into the wilds of a Russian winter, its protagonists walking off the stage into a widescreen landscape - only to go through a new door leading them back inside the theater. It's oftentimes pretty darn spectacular, the visual resplendence of it all bordering on magic. Seamus McGarvey's (The Avengers) lush and lively cinematography is outstanding, as is Sarah Greenwood's (Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) eye-popping production design and Jacqueline Durran's (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) marvelous costumes. Dario Marianelli's (Jane Eyre) score is arguably the chief standout, his operatic arias achieving an invigorating life of their own that kept me continually enthralled.

THE MISSING ELEMENT
So why am I conflicted? As pretty as this movie is, as energetic and as lively as it is staged, the passion of the story is severely muted. By and large I hardly felt a thing with regard to Anna's relationship with Vronsky and how it affected her societal standing and her marriage to Karenin. The emotional essence of this triangle felt muted and dulled to me, never came alive like I kept hoping it would, and as full-bodied and vigorous as some of the performances were, I never got the feeling that either Wright or Stoppard were as concerned with Tolstoy's central narrative as they should have been.

Which is weird, because the subplot concerning Kitty (Alicia Vikander), the beautiful young sibling of Anna's sister-in-law Dolly (Kelly Macdonald), who is married to jovial adulterous Oblonsky (Matthew Macfadyen), and her infatuation with Vronsky as well as her subsequent romance with down-to-earth and sensitive landowner Levin (Domhnall Gleeson), borders on remarkable. It's overflowing with emotion that's honestly earned and deeply resonating, and whenever the film switches gears and focuses on them it bounces with an energy that much of the rest bizarrely lacks.

I'm not sure what the reasons for this disconnect are - why Wright and Stoppard excel on one part of the human element of this saga but bewilderingly fail where it comes to the other part of Tolstoy's tragic tale. They get right to the heart of the matter where it comes to Kitty and Levin, but only skim the surface as far as Anna and Vronsky are concerned, one love story ringing with truth while the other falls frustratingly flat.

This isn't for any lack of trying on the part of either Knightley or, especially, Law (he's wonderful, and the movie could use more of him). The former is unusually restrained, keeping herself in a state of control that's mightily impressive. She's got embers burning within her that flair up like wildfire at the most inopportune of moments, the scenes between her and Law dealing with their marriage having a fierce interpersonal ferocity the ones between her and Taylor-Johnson sadly lack. Yet the artifice integral to the world the filmmakers have created has the unfortunate side effect of muting the human element, and as gorgeous as all of this is, if the characters don't click none of the technical stuff matters.

VIKANDER A STANDOUT
Why Vikander and Gleeson are able to overcome this during their subplot I can't exactly say, but the truth of the matter is that they do. Both actors have a melodious chemistry, speaking volumes in silence and using subtle glances and gentle asides to get the finer points of their blossoming romance across to the viewer. Vikander, so wonderful in the Danish Oscar submission A Royal Affair, continues to impress, the breadth and body of her performance staggering, Gleeson matching her beat for beat and note for note, every step of the way.

Wright is a gifted director - of that there is still no doubt - and I'm not quite ready to dismiss Anna Karenina as an immaculately designed, highly ambitious disappointment. I want to - need to - see it again, as the portions of it I loved I did so deeply and without reservation. But the tragedy of Tolstoy's epic is lost in all this visual stage-bound majesty, Anna's journey a bizarrely empty one that sent me out of the theater feeling as if I'd been left out in the barren Russian cold.




'It's all about love'
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American Ho
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Good times
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Bruce Vilanch wigs out
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Satirically bleak Killing doesn't tread softly
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Cabaret returns to Ballard
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Home is Where the Test Is
Home HIV Test Video

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Happy trails - Glen Campbell says farewell to Seattle with admirable performance
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Tiger tale
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The other side of Santa
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Not too tragic
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Northwest News
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Letters
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Macklemore highlights Best of Music 2012
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'Good morning, Cabal...'
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A really BIG wedding: Seattle's Center for Spiritual Living hosts a massive marriage ceremony Dec. 15
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Making history: Seattle First Baptist Church, uniting Gay couples for 33 years, plans free December 9 ceremony
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Profiles in commitment
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Marital melodies
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Congratulations, newlyweds!
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Celebrate your nuptials in style at Q
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A match made in... Arizona
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