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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 25 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 17
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Mann, Diaz shine in otherwise unflattering Woman
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE OTHER WOMAN
Now playing


In many respects, The Other Woman is not the movie you think it is going to be. What looks on the surface to be nothing more than a facile, superficial gross-out comedy about three women (two of whom are the unknown mistresses of the third's supercilious cad of a husband) wants, in its heart, to be so much more than that. Screenwriter Melissa Stack attempts to manufacture a scenario where these women are more than their stereotypical parts, trying to craft a tale of female empowerment, bonding and sisterhood that rises above the trite obnoxiousness of the central narrative hook.

But then comes the last third of the film when it suddenly, irrevocably and disappointingly transforms into exactly the film most would have expected it to be from the start, erasing much of the good will generated by the initial portions with upsetting rapidity. It takes disastrous turns, making its heroines so much less than they should be, reveling in nasty bits of bathroom humor and offensive misogynistic undertones (not to mention ghastly gender identity stereotypes) that are difficult to take seriously let alone endure with anything close to comfort.

Until then, however, The Other Woman is surprisingly winning. When hotshot New York lawyer Carly Whitten (Cameron Diaz) discovers the man she's been having a whirlwind romance with, startup investment wizard Mark King (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau), is secretly married, she immediately tries to cut all ties with him. Problem is, the guy's needy, relatively insecure suburban housewife Kate (Leslie Mann) requires a shoulder to cry on and she's for some strange reason chosen the very woman who unintentionally wronged her to lay it on.

The pair strike up a friendship even though by all accounts they should hate each other. Yet, the more Carly gets to know about Kate and vice-versa, the more they realize they're largely cut from the same exact cloth, each finding ways to empower the other, giving them a reason to move on with their lives in hopes of bettering it for the long run. They talk to one another like adults, and although bouts of adolescent-like lunacy occur, for the most part they do their best to fall apart and put themselves back together with poise, intelligence and newfound tenacity.

It is during these sections that the movie works best. Mann is sensational, dominating the story with her emotionally complex, free-flowing performance, that constantly surprises, and never goes where you expect it to go. She takes a character who, on the surface at least, could have been indefensibly insulting, and transforms her into a figure of empowering grace, dignity and resilience, throwing herself into the role heart and soul with abandon. Mann is fearless, mining emotional terrain that's as complex as it is authentic, her breakdowns and crackups every bit as important and as inspiring as her internal resurrection and newfound strength of spirit.

As for Diaz, it's actually kind of nice to see her play the straight woman, and instead of being the one doing all the pratfalls and the hijinks, she instead gets to be the one who responds to them slowly, becoming the somewhat motherly center around which all else revolves. She doesn't back away from Carly's more odious and off-putting traits; instead she embraces them, knowing that by doing so she'll make her character's transformational journey more interesting and relatable than it would have been otherwise.

Even so, all of this ends up being for naught when the film finally decides to get around to its more tiresome aspects, most notably the arrival of a second mistress, bubbly good-hearted airhead Amber (Kate Upton), and the plot to get cold-hearted revenge on the man who's done all three of them wrong kicks into gear. It turns into an adult version of John Tucker Must Die - only played with little panache and almost zero charisma, going through the motions with pandering exactitude as it pertains to all that happens during this final third.

For whatever reason, Stack isn't content with keeping Mark a smarmy, selfishly misogynistic rake and instead feels the need to transform him into an outright inhuman monster. Problem is, by doing this she ends up inadvertently stripping her heroines of the traits and nuances that make them relatable and allow them to be human, an emotional connection between their travails and the audience experiencing it along with them, thus virtually impossible. It's a disastrous turn of events, frustrating to say the least, and by the time things ultimately, and predictably, play themselves out, I'm not sure I could have cared any less had I actively tried.

Director Nick Cassavetes admittedly stages a few inspired sequences - a scene where Carly attempts to shove Kate into a cab is borderline genius - and he's certainly made a better motion picture than his insipidly unwatchable travesty of melodramatic excess that is The Notebook, but that doesn't mean he works miracles. His handling of much of this borders on haphazard at best, nonexistent at worst; lackadaisical shifts in tone and pacing continually keeping the highpoints from clicking as regally as they maybe could have, while also accelerating the film's downfall by accentuating the more odious aspects in ways that are inexplicably noxious.

At the same time, as already stated, he does get great work out of both Mann and Diaz. Additionally, Upton doesn't do herself any injuries even if the character she's playing is as one-dimensionally cliché as they come, Cassavetes utilizing her far better than I anticipated possible. Don Johnson also has a few amusingly playful moments as Carly's randy father, while Zero Dark Thirty and 'Chicago Fire' heartthrob Taylor Kinney does wonders with what is an otherwise massively underwritten role portraying Kate's sensitively charming younger brother Phil.

Yet The Other Woman fails, close to miserably, if only because it takes its two main heroines and unceremoniously throws them under the bus. While other facets perplex and falter (the casting of Nicki Minaj is head-scratching in and of itself, but it's only one of many incongruities that arise), and while penultimate scenes with Coster-Waldau are unintentionally embarrassing, it's the fact the film suddenly and without provocation treats both Carly and Kate with such little respect that's most upsetting. It belittles and humiliates the two of them in ways that are close to unforgivable, making a movie I was ready to proclaim a nifty little April surprise into nothing more than an unflattering letdown I'd suddenly rather forget.


Absurd Brick Mansions is acrobatic Parkour Looney Tunes
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

BRICK MANSIONS
Now playing


Sometime in the very near future, Detroit is a warzone. The worst section of town has been dubbed 'Brick Mansions,' and after an incursion by law enforcement to regain control ends in tragedy, officials take the drastic step of walling off the neighborhood from the rest of the city leaving everyone inside to fend for themselves.

Lino (David Belle) is the neighborhood vigilante, obsessed with making sure drug dealers, like the all-powerful Tremaine (RZA), lose as much money and influence as possible, considering he's just one man working on his own. Damien (Paul Walker) is a seasoned undercover cop from the city, whose father was slain trying to bring law and order back to Brick Mansions, and he's looking for a reason to infiltrate so he can see those who pulled the trigger pay.

The combination of Lino's ex-girlfriend Lola's (Catalina Denis) kidnapping and a small nuclear device being smuggled into Brick Mansions, both evils engineered by Tremaine, is what brings the neighborhood's Robin Hood and the big city's most driven cop together, the duo forging an uneasy alliance in a quest to bring this kingpin down. But nothing is what it seems and not every enemy is a foe and every ally a friend, and before Lino and Damien know it, they're suddenly faced with the realization the only people they can fully trust is one another.

Brick Mansions is a remake of the 2004 international French sensation District B13. Co-written and produced by action maestro Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita), District B13 was the initial introduction of the martial arts phenomenon known as Parkour (the art of efficiently moving through environments with only the human body as the tool), movement co-founder Belle featured in a primary role, making him an almost instant star. It was a fun, fast and incredibly loose bit of frenetic dystopian action silliness, countless movies of all shapes, sizes and stripes (including Casino Royale and Live Free or Die Hard) borrowing ideas hatched within it, presenting them in most cases as if they were their very own.

With that in mind, it does feel a little odd that it's taken a decade for a Hollywood remake to finally make its way into theatres. Also co-written and produced by Besson and directed by one of his B-movie action disciples Camille Delamarre (he edited Taken 2, Lockout, Colombiana and Transporter 3), the movie doesn't stray particularly far from the source material. If you've seen the French original, then you'll know exactly where this one is headed long before the characters themselves do, the lapses in logic more or less par for the course.

For everyone else, it's likely newcomers are buying tickets to either witness sequences of spectacular action or to see star Walker in what is tragically one of his final roles. If so, I doubt those who've entered the theatre for those reasons are likely to be disappointed. On the first front Delamarre stages sequences of adrenaline-fueled pyrotechnics with energetic glee, an eye-popping initial rooftop chase as glorious as it is giddily absurd. As for the second, while Walker doesn't do anything new or unexpected, he's still charismatically strong as the intractable and forthright Damien, understanding the mechanics of both the film and what is required of him down to the marrow.

Not that we're talking some B-grade action classic. The script was pretty silly the first time around and it is highly possible it's even more so in regards to the remake. On top of that, RZA might just be the most unimposing villain I've seen in ages, the music star and cultural icon not exactly the greatest actor of his generation, mumbling through his lines as if he's speaking with a mouth full of marbles. Delamarre has a bear of a time trying to maintain a minimal sense of continuity, keeping track of just how much time has passed between the start of the film and the explosive climax next to impossible.

Who am I kidding? As dumb as it all is - and, believe me, it's really, really stupid - the movie is a heck of a lot of fun. There are a flurry of exceptional scenes, not the least of which is a flat-out incredible bit of acrobatic derring-do involving Lino and Damien having a heck of a time trying to take down Tremaine's most imposing henchman, naturally nicknamed 'Yeti' (Robert Maillet). Belle is a natural star born from the Jackie Chan school of anything-goes lithe physical pyrotechnics, and much like the two French films in the series (District 13: Ultimatum was released in 2009) he steals the show the moment he steps into the frame.

This isn't a great movie. I'm not even sure it's a good one. But I can't say I wasn't entertained, and as inane as this remake might be, the fact it's an action effort that returns to basics and eschews computer-augmented bits of trickery for old school rock 'em-sock 'em, fists-a-flying fireworks is a major plus as far as I'm concerned. As one of Walker's final efforts, it's nothing to be ashamed of, and for those looking to have some mindless fun, but don't want to be treated as if they're brainless (even if the movie itself might be) Brick Mansions is a neighborhood worth visiting.


Visually electric Transcendence a fascinating failure
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

TRANSCENDENCE
Now playing


Will Caster (Johnny Depp) and his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall) are scientists at the forefront of the movement to create the first fully functioning, self-sustaining Artificial Intelligence or A.I. On the day they are giving a talk on the subject, facilities across the United States working in this field are hit by terrorists who believe this technology to be an abomination and a danger to the future of humanity itself, and many leaders in the field are brutally murdered.

One of the victims of this assault is Will, a lone gunman shooting him in the gut before taking his own life. While it initially appears he'll survive, it turns out the bullet has been laced with radiation, meaning the scientist's time left on the Earth will be tragically short. But Evelyn will not let her husband go without a fight. With the assistance of friend and colleague Max Water (Paul Bettany), she's going to upload Will's consciousness into the supercomputer the two of them have been designing, thus allowing him to live on even if his body has been rendered useless.

This is the setup to Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister's (Inception) directorial debut Transcendence, a movie that follows a litany of familiar and well-worn science fiction tropes attempting to give them a modern day, ecologically-minded spin in the process. Jack Paglen's script brings to my mind everything from random 'Twilight Zone' episodes, to 'Max Headroom' commercials, to The Lawnmower Man, to the writings of authors as varied as Harlan Ellison, Isaac Asimov and William Gibson. Heck, even the recent Captain America: The Winter Soldier contains a subplot eerily reminiscent of the main action explored here, proving without a doubt the ideas being talked about aren't exactly new or original even though they've been given a posh 21st century polishing.

Even so, Transcendence is fairly fascinating, at least for the initial hour, concepts of self, identity and what it means to be human played out in cybernetic realm that feels startlingly authentic. Evelyn's love for Will is so all-encompassing, she has trouble spying the potential dangers shining brightly in front of her. At the same time, Max can't help but question what it is the pair of them has done the moment his friend's intellect and consciousness claim to still be in working order, the thought of what he'll do if uploaded to the Internet chilling him to the bone.

It's in these building block portions that Pfister does his best work. He imparts a ton of information, the levels of exposition needing to be explained so all that's transpiring makes even passing sense staggering, but he does so in a way that is consistently easy to keep track of. Without talking down to the audience or belittling the viewer's intelligence he nonetheless finds a way to explain what is going on in easily digestible fragments, Jess Hall's (The Spectacular Now) cinematography and David Rosenbloom's (The Insider) editing filling in the blanks, allowing him to strip away the dialogue without losing an ounce of narrative clarity in the process.

If only the second hour could be the same. At a certain point, Paglen's script transforms from heady, what-if scientific thriller cum horror story into a rather ungainly and unfocused action flick, explosions and gunfire taking the place of thoughtfulness and clarity. The movie sets up an intriguing scenario filled with tons of curious characters all with interesting stories aching to be told, only to lose sight of them as things rush towards the somewhat inevitable conclusion. There just isn't the time to make any of this work like it should, and the moment Morgan Freeman's fellow scientist and Cillian Murphy's chilly FBI agent reenter the proceedings (they're around during the initial sequences when Will gets shot) things almost can't help but fall disappointingly off the rails.

Which is too bad, because for a while there Pfister had me happily in his pocket, eagerly lapping up what it was he wanted to show me and excited to discover in which direction things were going to go to next. Hall is extremely strong as a wife driven beyond all limits of known sanity to fight for her husband's survival, while Bettany is wonderful as a man eager to help her do it, only to begin to shrivel in horror once the realization of what they've done starts to sink in. The pair anchor the first 60-plus minutes with remarkable, robust ease, each going in differing directions only to come full circle once things almost inevitably spiral back in on top of themselves during the climactic act.

The problem is that when the horror of the situation finally reveals itself, by and large the complex characterizations needed to make these happenings resonate never have fully materialized. While Evelyn does remain front and center for the majority of the picture, Max sadly disappears for a great deal of the running time only to reemerge as something of a completely different person than the one we are introduced to at the start. On top of that, the supporting cast, including Freeman, Murphy, Kate Mara, Cole Hauser, Clifton Collins Jr., Josh Stewart, Xander Berkeley and Lukas Haas are almost universally wasted, none of them given near enough to do to make any of their collective actions matter in ways that mean anything substantive.

Even so, Transcendence is hardly a waste of time. Pfister's visual style, honed to perfection working for Christopher Nolan for over a decade, is on grand display, and for a good portion of the film he manages to do a marvelous job masking the majority of the narrative shortcomings, giving things an undeniable urgency that's invigorating. More than that, he stages a glorious final scene near the end between Depp and Hall that encapsulates many of the inherent themes and ideas contained within Paglen's script beautifully, bringing subtly wangled tears to my eyes I wasn't even slightly ashamed to shed. That the movie doesn't ultimately work is decidedly a problem, but that doesn't make the experience of watching it any less riveting, and as failures go, this is arguably one I'll be thinking about and pondering for many months to come.






Three Dollar Bill Cinema announces stellar lineup for TRANSLATIONS: The Seattle Transgender Film Festival
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20 great albums celebrating milestones this year
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Ernest Shackleton Loves Me is well worth a visit
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OUTBOUND: Portland's 'Q-Doc Festival' begins May 15
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Northwest News
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LETTERS
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Teen superstar Austin Mahone announces summer concert date
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Mann, Diaz shine in otherwise unflattering Woman
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Absurd Brick Mansions is acrobatic Parkour Looney Tunes
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Visually electric Transcendence a fascinating failure
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