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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 18 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 29
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Gorily eccentric Witching an import worth bitching about
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WITCHING & BITCHING
Now playing


Wanting to be a better father to his son Sergio (Gabriel Delgado), José (Hugo Silva) has the not-so-bright idea of staging a downtown midtown jewel heist. When things go spectacularly wrong - one of his crew, dressed up as SpongeBob Square Pants, no less, ends up with a few more holes inside his carcass than his yellow cartoon doppelgänger typically sports - and suddenly José is on the run, his kid happily by his side.

A hijacked cabbie and a kidnapped banker later, José, Sergio and the remaining member (Mario Casas) of their ragtag group of thieves are in the secluded and lonely border town of Zugarramurdi, a small enclave known for its history of witchcraft. It is here they run across cagey matriarch Maritxu (a terrific Terele Pávez) and her small coven of like-minded, spiritually craven compatriots. Like-minded, save her willful granddaughter Eva (Carolina Bang), the youngster infatuated enough with the dashing José she might be willing to leave her sorceress brethren behind just as long as he'll sweep her into his arms and kiss her passionately.

Overlong and oddly paced, prone to losing focus, Spanish firebrand filmmaker Álex de la Iglesia's (The Last Circus, The Day of the Beast) latest Witching & Bitching is nonetheless a gloriously grotesque and bloodily silly genre mishmash that's like the giddy bastard stepchild of Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs, Robert Rodriguez's From Dusk Till Dawn and Dario Argento's Suspiria. It is a comedic, gore-drenched, blatantly misogynistic free-for-all that manages to emasculate its male characters at the exact same time it marks them as superior to their female antagonists.

More often than not it is also remarkably entertaining, whether that is in spite of its imprecise, borderline disgusting, sensationalistic narrative shortcomings or instead because of them I cannot say. In his typical, fluidly controlled and over-the-top style, de la Iglesia manages to make sense of all this chaos and absurdity far more assuredly than most would anticipate, making watching the film an easier experience than it has any right to be. Even when subplot upon subplot upon subplot crashes into the middle of the proceedings (José's ex-wife and a pair of bumbling police detectives are the least of the extraneous characters who find themselves in the middle of things) the director maintains complete control, the blackly comic funny bits outweighing the negative elements by a decent margin.

Things ultimately come to a head during a moonlit pagan mass of some sort where Sergio is the prime target in a transformational event the less said about the better. It is here where de la Iglesia's sensibilities finally get the better of him, at least partially, the climax feeling as if it were pulled from genre favorites as wildly disparate yet oddly similar as John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China and Ronny Yu's The Bride with White Hair. It's excessive in the extreme, and any chance the director might have had to make some sort of overarching satirical points about gender, sexism and male-female inequality is lost in all the special effects laden pandemonium.

At the same time, Witching & Bitching cannot be dismissed entirely. Silva is a strong, magnetically masculine presence, while Bang is a ferociously sexy force of nature impossible to take your eyes off of. The great Carmen Maura pops up in a key role that must be seen to be believed, giving things more complexity and nuance than they by all accounts deserve. But don't get me wrong, this is as macabre and as disgusting - both good things - a piece of genre entertainment fans of this type of thing could hope to see this year, de la Iglesia proving once again he's a Spanish filmmaker of singular sensibilities worth continuing to keep an eye on.


Bawdy Sex Tape a funny marital comedy
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

SEX TAPE
Now playing


Before they were married, Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) had a lot of sex. About a decade after their nuptials, not to mention a pair of cute-as-a-button children, boy Clive (Sebastian Hedges Thomas), girl Nell (Giselle Eisenberg), it's no surprise the twosome just don't have the time to get playful in the bedroom as they once did. To reignite that spark Annie comes up with the alcohol-induced bright idea of making a playful video of the both of them acting out all the positions diagrammed in The Joy of Sex, three hours of carnal bliss subsequently ensuing.

Jay was supposed to erase the video. He forgot. A couple of accidental miscues later and suddenly a bunch of people, including Annie's mom Linda (Nancy Lenehan) and best friends Roddy (Rob Corddry) and Tess (Ellie Kemper), inadvertently find themselves in possession of iPads containing the pair's naughty canoodling. The duo are now in the position of having to run all across town in a fervent attempt to erase every copy before someone uploads it to the Internet where it will undoubtedly remain for perpetuity, coming to stark, somewhat sudden realizations about the status of their own marriage in the process.

Sex Tape reunites stars Diaz and Segel with their Bad Teacher director Jake Kasdan, and in all honesty the results are even more positive here than they were that moderately successful first time around. The movie doesn't offer up a lot that's new or unexpected, and its observations about life, love, marriage and parenthood are hardly original, but that doesn't make the overall comedy itself any less enjoyable. Thanks to the energetic and infectious chemistry of its two stars, as well as some more than able, oftentimes ingenious support from Corddry, Kemper and especially an all-in Rob Lowe, the film is quite funny, that in and of itself enough to make it worthy of a look.

The script, originally conceived by Kate Angelo (The Back-up Plan), co-written by Segel and frequent partner Nicholas Stoller (The Muppets, The Five-Year Engagement), is an amiable hoot most of the way, and while there are some sitcom-like idiosyncrasies that can be a bit trying, overall there's a nice, almost effortless simplicity to Jay and Annie's escapades that's sublime. At times the movie almost feels like a sex-obsessed riff on the 1985 Jeff Goldblum/Michelle Pfeiffer classic Into the Night (absent that one's bracing, darkly satirical wit, I sadly must admit), everything taking place in a rough 24-hour period where anything and everything can occur no matter how insane.

There are some lumps, some of them obnoxiously frustrating, while the central 'villain' (it's really hard to call the individual that, but I can't think of another term that fits) of the piece doesn't end up being anywhere near as surprising or as crazily earth shattering as I think the filmmakers intend. The early portions are particularly annoying, the movie starting on something of a leaden foot that it sadly takes a little time to get past.

Get past it it does indeed, however, Sex Tape evolving into a series of reasonably inspired vignettes featuring Jay and Annie going place to place trying to get back the corrupted iPads. Both Segel and Diaz gamely go for broke, neither afraid of looking like complete and total idiots as they come up with increasingly insane ideas they think are required in order to keep their video off the Internet. It all culminates in the high-tech corporate headquarters of a loquacious porn kingpin, the resulting revelations happening in his presence both hysterical and touching, both virtually happening at the exact same time. Like I said, this is a funny movie, and at the end of the day ultimately that's the only positive that matters.


Latest Purge a descent into madness, mayhem
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE PURGE: ANARCHY
Now playing


There are less than three hours until this year's Purge commences. Disgruntled marrieds Shane (Zach Gilford) and Liz (Kiele Sanchez) are trapped out on the downtown streets when their car is mysterious sabotaged, apparently by a gang of masked toughs looking to get their hands bloodied. Eva (Carmen Ejogo) and her teenage daughter Cali (Zoë Soul) are home, aghast and horrified by a goodbye letter left to them both by elderly patriarch Papa Rico (John Beasley). Mysterious soldier Leo (Frank Grillo), known to most as Sergeant, is getting ready to go out into the night, armed to the teeth, ready for war, not to lay waste indiscriminately, but instead to exact revenge against a wealthy suburbanite who did his former family a horrific wrong.

None of them should have met, but when Eva and Cali's ramshackle apartment building is laid waste by an expertly trained team of commandos and Shane and Liz manage to secure themselves in the back seat of the Sergeant's souped-up armored vehicle, this man of action with a personal agenda finds himself at a moral crossroads. Not so much dropping his plans as putting them on the backburner, it becomes up to him to find this group a safe place to hide until the Purge comes to an end. But with groups of all kinds tracking their every move, survival becomes increasingly unlikely, and soon it's almost as if the full force of the New Founding Fathers themselves are targeting the five for execution for reasons they can't begin to comprehend.

The Purge: Anarchy is the somewhat quickly produced sequel to last summer's self-contained surprise horror hit The Purge, a movie that posited that in the wake of an unimaginable spike in violence, the populace of the United States voted in leaders who in turn crafted a new Constitution that changed the governing landscape considerably. One night a year, for 12 hours and 12 hours only, anyone and everyone can engage in just about any crime they can imagine, including murder, the idea being that by doing so, overall criminality will go down as people won't feel the need to do such violent wrongdoing the remaining 364 days until the next Purge.

Returning writer/director James DeMonaco takes his somewhat ingenious, undeniably schlocky B-grade premise and runs with it in entirely new directions, opening up the world he created in order for the viewer to get a broad, more highly immersive perspective on just what it is that's going on during this 12-hour night of misery. It allows him to make his, not exactly subtle, satirical points about gun culture and rightwing ideology in firmer, more exacting terms, in many ways poking fun at the very audience who will potentially be buying tickets.

Not that many of them will notice. What they'll be looking forward to is nothing more than an expertly plotted, hyper-violent journey into adrenaline-fueled darkness filled with blood, guts, amazing stunts and incredible action, and on that front I'm hard-pressed to believe any of them will be disappointed. This is without a doubt DeMonaco's attempt to transform this sequel into something of a low rent Aliens, filling the screen with a ton more villainous activity while having a heroic military man lead a ragtag group of survivors to uncertain safety.

It's explosive, obviously nihilistic and undeniably sensationalistic stuff straight out of the Roger Corman school circa the 1970s, and for those who enjoy that sort of thing this second chapter of The Purge story is intoxicating. Expertly shot and edited, niftily scored to within an inch of its life, utilizing a solid group of recognizable character actors familiar from both the big and small screens (Grillo was recently seen in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, while Ejogo, Gilford and Sanchez are all veterans of popular television shows), DeMonaco shows a confidant hand orchestrating the mayhem, bringing these grotesqueries to life with noteworthy skill.

On that front, the movie is an undeniable success. It makes the insanity of the scenario feel oddly plausible, using the inherent menace lurking within it in ways that are emotionally unsettling even as they are almost equally fascinating on an intellectual level. But as social and political commentary? As a satire of the world we are currently living in and how it is spiraling in increasingly violent, confrontational directions? As a look at the political climate, the bourgeois intractability of the elite and the lack of power the middle and lower classes sadly have? It's way too obvious and much too heavy-handed, lacking anything close to subtlety, banging the viewer over the head with its themes in a manner bordering on insulting.

Not that I minded. I liked the first film for what it was and, somewhat surprisingly, I enjoyed this sequel as well. I had a grand time going on the expedition Leo took Eva, Cali, Shane and Liz upon, finding myself increasingly curious just how far the rabbit hole they were going to be forced into descended before sunlight could be cast upon the survivors, hopefully engulfing them in its comforting embrace. The Purge: Anarchy is an unapologetically violent exercise in sensationalistic mayhem, that fact is not up for debate; and for my part I'm fine with this, part of me even a tiny bit curious exactly where DeMonaco and company might be interested in taking things next.


Braff's Here an honestly affecting place to be
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WISH I WAS HERE
Now playing


Aidan (Zach Braff) is a struggling Los Angeles actor who hasn't had a decent role since appearing in a dandruff shampoo commercial ages ago. His beautiful wife Sarah (Kate Hudson) has a well-paying job at the Water Department but her cubemate Jerry (Michael Weston) is a sexist foul-mouthed jerk who doesn't seem to understand just how obnoxious he actually is. The pair have two clever children in the form of Grace (Joey King) and Tucker (Pierce Gagnon), their tuition at the local Hebrew private school paid for by Aidan's judgmental and domineering father Gabe (Mandy Patinkin).

Admittedly, it isn't the life Aidan expected he'd be living, he and his younger brother - something of a minor genius, in actuality a rather lazy slacker - Noah (Josh Gad) dreaming as kids they'd be something akin to superheroes saving the world on a nightly basis. But when Gabe gets sick all of them are forced to put their lives in perspective, coming to grips with the fact that reality and fantasy don't always mix and that the dreams of youth often give way to the practicalities of adulthood - which, as Wish I Was Here takes great pains to point out, isn't necessarily a bad thing.

In fact, discovering the adult life one is living for what it really is can lead to astonishing revelations regarding family, love and commitment that are far more powerful than any dream or fantasy could ever live up to. Reveling in how we mature, understanding the relationships we take the time to establish and explore, learning to relate to one's children as affable generals leading them into a world of unlimited discovery, all of that and more can be there for the taking; making the decision to embrace the challenge and go for that particular brass ring the only choice that truly matters.

Written alongside his brother Adam, the film is Zach Braff's first trip back behind the camera since he released cult existential coming-of-age comedy favorite Garden State back in 2004. While the overall tone and emotional tenor has certainly matured, the motion picture itself offers up many of the same positives and minuses as its predecessor. Showing a knack for human insight, having an idiosyncratic, almost whimsical eye for creative detail, the filmmaker still can't resist slipping into sitcom pabulum from time to time, the narrative thrust sadly stalling out every single time he does.

All the same, when things work they do so marvelously. More than that, Braff has a gift for staging sublime moments of intimate, insightful maturation that are difficult to resist, showcasing Aidan's evolution with a knowing candor that hits close to home. The moments he spends with his two children are by far some of the strongest the film has to offer - one out in the secluded rock-strewn corners of the California desert outstandingly so.

The bits chronicling Noah's ineptitude and overall lackadaisical approach to life and what he wants from it don't resonate near as well as the other elements of the narrative do; and while Gad isn't bad, I can't say I found him particularly pleasing a presence, either. A supposed relationship with a ComicCon costume enthusiast (a massively underutilized Ashley Greene) goes nowhere other than to put an exclamation mark on a rather tired joke, while gags involving the brother's geek street cred are too obvious to be even slightly funny.

On the flipside, Braff's handling of Hudson is magical, the filmmaker reminding us all just how talented the former Almost Famous Oscar nominee truly is. After over a decade in romantic comedy hell, a confinement mostly of her own making, it must be said, the actress comes alive in ways I can't recall seeing in quite some time, making the most of every moment and every scene with magnetic enthusiasm. While what she says isn't always as insightful or as knowing as the Braff brothers hope it is, Hudson makes her lines connect with sparkling authenticity, a seminal moment in a hospital room between her and Patinkin downright stunning and deserving of every tear.

The movie made something of a minor name for itself for being the first high-profile project to be mostly funded via Kickstarter in the wake of the success of Veronica Mars, some trying to make the case a star and filmmaker of Braff's caliber shouldn't have to go this route in order to get his features off the ground. I'm more neutral as far as that debate is concerned, and if there are people willing to give money in order to see films like this come to life I can't begrudge them if they feel the need to donate.

More than that, I'm extremely happy to live in a world in which Wish I Was Here exists. Little missteps aside, moments of melodramatic excess notwithstanding, there is a pleasing sincerity to Braff's story I responded to body and soul. I was moved by Aidan's journey, found that it spoke to me far more often than it did not, his revelations having a profound simplicity to them I was thoroughly captivated by. I cherished my time spent watching this movie. More importantly, I can't wait until I get the opportunity to watch it again.




Victor Janusz' 'Hands Solo: Pianoman' is a brilliant celebration of Janusz' life in music
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Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson ONE is a real thriller
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Rip the Runway Drag/Fashion Show
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Nine new LGBT documentaries awarded support from Arcus Foundation Fund at Sundance Institute
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Northwest News
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LETTERS
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Gorily eccentric Witching an import worth bitching about
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Bawdy Sex Tape a funny marital comedy
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Latest Purge a descent into madness, mayhem
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Braff's Here an honestly affecting place to be
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