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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, April 10, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 15
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Charming Young a middle-aged coming of age adventure
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

WHILE WE'RE YOUNG
Now playing


New York based documentarian Josh (Ben Stiller) has been working on his latest effort for the past decade, his film so far away from completion his longtime editor Tim (Matthew Maher) is starting to doubt it will ever be finished. His wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts), an acclaimed producer in her own right, has been spinning her wheels of late, her legendary award-winning filmmaker father Leslie Brietbart (Charles Grodin) currently between projects for her to shepherd, thus leaving her with not a heck of a lot to do.

While teaching a class at NYU, Josh is approached by upstart twenty-something Jamie (Adam Driver) and his free-spirited girlfriend Darby (Amanda Seyfried), both claiming to be big fans of his first film released to vociferous acclaim and little public support ten years prior. Feeling an odd kinship with the pair, he and Cornelia see their middle-aged malaise somewhat alleviated by spending time with this young, energetic couple eager to make their mark upon the world. But when Josh starts to suspect all isn't as it appears in regards to Jamie all his energy and enthusiasm begins to drift towards paranoia and pessimism, the effect these realizations have upon him forcing a kind of potent soul searching he wasn't prepared to face.

The main thematic plot points and revelations hiding within writer/director Noah Baumbach's While We're Young aren't going to come as a big surprise to anyone familiar with his work. Much like Greenberg, France Ha and The Squid and the Whale, this is another meditation on relationships, life, family and aspiration that isn't afraid of making some pretty unappetizing statements as far as the human condition is concerned. It strips its characters bare leaving them naked both to the world and to themselves, forcing them to reassess their lives and their choices in ways that aren't upbeat. As far as Baumbach is concerned, the movie is as fearless as anything he's made up until now, making it worthy of attention for that reason alone.

Yet, in many ways the film is also the lightest, maybe even frothiest he's ever directed. As dark as some of the territory being mined might be, that doesn't mean Baumbach isn't above letting his exceedingly talented cast cut a little loose and have some fun. There are so many moments of sheer blissful enthusiasm and energy the effect it had upon me was infectious, the ways in which Josh and Cornelia initially respond to Jamie and Darby inspiring. Stiller and Watts dig into their respective characters with fervent, three-dimensional gusto, allowing each part of their respective journeys to resonate and matter in ways that are honestly profound and refreshingly free of artifice.

I wish the film could maintain its wit, its sense of humor and, most importantly, its intelligence all the way through to the end. Sadly, this just isn't so, Baumbach sermonizing a little more than normal, allowing Josh to express things far more bluntly, and with a little too much melodramatic flourish, than is comfortable. There's some speechifying, all of it coming during a celebratory dinner for Leslie, everything leading to a punchline that, while perfectly delivered by Grodin with sarcastic, sideways candor, is far too obvious and unsurprising to hit home with anything approaching authority.

But the last moments, the final ones between Josh and Cornelia, the way Stiller and Watts relate to one another and come to terms with everything they have learned, that's beautiful, Baumbach righting the ship right when it mattered most, leaving me far more satisfied than I initially thought possible. On top of that, Driver is a deliciously Machiavellian foil, so charmingly duplicitous it's hard not to feel more than a little taken aback when his snake oil salesman's scales start to materialize. While We're Young might not showcase the director at his best, but that doesn't make it any less worthwhile, the final destination a worthwhile venture even if some of the stops along the way aren't worth visiting.


Energetic Furious 7 a suitably wild ride
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

FURIOUS 7
Now playing


The fact the Fast and Furious franchise has reached its seventh installment, the idea that we're even still talking about former street racer and family-centric criminal Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) and his continuing bromance with former F.B.I. agent Brian O'Conner (Paul Walker), all of it is rather unbelievable. I mean, as has been repeated over and over and over again now, the initial chapters weren't anything more than glorified B-grade genre pictures with no interest in being anything more, taking few chances and avoiding risk as they followed their low rent templates to their natural conclusions.

All that changed with the arrival of Fast & Furious in 2009. Bringing Diesel and Walker back into the fold together for the first time since the 2001 original, assembling an ethnically diverse cast culled from cast members who had appeared in all three of the previous features, director Justin Lin and writer Chris Morgan reshaped things into some multicultural Ocean's 11 meets Mission: Impossible wonderland where all things were suddenly possible. They created a Bugs Bunny versus Road Runner milieu that was as silly as it was intoxicating, upping the ante as far as the vehicular fireworks were concerned, while also at the same time keeping Toretto and O'Conner at the center of things, the evolution of their friendship the anchor around which everything else revolved.

The subsequent two adventures, 2011's Fast Five and 2013's Fast & Furious 6, only solidified this dynamic, Lin and Morgan manufacturing a relatively odd, thoroughly engrossing trilogy that saw our antiheroes blossom into their own version of the Justice League, going from the wrong side of the law to crusaders for justice, called in to do battle with the forces of evil when law enforcement's hands were tied and all other options weren't available. Dwayne Johnson and Cal Gadot were added to the mix, while Diesel, Walker and the rest of their gang (including Michelle Rodriguez, Jordana Brewster, Ludacris, Tyrese Gibson and Sung Kang) continued to do what they do best, keeping the concept of family and togetherness sacrosanct every step of the way.

Furious 7 changes things up considerably, Walker's tragic death in a car accident before filming had ended obviously being the biggest item. Additionally, while Morgan remains, Lin has departed (he's just started production on Star Trek 3), Saw and The Conjuring filmmaker James Wan taking up the directorial reins for this go-around. Thanks to the happenings of the last chapter (as well as, in a roundabout way, the events of The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift), Gadot and Kang also do not return, their absence a major reason Toretto, O'Conner and their gang spring back into action.

Not that the basic through line is utter simplicity itself. Cribbing a bit from Die Hard with a Vengeance, the group's peaceful Los Angeles retirement is short-lived when former British assassin Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham) comes calling, vengeance on his mind considering the team was responsible for putting his little brother Owen (Luke Evans) in the hospital on life support. Not able to turn to law enforcement superman Hobbs (Johnson) for help, they instead find themselves being aided by a secretive government agent calling himself Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell). He'll give Toretto and O'Conner the tools they need to hunt down Shaw if they and their team assist him in turn, the ghostly spy needing them to rescue a kidnapped hacker named Ramsey (Nathalie Emmanuel) from international arms dealer and terrorist Jakande (Djimon Hounsou).

From there things literally fly in a multitude of directions, Dominic and Brian parachuting cars out of a cargo plane, vaulting them between gigantic Abu Dhabi skyscrapers and launching them off the side of cliffs as if they were boulders. People hang off the side of busses, battle military drones with ambulances and get into a variety of chop-socky fist fights Jackie Chan would stand up and cheer. A variety of newcomers are introduced (including UFC champion Ronda Rousey, Thai martial arts superstar Tony Jaa and Australian rapper Iggy Azalea), while Tokyo Drift principal Lucas Black returns to solidify the connective tissue between part three in the series and all the films that have come after it. The laws of physics are destroyed while characters continue to spout melodramatic platitudes about family and togetherness the series has in its own unapologetic way become celebrated for.

It's needlessly convoluted, and it's impossible to get away from the thought Morgan is using his scenario constructed here to plant the seeds for forthcoming chapters. Pretty much all of the stuff dealing with Jakande, his murderous henchmen and his rather nondescript plans to utilize Ramsey's cybernetic invention is nothing more than a massive red herring, and as threats go, he's about as limp a one as has been found in a Fast and the Furious film up until now. The volume of destruction also approaches near Man of Steel levels of queasy uncomfortableness, what Toretto and O'Conner end up doing to downtown Los Angeles borderline unconscionable.

I also admit to being uncertain as to where things go next. Not because there aren't obstacles remaining for Toretto and his team to overcome - there most assuredly are - but more because I don't know how resonant all of this is going to be without Walker. What Furious 7 clearly shows is that his Brian O'Conner has been this series' heart and soul long before we probably realized it, his evolution from lawman to antihero to brother to husband to father the one that has given things their emotional kick. While Wan and company send him off into the sunset with gloriously subtle, tearfully authentic sensitivity (he's more or less 'retired,' sent off to live with Brewster in peace), with him no longer part of the ensemble, subsequent films are going to have to work overtime to make up for his absence.

Yet Furious 7, in almost all the ways that matter, is every bit as entertaining as the three features that have preceded it. The film continues to give all of the actors something to do (the fight between Rodriguez and Rousey, as well as the two between Walker and Jaa, are spectacular), the byplay between members of the ensemble as unforced and as organic as ever. Wan shows himself to be a strong action director, staging scenes of mayhem and madness that are every bit as fantastic and as eye-popping as anything offered up to this point. This seventh chapter is a hoot and while it's offering up more of the same, it's doing so in spectacular fashion, and in the end I seriously doubt anyone who's enjoyed the last three will head home afterwards dissatisfied.








DRAG BECOMES HIM world premiere - A documentary about Jinkx Monsoon
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2015 Langston Hughes African-American Film Festival Preview
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The Lizard is loose
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Seattle April theater openings preview
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Ariana Grande is bringing her everything to Seattle
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OUTBOUND: Canada fetes decade of same-sex marriage, Vancouver celebrates 12 years
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WORLD PREMIERE SHAPESHIFTER
CREATED and PERFORMED
by SOLO ARTIST LOUIS GERVAIS

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Hate Crimes on Capitol Hill
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Seattle breakout star Allen Stone should definitely be on your radar
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Charming Young a middle-aged coming of age adventure
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Energetic Furious 7 a suitably wild ride
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