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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 12, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 07
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Coens' Caesar a Hollywood satire worth hailing
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

HAIL, CAESAR!
Now playing


Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin) is a fixer working his magic for Capital Pictures. He's the best in Hollywood, a fact his employers are aware of. At the moment, he's got his hands full with a variety of problems. His number one starlet, aquatic musical sensation DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson), is both unmarried and pregnant, not a great combination if she's going to maintain the squeaky clean wholesome image the studio has engineered for her. Esteemed director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) is starting production on his latest prestige picture, and the powers that be seem to think B-Western singing cowboy Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) is the right actor for the job even if his Texas twang is as thick as fresh molasses.

Then there are the issues with Capital Pictures' most ambitious effort to date, the big budget spectacle 'Hail, Caesar!' featuring international movie star Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), a so-called Tale of the Christ that Mannix is obsessed with making sure remains wholesome enough to offend no particular religious denomination. But Whitlock has disappeared just as production is nearing completion. Complicating things even more, a group calling themselves 'The Future' has sent a note claiming they've kidnapped him, wanting $100,000 in cash for his return unharmed.

Joel and Ethan Coen are in screwball territory with their latest comedic concoction Hail, Caesar!, a motion picture that leans more in the direction of The Hudsucker Proxy, Raising Arizona and Intolerable Cruelty than it does Blood Simple, Miller's Crossing or No Country for Old Men. It's a frantic frolic through Hollywood's Golden Age, events transpiring in an unspecified post-WWII, early 1950s sunny California wonderland where dreams are printed on celluloid and contracts are written so that they're impossible to break. A place where communist sympathizers band together, musical numbers can lighten even the saddest heart and quitting smoking is as impossible a task as any ever invented.

More than all of that, though, the film is another Coen creation that takes an interesting sideways look at religion and faith, depicting a man of dubious moral character who loves his wife, adores his child and goes to church every morning to ask for forgiveness of his sins all the same. It is a story where, above all else, Eddie Mannix must decide who he is and what that means, finding solace in a life of chaos and temptation, eschewing one of comfort and ease in the process. It's an odd, ungainly hodge-podge of cinematic celebration and intimate, emotionally complex self-examination, both pieces working together in a way that shouldn't work yet somehow gloriously does.

It's hard for a die-hard cinephile not to fall in love with the movie. Not only is the humor giddily idiosyncratic, the voluminous amount of knowledge the award-winning filmmakers showcase is amazing. They've done their homework, each visual stylization keyed directly to the type and style of whichever feature is being showcased at any various moment. Big, splashy musical in the vein of director Vincente Minnelli and dancer/star Gene Kelly? Huge widescreen epic resembling Henry Koster's The Robe? A Gene Autry-style Western with silly acrobatic stunts and impromptu musical numbers under a starry sky? Drawing room melodramas with society ne'er-do-wells professing their undying love in hushed tones coupled with furtive glances? It's all here and more, the Coens maintaining complete control no matter how insane it all might seem from the outside looking in.

For Roger Deakins, a frequent collaborator of the brothers, this could be the vaunted cinematographer's finest hour. The 13-time Oscar nominee - nominated again this year for Sicario - has outdone himself, forced to emulate the visual framings and styles of the period ranging from widescreen period pieces, to black and white melodramas, to backlot B-movie Westerns, the task set in front of him by the Coens was massive to say the least. While the fact he pulls it off isn't exactly surprising, that he does it with so much passionate, eye-popping elasticity is, the resulting film a visual marvel I wouldn't have been able to pull my gaze from even had I felt the need to try.

There isn't a complex plot. Assuming the kidnapping of Baird Whitlock by communists is going to be the most important narrative element driving all other important actions contained within would be a mistake. Thinking stars like Clooney, Johansson, Channing Tatum, Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Ralph Fiennes, Christopher Lambert or Alison Pill are going to be around for more than a moment or two would be an even bigger one. The movie is a snapshot, a quick glance inside a world of fantasy and make-believe that's been gone for decades, all of it centered on a quick-thinking man who seemingly lives to multitask and multitasks to live.

It can feel slight, appear inconsequential, but, like almost everything else hiding within the Coen brothers' newest attraction, it's all an illusion, the celebrated directors hiding universal truths in plain sight most so obvious they're almost impossible to see for what they actually are on initial viewing. Much like their superb, achingly personal satire A Serious Man, the world of Hail, Caesar! ends with a final image that will leave many perplexed, some annoyed and almost all questioning what it is exactly Joel and Ethan are trying to say. In other words, it's perfect, and like the best of the duo's achievements it's an ending I'm going to be pondering for quite a long time to come.


Zoolander 2 walks the comedic runway
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

ZOOLANDER 2
Now playing


At its worst, Zoolander 2 is a reminder of just how good a technical craftsman Ben Stiller is as a director. While his films behind the camera are notably hit or miss, Tropic Thunder and Reality Bites being epic highs while The Cable Guy is a frustrating, if still fascinatingly peculiar, low; as far as cinematography, editing, musical choices and all the rest are concerned, everything on that front is notably strong. He has an idiosyncratic eye for detail so many of his comedic contemporaries do not, and as such, even relatively forgettable trifles like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and the original Zoolander end up having more staying power than they otherwise would have.

Fifteen years after the fact, the character of mentally challenged male supermodel Derek Zoolander (Stiller) hasn't aged particularly well, neither have the satirical jabs at the fashion industry or the growing celebration of celebrity for the sake of celebrity. If anything those things have become just the kind of joke the original 2001 pointedly predicted they might become, that film's political assassination subplot a not exactly subtle red herring as the whole point was to put a mirror up to society's materialistic self-obsession and knowingly smirk.

With that being so, it's hard to know exactly what it was that made Stiller so eager to revisit the character. There's just not a lot new to say, many of the central conceits and more subversive gags just confirming what's happened in society over the past decade-and-a-half. Finding something original, discovering new targets for the satire, it is there Stiller and his creative team (made up of Tropic Thunder maestro Justin Theroux, Get Him to the Greek impresario Nicholas Stoller and franchise returnee John Hamburg) can't help but fail, and as such I can't say how much staying power this sequel will ultimately prove to have.

Strange thing? I actually laughed more watching Zoolander 2 than I did its predecessor. The pre-credits opening, ruined somewhat by the trailers which sadly spoil the central cameo reveal, is a hoot, elements involving rival supermodel Hansel (Owen Wilson) and his beloved orgy are a hoot and Will Ferrell's return as evil fashionista mastermind Mugatu is positively glorious (even if it does take him about an hour to finally show up). The onslaught of celebrity cameos can get tedious, but when they do work, they do so gloriously, a certain 'Cosmos' scientist, a Titanic heartthrob, a '24' ass-kicker and a Resident Evil megastar (reprising her role from the first film) making the most indelible imprint.

The plot, what there is of one, revolves around Derek and Hansel both being called out of retirement by fashion icon Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig) to star in a new runway show by happily nihilistic designer Don Atari (Kyle Mooney) in the heart of Rome. But it's all a ruse, and Interpol agent Valentina (Penélope Cruz) - fashion division - is there to warn them. She's trying to solve the brutal assassinations of a number of notable Pop singers, all of whom died flashing one of Derek's signature looks including Le Tigre, Magnum and, of course, Blue Steel, and she's all but certain they're trying to send him some sort of message. Also, Valentina knows where the supermodel's long-lost son Derek, Jr. (Cyrus Arnold) is, promising to reunite father and son in return for a little help putting the pieces of this crazy messed-up fashion puzzle together.

The film is superbly shot by Daniel Mindel (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), the fluidity of his images and use of a number of iconic Rome landmarks rather wonderful. It's also edited with crackerjack precision, Greg Hayden (Tropic Thunder) doing his typically wonderful job for Stiller as far as that facet of the production is concerned. In regards to the director, his sense of timing, the way flows one scene into the next, all of it works, oftentimes beautifully, and as purposefully nonsensical, complex and silly as the plot might prove to be keeping track of the story is still exceedingly easy to do.

It's always hard to know how much to say and what to hold close to the vest when it comes to comedies like this. For one thing, the humor is entirely subjective, and what made me laugh is very likely to leave the person sitting right there next to me absolutely cold. What I find annoying could lead them into fits of uncontrollable laughter, the stuff tickling my funny bone enough to enrage another to the point of vitriolic fury. But for me, while not a film likely to have a lot in the way of staying power, I still enjoyed Zoolander 2, the sequel reminding me that Stiller is a creatively inspired director who should probably step behind the camera more often than he right now does.


Deadpool a gleefully anarchic super-powered trifle
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

DEADPOOL
Now playing


Former Special Forces operative turned quick-witted mercenary Wade Wilson (Ryan Reynolds) is dying of cancer. His stripper girlfriend Vanessa Carlysle (Morena Baccarin) doesn't want to give up on the fight, letting her beloved know in no uncertain terms she's going to stand right there next to him no matter what. But after being approached by a shady, if well-dressed, recruiter (Jed Rees), Wade believes he's found a shortcut to beating what ails him. Not telling Vanessa, he's going to participate in a medical experiment that, if successful, will activate the dormant mutant genes lurking within his DNA, and in doing so cure his cancer.

Things do not go as planned. Not only does the scientist running things, another former mercenary calling himself Ajax (Ed Skrein), intend to transform all those who come asking him for help into super-powered slaves, he also slaps control collars on them and sells these soldiers to the highest bidder as lethal, if mindless, drones. Not that Wade is going to go along with any of this peacefully. His mutation has the unintended side effect of making him practically indestructible, allowing him to destroy Ajax's facility as he goes out the door, leaving him horrendously disfigured in the process.

Deadpool exists in the same world as Fox's X-Men films. At the same time, this Marvel comic book character isn't family-friendly. His antics are hardly warm and fuzzy. Nicknamed the 'merc with a mouth' in the series originally created by writer Fabian Nicieza and artist/writer Rob Liefeld, the movie is violent, gory, foul-mouthed and features plenty of nudity (both male and female). The character is also prone to breaking the fourth wall, speaking wisecracks directly to the viewing audience as if he were in The Muppet Movie or a Mel Brooks comedy from the 1970s. In other words, The Avengers or X-Men: Days of Future Past this is not, and those thinking otherwise will have another thing coming.

As oddly amiable and pleasant as the script by Zombieland impresarios Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick can be, as strong and confidently self-assured as newcomer Tim Miller's direction undeniably is, for all its four-letter creativity and blood-splattered vitriol, Deadpool follows a pretty standard superhero template. This origin story doesn't shake up the status quo, and, if anything, follows that Spider-Man, Iron Man, Batman Begins, so-on and so-forth, etc., etc., etc. template pretty much number by number. There's a been-there done-that feeling that's undeniable, and as such the movie isn't always as interesting as I found myself wanting it to be.

Even so, the movie is sitting well with me. It made me giggle. It made me laugh. I liked Wilson's motor-mouth. I adored Reynolds' delivery of his colorfully crass lines. More than that, though, I liked that Reese and Wernick gave him an arc, made the character more than just nonstop quips. There is a story to this man, a deeply rooted pain that's expansive. His insecurities, the items making his aching angst what they are, all of that is relatable, and while Wilson's relationship with Vanessa isn't exactly as multidimensional as it maybe could have been, there is still an undeniable tragic eloquence to it that is perceptively effective.

Additionally, Deadpool's remorseless violence against those who wronged him is nicely counterbalanced alongside heavyweight (literally, he's made of metal) member of the X-Men Colossus (voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and his petulant hero-in-training Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). The pair of them add an intriguing angle to the film, giving it a little extra weight, a bit more meaning than it would have had without them. They allow the screenwriters to explore ideas of right, wrong, heroism and villainy in an expansive, if still comical, way, and as such it gives things - of all traits for something this anarchic and lewd to possess - a welcome sense of maturity.

Considering the budget restraints (Fox insisted on frugality on the part of the filmmakers if all involved were insistent on going ahead with an R rating), Miller does a pretty terrific job. A visual effects specialist who made his mark handling some of the second unit duties for Thor: The Dark World, even if some of the CG visuals are a little on the cheap side, there is still a kinetic energy that's emphatically palpable. He also stages a sensational climactic bout aboard a vessel that will be familiar to fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, namely a successful sequel involving a guy known for embracing all things Red, White and Blue and fighting with a shield. It's a magnificent sight gag and an even better inside joke, easily one of the best the movie offers up for water cooler conversation.

For Reynolds, who originally played this character in the execrable X-Men Origins: Wolverine (and openly pokes fun at that fact), the finished product is an undeniable success, the veteran actor finally getting a franchise that suits his comedic talents perfectly. As for Deadpool itself, while the movie doesn't subvert the genre as much as it thinks it does, Matthew Vaughn's Kick-Ass and James Gunn's Super beat it to the punch ages ago, thankfully that doesn't make it any less enjoyable. This is a fun, hyper-violent, gleefully perverse frolic into the super-powered absurd, and if a sequel does end up happening, I could envision a scenario where it does get the opportunity to push the sort of boundaries of good taste this origin tale only hints at trying to demolish.






How To... definitely succeeds!
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Theatre22 presents Annapurna -
A conversation with director Julie Beckman

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2016 Grammy Awards:
A preview for 'Music's Biggest Night' with picks and predictions, list of performers

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Pacific Northwest Ballet presents Maillot's Romeo et Juliette
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Troye Sivan doesn't disappoint live, plays terrific set at sold out venue
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ACT's Buzzer doesn't quite stack up
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Gay City Health Project and Three Dollar Bill Cinema present their 11th Annual Academy Awards Party
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Three Dollar Bill Cinema and Gay City Health Project announce their 2nd Annual Rainbow Cinema Awards

Cast your ballots NOW!

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Time for a TWIST

The Seattle Lesbian & Gay Film Festival has a new name!
Introducing TWIST Seattle Queer Film Festival

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SB 6548
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Beyonce, Bruce Springsteen announce Seattle concerts
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Coens' Caesar a Hollywood satire worth hailing
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Zoolander 2 walks the comedic runway
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Deadpool a gleefully anarchic super-powered trifle
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