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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 4, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 10
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Inventive Zootopia an animated mammal metropolis of fun
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

ZOOTOPIA
Now playing


Judy Hopps (voiced by Ginnifer Goodwin) has a dream. She's going to become the first bunny police officer in Zootopia, and nothing is going to stop her from seeing these law enforcement aspirations come to pass. Her new boss, the massive cape buffalo, Chief Bogo (Idris Elba), wants nothing to do with the pint-sized rookie, but with Mayor Lionheart (J.K. Simmons) roaring down his neck he's at least got to give the eager bunny a chance to prove herself. He allows Judy to tackle a difficult missing animals case, this a golden opportunity to prove she's got no business carrying a badge, and if she can't solve the mystery, he's going to see her sent back to Bunnyburrow where he feels she belongs.

But the young, intelligent bunny is undaunted. Even when she's forced to team up with unscrupulous con artist Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), Judy is going to put the pieces of this puzzle together no matter how high up the political food chain things might climb. She's going to prove herself to all of the doubters, especially Chief Bogo, forging an unexpected friendship with the streetwise fox, Nick, in the process.

On the animated front, Disney's Zootopia is reminiscent of hand-drawn studio classics like Robin Hood, The Aristocats or The Rescuers. As far as the narrative side of the equation is concerned, the film plays both like a 1980's-style buddy comedy like Midnight Run or 48 Hrs. as well as film noir classics like The Big Sleep or Chinatown. It is a deft, hugely enjoyable frolic through a what-if world the likes of which I cannot say I've ever seen before, the level of imagination continually on display impressive to say the least.

Judy Hopps is a terrific character, and Goodwin voices her beautifully. This is a vibrant, energetically alive performance that's a consistent treat, watching her force her way inside this world just plain wonderful. Goodwin's chemistry with Bateman is off the charts, the development of their friendship happening with a carefree innocence that's continually charming. They have a Mutt and Jeff rapport that's splendid, and even when Judy and Nick appear to be working at cross purposes there's never a doubt the two are going to find a way to overcome their differences and make their burgeoning partnership all the stronger in the process.

The central mystery involving the missing animals, all predators, all apparently giving into the baser, primordial instincts before they vanished, is both too convoluted for its own good and also exceedingly easy to figure out. Thing is, that's okay, because there are so many terrific little touches sprinkled throughout that the fact the actual case the heroes are trying to solve is such utter nonsense is in and of itself just another element helping fuel the fun. While echoes of L.A. Confidential and The Manchurian Candidate will undoubtedly bring a knowing smile to the face of many of the adults in the audience, kids will be blown away by all the mammal-crazy weirdness. It's a cornucopia of crazy sight gags, witty one-liners and heartfelt emotional growth, the general life lessons being imparted ones young and old alike should embrace with equal enthusiasm.

If Zootopia isn't the same sort of sensation that Tangled or Frozen were, that doesn't make it any less wonderful. Reminiscent of Wreck-It Ralph, the film is another winner for Disney proper (i.e. non-Pixar related) and shows the studio is still a force to be reckoned with where it comes to their animated offerings. It's a total hoot, and as such I expect it to become a massive hit kids will be watching over and over and over again for many years to come.


Intimately human Wave a thrilling disaster epic
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE WAVE
Now playing


There will come a day when the mountain Åkerneset located in the Sunnmøre region of Norway will collapse, triggering a massive rockslide that will crash into the fjord below sending a massive tidal wave crashing into the picturesque tourist town of Geiranger. Residents and visitors will have roughly ten minutes of warning when this catastrophic event occurs, precious little time to get to safety, making it a certainty many will perish and only a few are likely to survive.

Geologist Kristian (Kristoffer Joner) has been monitoring the mountain for years, his wife Idun (Ane Dahl Torp) a trusted manager in one of Geiranger's classiest hotels. When he takes a high-paying job with an oil company, it becomes time to move the family out of the country and into the big city, but not before the scientist steals a few minutes to check some curious seismic readings that have him worried. Something feels wrong, Kristian can sense it, and if he's right he might be the only one standing between the citizens of Geiranger and their total destruction.

The Wave is a disaster movie born from the same sort of cloth as any Irwin Allen spectacular of the 1970s and early 1980s. It is reminiscent of The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno and, somewhat regrettably, When Time Ran Out..., following a tried and true template familiar to moviegoers around the world since San Francisco graced the silver screen way back in 1936. The plot doesn't go anywhere new, isn't interested in flipping the script, screenwriters John Kåre Raake (Ragnarok) and Harald Rosenløw-Eeg (1,000 Times Good Night) more than content to stay on a well-worn genre path first second to last.

But there is a reason this was Norway's entry in this year's Oscar race, this film a heck of a lot better, more emotionally engaging and pleasingly character-driven than any other disaster flick to have seen the light of day in quite some time. Directed with a subtle urgency by Roar Uthaug (Cold Prey), Raake and Rosenløw-Eeg's script might not be original, but that doesn't make it any less wonderful. They keep things compact and centralized, never losing sight of the universal human story at the heart of all that's happening. More than that, all involved are smart enough to not let things spiral into an ungainly mess of too many characters or subplots, and as such the familial drama rings with a timeless authenticity that's easy to relate to.

There's not a lot more to all of this. Landside happens, tidal wave is created, chaos ensues and Kristian must do everything he can to make sure his family survives. That's it. But the movie works because the relationship between husband and wife is real, their connection to their two children even more so. It works because after the disaster itself takes place, there aren't additional calamities of growing implausible size waiting to strike, the repercussions of this wave and this wave alone more than enough for all involved to have to deal with. Most of all, it works because Uthaug's direction is just so gosh darn effective, the way he builds tension throughout having a subtle intensity that's magnificent, the filmmaker eschewing the typical melodramatic contrivances that more often than not make genre fare like this unintentionally laughable and patently ridiculous.

It helps considerably that Joner and Torp fearlessly throw themselves into things, playing their respective characters with a delicate complexity that makes rooting for them to make it through all of this craziness alive extremely easy to do. The film is also beautifully shot by John Christian Rosenlund (Factotum) and crisply edited by Christian Siebenherz (Escape), while Magnus Beite's (Cold Prey) eloquently primeval score augments all the inherent emotion running through the film nicely.

I really liked The Wave, liked it a lot. While it doesn't do anything new, Uthaug's latest genre excursion just does what it sets out to do so gosh darn well, the lack of originality or innovation isn't the type of problem it would have been had lesser hands been guiding the production. It's a real world ecological thriller that doesn't forget about the human story running through the heart of the narrative, and as such the film ends up being an avalanche of thrills and chills I cannot wait to watch again.


Absurd London a gleefully violent sequel
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

LONDON HAS FALLEN
Now playing


What is there to say? If 2013's Olympus Has Fallen was basically Die Hard inside the White House, then the sequel London Has Fallen is a combination of Die Hard with a Vengeance and Live Free or Die Hard only the action has been moved off the streets of New York and Washington, DC, and been transferred to the titular British capital. It sends crack Secret Service Agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) into an urban jungle as he attempts, once again, to keep a group of bloodthirsty terrorists from killing U.S. President Benjamin Asher (Aaron Eckhart).

That's really all one needs to know about the plot because, let's face it, it's not particularly important. There's a bad guy, he has a team of mercenaries rampaging across London killing off world leaders and hunting the President of the United States, British Intelligence has a mole leaking information and only Mike Banning can stop things from getting any worse. He'll take out all the terrorists single-handedly if he has to, nothing and no one going to stop him from protecting his Commander-in-Chief from all threats, foreign and domestic.

Unlike the first film, this sequel never takes itself seriously. At the same time, it amplifies the violence and the jingoism to stratospheric levels. It's absurd, the whole thing playing like a mid-1980s Chuck Norris actioner reminiscent of Invasion U.S.A. or The Delta Force, things taken to cartoonish extremes the likes of which border on laughable. It's just plain nuts, walking a surreal line between being irredeemably offensive and goofily enjoyable with astonishing aplomb.

I find it flabbergasting just how many Oscar nominees and winners drop in to pick up a paycheck. Morgan Freeman, Melissa Leo, Angela Bassett and Robert Forester are on hand for a return engagement, while Jackie Earle Haley also joins the fold as another member of President Asher's inner circle. Radha Mitchell is also back as Banning's now pregnant wife Leah, while Charlotte Riley, Patrick Kennedy and the always great Colin Salmon attempt to find answers to the evolving crisis from the perspective of the Brits. As for the primary villain, a Yemeni arms dealer named Aamir Barkawi played by Israeli actor Alon Aboutboul, he actually doesn't get a heck of a lot to do, the primary nefarious heavy lifting done by the endless gaggle of gun-toting hard cases hunting Asher and Banning.

Iranian director Babak Najafi, primarily known for the fine Swedish sequel Easy Money II: Hard to Kill starring Joel Kinnaman, does a terrific job managing things, eschewing the quick, nonsensical editing style far too prevalent in most modern action spectaculars for a smooth, free-flowing aesthetic that's sensational. He allows many of his scenes to have the appearance of playing out in real time and all in one take, and while there's some obvious digital trickery hiding some of the edits it all still works rather nicely all the same. There's a moderately spectacular firefight outside the terrorist stronghold that is like some sort of kinetic combination of video games like 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare' and Gareth Huw Evans' two The Raid efforts, Najafi managing to create a freakish amount of tension during this sequence no matter how implausible things ultimately become.

The script, credited to returning scribes Creighton Rothenberger and Katrin Benedikt, as well as newcomers Chad St. John and Christian Gudegast, is undeniably silly, bringing up hot button topics like drone warfare and America's continued involvement in the Middle East only to do nothing profound, let alone complex, with either of them. The screenplay's depiction of the terrorists and how Banning goes after them would be vulgar and xenophobic if it weren't so darned ridiculous, the insanity pushed to such heights taking any of this seriously is impossible. Same time, considering the current political climate one can imagine a scenario where Donald Trump followers will look at this film as some sort of what-if doomsday scenario, a rather terrifying hypothetical to be sure.

Not that I can judge too harshly. As a kid of the '80s and '90s, I grew up watching Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris kick all kinds of cinematic ass and rarely complained as they did it, the fact London Has Fallen reminds me so much of their violent B-grade escapades more a plus than it is a minus. With some nice directorial touches from Najafi coupled with a gleefully macho, pleasingly self-effacing performance from Butler, I had way more fun watching this than I assumed was going to be the case. For what it is this sequel gets the job done, and I seriously doubt audiences who made the first one a hit will be even slightly disappointed.


Inspiring Eddie heroically takes flight
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

EDDIE THE EAGLE
Now playing


At the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada, a British ski jumper by the name of Eddie Edwards captivated the entire world with his competitive spirit and zest for life. Not because he was an exceptional athlete with a chance to compete for a Gold Medal, there was no chance of that, but more because his never-say-die, can-do attitude embodied the spirit of the Olympics perfectly. Much like the Jamaican bobsled team competing in Calgary at the same time, there was something about Edwards, a purity to his attempts to soar into that moonlit Canadian sky, and as such anyone watching him couldn't help but smile.

Why it has taken almost 30 years for someone to bring Edwards' story to the screen is way beyond me. But here it is, all the same, director Dexter Fletcher (Wild Bill), producer Matthew Vaughn (Layer Cake, X-Men: First Class) and writers Sean Macaulay and Simon Kelton joining forces on the inspirational biopic Eddie the Eagle. Not so much the true story of the ski jumper's path to the Olympics, as one that enjoys playing in a fertile genre playground reminiscent of Rocky, The Rookie, Hoosiers and, of course, Cool Runnings (which chronicled those aforementioned Jamaican bobsledders), the movie is an enjoyable lark, and much like the man at the center of it it all ends up being virtually impossible to dislike.

Ever since he was a little kid, Eddie Edwards (Taron Egerton) has been dreaming of going to the Olympics. He becomes obsessed with downhill skiing, getting good enough to at least be considered by the British Olympic Committee to potentially be a part of the contingent going to the '88 Calgary games. But they don't want him, the awkward young man not what those in charge of putting together the team are looking for to represent the country. Crestfallen but undaunted, Edwards discovers a loophole in the British Winter Olympic charter. There are no real rules for ski jumpers, and as long as he meets a few minimum standards, shows himself to be a competent jumper, his place on the Calgary team will be assured.

In the midst of learning the basics, Edwards inadvertently catches the eye of Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a one-time U.S. ski jump champion who was famously kicked off his country's Olympic team by world-renowned coach Warren Sharp (Christopher Walken). Not wanting the lad to kill himself, the disgraced former athlete decides to teach him the basics, hoping that by showing him just how difficult and dangerous all of this is he'll give up and go back home. Undaunted, Edwards forges ahead, and in the process wins Perry over to his cause, the two of them joining forces in order to achieve a pair of Olympic-sized dreams.

The movie doesn't follow Edwards' actual road to Calgary all that closely, however. The major difference? Peary does not exist, he's a fictional construct, created by the screenwriters in order for there to be a beaten down, cynically human counterpoint to the eternally upbeat, wide-eyed optimism persistently conveyed by the story's protagonist. As such, it forces the film to follow a student-teacher template we've seen numerous times before, reminding me mostly of The Karate Kid, at least as far as how Edwards and Peary ultimately interact with one another.

Funny thing, even though the film lacks an original bone in its entire body, Eddie the Eagle ends up being a gloriously entertaining frolic first scene to last. Egerton, playing a character about as far removed from his scene-stealing debut in last year's ultraviolent Kingsman: The Secret Service, is a bolt of electric joy, his unwavering belief he can accomplish the impossible downright infectious. Jackman is also wonderful, and while he plays up his character's various quirks a bit much at times, overall he's a bouncy, devilishly sarcastic opposite to his pupil's dogged optimism. As a pair, they are an almost perfect yin and yang, the whole movie revolving around their blossoming relationship, racing down 70 and 90-meter ramps at blinding speeds eager to achieve liftoff.

Stuntman Vic Armstrong, a veteran of a number of James Bond productions and the first three Indiana Jones adventures, handles the action choreography, and as such the jumping sequences are - even when aided by some obvious digital tinkering - fairly extraordinary, achieving a breathtaking tension that's palpable. Composer Matthew Margeson's (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse) 1980's-style electronic score is also wonderful, his compositions sounding as if they were pulled straight out of a John Hughes comedy like Ferris Bueller's Day Off or Planes, Trains and Automobiles more than they do anything else, a very good thing indeed. It's nicely stitched together by Fletcher, his direction having a relaxed, easygoing texture that allows for the inherent emotionalism of the scenario to build gradually, not feeling nearly as manipulative as by all accounts it unquestionably is.

Eddie the Eagle isn't a great movie. It follows the underdog sports movie template far too closely, and knowing so much of Eddie Edward's story had been fictionalized did keep me from developing as firm an attachment to the character as I normally would like to have had. Yet watching this eagle take to the sky still manages to be a cheery delight, the triumph he scores just by working so hard to stand on the same platform as the athletes he idolizes an inspiring victory viewers around the world should easily be able to relate to.


Visually rambunctious Gods a perplexing misfire
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

GODS OF EGYPT
Now playing


It's hard to know what to make of the Egyptian mythological adventure Gods of Egypt. Directed by The Crow and Dark City mastermind Alex Proyas and set in an ancient world where God and Human wander around together side-by-side, this is a rambunctious fantasy that goes so far over the top it actually features a gigantic spaceship circling the Earth where its pilot battles a giant plant-eating worm night after night. It is a visually ambitious spectacle where every penny of its reported $140-million budget is right there on the screen, the acclaimed filmmaker pulling out all the stops as he attempts to give life to writers Matt Sazama and Burk Sharpless' latest narrative construct life.

And he has to, because the pair's script is rather laughable, a melodramatic hodgepodge of ideas liberally borrowing from influences as varied as The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Star Wars, Flash Gordon, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Cleopatra and any number of Ray Harryhausen event spectacles ranging from 1958's The 7th Voyage of Sinbad, to 1963's Jason and the Argonauts, to 1981's Clash of the Titans. While not quite as lumbering or as consistently pathetic as the duo's last two endeavors, the tragically silly Dracula Untold and the mind-numbing supernatural bore The Last Witch Hunter, this movie is still aggressively stupid, featuring characters and situations that are as absurd as they are preposterous.

Taking place in an Egypt where the God Osiris (Bryan Brown) is set to grant rule of the known world to his beloved son Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) only to be slain by his own militaristic brother Set (Gerard Butler) before the crown can be passed on. Into this family squabble ventures human thief Bek (Brenton Thwaites), the young man head-over-heels for the beautiful Zaya (Courtney Eaton), his heart belonging to her entirely. But when she is mortally wounded, he vows to bring his beloved back from the afterlife, striking a bargain with the still-grieving Horus, God and Man joining forces to end Set's rule and save the Earth from being devoured by a monstrous evil.

How does a human being make a bargain with a deity? Horus had his eyes stolen from him by Set, Bek managing to break into a treasure temple in order to steal one back. This leads to an uneasy alliance, Gods of Egypt settling into a pattern reminiscent of a buddy movie like Lethal Weapon or 48 Hrs., the pair traipsing all around the desert looking for allies to help them in their fight. This includes an interstellar segue to visit Horus' grandfather, the omnipotent father of the God Ra (Geoffrey Rush), his nightly battles against the demon Apophis draining him of the majority of his strength.

It's impossible to know where to begin. Everything is overwrought and nothing is subtle, but considering how exuberantly excitable all of it is one can only assume this is entirely by design. Proyas pushes things in a way that is beyond aggressive, throwing subtly out of the window entirely as his heroes race madly here and there in their quest to unseat Set and save Zaya from damnation. They battle giant snakes controlled by the warrior goddesses Astarte (Abbey Lee) and Anat (Yaya Deng) while also making alliances with Goddess of Love Hathor (Elodie Yung) and God of Wisdom Thoth (Chadwick Boseman), everything building to a battle with Set atop a giant monument to Ra where the budding friendship between Horus and Bek is put to the ultimate test.

The movie is beyond stupid. At the same time, I got the feeling that Proyas realizes this, and, instead of trying to mask the inherent absurdity of what is transpiring, he pushes it front and center, reveling in the unabashed lunacy as if he were making a Looney Tunes cartoon and not a budget-busting Hollywood spectacular. Marco Beltrami's (The Hurt Locker) boisterous score is suitably enormous, while Peter Menzies, Jr.'s (Hard Rain) swooping, freewheeling camerawork glides throughout the CGI-generated landscapes and sets with vigorous ease. As per usual for the filmmaker, there is a painterly esthetic to costumes, sets and landscapes that are intricate and imaginative, allowing for plenty for the eyes to continually wonder at even if the central scenario itself barely warrants any attention whatsoever.

But, again, calling all of this dumb is an obvious understatement. The script does nothing original, save maybe the way it posits the forms of the various characters (the Gods substantially taller than their human counterparts), while the central scenario involving Horus and Bek is so threadbare it barely even exists at all. Sazama and Sharpless have apparently never met a cliché they didn't want to embrace with open arms, so much of the scenario reveling in the absolute worst of them they only grow more and more tiresome as events progress.

I like Coster-Waldau, the 'Game of Thrones' favorite a much better actor (see the Norwegian thriller Headhunters for proof on that front) than the majority of his Hollywood roles would suggest. He's suitably gruff as far as all of this is concerned, and I did like his interplay with the gorgeous Yung, the two having an unfussy chemistry that's intoxicating. But he's not really called upon to stretch himself or do too much, getting by more on his innate charm and sex appeal than he is on anything else.

Which is more than can be said for Butler. I got the feeling he realized just how messy all of this was turning out to be early on, and as such he kind of phones things in, never going as far over the top as he easily could have. He's a rather forgettable villain, in all actuality, ending up coming across more like a petulant child throwing a temper tantrum, his ultimate plan of allowing Apophis to feast while he happily watches making no practical sense at all. Even his fight scenes with Coster-Waldau aren't what they should have been, both of the main ones lacking any semblance of urgency that would have allowed them to generate suspense or tension.

It's weird that it has been seven years since Proyas' last film, the defiantly unhinged end-of-the-world Nicolas Cage thriller Knowing, especially considering it was a surprise box office hit. Even more of a shock, Gods of Egypt is the script he ultimately decided to attach himself to, what it was that drew him to it I wouldn't begin to understand. While he directs with his typical idiosyncratic passion and confidence, there's just too much in the way of imbecilic baggage for him to be able to overcome all of it with any of his cinematic bravado. While not an outright disaster, this is still as massively perplexing a misfire as any likely to see a release this year, and one I hope a filmmaker as talented as Proyas doesn't take an additional seven years to recover from.


The Harmon and Harriet Kelley Collection of African American Art:

Works on Paper at the Northwest African American Museum

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An interview with Jersey Boys' actor Keith Hines
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Seattle Musical Theatre presents a fun and peppy production of 9 to 5
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CALL FOR ENTRIES: CITY PANORAMA

King County Metro Transit & PCNW announce Photomural Public Art Call

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Rival queens battle it out in Donizetti's Mary Stuart
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Comedy's Lovable Queen of Mean, Lisa Lampanelli returns to the Moore Theatre Saturday, March 12
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Teatro ZinZanni's newest show is pure delight!
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Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill makes TV premiere in March
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Inventive Zootopia an animated mammal metropolis of fun
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Intimately human Wave a thrilling disaster epic
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Absurd London a gleefully violent sequel
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Inspiring Eddie heroically takes flight
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