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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 9, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 06
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Latest Cloverfield a weirdly inconsequential curiosity
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX
On Netflix


A viral marketing sensation that came out of nowhere to become a modest-sized hit in January of 2008, the found footage rampaging monster movie Cloverfield was something of a sensation. Eight years later, debuting a trailer a scant two months before its theatrical release, 2016's 10 Cloverfield Lane was a critical sensation and a sizable box office success, both factors leading many to believe studio Paramount Pictures and producer J.J. Abrams had the makings of a successful anthology franchise on their hands, one that could move in the realms of science fiction and horror as if it were a cinematic 'Twilight Zone' or 'The Outer Limits' for the 21st century.

Changing the game once again, Paramount and Abrams turned over their latest installment in their series The Cloverfield Paradox over to Netflix for release. The streaming service debuted a 30-second trailer for the movie during Sunday's Super Bowl broadcast, subsequently setting the release for the film as the moment the game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots came to an end. The buzz of this announcement immediately took the Internet by storm, social media blowing up as viewers wondered what this newest chapter was going to offer up to mull over and debate. Many also openly wondered why the feature was bypassing a theatrical exhibition entirely in order to premiere on Netflix, this unveiling feeling like both a cagey power play for the powerful streaming company as well as an easy way for Paramount and Abrams to avoid any bad word-of-mouth they might have feared this newest Cloverfield chapter was potentially going to generate.

I feel pretty confident that this latter point is the main reason a theatrical release for The Cloverfield Paradox was put on hold. For as clever and as genre-breaking as both Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane proved to be, they were also fairly easy to sell, their basic plots easy for general audiences to grasp. Not so much this time, director Julius Onah and writers Oren Uziel (22 Jump Street) and Doug Jung (Star Trek: Beyond) coming up with a story and film that is close to indescribable. A hodgepodge of everything from Alien to Event Horizon to an episode of 'Fringe' to Back to the Future to an H.P. Lovecraft story to the classic 1983 television movie The Day After, to call this effort a mess would be massively understating things. It's likely, at least in today's marketplace, theatrically, this would have been an almost certain box office dud, so not wanting to weaken the brand for future installments going for an impromptu showcase on Netflix (for which the streaming service reportedly paid a hefty $50 million for the privilege) makes a lot of sense.

Sometime in the very near future, a global energy shortage has the Earth on the brink of a third world war. In order to stave off what could be an extinction-level event, a group of countries send a team of crack scientists up to a newly built space station to conduct tests of a device that could change the course of history forever and instantaneously end the energy crisis. Led by the determined Commander Kiel (David Oyelowo) and with a scientific team headed up by the egotistically self-confident Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), the group has been in orbit for almost two years and has met with little in the way of a success. But with fellow team members Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Monk (John Ortiz), Mundy (Chris O'Dowd), Volkov (Aksel Hennie) and Tam (Ziyi Zhang) looking on with hope-filled eyes, Schmidt is certain the next test will deliver the results they've all been praying for.

Initially things go as planned. The experiment is a success, the station's crew giddy once they realize they've finally discovered a source of unlimited energy that will help save the planet. But suddenly the unexpected occurs, an event that bends the very fabric of space and time. Unable to find the Earth, the station suffering from a number of inexplicable malfunctions that must be repaired if they're ever going to make it back home and report on their discovery, Hamilton in particular finds her sense of reality forever shattered. The catalyst for this is the arrival of an apparent stowaway named Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki), the woman claiming to be one of her best friends as well as a vital member of the crew. Yet this is just one of a myriad of mysteries the team must pool their resources together in order to solve, all the while back on Earth a strange series of monstrous events has plunged the entire planet into a fiery state of terrifying darkness.

There is a lot going, and almost none of it makes sense. Yet as obnoxiously convoluted and overwrought as everything is, somehow Onah manages to still present things in a way that's fascinating no matter how pointlessly bizarre much of what is transpiring undeniably is. He also stages a handful of strong, unsettling shock sequences that caught me by surprise, the introduction of Debicki's character an absolute showstopper. Doug J. Meerdink's (The Watch) production design is sensational, while composer Bear McCreary's (Colossal) thunderously eloquent score adds to the excitement level considerably. The film is also magnificently shot by Daniel Mindel (Star Trek: Into Darkness), the manner in which he navigates in and around the space station's interiors reminding me at various times of William Fraker's classic visual compositions for Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby.

More importantly, the cast is universally excellent, Mbatha-Raw, Debicki and O'Dowd in particular. The latter appears to be having a grand time gallivanting inside this sci-fi playground, some of his one-liners and deadpan observations getting me to laugh out loud on multiple occasions. Debicki grounds her mysterious character in a surreal pathos that is palpably genuine, the shock and dissociative psychological trauma she goes through understandable and easy to relate to once the full magnitude of her situation is revealed. It is Mbatha-Raw, however, who is the film's heart and soul, her emotionally devastating journey one overflowing in heartbreak. Yet Hamilton's perseverance in the face of the unthinkable is equally affecting, her ability to see the bigger picture even though she's right on the verge of falling to metaphorical pieces a form of quiet courageous heroism stories like this one seldom, if ever, take the time to showcase in such intimately poignant detail.

Still, I'm not kidding when I say that this movie is a mess. It almost feels as if Abrams and company had Onah and his creative team shoehorn in the 'Cloverfield' aspects of the story at the very last minute, and as such the tissue connecting this installment to its 2008 predecessor (this is supposed to explain the appearance of the monster that destroyed New York City) is tenuous at best. More importantly, subplots and narrative devices talking about multiverses, alternate realities and time travel paradoxes aren't given room to breathe, and as such it all becomes a twisted pretzel of mental and psychological sci-fi gymnastics impossible to make heads or tails of. The audacity of a Netflix premiere a little over two hours after a Super Bowl trailer presentation aside, there's precious little about The Cloverfield Paradox that rises to the same heights as the previous two entries in the anthology series soared to, making this one more of a uniquely weird curiosity than it is anything compellingly substantive.


Violently obnoxious Peter Rabbit a vile adaptation
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

PETER RABBIT
Now playing


There is almost nothing about Peter Rabbit that makes me think Beatrix Potter would be pleased by this frantic, violently juvenile adaptation of her classic character. Beginning with the publication of The Tales of Peter Rabbit in 1902, the author wrote a number of books featuring Peter, his siblings Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-Tail, and a great many of their countryside friends including Pigling Bland, Jemima Puddle-Duck and Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle. She detailed his mischievous adventures as he invaded Old Mr. McGregor's farm in order to steal vegetables for his kin, the proud and prideful Peter learning a number of lasting lessons about sacrifice, family, community and humility as he did all he could to keep from being baked into a meat pie.

Had I never read a single one of Potter's books as a child, I can say with conviction I would still have loathed director Will Gluck's (Annie, Easy A) distasteful adaptation. While the CG animation utilized to bring Peter and his fellow critters to life is undeniably extraordinary, maybe some of the best I've ever seen, and even though actors Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson manage to give two pretty solid performances reacting to all the madness and mayhem, this movie still made me so angry I was practically speechless afterwards. It was like I was sitting there getting pelted in the face with one rotten vegetable after another, and while I can appreciate certain aspects of the production that doesn't mean I'd want anyone, anywhere to waste their hard-earned dollars taking the family to see this unmitigated disaster anytime soon.

Only the basic semblance of a connection to Potter's source material exists. After Old Mr. McGregor's (Sam Neill) untimely demise, Peter Rabbit (voiced by James Corden) believes he's finally won the battle for the human's lush, carefully tilled vegetable garden. But not so soon after he, his siblings Flopsy (Margot Robbie), Mopsy (Elizabeth Debicki), Cotton-Tail (Daisy Ridley) and their cousin Benjamin Bunny (Colin Moody) take up residence in Old Mr. McGregor's now empty house, along comes the farmer's grand-nephew, Mr. Thomas McGregor (Gleeson). He's the new owner, and the persnickety and fussy busybody intends to get the property into tip-top shape so he can sell it for a tidy profit. That means Peter and his brood are not welcome in the vegetable garden, and he'll go to whatever lengths he feels are appropriate to ensure no rabbit sets foot inside of it ever again.

Enter kindly artist Bea (Byrne). She's lives next door and adores Peter, making room for him and his family whenever possible. But the young woman also catches the eye of her new neighbor, Thomas smitten right from their first meeting. For Peter, this is a step too far, and where he was initially willing to play cat and mouse with the new McGregor in much the same way as he did his predecessor, with Bea showing signs of falling for the man's charms the rabbit decides to take things to a level he's never ascended to before. It is man versus bunny, both determined to do whatever they must to win Bea's affections, and if there's any collateral damage so be it.

One of the film's chief gags revolves around Peter's happiness that he 'killed' Old Mr. McGregor. He didn't, of course, the older man dying of a heart attack, but the fact this ends up being a running joke is moderately repulsive, and for a story designed to appeal to younger viewers I have no idea what Gluck and co-writer Rob Lieber (Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day) were thinking when they wrote it into the script. From there, the film is overflowing in overly exuberant moments of violence and pandemonium, and there is an entire set piece revolving around the rabbits pelting Thomas in his privates with vegetables. There are explosions, electrical shocks and acts of extreme vandalism that are well beyond the pale, all of it centered on a selfishly narcissistic main character who bears little to no resemblance to his beloved literary forebear.

What's most annoying is that Byrne and especially Gleeson really are good, both of them giving lively, three-dimensional performances that in a better motion picture might have added something in the way of depth to the material. If anything, I'd love to see Gleeson do even more comedy, his willingness to do whatever it takes to garner a laugh divine. A strong dramatic actor, it would have been lovely to have watched him have such a terrific time portraying this character had the movie itself had made even the slightest of attempts to rise to similar heights. But frustratingly this is almost never the case, and save for a few instances of undeniable charm, Gleeson's strong performance ends up being nothing more than a minor saving grace in a motion picture that needed at least another half-dozen of them in order to have met with even the faintest semblance of success.

Earlier this year we were gifted the divine beauty of Paddington 2, a piece of family-friendly entertainment that respected and trusted its source material while at the same time still felt modern, fresh and new. On the flipside, Peter Rabbit feels nothing like Beatrix Potter's timeless books, while the majority of the modern elements injected into the story to make it current hit me as being nothing short of ugly, coarse and vile. While some will undoubtedly be amused, I certainly cannot count myself amongst any who would, this distasteful animation-live action hybrid an odious misfire I hope I never have to think about, let alone watch, ever again.


Freed a drearily maudlin end to the Fifty Shades trilogy
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

FIFTY SHADES FREED
Now playing


Now married to reclusive bad boy, sexually repressed Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is positive she'll be able to ease his troubled spirit by showering him with a form of confident, selflessly independent love that will help him become the man she knows he could be. However, the reemergence of the vile, duplicitous Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) is putting a real crimp in Anastasia's plans for eternal happiness between her and Christian. While she understands just how dangerous Jack is, she's also determined to live her life the forthright, self-sufficient way she always has whether she's the new Mrs. Grey or no, and if her husband has a problem with this then as far as she's concerned that's his problem, not hers.

Both Fifty Shades of Grey and Fifty Shades Darker were bad movies, but they also managed to be two of the best, unintentionally hysterical comedies of their respective years. These adaptations of the first two books in author E.L. James's inexplicably best-selling trilogy were so bad, so insanely and obnoxiously terrible, they almost ended up being kind of amazing in their mind-boggling incompetence. They also did a fine job of introducing Johnson to the world, and while the disdain the actress shows for the material is readily apparent, the effortless charm she displayed throughout both features was still moderately beguiling.

With Fifty Shades Freed, the supercilious and salaciously sophomoric story James crafted for her two popular characters comes to its conclusion. Much like the previous two adaptations, this one is every bit as maudlin, melodramatically ponderous and emotionally inept as anything I could have anticipated. Yet unlike the other films, this one is going through the motions in a way that makes it feel as if no one involved, not just the actors, but also returning director James Foley and his creative team, too, cared anything about the finished product whatsoever. There's no energy, no excitement, and even the numerous sex scenes achieve a level of humdrum banality that would be impressive if it wasn't so unappealing. In short, this capper to the trilogy is flat-out boring, watching it enough to put even the most easily entertained viewer to sleep within the first 30 minutes.

For Foley this is especially perplexing. Once upon a time the director had the ability to generate steamy passion and heated emotional exuberance with relative ease. At Close Range, After Dark My Sweet, Glengarry Glen Ross, these films had a palpable sense of complex three-dimensional authority that helped them become something worth getting excited about. But after handling directorial duties on Fifty Shades Darker it's almost as if the experience of working for James and trying to give some semblance of life to her puerile fantasies took something out of him. The presentation this time around is so paint-by-numbers, so blasé in its unremarkable visual and structural ugliness, it's as if the filmmaker isn't even trying.

The same could be said for Johnson and Dornan. The pair has never had any chemistry, that's just a given at this point, but here the duo are as unappealing a couple as they've ever been. Even in the midst of some of the most ponderously staged soft-core sex scenes in recent cinematic history, it's easy to get the feeling the two actors would rather be anywhere else than standing there trying to look romantic while ensnarled in one another's arms. They're sleepwalking through the film, and other than a couple of admittedly humorous line readings where Johnson gets to let loose her venom in a fashion that makes her contempt for the material almost vanish into the background, there's little that either actor does that they'll want to be adding to their resumes anytime soon.

What else is there to say? This is a movie that transforms a key kidnapping subplot into nothing more than a throwaway detour into fatuous foolishness, while the actual ending to the story is an honest to goodness montage of scenes from all three films smashed together almost as if it was designed to remind the viewer just how laboriously dull all of this breast-baring madness has proven to be. I still have no idea how all three of James's books became bestsellers or what audiences saw in Fifty Shades of Grey or Fifty Shades Darker to make them box office hits. Thankfully, now after watching Fifty Shades Freed, I likely never have to wonder about any of that ever again, this trilogy almost certain to disappear into the dustbin of history before February has even come to an end.






Michael Feinstein on old friends, timeless music and building bridges
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Pacific Northwest Ballet presents a spectacular, virtuosic and memorable Swan Lake
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Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company brought profound conversation and dance to University of Washington
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Rufus Wainwright to appear in special engagement at ECA, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis joining Ciara at Benaroya Hall for student arts concert
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A fine Bulgarian soprano as Bellini's Norma
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Tale of a divided Korean family
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Classic The Gin Game casts classic Seattle couple
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Seattle Humane - Pets of the Week
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Help create a social and support network for LGBT veterans
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k.d. lang to appear at the Moore Theatre and on Vashon, Paul Simon to visit Seattle on farewell tour, Sasquatch unveils 2018 lineup
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Latest Cloverfield a weirdly inconsequential curiosity
------------------------------
Violently obnoxious Peter Rabbit a vile adaptation
------------------------------
Freed a drearily maudlin end to the Fifty Shades trilogy
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