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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, August 10, 2018 - Volume 46 Issue 32
Movie Reviews
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Energetically alive McQueen a haute couture documentary sensation
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

MCQUEEN
Now playingM


Born Lee Alexander McQueen, I can't say I knew a whole lot about the late British fashion designer before watching director Ian Bonhôte and co-director Peter Ettedgui's fascinating documentary McQueen other than I liked his clothes and that he had a reputation for being a little bit of a wild man. His upbringing? How he got his start? What led him to become a fashion designer? The significance of the skull motif that was his trademark? The demons he was trying to suppress before he tragically committed suicide in 2010? I can't really talk about any of that. It's just not something I have any knowledge of or, if I'm being honest, all that much interest in learning about.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Bonhôte and Ettedgui's documentary is superb, overflowing insight, human emotion and edifying moments that are universal in their intimately visceral appeal. It showcases an extraordinary and imaginative talent battling against the darkness lurking within his psyche while at the same time pushing the boundary of what the high fashion world was ready to endure. Through the eyes of those who knew him best and after being given access to rare recordings and home-video footage shot by the designer, the directors manufacture an accessible portrait that is oftentimes haunting in its subjective specificity. It's sensational stuff, and even for someone like me who barely knew what all the fuss was about this is an essential piece of filmmaking excellence deserving of a standing ovation.

Split into five chapters with animated title cards based on evolving variations of that signature skull, the film dives right into McQueen's creative process almost immediately, dispensing with his childhood years in like the first five to ten minutes. It takes no time at all before we're seeing the designer as an early protégé of fashion editor Isabella Blow (who was the one who urged him to drop the 'Lee' and go by 'Alexander') before moving on to work as a creative director for Givenchy. Not so much longer after that we see McQueen launching his own line and staging signature fashion shows with purposefully provocative titles like 'Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims' and 'The Highland Rape.' Through it all we also are granted access into the designer's working progress and friends and family members discuss openly all of the many things that helped propel his imagination to keep creating new and even more astonishing wonders.

But Bonhôte and Ettedgui make sure and examine those demons as well, most notably the nightmares he transformed into fodder for his spectacular runways shows, all of which were more like avant-garde theatre pieces than they were haute couture extravaganzas. At the same time, it's odd that the movie never actually, at least as far as I can remember, never utters the word 'suicide.' Not when talking about Blow's death and the effect it had upon McQueen, and not when detailing the events that led to the designer taking his own life in February of 2010. While the directors do not shy away from their subject's drug abuse or his up and down relationships with both lovers and fellow collaborators, they still seem moderately reticent of going too far down the rabbit hole that ended with him hanging himself and leaving a note that asked whoever found him to look after his dogs.

Still, this is a masterful motion picture, and Bonhôte and Ettedgui deserve a great deal of praise. Utilizing Michael Nyman's (The Piano, Gattaca) magnificent score with pinpoint precision, the filmmakers infuse their film with an urgent vibrancy that's positively transfixing, all the varying pieces composited together with energetic grace thanks to the smoothly confident hand of editor Cinzia Baldessari. In the end, McQueen is the kind of documentary I might not have had much in the way of interest in before watching but after giving it a look now feel it is nothing short of sensational. Watch it at once!


Goofily silly Meg an enjoyable shark attack absurdity
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE MEG
Now playing


In the deepest recesses of the Pacific Ocean, monsters are real. At least, that's what esteemed deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) claims, essentially retiring from his chosen profession five years ago after a mission to save the crew of a badly damaged submarine resulted in the tragic death of his team. He claimed a mysterious creature attacked them during the course of their rescue and caved in the side of the sub, an assertion he unfortunately cannot substantiate and is roundly ridiculed by his superiors.

Fast-forward to the present day, and vaunted Chinese oceanographer Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) and Taylor's former best friend Mac (Cliff Curtis) are suddenly in Thailand sitting in his small apartment about to ask him to go back underwater. Bankrolled by billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), the pair has built an advanced research laboratory designed to study the uncharted depths of the Earth's oceans.

Having met with initial success, they've recently lost a three-man submersible piloted by Taylor's ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee). At over a depth of 11,000 meters, the former rescue diver is the only one with the knowledge and the experience to save all aboard the damaged submarine before they run out of air. More importantly, Taylor's also the only one who knows what they're up against, Lori's last words before power cut out unequivocally stating that her ex's claims of gigantic creatures roaming the depths of the ocean floor weren't the ravings of an oxygen-deprived lunatic after all, but were instead undeniable scientific fact.

That's the warm-up to director Jon Turteltaub's The Meg, an unabashedly silly, obnoxiously cartoonish adaptation of Steve Alten's best-selling book MEG, a techno horror-thriller about a massive prehistoric shark and the team of scientists attempting to kill it. A long way from the filmmaker's previous hits like the romantic comedy While You Were Sleeping or the two Indiana Jones-style family-friendly adventures National Treasure and National Treasure: Book of Secrets, nonetheless there is still a level of craftsmanship and attention to detail here that's moderately laudable. Featuring an eclectic international cast of character actors that includes the likes of Statham, Chao, Curtis, Wilson, Li Bingbing, Ruby Rose, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson and Masi Oka (just to name a few), this is a fast-paced bit of loopy Jaws meets Jurassic Park meets Piranha silliness that's far more entertaining than it honestly has any right to be. The truth is that I had a rather nice time watching events play themselves out to their preordained conclusion, Turteltaub and his talented cast doing just enough to keep my attention for almost all of the film's reasonably well-paced 113 minutes.

The killer shark in question is a megalodon, a 75-foot prehistoric creature Dr. Zhang's scientific team accidentally frees from its undersea prison. Things proceed pretty much as expected, and it's rarely in any doubt which actors will survive until the end and which ones won't be getting a phone call if the studio decides to greenlight a sequel. Mostly this is an excuse for Statham to flex his muscles and a bunch of visual effects technicians to strut their stuff, and there really isn't a whole lot more I can add.

The Jaws references are thankfully kept to a bare minimum, the one direct lift really rather funny if the viewer is perceptive enough to catch it. At the same time, it should be said that the screenplay as composed by writers Dean Georgaris (Paycheck), Jon Hoeber (RED) and Erich Hoeber (Battleship) does have difficulty maintaining its own unique identity, and it's hard not to look at this whole enterprise as just a big budget hodgepodge of ideas and moments culled from other giant-creatures-run-amok-on-the-high-seas stories ranging from 1955's It Came from Beneath the Sea to 1977's Tentacles to 1999's Deep Blue Sea. It also plays on a handful of racial stereotypes that are borderline loathsome, and if the cast weren't so exuberantly winning, there's a chance some of them might even have moved into the realm of being flat-out offensive.

But Statham looks to be really enjoying himself, his angrily perturbed bravado kind of awesome, fitting into the sheer absurdity of everything Taylor is tasked with accomplishing. Better is his chemistry with child actor Sophia Cai, and I feel like I could watch an entire film where the two of them banter back and forth about the weather, crayon colors or the inner workings of high-tech futuristic submarines on repeat for a good two weeks without growing tired of it. Statham also has some nice scenes with Bingbing that are far more emotionally astute than anticipated, and even if their erstwhile romantic meanderings come off as forced and false, their conversations in regards to loss, sacrifice and overcoming grief are honestly heartfelt and pack a moderately significant punch.

In the end, though, people are going to see this movie to watch the actor essentially punch a gigantic prehistoric shark in the face, and on that front I'm hard-pressed to claim I was ever disappointed. While I could have used a little more of the creature chomping down on boaters, surfers, swimmers and other various unsuspecting bathers floating in the megalodon's path, for the most part The Meg was a goofily enjoyable seafaring creature feature that kept a smile pleasantly planted firmly upon my face. As Saturday matinee fair is concerned, this is one B-grade bit of shark attack silliness I'd happily see again.


Goofy Spy Who Dumped Me an enjoyably humorous lark
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE SPY WHO DUMPED ME
Now playing


While at first grocery store clerk Audrey (Mila Kunis) believes her boyfriend Drew (Justin Theroux) dumped her via text message for no apparent reason, turns out he's secretly a covert CIA spy who was just trying to protect her from harm. Out of options, he is forced to ask his now ex-girlfriend for an unthinkable favor. Unable to accomplish the task for himself, Drew needs Audrey to carry a secret item to Vienna for him, otherwise countless thousands could potentially die. While she is initially reluctant, her best friend and roommate Morgan (Kate McKinnon) convinces her to take a leap of faith and go on this unexpected adventure, agreeing to join her on the trip.

Soon the pair are bouncing around Europe avoiding Russian assassins, making the acquaintance of sexy British spy Sebastian (Sam Heughan), catching the ire of MI6 bureau chief Wendy (Gillian Anderson), and altogether getting into all kinds of mischief. Through it all Audrey and Morgan rely upon their friendship to get them through each and every perilous predicament, their bond the true secret weapon that might just prove these two unlikely women are the only ones willing to do whatever it takes to eventually save the day.

The Spy Who Dumped Me isn't going to change the world. It's a friendly, low-key throwback that's far more reminiscent of a film like 1985's Gotcha! than it is a certifiable fish-out-of-water action/comedy classic like 1984's Romancing the Stone. Director and co-writer Susanna Fogel's follow-up to 2014's wondrous Life Partners is as messy as it is elaborate, as disjointed as it is amusing. As such, the filmmaker's sophomore effort is wildly uneven and is never quite as entertaining as it continually felt like it was going to be, while at the same time providing just enough in the way of heart, laughs, and excitement to make its shortcomings nowhere near as egregious as they otherwise might have been.

The reason for this can be summed up in the form of 'Saturday Night Live' star and Ghostbusters scene-stealer McKinnon. While not at the top of her game or doing anything unexpected, she's so fantastically endearing as Morgan I found I could not take my eyes off of her anytime she was up on the screen. The way she twists Fogel and co-writer David Iserson's ('United States of Tara') dialogue to suit her character's needs is masterful, her ability to toss off a one-liner with such self-effacing ease a continual source of joy. It's always a question what McKinnon is going to do next, and by the time she climbed to the top of a Cirque du Soleil trapeze in full costumed regalia to conduct an aerial battle of wits and wiles with an angry assassin she had me giggling so boisterously I almost fell out of my seat.

But the other key to the film's success is the way in which Fogel presents Audrey and Morgan's friendship. Much like she did so effortlessly in Life Partners, the director cuts away all of the cliché and stereotypical fat that female relationships in most major Hollywood studio-produced motion pictures almost always rely upon. As silly and as convoluted as their adventure might be, their friendship remains authentic and pure no matter what. Even with the introduction of potential male love interests nothing gets between them. There is no third-act hiccup, no forced situation that makes them reconsider their connection. Instead, even when disagreements occur Audrey and Morgan are true to one another through thick and thin, a stunning turn of events that's far more radical and ambitious than I'm sure most casual viewers will comprehend, let alone notice.

The central mystery is predictable nonsense, and even as intricate as the plot the two women are trying to foil becomes there was never a moment when I didn't know what was going to happen or where things were going to go next. Additionally, Fogel has minor trouble sustaining forward momentum, and while I won't say the film runs long there were certainly times when I began to squirm in my seat waiting for things to pick up speed. I also think the movie wastes its most intriguing villain, a former Russian gymnast-turned-assassin magnetically portrayed by newcomer Ivanna Sakhno, and whether by her own hand or via studio meddling the fierce chemistry the actress shares with McKinnon is never explored as fully as I can't help but feel the director originally intended.

Be that as it may, I had a really wonderful time watching Fogel's latest. Kunis is a strong heroine, her reactions to all of the carnage and violence happening around her, some of which she ends up being directly responsible for, frequently priceless. Anderson makes the most of her few scenes, while Heughan is the sexy, albeit gender-reversed piece of eye candy James Bond films and their substandard knockoffs have been making hay out of for decades. Meanwhile, McKinnon steals scenes left and right making the type of impression that's impossible to minimize, all of which allows The Spy Who Dumped Me to be a humorously enjoyable lark I got a gleeful kick out of.


Well-made Darkest Minds an unsurprising YA adventure
by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE DARKEST MINDS
Now playing


It has been six years since a mysterious virus wiped out most of the world's population under the age of 18. Since then, in the United States the surviving children have been rounded up and put into militarized detention centers and secluded into various groups based on a color system. The reason for this is simple. The surviving kids have developed a variety of astonishing powers, ranging from superior intelligence, to the ability to control electricity, to basic telekinesis. These are the Green, Blue, and Yellow groups. These are the children the government believes it can try and control.

Ruby Daly (Amandla Stenberg) belongs to the Orange group, and kids with either that or the Red designation are executed immediately with no further testing. But she's managed to hide her abilities for these six long years, waiting for the moment she'll be able to escape imprisonment and hopefully return home to her mother and father. But when she does get out it is into a world far different than the one she knew as a 10-year-old girl. By complete chance she manages to hook up with a trio of fellow youngsters, Liam (Harris Dickinson), Chubs (Skylan Brooks), and Zu (Miya Cech), all of whom are also on the run. Together they are searching for a fabled hiding place filled with kids like them, believing if they can get there they can start a new life outside of the terrors inflicted upon them by the adults petrified of their powerful abilities.

I am not familiar with author Alexandra Bracken's best-seller The Darkest Minds or the series of Young Adult novels its success helped spawn. I do not know how faithful director Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2, Kung Fu Panda 3) and screenwriter Chad Hodge's ('Wayward Pines') adaptation is to the source material. What I can say with relative confidence is that, unlike films like The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner it is doubtful we're ever going to see where Ruby's tale goes next after this chapter comes to an end. It strikes me that for all of this motion picture's plusses the chances a sequel will see the light of day just isn't one of them, the nature of the story and the forceful depiction of the violence - primarily directed at children separated forcibly by the government from their shell-shocked parents - not exactly making this dystopian science-fiction adventure all that appealing in light of current events.

Which is kind of a pity, because while the film has its fair share of weaknesses and missteps, the world Nelson and Hodge construct turns out to be an intriguing one, and even though much of this can play out like an X-Men origin story crossed with the doom and gloom of the unfinished Divergent series there's still enough going on I'd be curious to learn what happens next. It also helps that the cast the filmmakers have assembled of young talent is strong, not the least of which is Stenberg, an actress quickly growing into her abilities who is also no stranger to YA adaptations such as this. Once upon a time she was the ill-fated Rue in the aforementioned Hunger Games, her powerful death scene one of the more memorable cinematic moments in recent memory.

After her performance here and in last year's otherwise underwhelming Everything, Everything, it's safe to say Stenberg is a talent to keep one's eye on. She's outstanding as the conflicted Ruby, mining rich emotional terrain with a naturalistic effortlessness that's sublime. The actress subtly makes this young woman's transition from protected to protector intimately authentic, and I loved the uneven physicality she brings to the role. There is a fluidity to the ins and outs of what Stenberg is doing that's marvelous, and by the time she makes the decision to stand up and fight against the evils attempting to destroy both her and her friends I almost wanted to jump out of my seat and join her in doing just that.

If only the movie as a whole were equal to her performance. There's a lot happening here, and there are a number of instances where Nelson and Hodge can't seem to juggle all of the various balls they've tossed into the air with anything resembling success. This adventure tends to move in fits and starts, glossing over what appear to be major plot points only to give extra weight to others that unfortunately don't add a heck of lot as far as the overall narrative is concerned. There's also the fact that, as much potential as this scenario might have, there's nary a surprise to be found anywhere during the feature's 105-minute running time, its secrets blatantly apparent throughout even to audience members utilizing only a tiny smidgen of their available brain cells.

It's also apparent that the study and the filmmakers were hoping their film would be the start of another popular YA fantasy series, ending things on a cliffhanger that, while not as annoying as the one in that first Maze Runner or 2009's Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant proved to be, is still rather obnoxious and unsatisfactory. By insisting on setting up Ruby's next adventures Nelson and Hodge inadvertently undercut the emotional strengths much of this story utilizes as its foundation, and even an outstanding scene between Stenberg and Dickinson right near the end finds its power and humanistic messaging significantly undercut by the lack of anything resembling a coherent resolution a precious few moments later.

I still can't wait to see what Stenberg does next, and early buzz is that her performance in George Tillman, Jr.'s upcoming, highly anticipated drama The Hate U Give is going to be the one that potentially makes her an outright star. There's also something to be said of Nelson's jump from animation to live action, her ability to utilize the entire frame, especially during action sequences, coupled with her confident handling of actors getting me to hope she gets her next directorial gig sooner rather than later. There's a lot to applaud about The Darkest Minds, just not enough to believe audiences will give it the type of look it is going to need for 20th Century Fox to continue to adapt Bracken's books anytime in the immediate future.




Broadway at The Paramount presents the new Phantom of the Opera
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DNDA proudly presents the 19th Annual Arts in Nature Festival! August 25-26 at Camp Long in West Seattle
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Chew over the ideas in The Great Inconvenience
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Seattle Humane - Pets of the Week
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Energetically alive McQueen a haute couture documentary sensation
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Goofily silly Meg an enjoyable shark attack absurdity
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Goofy Spy Who Dumped Me an enjoyably humorous lark
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Well-made Darkest Minds an unsurprising YA adventure
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