Life

April 2, 2017 at 10:08 am | Posted in 2017 | Leave a comment
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The late-winter doldrums (between last year’s Oscar bait in January/February and the blockbuster season, starting in May) can always be a bit lean. Occasionally, we get a few independent gems during this period. Films that were too small to justify a release during busier times of the year (“Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring” would be a classic example). Or we might get riskier films that the studio is afraid might flop (like last year’s “Deadpool”). This general dearth is what has brought me to the rather ironically named “Life.” I could have chosen this or “Ghost in the Shell” but, as one of my friends put it, at least this one has Ryan Reynolds. That really wasn’t quite enough, though. This space horror takes place entirely on the International Space Station as 6 astronauts do battle with a rapidly growing space flower. I’m sure that’s not how the studio would want to describe this alien but this ain’t no capital A Alien. While clearly an homage to Ridley Scott’s horror/sci-fi classic, this film lacked virtually everything that one had: atmosphere, escalating tension, real terror and (oh yeah) an actually scary monster. This film’s see-through, “Little Shop of Horrors” knock-off was kind of hard to find frightening. It also didn’t help that I kept thinking of ways they could have killed the thing if they were just following any reasonable protocols. Like, why the hell wasn’t the lab with the unknown alien life form in it attached to an airlock? The film also had a painfully slow build up. It took 40 minutes to get to any action. That’s a lot of time in a film that’s only 1:45 long and seeing the crew members joke with each other and talk to cute kids didn’t make me like them or care about their deaths. The film ended with a haunting twist ending that was neither haunting nor much of a twist. Who didn’t see that coming? I was also really bugged by the fact that they seemed to keep calling the Japanese crew member Cho, which is a Korean name. That drove me crazy. Well, it turns out they were actually calling him Sho (apparently the character’s name was Sho Murakami, which is Japanese). But I am still going to bitch about it because that’s what type of movie this was. It really is a shame to waste a simple, vital name on such an inert movie; “Life” was, in the end, utterly lifeless.

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Florence Foster Jenkins

August 14, 2016 at 4:17 pm | Posted in 2016 | Leave a comment
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◊ ◊ ◊ ½

What a lovely palette cleanser this was after the ugly meatfest that was yesterday’s film. Set in the early 1940s, this is the largely true story of the eponymous socialite who, despite her resounding lack of talent, fancied herself an opera singer. This could have been a snide, cynical affair that took its humor in winks and nods by laughing at Mrs Jenkins; playing to the ugliness in all of us is the easiest form of humor, shallow though it may be. Instead, in the hands of director Stephen Frear’s (“Dangerous Liaisons,” “Philomena,” “High Fidelity”), we get a light (dare I say lyrical) film that dares us to laugh at such a brave and tender person. In fact, the film is filled with bravery of all sorts. Several times, it makes a point of the bravery of the soldiers fighting in the War, as though suggesting the link between their obvious, overt bravery and the more subtle bravery displayed by each of the main characters. It takes a certain type of bravery to believe in yourself so fearlessly and another, beautiful sort of bravery to love and protect such a woman the way her husband (Hugh Grant) and pianist (Simon Helberg) did. I am not sure how difficult it is to pretend to be a bad singer, but I imagine it must be difficult to play that person with sympathy and reverence. Meryl Streep made her strong and delicate, at the same time. And, in a way that only the finest actors can, she let fleeting moments of awareness cross her face; her Jenkins knew more than she let on but chose to remain naive. Grant played her husband beautifully. Despite his many flaws, he so obviously loved her completely and it was his love and generosity that moored the film. The genuine surprise for me was Helberg, who I have only known from “The Big Bang Theory.” He did a terrific job of embodying the prim Cosmé McMoon and, ultimately, his journey was the audience’s. From start to finish this was a lovely, sweet, funny and touching film. In the cynical and mean-spirited time in which we now live, there is a lesson to be learned here about the way we treat each other.

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