Rebecca Ferguson, Ryan Reynolds and Jake Gyllenhaal star in the sci-fi horror thriller Life, which is about as derivative as it gets. Astronauts are trapped onboard a spacecraft as an enemy threatens to wipe them out in the vein of Alien – and there is no one to help – Gravity – and so many others. How many times can we watch a story about trapped eggheads fighting insurmountable CGI monsters far from home and help? The deal is that one of the crew discovers and nurses a single cell organism that seduces him with its adorable curling motions and its clear desire to touch him. This cute interlude doesn’t last long. His sweet little pet suddenly morphs into a deadly mass of sucking silicone. It is a smart life form and extremely hungry and it doesn’t take no for an answer. There’s nothing new, nothing to write home about. Younger audiences who may not know the rich space horror genre may thrill to the tortures of poor trapped folks not smart enough to whoop silicone but for us, it’s tired and lazy. I will say that Jake Gyllenhaal who is one of the best actors around these days elevates the film in the final chapter with an achingly lifelike performance. He is worth the price of a ticket. Reynolds worked with director Daniel Espinoza before; also Espinoza made Easy Money, a helluva good gangster film in his native Sweden.
Personal Shopper is director Olivier Assayas’ second film with Kristen Stewart who starred in his mystical drama Clouds of Sils Maria. He has tapped Stewart’s depth of talent and revealed her as the great actress she is, an opportunity that her early directors missed. In this gripping character study slash thriller Stewart plays Maureen, an American celebrity assistant in France whose clairvoyance emerged following the death of her twin brother from heart disease years earlier. Her search for him takes her to a remote estate where she believes they will connect. Shortly afterwards she begins receiving text messages and phone calls from an unidentified person she takes to be her brother in spirit form. She doesn’t feel threatened or satisfied, instead exhaustion from overstimulation. And then she drops off clothing at the home of her egomaniacal celeb boss and discovers her brutally murdered. All of this as her doctor tells her to avoid stress, the kind that killed her brother. Assayas’ delicately balanced emotional thriller is lyrical – a potential plot point – and free floating, mimicking Maureen’s emotional instability, and Stewart treads carefully to avoid rupture. Assayas makes points about loneliness and longing and the inability to distinguish between dreams and reality. Personal Shopper is beautiful to look at and Stewart’s angled, wary, waiting face is at its heart.
Wilson stars Woody Harrelson as an angry and unfiltered ne’er do kindly described as “neurotic”. He will say and do anything that comes to mind in order to frighten people, throw them off or interfere for his own amusement, the guy you avoid at all costs. He figures his in-yer-face confrontation is authentic interaction and better than being a slave to digital life. He’s thinking about his ex-wife (Laura Dern) who left him years earlier because he’s desperate for someone to tolerate and love him as friends grow weary of him. He finds her and discovers they had a daughter whom she adopted out at birth. They search for her; he thinks she daughter will be delighted to see him, but his wife is reluctantly roped into this game he’s playing. Find her they do and hr proceeds to worm his way into her life and her family with bad results. A character as unappealing as Wilson is rarely found in a lead role; he’s not fun, he is a trial and so is the movie which is based on Daniel Clowes’ graphic novel of the same name.
Second Time Around is a charming showcase of veteran Canadians actors in a late-life retirement home romance as warm as a hug. Residents Jayne Eastwood, Stuart Margolin, Louis del Grande, Paul Soles and in his last performance, Don Francks are a bit agog when the new girl arrives. Linda Thorson, The Avengers’ Tara King arrives to recover from hip surgery and brings mystery and sex appeal to the place. As she stands warily off to the side she finds herself attracted to a grumpy widower. Their exchanges are a bit awkward but their mutual love of opera gives them a starting point. Before long they’re passionately in love and planning a trip to La Scala Milan for an opera experience. The intrusive fellow residents are resentful of their union and her adult children are aghast as well as overprotective and emotionally distant. They’ve started on a rocky trail together, and Leon Marr’s uplifting and moving ode to late life awakening is full of hope, dreams and second chances. Those stereotypes about old folk? Forget them.
HBO March 27 Jerrod Carmichael is a well-liked TV comedian who gives Donald Trump a good thrashing in this all new special. He’s appealing and gently funny but I was turned off by his indifference to environmental issues. He doesn’t care if we lose species. He wants to care but he just doesn’t, is he ignorant or just a provocateur? He says it is exhausting being black but I think climate change deniers are at least exhausting.
Iain Glen who you know from Downton Abbey and Game of Thrones is a gritty ex-guard turned detective in the hit Irish series Jack Taylor. Set on Galway’s rugged coast, the cases are tough and require not just Taylor’s considerable experience but his brawn. He’s as tough as they come and a difficult man but a potential love affair with a co-worker brings out his heart. The third season available now at www.acorn.tv features three Jack Taylor movies based on the bestselling novels by Ken Bruen and let me warn you, things can get grisly in Taylor’s world. (I can’t find a trailer for Season 3 – just full episodes!!!)
Netflix– Grace and Frankie begins a new season and the gals, played with gusto by Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin are barely on speaking terms as their vibrator for the elderly business loses steam. Meanwhile their ex-husbands Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston find their union’s getting better with age, and they’re embracing their long ago youth.
Netflix also has The Most Hated Woman in America the jarring true story of the disappearance of Madalyn Murray O’Hair, a self-described “militant feminist“ and founder of the ”American Atheists” best known for the Murray v. Curlett lawsuit, which led to the Supreme Court ruling banning Bible-reading in American public schools in 1963. Melissa Leo is larger than life as O’Hair, a hero and a villain and an iconoclast. In 1995, she, her son Jon and her granddaughter Robin disappeared from Austin, Texas, and were subsequently murdered and mutilated by Danny Fry and David Roland Waters, an employee of the American Atheists. Josh Lucas, Adam Scott, Vincent Kartheiser and Juno Temple co-star under director Tommy O’Haver.
Fantassút / Rain on the Borders is a devastating short film on the plight of 11,000 refugees stranded for months in the Idomeni refugee camp on the Greek/Macedonian border. Men, women and children are hanging on for dear life, as they wonder where they will go, when and if. It’s a grim situation, and reminds us that there are approximately 65 million displaced persons in the world. It’s a timely and a call to arms in a situation that will surely worsen. Federica Foglia directed the film for producers Deepa Mehta and David Hamilton. Fantassút screens next Friday, March 31st 6:30 pm at Tiff Bell Lightbox as part of the Human Rights Watch Film Festival.
Gordon Pinsent narrates Call of the Forest: The Forgotten Wisdom of Trees an examination of the role of trees in human and planet life. Their inestimable value in creating sustaining and improving life is often forgotten as we clear cut at whim. The film begins with an introduction to the Japanese custom of Forest Bathing. They believe walking in woods exposes bathers to chemical aerosols that directly benefit the immune system. They’re mildly narcotic and a major hedge against disease and climate change. The absence of trees can kill a landscape and any nearby waters as we see with graphic proof. Druids understood the power of trees and based their culture on them while other cultures have their own mythologies and beliefs in their power. According to Irish Canadian author Diana Beresford-Kroeger, trees and their ecosystems are this planet’s most significant creators of food, new medicines, and oxygen. She says “I am asking each person to plant one tree a year for six years, and by doing so we can all join together to help preserve the global forest.”
Waterloo, ON – Princess Cinemas, March 21st – March 26th www.princesscinemas.com
Kingston, ON – The Screening Room, April 8th – April 13th www.screeningroomkingston.com
Ottawa, ON – ByTowne Cinema, April 12th – April 15th www.bytowne.ca
by Anne Brodie, BFCA BTJA AWFJ TFCA FIPRESCI