Mini-reviews of four looks and listens from the past week:
Mr. Nobody (2009, sort of)
The qualifier on the date of this scifi film comes from its delayed release. It was shown at the Venice Film Festival in 2009 but wasn’t in general release until 2013.
The film is set in 2092 when “telomerization” has ended death by aging – except for the decrepit 118-year-old Nemo Nobody. As the “last of the mortals,” his rapidly approaching demise has become a media event. A reporter sneaks past security and interviews Nemo about his life. Nemo decides to cooperate but, to the reporter’s exasperation, relates several distinct and mutually exclusive life histories. Nemo insists that all are true and valid until he closes his options by choosing among them. Though he never explicitly says so, the parallel is plainly to elementary particles each of which follows multiple paths until you look at it.
Nemo has a car accident and doesn’t, has a motorcycle accident and doesn’t, is hospitalized and isn’t. Three women figure prominently in Nemo’s lives; he has known all of them since childhood. Nemo and the girls/women are played by different actors at different life stages. The adult Nemo, including the heavily made-up 118-y.o. version, is played by Jared Leto. One of Nemo’s lives is with Jean; on this life path he is extraordinarily successful materially but is emotionally empty. Nemo simultaneously has a middle class life with nice kids but a nightmarish marriage with the mentally ill Elise. Then there is his materially unsuccessful (at one point homeless) life that nonetheless includes true love with Anna; the teenage version of Anna is played by Juno Temple who, as usual, steals scenes. The alternate lifelines are shaped to some degree by obviously key events, such as during his childhood when he does and doesn’t choose to live with his mother when his parents divorce. However they also are deflected by butterfly effects, which is to say that seemingly insignificant alterations in decisions or happenstances nonetheless lead to radically different outcomes.
The movie has some points to make and the surreal elements work. Yes (*partial spoiler*), Nemo does at the end collapse the probability wave.
Jupiter Ascending (2015)
Wow. This is an awful movie…and yet… It is bad in the way the Flash Gordon serials of the 30s were bad, which, despite the completely over-the-top special effects and whiz-bang action of Jupiter Ascending, is the comparison that kept going through my head. There is some fun to be had in the badness.
For some strange reason, futuristic and alien civilizations commonly have medieval political arrangements. No exception to the rule will be found here. Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a lowly toilet cleaner in Chicago, by virtue of her genetic pattern is told she is the heir to the throne of the galaxy. It comes as a surprise to her. Becoming the queen would seem only fair compensation for that horrible name were it not for the lethal intentions of her aristocratic siblings who aren’t keen on sharing their inheritance which includes the earth. Naturally, Jupiter has a bad boy would-be protector (Channing Tatum) with whom she can argue and make goo-goo eyes while they combat space-baddies. There is one difference between medieval rulers and Jupiter’s family. Medieval aristocrats and monarchs didn’t actually harvest their subjects. Yes, humans on earth are not indigenous after all; they were seeded here (and blended with native life, as they were on many other planets) so that one day they could be harvested and processed into anti-aging bath oils for the galactic one-percenters. Really.
Don’t try to make sense of it. Just watch the spaceships explode and cities crumble while Jupiter repeatedly escapes in the nick of time. There is a lot of that. A lot.
I can’t possibly give this a thumbs up. But it is a Thumbs Sideways. I personally enjoyed the badness for one viewing. Unlike the ‘30s Flash Gordons, however, which I still can re-watch with pleasure, I can’t imagine enjoying Jupiter Ascending twice.
Veronika Decides to Die (2009)
OK, I admit it. When I alit on this movie during a channel-surf I stayed on it solely because it starred the fetching Sarah Michelle Gellar. That is a legitimate reason to watch it. Sadly, there aren’t many others.
Veronika (Gellar) is an attractive young woman with good health, a good job, and good prospects. Yet she is depressed. She feels her life – and life in general – lacks meaning, and she has had enough of it. She seeks a symbol of pointlessness online and quickly finds one in an article on fashion. She posts a comment: “I want people to know that I'm killing myself rather than participate in the collective madness of this world we are all living in.” She then gobbles pills.
Veronika’s suicide attempt fails and she wakes up in a private mental institution where her parents have installed her. Veronika is told that she damaged her arteries in her attempt and that she will die in a matter of weeks if not sooner. “I have to wait that long?” she asks. As the movie drags on, soon we the audience ask the same question. Her shrink is determined to get her to appreciate life before she dies. His methods are not merely unethical but criminal. She interacts with other patients, in particular the weird young man Edward (Jonathan Tucker) who hasn’t talked since his fiancé died in a crash in which he was the driver. Given the set-up, it can’t be much of a spoiler to say that Veronika slowly does learn to appreciate life. I don’t think anyone will be surprised by the ending.
Gellar and the other actors do a serviceable job with the material they have, but the material is weak. Girl Interrupted, which this movie inevitably brings to mind, remains by far the superior choice. Thumbs Down.
Human (2015) – Three Days Grace
For years there has been a singles vs. albums debate on the future of music. There isn’t much to debate. Singles have won hands down. Singles always were strong contestants, going back to the old 45 RPM format (or, for that matter, Edison’s cylinders) and continuing through the '80s when we self-assembled mixed tapes. But there was a time (high point early 70s) when double-albums were likely to hit just as big as any singles on them. That era is long gone. Digital formats just lend themselves better to individual song-by-song downloads. A generational divide exists, with under 40s seldom buying albums and over 40s still doing it.
Well, I’m over 40 and I still do it for much the same reason I like to become familiar with a favorite author’s body of work, not just his or her best-seller. Sometimes the lesser known tales are junk and sometimes they’re gems – usually they’re a hodge-podge of both. But, whatever they may be, you get to know the author’s mind better, and that is rarely unrewarding. So, too, with musical artists.
The Canadian “alternative metal” band Three Days Grace has been around since 1997 and has turned out solid if unremarkable sounds ever since. (Their best known single might be I Hate Everything about You.) Their fifth and latest album is Human, the first since lead singer Adam Gontier was replaced by Matt Walst for health reasons. It is still very much the same band, with an album that once again is fairly good but not exceptionally good. Painkiller is the track getting the most radio airtime. That said, if this is among your preferred genres and if, along with your stand-by favorites, you’d like to load something less old and crusty into the CD tray– if you’re buying albums you’re probably still playing CDs on a stereo – you could err worse than Human. Thumbs Sideways.