Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sights and Sounds

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.

Thumbs Up.


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 fiancĂ© 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.


  1. I rented Mr. Nobody, but at the time didn't appreciate it as I went into it without knowing much about it other that it was SF, and also that it starred Jared Leto. There's a lot of interesting things about it, that slipped by me until afterwards I read up on it. It's one of those films that maybe knowing more about it might enhance the experience. That said though I still don't think it's a great movie, SF or otherwise. I think it may have been too cerebral for its on good and pretty low on action for my taste.

    I've read both Chappie and Jupiter Ascending are ok, if you aren't expecting too much. I read Chappie is almost more of a comedy? I eventually put them on my NF queue, but they aren't hot movies to watch for me.

    I do like Gellar and think she's a good actress, but for whatever reason she's not found the right vehicle for her after Buffy. Could be too I just haven't watched everything she's starred in too. The Grudge was a pretty good though.

    Three Days Gone are unknown to me. The past couple of weeks I've been playing the newest Pink Floyd release, Endless River. It's pretty nice if you've followed them throughout the years. It's probably not the best place to start listening to them, but has many references to their past works on it, which makes it all the sweeter to a fan.

    1. Mr. Nobody did struggle to find an audience. 90% of the film consists of flashbacks to ordinary life dramas c.1985-2010, which might have put off SF fans, while the parallel timelines might have irked non-SF fans. The genre-straddling worked for me though.

      I wonder if the rejuvenating baths in Jupiter Ascending were inspired by the baths in the blood of young women supposedly favored by Elizabeth Bathory (1560-1614) for her complexion. Liz eventually was convicted of multiple murder and sentenced to house arrest – or, in her case, castle arrest – so that really didn’t work out for her.

      I haven’t seen The Grudge despite pretty good reviews. Of those films I have seen with Gellar, Cruel Intentions would be the best. Perhaps something better will crop up yet.

      Thanks for the Pink Floyd tip, and your remarks once again show the value of knowing a body of work. Those references would be lost on anyone who hasn't listened to more than one hit single.

  2. "Mr. Nobody" keeps popping up in my suggestions cue on Netflix. Your description makes it sound interesting. There was a Robin Williams movie in the 1990s called "Being Human" that was similar. Williams plays multiple roles throughout time (a cave man, a slave in ancient Rome, a spanish explorer and a single dad in the 90s). The movie was a bit of a mess, but had some interesting moments and concepts behind it. This also sound a little bit like one of my favorite anime films, "Millennium Actress", where a director goes to interview his favorite film actress before she dies, and the stories she tells him meld from real life to the movies she was in and back again. It gets to the point where the interviewer himself ends up playing a part in her stories and the movies. Really fun movie with some great visuals and a surprisingly moving finale.

    Ah "Jupiter Ascending". I picked up the phenomenal score by Michael Giacchino. Great stuff, big bold themes, bombastic and fast paced action and even specialized orchestral suites. Really one of the best film scores of the year (and Giacchino is on fire this year with scores to "Jurassic World", "Inside Out" and "Tomorrowland" all being top notch).

    All that said, nearly everyone I talked to said the movie was poor, even those who realized that it was more in the vein of a 1930s serial, than with "Interstellar". I'm curious to see it, just to see how bad it really is, and to hear Giacchino's wonderful score in context.

    1. "Jupiter Ascending" is probably incomprehensible to anyone who hasn't watched a slew of SF movies. The plot is amazingly complex considering that it doesn't matter at all -- it's just an excuse for the action. However, there is nothing new in the plot. All of it is derivative, so if you are an SF fan you'll have no trouble following it; you've seen it all before. And, of course, there is plenty of big scale action enhanced by that score. If one is in the right mood, that can be enough -- once anyway.

      I think you would like "Mr. Nobody." I did. It's not for those who like simple straight-line narratives, but it does make sense in its own way.