REVIEW: Alex of Venice

27 03 2016

Alex of VeniceAlex of Venice” is the filmic version of the kind of “sad comedy” that thrives on a basic cable or streaming service. Perhaps, after binging five hours, it would feel like a satisfying, whole portrait of a woman rocked by the twin disasters of her marriage dissolving and the health of her father deteriorating. But it’s really just the first two episodes.

We get a decent idea about who Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s Alex is as a person, though we never get the kind of deep dive that a filmic character study normally provides. There is something quietly courageous and inspiring about her tenacity through all the responsibilities she must juggle. As mother, daughter/caretaker and de facto head of house, Alex barely has time to do her job as provider. She does not just have one of those bogus movie jobs either; Alex is waist-deep in trying a major environmental case.

Director Chris Messina has worked with a number of great female talents in his time – Nora Ephron, Gia Coppola and quite extensively with Mindy Kaling on television’s “The Mindy Project.” It’s clear that he wants to replicate their earnestness in addressing what it means to be a woman in today’s world. But good intentions are not enough to salvage this undercooked, underdeveloped script from Jessica Goldberg, Katie Nehra and Justin Shilton. “Alex of Venice” feels halfway onto something good. Too bad it stops so short of its potential. C+2stars

REVIEW: Self/Less

10 07 2015

The central conceit of Tarsem Singh’s “Self/Less” is effortlessly appealing, if not incredibly novel.  A new technological breakthrough allows for the transfer of a nimble mind from a decaying body into a more spry figure.  As Matthew Goode’s well-coiffed scientist Albright puts it, think of what Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, or Steve Jobs could have accomplished with a few more years.

The man who receives this revolutionary soul transplant seems to share little in common with those three luminaries, though.  Ben Kingsley’s Damian Hale simply amassed a fortune as a real estate baron.  When he sheds his cancer-addled body and reemerges in the toned physique of Ryan Reynolds, Damian uses the new lease on life not to help humanity but rather to please himself.  In pursuit of nothing but hedonism, he beds plenty of women and never once shows why he deserves an extension of his time on earth.

Beyond Damian’s clear lack of merit to receive the shedding treatment, “Self/Less” suffers from plot holes and shallow thinking aplenty.  Writers David and Alex Pastor do add in a few complications to the concept, mostly resulting from the incomplete erasure of the mind that used to inhabit Damian’s new frame.  (Side note: Why not just clone these new bodily vessels?)  The ethical questions surrounding who really owns a physical body or a life are fascinating ones indeed…

…that will have to be answered by another movie, because “Self/Less” would much rather just cut to a mindless car chase than linger on a mindful discussion.  The Pastor brothers placed their fingers on a topic that could inspire meaningful, relevant debate.  Perhaps if they were able to complete two or three more drafts of the screenplay, they might have stumbled on something really profound.  But as is, the potential for a great movie gets squandered to produce a merely passable one.  C+2stars