REVIEW: Marjorie Prime

18 08 2017

Jon Hamm is just sitting on the couch when Michael Almereyda’s “Marjorie Prime” begins. There’s something wooden about him in an intentionally uncanny valley kind of way, like an automaton Don Draper. As it turns out, he’s a hologram of Marjorie’s deceased husband Walter – kept at a much riper age than her current 86 years young.

Walter simultaneously assists in the psychological comforting of a fraying Marjorie (Lois Smith) and assuaging of guilt for her daughter Tess (Geena Davis) and son-in-law Jon (Tim Robbins). They must still tend to her physically, of course, but Walter can perform some heavy emotional lifting to ease their burden. Among the science-fiction genre, this speculative future looks like it could be closer to fact. With a population of Baby Boomers quickly graying, the promise of AI could free their offspring from providing extensive care through the ultimate act of outsourcing.

The twist in “Marjorie Prime,” though, is that Walter is only as good as Marjorie allows him to be. His technology depends on her willing disclosure of memories, which may not even be entirely accurate. At many points in the film, it’s unclear whether Walter is wrong or if Marjorie’s own mind has failed her.

Most of these tricky contradictions come from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Jordan Harrison which Almereyda adapts into little more than filmed theater. “Marjorie Prime” plods along patiently with the deliberate pacing of a stage show but sorely lacking the human connection normally provided by live actors moving through a space. On screen, the main value of Almereyda’s film seems to be the democratization of the ideas contained within the play through the mass medium of cinema. The over-literalization brought to the text through the magic of cinema removes some of the abstraction, and thus some of the mystique. C+

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REVIEW: Welcome to Me

8 05 2015

Welcome to MeSeeing as how she got her start on “Saturday Night Live,” Kristen Wiig is certainly no stranger to satire.  While her work on that topical comedy show often brilliantly pointed out human error and ridicule, most of it pales in comparison to her scathingly incisive new film, “Welcome to Me.”  Eliot Laurence’s script cuts deep to probe some of our society’s deepest insecurities and fears.

He pinpoints that these collective anxieties find assuaging in the self-help gospel preached by daytime talk show hosts like Oprah Winfrey.  Take away the free car giveaways, though, and the program really just sold herself as a product.  (Who other than Oprah has ever graced the cover of O Magazine?)  “Welcome to Me” takes this narcissism to its logical extreme, following Wiig’s Alice Klieg as she uses her millions in lottery earnings to mount a show about her, for her.

Her talk show/broadcasted therapy session is not made by her, however.  To get on the air and look impressive, Alice requires the talents of producers at a local television studio.  At Live Alchemy, she finds the perfect blend of dead airspace, crushing company debt, and morally bankrupt executives willing to indulge her every desire.

Led by the slimily obsequious Rich (James Marsden), the station caters to each of Alice’s increasingly bizarre whims, even when they cross the line into literal slander and figurative self-flagellation.  It’s not hard to imagine similar board room meetings taking place at E! debating the Kardashian family.  Alice suffers from a clinically diagnosed personality disorder and manifest her symptoms rather clearly, yet no employee seems willing to protect her from herself so long as the checks keep cashing.  Consider it a less violent first cousin to “Nightcrawler” (or dare I even say, the golden goose that is “Network”).

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REVIEW: Green Lantern

20 06 2011

The old adage traditionally goes “money can’t buy you happiness,” but in respect to the latest Hollywood comic book adaptation, “Green Lantern,” money can’t buy you quality. The higher the pedestal, the harder the fall, and with a $200 million price tag, this movie lands a hard face plant.  Even with Ryan Reynolds turning in one of the better superhero performances in recent memory, the movie’s unimaginative script and laughable special effects render it one step short of unbearable.

The first movie in any hopeful series has to do a lot of introductions, and the hero has to earn his stripes.  But here, the exposition just made me want to howl with laughter because of its corniness, and they even brought in Geoffrey Rush to do some of the narration to make it sound serious!  The whole universe they set up feels like some rejected, half-baked idea for a Disney Channel series with its Sectors of the universe, the wise sages known as Guardians, and the intergalactic police force called the Green Lantern Corps.

Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is the lucky human who gets to join their ranks thanks to being “chosen” by the green light after another Green Lantern crash-lands on Earth.  Cocky, rule-breaking, and daredevil Jordan has his work cut out for him as the Green Lanterns draw their power from the green light of will, while the menacing Parallax (and his new convert Hector Hammond, Peter Sarsgaard’s mad scientist with a nasty receding hairline) draws his power from the yellow light of fear.  He must learn to use willpower to overcome fear by using the power of imagination – which makes it all the more ironic that the movie’s big theme copies that of the poorly received “Spider-Man 3.”  Clearly it’s not Jordan who needs the green light; it’s the people who wrote the script.

The whole mess, which goes on for nearly two hours, is full of plot holes and ridiculous implausibilities (flying next to the sun?) that make it even more laughable.  But the icing on the cake is the movie’s visual effects, which are honestly the WORST that I’ve seen in a blockbuster made this millenium.  When Jordan harnesses the green energy and transforms, he looks so fake that it’s hard to take him seriously.  It’s made worse by the fact that his eyes are sloppily changed blue, making him look borderline possessed (not to mention that it does jack squat to protect his identity).  And don’t even get me started on those Guardians; they look like the offspring of trolls bred with Smurfs.

Truly, Reynolds deserves better than this.  He may be the “Sexiest Man Alive,” but he’s also out to prove that he’s more than just a pretty face.  He puts a lot of soul into this character, giving Jordan some depth and emotion, yet he’s stifled by a terrible movie that is unintentionally more like “Bridesmaids” than “Thor.”  Reynolds is a star here, but he can’t shine bright enough to overpower the ugly light that is “Green Lantern.”  From a critical perspective, it’s a big, fat red light for this movie.  C- /