Matias Bombal’s Hollywood
Gramercy Pictures (A Comcast Company) offers an action thriller with a touch of the bizarre, “Self/Less” starring Ben Kingsley, Ryan Reynolds and Victor Garber. In present-day New York City, Damian, a man who “built New York” though his financial prowess, is dying from cancer. Through the suggestion of his attorney and adviser Martin (Victor Garber), he investigates a new possibility that his enormous wealth may provide for him, a new kind of second chance made possible by the advance technology of a very secret organization headed by a mysterious and mannered Doctor Albright (Matthew Goode).
Albright offers a radical procedure that will “offer humanity’s greatest minds more time to fulfill their potential,” or transfer Damian’s consciousness and memory to the body of a healthy young man (Ryan Reynolds) that has been supposedly “grown” in a lab synthetically. Thus, this would prolong Damian’s life, yet with a totally new identity. He would be forced to give up his old identity completely to preserve the secrecy of the organization that provides the service.
The remarkable temptation to live again as a healthy young man, rather than with a body riddled with cancer with few months to live is sufficiently attractive to Damian to forfeit his past life, as he’d be able to literally take much of his financial acumen with him. He makes the deal, and travels to New Orleans to “die” and assume the new body. There are adjustments getting used to his new vessel, as the essence of Damian’s memory will take some time to connect to the nerves of the new body. With training supervised by Dr. Albright, he adapts and remarksb “It has that new body smell.”
As he begins to feel comfortable in his newborn world, he is plagued by occasional psychotic episodes, which are only diminished by regular doses of medication to keep visions from occurring. Visions, which strangely are entirely new to his mind, and not from his own memory. Where could they have come from? In nightmarish distorted arrays, he sees a young woman (Natalie Martinez), a young girl (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen). There are episodes of the point of view of a soldier in combat and weird and colorful objects. These visions begin to paint a picture that will lead him to a startling discovery, and eventually he will meet the women of his visions.
To reveal more would spoil the plot of this picture entirely, a movie which I thoroughly enjoyed. Director Tarsem Singh keeps things moving briskly, mounting tension and suspense most effectively. So much so, I had to avert my eyes from the screen out of fear of what might happen next on more than one occasion.
The movie’s editor, Robert Duffy, has done some splendid cutting here, in particular, a sequence in New Orleans. Duffy intercuts a basketball game and the young Damian’s exploration of his new body’s youth with sports and lovemaking cut to a musical rhythm that was very well done. The performances are all very good, and Ryan Reynolds is very likeable. Kingsley delivers as he always does, and Victor Garber has been a favorite of mine since his turn in “Titanic” where he played the tragic ship’s designer, Thomas Andrews.
All these good points make for a great night at the movies, and I really liked it, however, as neat and far-out as the concept sounds, it is not original. It is not possible that “Self/Less” writers David and Alex Pastor wrote this screenplay without having seen John Frankenheimer’s “Seconds” (1966). That film was based on a novel by David Ely, in which the movie poster’s tag line announced: A second chance to live. A second chance to die. The picture, which starred Rock Hudson against type in what was said to be his own favorite work on screen, has a creepiness that is just as chilling and disturbing today as when it first came out with its unusual and groundbreaking photography by the legendary James Wong Howe. In fact, it is much more scary and mysterious then this ramped up modern movie modification. If you have seen “Seconds” this will be self evident. If not, “Self-Less” will be a great time spent at the movies. If you like it as much as I did, I encourage you to seek out Frankenheimer’s “Seconds” (Paramount) to see a similar story told by some of the last master craftsmen of cinema’s golden age.
The MPAA has rated this R
A24 releases a documentary that relates the short and eventually tragic life of pop singer Amy Winehouse, directed by Asif Kapadia. This documentary is highly visual in style and non-traditional in that the many subjects interviewed, including friends, family and lovers are not seen as they talk about her. The visual element of this movie is entirely comprised of actual file video of the English songstress from television and home videos shot by the family and friends that had never before been made public.
As you hear the voice of one of those intimate with Ms. Winehouse, the name of that person appears in a graphic to alert you who is speaking since in most cases they are not seen, with the exception of the speaker being featured in the period footage. These graphics are cleverly and artistically designed and displayed throughout the picture, as are the lyrics of her songs as she is singing them. I found those lyrics on screen to be helpful and at a times Ms. Winehouse’s style of singing makes it hard to discern some of the words she is singing.
You travel through her life from the beauty of a simple Jewish/English childhood in Southgate, London, to her unfortunate death in July 2011, the result of alcohol poisoning and years of adult self-abuse. You learn that her life became marred by the separation of her parents, a wound that would torment the singer through her life.
You see that jazz music influences inspired her early style and sound, quite remarkable for a singer of her generation; yet her later alignment with bad influences started her spiral downward, fueled by an obsessive relationship with her boyfriend and later husband, Blake Fielder-Civil. It was he that introduced her to more serious illegal drugs, and they became quite co-dependent.
Along this history told through home videos, drone shots, and TV excerpts, Ms. Winehouse emerges a talent with remarkable potential, washed away in obsession and drug use. You are left angered and saddened by such a waste of human life, yet with a knowledge that we all must follow our own path, whichever that may be.
The contemporary look of this documentary, which has received much acclaim did not impress me; it was distracting. The song lyrics appearing on screen with cleverly engineered fonts and transitions as well as the names of the voices you were hearing drew attention to themselves and distracted from the footage. The fact that you could not see the interview subjects when they were talking robs you of the human element of facial expression, which is often more telling than just voice alone. A great missed opportunity, as it would have been more powerful to see the faces of those whilst being interviewed, adding value to how much Ms. Winehouse truly affected and contributed to their lives.
One of the best moments in the movie occurs when one of Winehouse’s great musical heroes, Tony Bennett, joins her for a recording session for a duet. You see that he genuinely thinks her talent is singular, comparing her with some of the great blues and jazz singers of all time. She is nervous and agog of her musical legend, who had been warned that she could be difficult. The eternal gentleman and kind soul, his generosity to her during the session sings volumes of his ongoing greatness. It was the most touching part of the picture for me.
The mystery of the theatrical and artistic temperament filled with unbridled emotion in search of expression is not exclusive to Ms. Winehouse; it occurs again and again in history. More often than not, these emotions and creative art impulses cascade into self abuse and self-destruction, as they are overwhelming for many. Here is a movie about such an unfortunate victim of depression, bad influences and public life that may destroy the soul. In Sacramento, “Amy” is at the Tower Theatre.