Friday, June 4, 2010


RIP to sultry Rue McClanahan, veteran of everything from sitcoms to soaps to Broadway to tawdry exploitation pictures, departed at 76.

Who would have thought that Betty White would be the last Golden Girl standing?

Here are two movies opening here in the Valley this weekend:

Please Give—It’s been a while since I enjoyed a movie about neurotic Manhattanites as much as this low-key ensemble comedy. Married couple Catherine Keener & Oliver Platt run an antique shop which they supply by swooping down on the bereaved heirs of dead New Yorkers, relieving them of their parents’ furniture & reselling it at a disgraceful markup. She feels guilty about this; he’s smart enough not to. She also gives obsessively to homeless people & makes feeble attempts at volunteering.

Keener & Platt own the apartment next door, but they can’t break through the wall & expand their own place until the long-overdue demise of its current occupant, a nasty ancient lady (wonderful Ann Guilbert). This joyless crone’s needs are tended, in return for absolutely zero gratitude, by one of her granddaughters (Rebecca Hall); the other (Amanda Peet) can’t grasp how her sister can go to so much trouble for the old bitch.

Platt & Peet represent the segment of humanity that’s quite comfortable with the pursuit of their self-interest, while Keener & Hall embody those afflicted with the awful, gnawing sense that they aren’t giving of themselves for others enough, & with an equally persistent sense of futility when they try. These four & few other characters are bounced off each other by writer-director Nicole Holofcener quite amusingly, but with tenderness as well, & a stinging awareness that unabashed selfishness can come across far more attractively than the oppresive unselfishness of the do-gooder.

Splice—Sarah Polley is Elsa & Adrien Brody is Clive, a hipster geneticist couple in the service of big pharma. They surreptitiously make their very own embryo by blending DNA from several species, including human. The result looks, at first, like a baby doll crossed with a kangaroo rat, but she matures, at an accelerated rate, into a rather elegant & fetching specimen…

Elsa quickly forms a parental bond with the spliceling, dubbing her Dren—she arrives at the name the same way Joanie coined it for Potsy on Happy Days. Clive is appalled at the reckless experiment, but goes along with it. They stash Dren in a barn at a remote farmhouse, where they all go through a sped-up dysfunctional family dynamic. Trouble, it need hardly be said, ensues.

Once the plot is motion, it isn’t really too hard to see where this Canadian horror fantasy is heading. But the direction, by Vincenzo Natali, is brisk enough, the special effects, which range from the gruesome to the ethereally erotic, are well-executed, & Brody & Polley, oddly decked out like New Wave swells, work hard to give the silly tale some conviction.

Splice, like The Human Centipede (which plays this weekend at MADCAP Theatres, by the way; info here, & you can read my review here) suggests The Mad Scientist may be making a comeback—even Elsa & Clive’s names, I’d guess, are a reference to Colin Clive & Elsa Lanchester of The Bride of Frankenstein. It also suggests that anxiety over both the moral & practical implications of emerging genetic science is very much on people’s minds.

As I noted yesterday, the Arizona legislature recently passed a bill that banned the sort of experiments depicted in this movie. Laughable though it is on a practical level that this is what Arizona’s lawmakers regard as the most pressing matter with which they need to contend—why not pass legislation forbidding the transformation of lead into gold?—it’s also reactionary on a moral level. I don’t mean to suggest that this sort of science should proceed headlong, without caution & circumspection, but the Arizona bill (Louisiana has one too) suggests the sort of panicked resistance that even the sanest of scientists will face in trying to unlock the potential benefits of gene-juggling.


  1. I would think a Monster Movie fan like yourself would realize that "gene-juggling" is the ultimate hubris. I can't in my wildest imagination see any benefit that would outweigh the fundamental immorality of even trying. I'm sure we could cure a plethora of diseases and end legions of suffering if only we would only experiment on Death Row Inmates and Down Syndrome Children. Some choose to cross the line and some don't but we must never, ever, remove the line.

  2. Nice reviews by the way.

  3. Hi! I may have created a wrong impression in that last paragraph--I certainly wouldn't be in favor of creating sentient quasi-human beings, Dr. Moreau-style (or in the style of "Splice," either), if this was even possible. But I can't agree that human-animal gene-splicing is necessarily & by its nature fundementally immoral. An immoral course of action, for me, is always one that harms another being. That, I agree, is a line which must never, ever be removed (which does not mean, by the way, that every action that harms another being is immoral; obvious exceptions include self-defense, predation & combat when it's unavoidable). Thus a death row inmate or a Downs Syndrome child is a human being with human rights, but a strand of DNA, even human DNA, doesn't come close to meeting that standard in my book.
    Of course, even if you set aside sentience, it's highly possible that the applications arising from any experiments of this sort could be used for horrifically evil purposes, or, just as likely, could be well-intenioned but have horrible unforeseen results. In that sense, you're right, such experimentation carries its share of hubris, of which we should never be unmindful. But that's true of almost all scientific research.
    Thanx for the kind words on the reviews, by the way...& thanx for dropping by!