Friday, July 10, 2015


Lots of weird science opening this weekend:

Self/lessBen Kingsley plays Damian, an ultra-rich New Yorker dying of cancer. A shady scientist (Matthew Goode) tells Damian that he can transfer his consciousness into a healthy young body grown in a lab. Damian agrees to this, and finds himself residing in the strapping frame of Ryan Reynolds. Relocated to New Orleans, he starts partying, but inexplicable recurring visions make him suspect that there are things the scientist hasn’t told him.

The ideas here are very familiar in sci-fi; in movies they go back at least as far as the 1936 Boris Karloff thriller The Man Who Changed His Mind, and there are also strong echoes of John Frankenheimer’s 1966 Seconds. But Self/less, directed by Tarsem Singh from a script by David and Alex Pastor, is a reasonably unpredictable and tightly-paced variation on it.

The opening quarter or so of the film is particularly strong, not only for the moral questions it raises but also for the fantasy fulfillment it offers, especially to aging audience members. Wouldn’t it be fun, the movie asks us, to suddenly find yourself several decades younger, healthy, rich, without attachments and looking like Ryan Reynolds?

After this promising set-up, the way the movie plays out is a bit disappointingly routine. Like a lot of popular sci-fi, it raises intriguing questions, then gives us car crashes and gunfights. But within the conventional format to which it aspires, Self/less isn’t merit/less.

MinionsThis animated feature is an origin story for the little goobers who debuted in 2010's Despicable Me. Bright-yellow, bib-clad, goggled (sometimes two-eyed and sometimes cyclopean) and shaped like Tic Tacs, they were first seen as the aides to Gru, the super-villain from that excellent film, and as they giggled and chattered at each other in what sounded like some sort of sped-up Esperanto, they pretty much ran off with the movie.

I guess I had vaguely assumed that the Minions were meant to be some cybernetically-engineered creations of Gru's. According to this film, however, they've been around since prehistoric times, and their tendency, we are told by The Narrator (Geoffrey Rush), has always been to serve the most despicable master they can find.

These include, in early sequences, Napoleon Bonaparte, cavemen and a marvelously loutish Tyrannosaurus Rex. The meat of the movie, however, is set in 1968 and has them working for a chic super-villainess called Scarlett Overkill (voiced by Sandra Bullock). Their assignment: Steal the crown of Elizabeth II (Jennifer Saunders). In the course of the very silly, almost free-associational storyline, one of the Minions, Bob, gets crowned King of England.

Minions is an enjoyable film full of visual beautiesthe title sequence splendidly evokes William Steigand many hilarious episodes. It isn't the classic that Despicable Me is, to be sure, probably because the Minions are, as the name implies, born supporting players. Endearing though they are, they don't have the richness or complexity to carry a movie, and Scarlett Overkill and the handful of other characters bounced off of them really don't either. The Minions were designed to be scene-stealers, but you can't steal what already belongs to you.

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