Self/Less

Focus Features

Rated PG-13 for profanity, sexuality and violence

Shades Of Face/Off In Brain Transplant Sci-Fi Thriller

In the 1997 thriller Face/Off, an FBI agent underwent a face transplant in order to crack a terrorist plot. It’s hard not to think of that film while watching Self/Less which revolves around another radical surgical procedure, namely, the implantation of a cancer patient’s brain inside the cranium of a healthy individual.

The picture stars Sir Ben Kingsley as Damian Hale, a terminally-ill, business tycoon who doesn’t want to die. His prayers are answered when a mad scientist (Matthew Goode) surfaces who is willing, for a cool quarter-billion dollars, to transfer his mind into the head of a test tube human surrogate hatched in lab.

The only catch is that Damian can’t tell anyone about the experimental operation, which means he’ll have to abandon any hopes of reconciling with his long-estranged daughter, Claire (Michelle Dockery). Nevertheless, he signs on the dotted line, enters the futuristic operating room and eventually arouses from anesthesia having shed his sickly shell for a late model upgrade with “that new body smell.”

While convalescing, Damian 2.0 reads his own obituary in the paper but dutifully steers clear of contacting any friends or relatives to avoid the risk of raising suspicion. Instead, he merely marvels at his miraculous recovery.

Before discharging his grateful patient, Dr. Albright gives him a new identity and a week’s supply of anti-rejection pills. Returning to the real world, suddenly handsome Damian becomes practically giddy between his unexpected prowess on the basketball court and his impressive physique’s ability to turn heads.

What the reincarnated, real estate magnate doesn’t know, however, is that the brain transplant wasn’t really an installation job into a recently harvested donor. The plot thickens upon the discovery that his alter ego Edward Kittner (Ryan Reynolds) not only actually once existed but left behind a wife (Natalie Martinez) and 6-year-old daughter (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen).

Directed by Tarsem Singh (The Cell), Self/Less is sufficiently compelling to recommend highly, even though it suffers severely from a lack of originality. Besides the aforementioned shades of Face/Off, this derivative adventure borrows a number of ideas from Seconds, the similarly-themed, 1966 sci-fi classic.

An improbable, if thought-provoking mind-bender built on a house of cards that holds up only to the extent you’re willing to go along with its preposterous premise.

 

Very Good (3 stars)

Running time: 117 minutes

 

 

Strangerland

Alchemy

Rated R for profanity, sexuality and brief nudity

Kids Disappear In Dust Storm In Atmospheric Aussie Thriller

Pharmacist Matthew Parker (Joseph Fiennes) has just moved his family from Australia’s capital city of Canberra to a tiny town in the Australian Outback where he has accepted a position at the only drug store for miles around. The impetus behind the relocation had less to do with the job than with his daughter Lily’s (Maddison Brown) need for a new environment.

For, the troubled 15-year-old had developed a crush on a high school teacher (Martin Dingle Wall), who proceeded to take advantage of the situation by sleeping with his student. Her dad became so incensed when the two continued to rendezvous after the statutory rape was revealed that he beat up the perpetrator which, in turn, led to Lily’s running away from home to be with her abuser.

Thus, the idea of a fresh start far away proved very appealing to Matthew and his wife Catherine (Nicole Kidman), even if their young son Tommy (Nicholas Hamilton) was unhappy about being stuck in the desert far from all his friends. Despite her constant complaining, the adjustment was not as hard on Lily, given how successfully she was able to flirt with the hottest local hunk, Steve (Sean Keenan), a rebel with a cool tattoo.

The plot thickens the morning after a dust storm engulfs the godforsaken oasis, when Matthew and Catherine awaken to discover the kids inexplicably gone. Once it’s determined that neither went to school, they quickly report Lily and Tommy missing to the police.

The case is assigned to Detective David Rae (Hugo Weaving), a skeptical gumshoe very adept at criminal investigation. He soon identifies a number of persons of interest in the mysterious disappearance: Lily’s ex-teacher, Mr. McPherson; her surly suitor, Steve; the Parkers’ aborigine handyman, Burtie (Meyne Wyatt); and a host of others.

Thus unfolds Strangerland, a deliberately-paced, visually-captivating thriller directed by Kim Farrant (Naked On The Inside). The film features a quartet of excellent performances, including Nicole Kidman’s as a mother who, understandably, grows increasingly anguished over her offspring’s whereabouts. Joseph Fiennes is equally compelling as her concerned, if emotionally-unavailable, spouse. Also of note are veteran character actor Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) and newcomer Maddison Brown, who makes a most impressive screen debut as Lily.

An atmospheric whodunit guaranteed to keep you intrigued and guessing right to the very end.

 

 

Excellent (3.5 stars)

Running time: 95 minutes

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

by Kam Williams

For movies opening July 10, 2015

 

The Gallows (Unrated) Harrowing, found-footage horror flick revolving around about a haunted high school’s ill-advised decision to mount another production of the same creepy play that cost a student his life onstage a generation earlier. Ensemble includes Cassidy Gifford, Pfeifer Brown, Ryan Shoos, Reese Mishler, Alexis Schneider and Price T. Morgan.
Minions (PG for action and rude humor) Animated spinoff of the Despicable Me franchise chronicles the evolution of the tiny title characters from single-celled organisms into selfless yellow creatures capable of undying devotion to a diabolical master. This adventure finds them under the thumb of a female super-villain (Sandra Bullock) who is not only bent on world domination but on the total annihilation of Minionkind. Voice cast includes John Hamm, Michael Keaton, Allison Janney, Steve Carell and Geoffrey Rush.

 

10,000 Km (R for profanity, graphic sexuality and brief frontal nudity) Romantic dramedy, set in L.A. and Barcelona, about a couple’s (David Verdaguer and Natalia Tena) struggle to maintain a long-distance relationship. (In Spanish, Catalan and English with subtitles)

 

The Breakup Girl (Unrated) Dysfunctional family dramedy revolving around the stormy reunion of three estranged sisters (Shannon Woodward, Natasha Leggero and Wendi McClendon-Covey) necessitated by the death of their father. With Catherine Bach, Casey Wilson and Mary Kay Place.

 

Do I Sound Gay? (Unrated) Auditory documentary exploring the question of whether homosexuals have readily-identifiable voices. Featuring commentary by David Sedaris, Tim Gunn, George Takei, comedienne Margaret Cho and relationship advice guru Dan Savage.

 

Meet Me In Montenegro (Unrated) Romantic comedy, set in Berlin, where a chance meeting has an American filmmaker (Alex Holdridge) falling in love again with the Norwegian dancer (Linnea Saasen) who dumped him in Montenegro several years earlier. Cast includes Jennifer Ulrich, Rupert Friend and Ben Braun. (In English and German with subtitles)

 

Nowitzki: The Perfect Shot (Unrated) Reverential biopic highlighting the scientific approach to basketball taken by Dirk Nowitzki, as well as the NBA All-Star’s long-term relationship with his mentor, German physicist Holger Geschwindner. Featuring appearances by Jason Kidd, Kobe Bryant, Mark Cuban and Steve Nash. (In English and German with subtitles)

 

SlingShot (Unrated) Eco-documentary chronicling the efforts of Segway inventor Dean Kamen to solve the world’s burgeoning water crisis.

 

Stations Of The Cross (Unrated) Coming-of-age drama about a devout, 14-year-old Catholic’s (Lea van Acken) attempt to reenact the last days of Christ’s life, much to the chagrin of her disapproving mother (Franziska Weisz) and a smitten classmate (Moritz Knapp) with a crush on her. With Michael Kamp, Lucie Aron and Anna Bruggermann. (In German, French and Latin with subtitles)

 

The Suicide Theory (R for profanity, sexuality and graphic violence) Unlikely-buddies drama about a suicidal loner (Leon Cain) who hires a hit man (Steve Mouzakis) to kill him. With Joss McWilliam, Matthew Scully and Todd Levi.

 

Tangerine (R for frontal nudity, drug use, pervasive profanity and graphic, disturbing sexuality) Gender-bending dramedy, set in Tinseltown, revolving around a recently-paroled, transsexual prostitute (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) who spends Christmas Eve searching for the pimp (James Ransone) who broke her heart. With Mya Taylor, Karren Karagulian and Mickey O’Hagan.

 

Tango Negro (Unrated) Musical documentary, set in Argentina and Uruguay, explores the African roots of the Tango. (In Spanish with subtitles)

 

What We Did On Holiday (PG-13 for profanity and mature themes) Marital crisis comedy about a British couple (Rosamund Pike and David Tennant) trying to hide their impending divorce while vacationing with relatives in Scotland. Support cast includes Billy Connolly, Ben Miller and Emilia Jones.

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