Review of reviews: Film
Directed by Alice Lowe (Not rated)
A mother-to-be turns serial killer.
Alice Lowe’s audacious debut “leaves strange stretch marks on both comedy and horror,” said Mark Kermode in The Observer (U.K.). The British writerdirector was seven months pregnant when she filmed this outrageous psychodrama about an expectant mother who goes on a killing spree, apparently following the commands of a voice from her womb. As the bloodshed ramps up, turning the movie into “a fever dream of fear and farce,” it’s “impressive that Prevenge manages to be as funny as it does.” Lowe’s performance “sells the ridiculousness of the premise,” said Emily Yoshida in NYMag.com. As her child-to-be asserts herself, apparently to exact revenge for the recent death of her father, Ruth is gradually losing control of her body, her mind, and even her personality. “It’s subtle work, hitting nuanced notes of resignation and impulse that are rarely seen in horror heroines.” Prevenge, with its shaky, grainy footage and relentlessly dark worldview, isn’t exactly ready for a mainstream breakout, said Katie Rife in AVClub.com. But Lowe’s take on the dark side of motherhood is “undeniably unique.” And “if nothing else, you’ve got to respect a woman who”—for the sake of her art—“will push herself through a doggy door while seven months pregnant.”
Directed by Daniel Espinosa (R)
A gooey Martian terrorizes a team of astronauts.
“In space, no one can hear you snore,” said Joe Morgenstern in The Wall Street Journal. Despite its flashy trappings and starstudded cast, this sci-fi thriller turns out to be just another unimaginative monster-in-space movie—a gloss on Ridley Scott’s Alien “without the grungy horror and grim fun.” On board the International Space Station, a team that includes Jake Gyllenhaal as a medical officer and Ryan Reynolds as a wisecracking engineer discover a microbe living in soil samples scooped up from Mars. “Calvin,” as they call the critter, is more intelligent than expected, and soon it evolves and grows into an octopus-shaped blob that begins feeding on secondary characters. Moviegoers “will all know what they’re in for from beginning to end,” said Angela Watercutter in Wired.com. Life exemplifies a long-standing problem with sci-fi cinema: The genre is short on great concepts, so when it’s not extending an existing franchise or adapting a work of literature, everything it generates could be taglined “Familiar Ideas, Starring People We Like to Look At.” Sure, Life is predictable, said Stephanie Zacharek in Time. But when the movie jolts awake, “the tension is almost unbearable.” Derivative or not, “this is an effective and unsettling piece of filmmaking.”
I Called Him Morgan
Directed by Kasper Collin (Not rated)
The life and untimely death of a forgotten jazz great
The tale sounds on its face like “a sad, strange, faded tabloid story,” said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. But the snowy 1972 night when jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan was shot dead in a Manhattan nightclub by his common-law wife remains a traumatic memory for many who knew them, and this poignant documentary— which could have been lurid— is instead “a delicate human drama about love, ambition, and the glories of music.” Morgan, who was still a teenager when he first recorded with Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, and Art Blakey, contributed nimble solos to many of hard bop’s most famous recordings, and many of his peers recall him here fondly. But the key to the movie’s power is that Morgan’s wife gets to share her side of the story, said Nate Chinen in NPR.org. A month before she died, in 1996, Helen Morgan gave a candid interview to a jazz historian, and her voice adds layers of heartbreak and humor. Well known and loved by other musicians, she had nursed Morgan off heroin only to be humiliated by the flagrant infidelity that provoked the shooting. We ultimately hear too little talk of Morgan’s musicianship, said Alan Scherstuhl in The Village Voice. But his horn plays often, making the film’s portrait of the man feel “exquisitely haunted.”
Western Edge Pictures, Sony Pictures, Val Wilmer/CTSImages ■