Last week, in my review of Self/less, I wrote that Ryan Reynolds “will never be anybody’s idea of a great actor.” After seeing him in the black comedy The Voices, the latest film from multi-hyphenate Marjane Satrapi (she wrote and illustrated the graphic novel Persepolis, then co-wrote and co-directed its animated adaptation before moving on to live-action filmmaking with Chicken with Plums), I won’t entirely walk back that assessment of his talent but I am willing to accept that he might be a better actor than I realized. (It’s possible my completely justified utter fucking loathing of Van Wilder blinded me.)
Diversity has been the name of the game for the first series of Inside No. 9: so far, we’ve had acerbic satire, broad, physically-driven farce, and two very different stories with O. Henry-style twists. But creator/stars Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith saved two of the most intriguing experiments for last: a loose Shakespeare adaptation and a Gothic horror tale.
Won’t you join us?
Self/less stars Ben Kingsley as Damien Hale, a dying New York real estate mogul, who makes a Faustian deal with creepy Randian scientist Albright (Matthew Goode). Albright shares a dream with Steve Martin’s character in The Man with Two Brains, who foresaw “a day when the brains of brilliant men can be kept alive in the bodies of dumb people.” To this end, the scientist arranges to kill Hale’s diseased body but transplant his consciousness into the younger, sexier, more athletic, and less cancer-ridden body of Ryan Reynolds.
It’s an old story, and atypically for the horror genre, this time it’s actually a true one. Raymond Fernandez was a con man who seduced, then swindled, women he met through personal ads. Martha Beck started off a potential marks, but soon became his willing accomplice, leaving her two children to travel with him, posing as his sister and aiding in his schemes. In 1949, they murdered three people. Authorities captured them within months and executed them in 1951. The press dubbed them “lonely hearts bandits” and “honeymoon killers.”
There’s a difference between being a good comic and being a good comic actor, and between being a good comic actor and being a good actor, period. Some comics can’t make the transition from playing a sketch-comedy character to playing a real one; many lesser Saturday Night Live cast members have learned this, to their sorrow. Some comic actors don’t have the range to move beyond their comedic personas, as anyone who’s seen Adam Sandler attempt to play a non-Adam-Sandler character can attest. (Spanglish, anyone?) The ability to move between all three disciples seems comparatively rare.
In the first two episodes of Inside No. 9, we saw Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith–the writer/performers behind the series–be comedians (“A Quiet Night in”) and turn in comic supporting performances (“Sardines”). In the third and fourth episodes, “Tom and Gerri” and “Last Gasp,” we see them stretch a bit, step outside the boundaries of what they’re known for, and take on roles that, while they provide no shortage of laughs, are less overtly comedic than their previous roles on the series.
Co-screenwriters Jennifer Phang (who also directs) and Jacqueline Kim (who also stars) examine a broad range of issues in Advantageous, their dystopian near-future science-fiction drama. Kim stars as Gwen Koh, a single mother who loses her job as “head” of the Center for Advanced Health and Living. I put the word “head” in ironi-quotes because even though that seems to have been Gwen’s official title, and she seems to have the scientific knowledge to back such a title up, in terms of her actual duties she seems more like a glorified spokesperson. And since her superiors (represented by James Urbaniak and Jennifer Ehle) have decided that since they want to pursue a younger demographic, the middle-aged Gwen has to go.
Filmmaker Sarah Adina Smith takes a look at the complex family relationships between women in her feature-length début. Dr. Amelia Brooks disappears during a dive in the lake she lives near, the lake she spent much of her adult life studying and defending. Her body never found, she is presumed dead. Her daughters June (Lindsay Burdge), Annie (Jennifer Lafleur), and Isa (Aleksa Palladino, co-star of Boardwalk Empire and Halt and Catch Fire and singer of the indie-rock band Exitmusic), estranged from their mother and each other, return home to put her affairs in order, but each finds the environment–the town, the house, the memories, and of course, the lake itself–pulling at them in different ways. Especially June, who has her own obsession with the lake that claimed her mother’s life.