Film reviews: Jupiter Ascending | Love is Strange

Siobhan Synnot reviews the new releases in the cinema this week.

Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis in Jupiter Ascending. Picture: Warner Bros / Village Roadshow Pictures / The Kobal Collection ]
Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis in Jupiter Ascending. Picture: Warner Bros / Village Roadshow Pictures / The Kobal Collection ]

Jupiter Ascending (12A)

Director: Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski

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Running time: 127 minutes

Star rating: **

‘I JUST want to know what the hell is going on!” cries galactic space heroine Jupiter Jones. From your lips to the Wachowski siblings’ ears, because their new film is frequently baffling, and not in the rather cerebral way of Cloud Atlas. Jupiter Ascending vibrates like an episode of Star Wars retold by a teenager on Red Bull, a cacophony of nonsense that peaks with poor Sean Bean telling us that “bees are genetically designed to recognise royalty”.

Bees’ agents, however, are not programmed to recognise turkeys: just as their clients had finally recovered from that movie with Michael Caine, they are thrust into supporting Channing Tatum as a super-soldier whose DNA is part man and part wolf, which means a dinky pair of pointy ears, and a snarl when displeased. He also goes around shirtless quite unnecessarily, suggesting another gene-splice with Matthew McConaughey.

There’s a lot of gene-chopping in Jupiter Ascending: outer space looks like a thousand heavy metal covers diced together, and the heroine is a blend of a bored Mila Kunis, Cinderella, and Neo from the Wachowskis’ most successful film, The Matrix.

Like Neo, Chicago cleaner Jupiter has a striking name, a dead end job, and is unaware that she has a higher calling than scrubbing out toilets and fending off her large, annoying extended family.

Meanwhile, out in a solar system borrowed from Ming the Merciless, another family is taking an interest in her. The Abrasax are a warring set of alien siblings who have identified Jupiter as the unwitting incarnation of their mother, the Queen of the Universe. As befits royalty, all three are snotty, have British accents, and are a bit camp – especially Balem (Eddie Redmayne in an Oscar-annihilating performance), who likes to order around his dinosaur henchmen in a withered hoarse voice that suggests a planetary shortage of Strepsils. They are also pretty keen to bump off Jupiter before she can reclaim her throne and stop them accessing a youth serum which prolongs their lives and seems to be made from the same material as Soylent Green.

Wachowski movies are always elaborate to the point of fussiness, with action sequences that never know when to quit. The latest refinement is action-falling: Jupiter does it a lot here, mostly so Channing can race around in a pair of jetboots and catch her in his manly arms. At times like these, you long for the bracing gender assertiveness of an Anne Hathaway romcom.

However, amongst all this begging, stealing and borrowing from other films, there is one sequence I rather liked: a digression into alien bureaucracy where a patient robot diligently steers its charges through a zillion different departments and their petty distinctions, and just when you start thinking “this is all a bit Brazil”, up pops Terry Gilliam in a cameo. The blatant self-indulgence of this Wachowskis hat tip made me laugh.

Jupiter Ascending is the second film the Wachowskis have made since Larry Wachowski became Lana, which gives the movie’s theme of buried genetic coding a kind of force. Of course you don’t need to know about Lana’s transsexuality to watch Jupiter Ascending, but it gives this rather silly film a bit of heft if you do.

• On general release

Love Is Strange (15)

Star rating: ***

JOHN Lithgow and Alfred Molina share a lovely, relaxed chemistry in Ira Sachs’s modest, tender and sometimes enervating love story about a gay couple who marry after 39 years together, then almost immediately have to split up. George (Molina) is fired by disapproving church employers, who might accept his sexuality privately, but not as a public declaration, and without George’s salary they cannot afford their New York co-op home.

Apparently no-one has the room to keep them together, so garrulous Ben (Lithgow), a semi-retired painter, hunkers down with his nephew Elliot (Darren Burrows), his wife Kate (Marisa Tomei) and their bolshy son (Charlie Tahan), while fastidious, intellectual George takes the sofabed in a flat shared by two young gay cops, who offer to tutor him in Game Of Thrones, and party way past his bedtime.

“When you live with people, you know them better than you care to,” says Ben, although he and George are comfortable with their knowledge of each other. Their love is not strange, but it is strained by the movie’s contrived split up – is there really no place for such a popular couple?

There’s a ton of other issues that this film omits, or slides away from resolving. There are questions for the audience too: how much Chopin can you swoon over? How many scenes can you watch where little happens for a long time? Gentle and naturalistic, Love Is Strange is an intimate portrait of devotion that you will root for, without falling in love.

• General release from Friday


The Turning (15)

Star rating: ***

Seventeen Australian directors each take a chapter from Tim Winton’s collection of short stories about turning points in people’s lives. The result is three hours of loosely linked characters experiencing romance, growing pains, family bonds and loneliness. It’s a patchwork affair, with the emphasis on patchy. Winton is important to Australian culture, but a less fragmented, reverent approach would serve his work better. A large, starry cast includes Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Miranda Otto. Mia Wasikowska makes a spirited writer-director debut, but Rose Byrne gets the best showcase, as an abused mother stuck in a mobile home who finds Jesus.

Glasgow Film Theatre, Wednesday and Thursday

Amour Fou (12A)

Star rating: ***

Jessica Hausner’s anti-Romantic chamber piece follows the last days of existential German poet Heinrich von Kleist (Christian Friedel). He plans a dramatically nihilistic exit, via a suicide pact with housewife Henriette Vogel (Birte Schnoeink, above), but is irked to find out that she’s terminally ill anyway, and may be committing to the idea out of pragmatism rather than romantic idealism. “You’re not dying for me but for yourself,” pouts Von Kleist, ignoring his own narcissism. The pace is slow and the comedy mordant, but Friedel and Schnoeink are terrific.

Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday to 17 February

Night Bus (15)

Star rating: ***

A double-decker bus travelling across London on a Friday night picks up a load of passengers and their stories. Written, directed and edited by Simon Baker on a tight budget, Night Bus a lightweight vehicle and many of its subplots follow obvious routes. Still, the journey is relatively short at 90 minutes and Baker has the confidence of a more experienced driver.

Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday and Saturday