Thursday, February 23, 2023

Bob's Cinema Diary: Feb. 24 -- 'Linoleum' and 'Juniper'


Few of us are lucky enough to live up to our own expectations. Those who have difficulty accepting this harsh truth often wind up bitter as they sift through the shards of crushed dreams. That's a tough way of talking about Linoleum, a mostly gentle comic movie that explores the life of Cameron Edwin (Jim Gaffigan), a once aspiring physicist who uses his garage to host a makeshift science show for kids. When the remnants of a wayward satellite fall into Edwin's backyard, he decides to redeem his life by building a rocket that will take him to the moon. Director Colin West offers some startling sights -- notably, a red car falling from the sky -- to kick off his story. Somehow the driver of the car (also played by Gaffigan) survives and reveals that he's a former astronaut. Not only that, Edwin's show has been picked up for syndication with the former astronaut taking over Edwin's spot. To make matters worse, Edwin's wife (Rhea Seehorn) wants a divorce. His daughter (Katelyn Nacon) forms a relationship with the astronaut's son (Gabriel Rush).  By the end of the movie, West clears up the movie's mysteries and we realize that he has taken an unconventional approach to a story about recognizable themes. Brace for a scene of abuse that are tougher than the film's oddball tone might suggest. But credit West with imbuing his quirky (in the best sense of the word) movie with something more than novelty: the source and torment of unrealized potential. 


In Juniper, Charlotte Rampling plays an alcoholic who spent her professional life as a war photographer, a career that presumably led  her to consume massive quantities of a mixture composed of gin and water. Debilitated by a broken leg, Rampling's Ruth travels from England to New Zealand to visit her widowed son (Marton Csokas)  and her rebellious teenage grandson (George Ferrier). Csokas's character promptly leaves to settle business in Britain, asking his son Sam to help with Ruth's care, a prospect that Sam greets with unsurprising resentment. The presence of a traveling nurse (Edith Poor) helps ease Sam's torment. Rampling has no trouble conveying  Ruth's bitterness and her demanding sense of superiority. Still, it's too easy to see where Juniper is heading. What could have been a hard-edged look at an alcoholic and her troubled grandson softens into the story of a redeeming relationship between grandmother and grandson. Director Matthew J. Saville's efforts benefit from Rampling and the rest of the cast but I couldn’t buy a story in which grandma proves she can be one of the boys -- for the good of her grandson, of course. Rampling's astringent performance deserved a movie to match it.

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