Coming of age, in past and future tense:

by Mark Burger

Ginger & Rosa and The Host

Growing up is hard to do and it happens too fast. Such are common themes in films about adolescence, but writer/ director Sally Potter’s Ginger & Rosa is an uncommonly well acted variation on the theme, with delicate performances by Elle Fanning and newcomer Alice Englert in the title roles.

The year is 1962, and Ginger is obsessed with the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation (rest assured, the Cuban Missile Crisis does come into play). Her intelligence and curiosity have been fostered by her mother Natalie (Christina Hendricks) and father Roland (Alessandro Nivola), but they’ve been having problems of their own – specifically Roland’s incessant womanizing. Ginger, who idolizes her father, is able to overlook that character flaw, but only temporarily, because when Roland casts his gaze upon Rosa, the results are devastating. (The analogy to the Cold War is unmistakable yet oddly appropriate, given the emotional consequences.)

Much like her older sister Dakota, young Fanning possesses a sincerity and composure beyond her years. She’s a major talent, and her work here will undoubtedly help pave the way to older, more mature roles for her. Although Hendricks’ British accent is a little shaky, she and Nivola convey well the pain of a marriage gone sour, blinding them to their child’s needs.

In addition to Robbie Ryan’s splendid cinematography and the keen insight into the characters (of all ages) found in her script, Potter also coaxes compassionate performances by Oliver Platt, Timothy Spall, Jodhi May and a surprisingly (and delightfully) dowdy Annette Bening. Ginger & Rosa might merely have been a soap-opera trifle, but instead it’s a well-observed, even moving, coming-of-age tale.

It’s too bad that “Mystery Science Theatre 3000” is no longer on the air, because the crew of the Satellite of Love would have had a ball with The Host , a ridiculous science-fiction yarn based on the bestselling novel by Twilight scribe Stephenie Meyer. (That pedigree, however, doesn’t appear to have translated into Twilightsized box-office.)

The film takes place in a future where aliens have essentially taken over the planet, using human beings as their hosts. The “host” of the title is Melanie (Saoirse Ronan), who despite being “alienated” and rechristened Wanda (short for “Wanderer”), still retains some semblance of her humanity in the back of her mind. This compels her to rejoin the human resistance from whence she came, much to the consternation of Wanda’s alien mentor, “The Seeker” (Diane Kruger), who is determined to recapture her but is utterly, almost laughably unable to locate her.

The aliens are so polite and well-mannered that they hardly constitute much of a threat, and if they’re meant to be a collective intelligence they appear fairly clueless about contemporary surveillance techniques. There’s a lack of energy to the proceedings, stranding decent actors with ham-fisted material against which they wage an uphill, ultimately losing, battle.

Like Jennifer Lawrence in last year’s The Hunger Games, Ronan is a transcendent presence, even if much of her role is played out in internal monologues. (She’s her own best co-star in that regard.)

Evidently taking their cue from the Twilight films, Jake Abel and Max Irons are the hunks who love Melanie/Wanda — one as a human, the other as an alien — but they might as well be interchangeable. William Hurt, apparently channeling Robert Duvall, plays the wise old (human) sage who trusts Melanie/Wanda even when fellow members of the resistance do not.

None of this is very interesting, although the concept (reminiscent of Invasion of the Body Snatchers) is not without promise. Unfortunately, The Host never comes close to fulfilling any of that promise.

The film was adapted by director Andrew Niccol, whose previous credits include Gattaca (1997), the underrated S1m0ne (2002), the ambitious misfire Lord of War (2004) and In Time (2011), which also had a sci-fi bent (as well as Amanda Seyfried’s weirdest screen hairdo). Each of those films had some points of interest, but no so The Host. It’s is listlessly paced, with repetitive action, one-note characterizations, and narrative gaps throughout. Three narrators are eventually employed — a sure sign of unsteadiness — and it can’t end quickly enough. When it finally does, after more than two hours, it leaves the door open for possible continuation, which is perhaps the most frightening concept of all.

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