This week’s duo sends voices across the universe. Is anybody listening?
Troop Zero trailer
Troop Zero (2019)
Do words travel through the universe — and if so, does Christmas Flint’s (Mckenna Grace) late momma hear them? A representative of NASA, upon visiting her school, brings Christmas news of a local competition: first prize is a chance for a troop of Birdie Scouts to leave a message for the aliens on an intergalactic Golden Record. Of course, the Birdie Scouts would no sooner allow someone as scraggly as Christmas to join their ranks than the Girl Scouts of America would lend the filmmakers the use of their name. So it’s up to the enterprising grade-schooler to gather a group of mid-level misfits who can form a troop of their own. Her name is Grace, her performance an anything-but-graceful non-stop smile producer. As the girl with the left pigtail lopped off, the aptly named Christmas is so merry at the thought of winning recruits — even ones who outright refuse to refer to her as a friend — that she can’t suppress an infectiously wonky giggle. I could have stood more of Smash (Johanna Colón), a grunting Bluto of a lass who earned her nickname because, like the universe, she is “full of gas and mystery.” (Perhaps a spinoff is in the offing?) A running gag that tags Christmas as the class bedwetter, trapped deep in denial, builds enough consistent laughter to make its unexpected payoff all the more soothing. Troop Zero joins Drop Dead Gorgeous and Butter as one of the last vestiges of satire in contemporary comedy capable of simultaneously criticizing and embracing its characters with equal levels of depth, understanding, and hilarity. Admittedly, viewers could have done without the aboriginal use of slo-mo that proved the filmmakers capable of lobbing a softball (and out-of-place) Tarantino homage. And as the tippling schoolmarm/mentor/villainess in the piece, Allison Janney was presented with no new challenges. Recapping: the setting is the cutely-christened Wiggly, GA; the directors, a chichi-to-the-ear, no last names, please pair Bert & Bertie; and in the lead, one of the most improbably adorable child stars this side of Dakota Fanning. In spite of all the damning evidence working against the thing, you’ll have a ball watching it. With: Jim Gaffigan as Christmas’ single dad and (executive producer) Viola Davis as his secretary-cum-reluctant, chain-smoking troop leader.
Lost Transmissions trailer
Lost Transmissions (2019)
For decades, rock ‘n’ rollers have been characterized as hard drinking, snorting, and/or shooting stars whose desire to self-medicate was driven by a hunger to reach the heights of creative nirvana. Drugs were offered as the crutch essential to prolonging their genius. Now, there’s a new medicament in town: antidepressants. And the last thing a paranoid schizophrenic record producer like Theo (Simon Pegg) needed was to go off his meds in search of creative clarity. Though from our first glimpse of him, it’s impossible to discern Theo’s fragile mental state. The life of the party seated behind the piano doesn’t appear to be the type to be fluent in FM static. (Radio transmissions speak directly to Theo, keeping him apprised of the whereabouts of the princess with whom he longs to spend an eternity in happy everafter land.) With his 72-hour involuntary psychiatric hold about to expire — and no friends or family members willing to take him in — up steps protege Hannah (Juno Temple) with helping hand extended. The much younger songwriter was issued her first script for anxiety meds when she was 22, and for now, the daily regimen of pills appears to be having a positive effect. Will Hannah be the one to pluck Theo from the jaws of opioid addiction? What do you think? Good news: he never once tries to hit on her. And the lead performances are first-rate, particularly Pegg; he’s so good you’ll experience sympathy withdrawals. I was willing to go with it, but the eleventh-hour appearance of a professedly fanciful character made it difficult. Plus, it’s just all so damn depressing.