Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Sigourney Weaver

Life – Rethinking that Trip to Mars


We earthlings are obsessed with finding signs of life on other planets. Why? Are we afraid of being alone in the cosmos? Do we hope that alien beings know things we don’t know and can solve our serious problems, like global warming or acne? In Daniel Espinosa’s Life, six astronauts on the Mars Pilgrim 7 Mission discover a blob, and they can hardly contain their excitement.

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Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) with David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal)

Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds) is the cowboy of this international group, donning a space suit to repair whatever goes wrong outside the station. David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a physician who has been in space for so long – nearly 500 days – that he can’t imagine being back on earth. Sho  Murakami (Hiroyuki Sanada) becomes a father in space, talking his wife through the birthing process, then displaying to everyone a photo on his iPad of his new daughter. Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya) is the mission’s commander, while Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson) brings a much-needed calm to the entire operation.

Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), a Brit and the lead scientist, is in charge of the discovery, isolated in the capsule’s lab as a safety precaution. The one-cell life form, placed in a petri dish, looks like those paramecia with cilia that undulate that we used to study in science. While Hugh’s upper body resembles that of an athlete, he’s paralyzed below the waist. Weightlessness in space allows him to move freely about the capsule, but he fantasizes that “Calvin,” the name given to the life form, might be a super stem cell, able to mend his injury.

Ryan Reynolds

Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds)

Healing humans, however, is not on Calvin’s agenda. In a short period of time, Calvin is killing off the astronauts in gruesome ways and rapidly growing into a monster with a brain. Calvin has no respect for Hollywood royalty, so A-list stars like Reynolds and Gyllenhaal soon find themselves in danger, along with the rest of the crew.

In D.C., the press screening was held in an appropriate place, the Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater in the National Air and Space Museum. The 75-foot screen receives images from a “dual 4k laser projection system with a 12 discrete channel sound system” providing audiences “with the sharpest, brightest, clearest, and most vivid digital images ever combined with a whole new level of immersive audio.” Translated that means this screening was an intense experience, for sure. The audience felt it was in that space capsule along with Reynolds and crew, scrambling to keep one step ahead of Calvin. (If you have the option, see the film at a theater offering IMAX.)

David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) in Columbia Pictures' LIFE.

David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal)

Life will undoubtedly be compared to Alien where Sigourney Weaver fought a much scarier opponent. Calvin is not nearly as frightening (although it will probably be some time before you can eat octopus again), but Espinosa certainly heightens the tension. The claustrophobic setting in the space capsule adds to the suspense. There are only so many places the astronauts can hide, and Calvin seems to have the ability to squeeze through small spaces with ease. It’s a no-win situation.

Connecting with the crew, learning more about each member, brings a personal element into the story. We root for the astronauts, not only because the alien life form is so evil, but also because anyone who signs on for such a challenging mission to benefit mankind deserves our support and respect. Space travelers are heroes, risking everything to explore a new frontier, knowing they may not come back alive.

Perhaps it’s time to rethink all those missions to Mars.

Photos courtesy of Columbia Pictures
Top photo: David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Miranda North (Rebecca Ferguson)

Finding Dory – As Precious and Adorable as It Looks


With sequels, one of the primary concerns isn’t necessarily whether it’ll be good or not, it’s whether or not it will taint my love for the original or if it’ll add to it instead. Such is the case with Finding Dory, a sequel to Pixar’s very successful and beautifully made Finding Nemo. The successor is 13 years in the making and, while it brings back some familiar faces, it feels fresh and engaging, but still manages to make us feel like we’re visiting with old friends.

One year after Marlin (Albert Brooks) and Dory (Ellen DeGeneres) find Nemo (Hayden Rolence), Dory remembers that she lost her parents (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy). Somehow, a few years back, and due to short term memory loss, Dory found herself wandering the ocean alone. Not knowing where she comes from or how she got to where she is now, Dory spends a lot of time searching for the parents she lost, as well as forgetting she lost them to begin with. Once she remembers she forgot her parents, she takes a journey that sets her on the path to California, where her parents are housed in the Marine Life Institute.

Dory2Of course, Marlin and Nemo tag along, helping Dory and making sure she doesn’t get lost. The film doesn’t spend too long on the journey getting to the Marine Life Institute, where Sigourney Weaver’s voice hilariously plays over the intercoms, but it’s rather about the adventure Dory experiences while there. Befriending a cranky and bitter octopus named Hank (Ed O’Neill), whose primary goal is to find himself in quarantine and on the next truck to Cleveland, Dory finds herself recalling her childhood at every turn and scouring the institute’s every corner looking for her family. But is she too late?

Going into the movie without enormously high expectations is difficult. Thankfully, Finding Dory is as adorable as it looks and strikes all the right chords. The themes of letting go are still there, but it’s the particular theme of being a part of a family, even though there is no DNA relation, that is what really pulls at the heartstrings. Young Dory’s scenes with her parents are precious and if Disney and Pixar get anything right, it’s the astoundingly lovable portrayals of the younger versions of their characters. Young Dory is just as doe-eyed and her personality full of wonder and openness. Adult Dory is the same, which is why it’s so easy to love her and understandable why even the most cantankerous characters are drawn to her positive energy.

Dory3The film draws a bit from its predecessor, but it’s brave enough to go out on its own and bring in new characters. Only two characters outside of the main cast of fish make brief appearances. This shows that Pixar isn’t willing to rely on what worked before. And even though Finding Nemo‘s supporting characters are beloved, this is a new journey and their presence wouldn’t have worked within the scope of this film’s premise. New and fun-loving characters like Destiny (Kaitlin Olson), a near-sighted and happy whale, and Bailey (Ty Burrell), a disheartened whale who’s lost his talent, fill in the space with their grand and memorable presence.

The CGI animation is beautiful. The 3D effects makes it all the more eye-popping. The Pixar team makes even the emptiness of certain parts of the ocean look both wondrous and irksome all at once. The visuals are further reinforced and more appreciated because the film aims to tell a story that is heartwarming, engaging, funny, and touching in ways that made Finding Nemo so memorable. And with a great and simple story, gorgeous visuals, and adorable characters, Finding Dory makes for a worthy sequel.

Finding Dory opens nationwide June 17, 2016.

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.