STOWAWAY (2021) – Quiet Science Fiction Movie Tells Tale of Impossible Human Choice


STOWAWAY (2021), a new Netflix movie by director/writer Joe Penna, is a compelling science fiction drama that is both well-written and well-acted by its four principal players, making this slow-burn space tale a worthy diversion for a rainy spring evening.

Just make sure you have some tissues handy. The story it tells is not a cheery one.

While nowhere near as claustrophobic or as riveting as the Sandra Bullock space drama from a few years back, GRAVITY (2013), it does strive for that same vibe, and it certainly takes its space science just as seriously.

STOWAWAY tells the tale of three astronauts, Commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), scientist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) and medical doctor Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick) on their way to a two year mission to Mars. Shortly into their voyage, they make the startling discovery that a stowaway is on board, as they find the injured unconscious body of a man Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson). When Michael awakes, he tells them that he is a pre-launch engineer who was injured before lift-off and was knocked unconscious.

Once they verify Michael’s story with the officials back on Earth, and accept that he poses no threat, they welcome him on board and begin to find ways for him to help them on their mission, and for a brief while all is well, until Commander Barnett makes the discovery that due to some damage to their oxygen distributors, they do not have enough oxygen for four people on board to make it to Mars. The scientists on Earth tell Barnett that there is only one option, and it’s a grim one.

When she tells David and Zoe, Zoe pushes back hard and demands that they try every method possible to find a way to get enough oxygen so they can all survive, and Barnett eventually agrees, setting up the dramatic third act of the movie where they attempt to find a solution, before their oxygen runs out.

I really liked STOWAWAY. I went in with zero expectations and found the movie to be a solid science fiction tale that held my interest for its nearly two hour running time. Even with its slow-burn pace, I still enjoyed it, mostly because the four main actors in the film are all excellent.

I’m a big fan of Anna Kendrick, and her medical doctor character Zoe pretty much emerges as the central character in the movie. Kendrick doesn’t disappoint in the role. She possesses a strong can-do attitude that is infectious, even in the face of overwhelming odds. She refuses to give up. Kendrick has made a ton of movies, and what I like best about her performances is that she easily goes back and forth between comedic and dramatic roles. The last movie I saw her in was the comedy/thriller A SIMPLE FAVOR (2018) in which she co-starred with Blake Lively.

Daniel Dae Kim is solid as scientist David Kim. He is the pragmatist of the group and argues often with Zoe that if they don’t take the drastic step recommended by the scientists back on Earth, they run the risk that all of them will die. And even though their characters don’t share any romantic connection, Kim and Kendrick share a nice camaraderie and chemistry in this one that makes their scenes together some of the best in the movie.

Kim has also been in a bunch of things, but I still think of him as Jin-Soo Kwon on the classic TV series LOST (2004-2010). He more recently starred in the TV series reboot HAWAII FIVE-0 (2010-2017) and is currently starring in the TV series NEW AMSTERDAM.

Toni Collette is also excellent as Commander Barnett, the person responsible for making all the tough calls. The stress visibly wears on her throughout the movie. Collette of course is known for her roles in THE SIXTH SENSE (1998) and LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE (2006). She also starred in the hit horror movie HEREDITARY (2018).

Rounding out the cast is Shamier Anderson as the accidental stowaway Michael Adams. Anderson is very good here, making Michael a sincere and sympathetic character, which only adds to the drama, since he is the person who by his simply not being part of the mission is the first to be considered expendable.

Director Joe Penna keeps this one tight and sets up some very dramatic sequences. One of the best and most grueling is the sequence where Zoe and David attempt a 400 meter climb to attempt to extract oxygen from an unlikely source.

Sure, this one is a slow burn. So don’t expect a riveting exciting science fiction thriller. That’s not what STOWAWAY is. Instead, it’s a compelling science fiction drama, and it works, because the screenplay by director Penna and Ryan Morrison doesn’t try to sensationalize anything. It simply tells the story of four people caught in an impossible situation, and follows their attempts to do something about it. And they know there isn’t much they can do, and so a lot of the story focuses on the angst which follows these folks as they deal with this realization. And when they do find an opportunity, they know it’s their only shot, adding even more pressure to an already volatile situation.

But it’s not an edge of your seat melodrama where the moviemakers try to manipulate their audience. Instead, it’s a quiet drama which takes place in space that covers the painful decision-making process of four people faced with a choice no one should have to make.

STOWAWAY is a science fiction movie that ultimately succeeds because it gets the human elements right.


MORTAL KOMBAT (2021) – Movie Reboot of Video Game Franchise Surprisingly Well-Written


As action movies go, you can do a lot worse than MORTAL KOMBAT (2021), the new reboot based on the popular video game series.

I am not a fan of the video game, or the prior movies or television series, but that being said, I liked this movie. Quite a bit.

The Mortal Kombat video game was first released in 1992 and went on to become one of the most successful fighting video games of all time. A movie followed in 1995, entitled MORTAL KOMBAT, which starred Christopher Lambert, and it was followed by a sequel MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION in 1997. After this came animated movies and an animated TV series, as well as live action TV shows.

Sounds more like IMMORTAL KOMBAT to me!

Anyway, that’s the background. Now on to the movie.

MORTAL KOMBAT opens in Japan in the 1600s, and we witness a Chinese warrior Bi-Han (Joe Taslim) slaughter the family of Japanese warrior Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) as well as Hanzo himself, in an effort to wipe out Hanzo’s bloodline, but not before Hanzo swears he will have his revenge from beyond the grave. And Bi-Han screws up when he misses Hanzo’s baby daughter, who survives.

The action switches to current day, where we find Cole Young (Lewis Tan) as a struggling MMA fighter who suddenly gets recruited by two military types, Jax (Mehcad Brooks) and Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee) who inform him that he is the descendant of Hanzo Hasashi, one of the greatest warriors of all time, and that he needs to join them in their fight to save the world from a group of Outworld fighters intent on conquering the universe.


As stories go, this one is really out there, but it is an action fantasy based on a video game, after all.

And while I wasn’t crazy about the story, what I did like about this one was its stylish and bloody action scenes, its lively and entertaining characters, all of which are well-acted by the main players in this one, and a surprisingly well-written script by Greg Russo and Dave Callaham. Callaham has written a bunch of screenplays, some for movies I’ve liked, and some for movies I haven’t liked. He penned the script for the awful Wonder Woman sequel WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2020) one of the worst movies I saw last year. But he also wrote the ZOMBIELAND sequel, ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (2019), a film I liked well enough, and the Sylvester Stallone actioner THE EXPENDABLES (2010) a film I also liked.

The screenplay here is filled with lots of entertaining zingers, and for a plot that is steeped in unrealistic fantasy, it contains a lot of surprisingly realistic dialogue. So the script is definitely a strength here.

The fight scenes are sufficiently stylish and bloody. The film earns its R rating. Director Simon McQuoid keeps the action sequences energetic and crisp. It’s definitely not a movie that suffers from one long battle scene after another with no characterization in between. On the contrary, the characters here are all well-defined and all have their moments on screen, and the fight sequences serve their purpose. They’re not too long, and they’re all intense and entertaining.

The actors here also all do well.

Lewis Tan has an ease about him that makes him a very likeable hero. His Cole Young is obviously surprised to learn that he’s the descendant of a great warrior and that he’s being called on to save the universe, but it doesn’t take him long to get on board and join the fight. No suffering angst here. He says yes pretty quickly.

Jessica McNamee kicks butt as Sonya Blade, and Mehcad Brooks makes for a respectable Jax. But it’s Josh Lawson who steals the show as the foul-mouthed insane fighter Kano. Lawson easily gets the best lines of the movie, and there are a lot of them, and he nails them all.

Joe Taslim makes for an effective villain, Bi-Han, who changes his name to Sub-Zero as he develops the super villain power of freezing people. Sub-Hero unfortunately doesn’t get a whole lot of screen time, but Taslim makes the most of it. He gives Sub-Zero a screen presence that makes him one of the more formidable movie villains I’ve seen in a long while.

Hiroyuki Sanada adds distinction as the noble Hanzo Hasashi, who later becomes known as Scorpion.

There are more colorful characters as well, all well-acted and well-written.

Unfortunately, there’s simply not enough story here for me to really love this one, and what is there, isn’t believable at all and never rises above the level of complete fantasy. That being said, everything else about this movie works, and works well. I loved the action, the acting, and most surprisingly of all, the script!

I was entertained throughout, and its one hour and fifty minute running time flew by quickly.

And you can also enjoy this one without knowing anything about the video game. This film stands on its own.

So, if you’re looking for some mindless entertainment, and you don’t mind intense bloody action sequences, look no further than the new reboot MORTAL KOMBAT.

It kicks some serious butt.


THUNDER FORCE (2021) – Latest In Long Line of Unfunny Movie Comedies


I was really in the mood for a comedy this weekend. I needed to unwind and laugh and was looking for a movie to help me do just that.

Sadly, I chose THUNDER FORCE (2021), the new Netflix superhero comedy starring Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer.

THUNDER FORCE is the latest in a long line of movie comedies that simply aren’t funny. I’ve said this many times, but it bears repeating: the movie comedy right now is the one movie genre that is in the most trouble. You just don’t see many good ones any more. Where have all the great comic geniuses of the world gone? They’re not out there making movies, that I can tell you!

THUNDER FORCE also isn’t helped by its plot, the idea that every day people suddenly inherit superpowers and become superheroes. This theme has been overdone in such recent films like UNKNOWN ORIGINS (2020) and PROJECT: POWER (2020), two serious superhero movies that also weren’t all that good.

But the biggest problem with THUNDER FORCE is it is simply not that funny. Director/writer and Melissa McCarthy hubby Ben Falcone has written a script that includes potentially humorous scenarios but without clever crisp jokes to pull these scenes off, leaving the audience with nary a chuckle. I barely laughed. In fact, within the first few minutes of this one, I was seriously bored, and the film runs a very long one hour and forty six minutes. That’s an excruciatingly long time to not be funny.

And to be bored by a movie which stars Melissa McCarthy and Octavia Spencer, two actors I really enjoy, says a lot!

McCarthy and Spencer play best friends Lydia and Emily, and they’ve been friends since high school, and the movie actually spends a good chunk of its opening minutes playing out their entire back story, which is as dull a way to open a superhero comedy as one can imagine! You have to wait 10-15 minutes before McCarthy and Spencer even show up. They live in Chicago during a time when evil super powered Miscreants terrorize the world. Spencer’s Emily lost her parents to Miscreants, and she has vowed to defeat them in her parents’ name. Hmm. Where have I heard that before? I’m surprised she doesn’t live in a cave and have a butler named Alfred. Anyway, Emily has worked her entire life on finding a way to give ordinary people superpowers, and one day while hanging around inside her best friend’s lab, Lydia accidentally receives those powers, and the next thing you know, she and Emily are a pair of unlikely superheroes who go by the name of Thunder Force taking on the city’s villainous Miscreants, led by the corrupt politician The King (Bobby Cannavale) and his henchmen The Crab (Jason Bateman) and Laser (Pom Klementieff).


Actually this plot would have been fine had the jokes been funny. But they’re not. This is as unfunny a comedy as I’ve seen in a while. If you want to understand the level of humor here, it reminded me of another awful Netflix comedy which also used Force in its title, the excruciatingly mundane TV series SPACE FORCE which starred Steve Carell and John Malkovich. Both of these projects are prime examples of forced humor!

This is also about as unfunny as I’ve seen Melissa McCarthy, and I’m a fan. She has a few minor moments here and there, but that’s about it. Octavia Spencer pretty much plays it straight, which means she fits in with the overall tone of the movie, which in spite of supposedly being a comedy, can’t seem to garner a laugh.

The villains fare the best, which isn’t saying much. Bobby Cannavale as The King is at least interesting to watch, even if the running gag of him not knowing his henchmen’s names is never all that comical. Jason Bateman enjoys the best moments in the movie as The Crab, a human Miscreant hybrid with crab claws for hands. He gets some of the better lines in the movie, and he pulls them off with ease, and his scenes with Melissa McCarthy were about the only times in the movie where I felt compelled to pay attention. The rest was a snore fest.

If Pom Klementieff as Laser looks like she walked off the set of a Marvel superhero movie, that’s because she plays Mantis in that Cinematic Universe, and the two characters resemble each other. She’s actually funnier as Mantis.

Melissa Leo is completely lost in a nothing role as Allie, the third member and behind the scenes operative of Thunder Force.

Ben Falcone has written and directed other Melissa McCarthy movies. I didn’t see their most recent collaboration, SUPERINTELLIGENCE (2020), but their film before that, LIFE OF THE PARTY (2018), which also opened to negative reviews, I actually liked and laughed quite a bit. Not so here with THUNDER FORCE. Too much time is spent on the super hero plot, which is lame and forgettable, and not enough time is spent on honing the humor.

If you are looking for laughs, you’ll need to keep on looking because you won’t find them in THUNDER FORCE. It’s one of the dullest comedies I’ve seen in a long time.




Well, it’s finally happened.

It’s become a strain for me to review movies. Yikes!

I should clarify. I still love writing about movies, especially reviewing them. The problem is I’ve been enjoying watching movies less and less.

The culprit?

The loss of the movie theater.

When the pandemic struck a year ago and things got crazy in March 2020, businesses including restaurants, sports events, and movie theaters, to name a few, were forced to close their doors.

I refused to be sidetracked by this “inconvenience” and I did not miss a beat, as I immediately switched gears and began reviewing movies at home, new releases on Netflix and OnDemand pay services. Over the course of the year I added Prime Video, IMDB movies, and most recently to catch some movies the day of their theatrical release, HBO Max.

And I’ve been reviewing movies this way ever since, as I await the day when movie theaters once again become safe to visit.

But something has happened along the way. The movies have stopped being as enjoyable.

Part of it, for sure, is the majority of the movies I am watching at home in terms of quality are just not matching the movies I would see on a weekly basis released to the big screen. There have been a few exceptions, but for the most part, the movies I’ve been watching since March 2020 have simply been not as commendable as movies I normally see.

But the other part is the actual experience. I love watching TV and movies from the comfort of my living room, don’t get me wrong, but truth be told, you just can’t replace the movie theater experience for watching a movie, especially if you’re going to write about it.

On a wide screen, with a crystal clear picture, you can see pretty much everything and really appreciate a movie the way its director wants you to. If you’re not burying your head in your large popcorn or chatting with your friends next to you, you won’t miss a thing. Add to this perfect sound, and you can hear pretty much everything as well. When you pay attention, you’ll be amazed at the use of small background sounds in the movies. And often they’re sounds that when I’ve re-watched the film at home, I simply don’t catch.

And with most theaters having stadium seating, with reclining chairs, you can’t beat the comfort either! And if you love movie popcorn— it all boils down to a truly special experience.

And it’s one that here in April 2021 I’m missing. Big time.

So, I can’t wait for theaters to reopen and become safe to visit, and I hope each day that they survive this pandemic so they will be able to open.

Because, right now, watching movies at home just isn’t the same. And it’s a major reason why I’m not reviewing a new movie this weekend.

Again, the other reason is the quality of the at-home release movies, generally speaking, haven’t been as good. Neither has the quantity. On any given weekend, you can find three or four new movies opening at theaters, at least. I’m not finding that many on the streaming services, at least not films I’m interested in.

And I’m much more inclined to watch something I’m not as interested in at a movie theater than at home, because I so enjoy the movie theater experience.

So, if in these pages in the coming months, you see fewer reviews of new movies, know that it’s not that I don’t want to review movies anymore. It’s just that the films available at home just aren’t holding their own for me.

That, and the popcorn from home just isn’t as delicious.


GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021) – Clash of Giant Monster Icons Is One Colossal Bore


The best thing I can say about GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021), the new giant monster movie bout which tries but fails miserably to capture the magic of the giant monster movies of a bygone era, is that it runs under two hours.

Had it been any longer, I wouldn’t have survived.

Now, that being said, I didn’t hate GODZILLA VS. KONG, for the simple reason that the monster scenes in this one aren’t that bad. And as a King Kong fan, Kong fares rather well here.

But the script by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein is so dreadfully awful on so many levels it completely ruins anything that might be redeemable about this one. It zaps all enjoyment from the film. So while I enjoyed Kong and Godzilla, the experience is akin to watching someone play a video game where Kong and Godzilla do battle. You watch because you love the monsters, the graphics are amazing, and you feel some nostalgia. But after a few minutes you move on. And that’s what GODZILLA VS. KONG is, really. Just a glorified video game. Sorry folks, but it’s not a movie. Movies have stories to tell. This one does not.

Even the old Toho Godzilla movies, as silly as they were, knew how to tell a story. They were often ridiculous stories, but they were stories. And they had characters. Again, some pretty ridiculous and oftentimes dull characters, but they were there. In GODZILLA VS. KONG, and the previous crop of recent GODZILLA and KONG movies, there are people with names who say and do things in the “movie,” but they’re not characters. They have trite back stories, cliched personalities, and conflicts so general they put you to sleep.

But none of this matters because the powers that be know that a movie like GODZILLA VS KONG doesn’t need good writing. It’s still going to make a ton of money without it. Which is why ultimately I do not like these new Godzilla and Kong movies, because they sport some pretty bad writing. Compared to the superior fare found on the small screen these days, it’s like night and day.

And yet strangely I did not hate GODZILLA VS. KONG. Let’s find out why.

Well, it certainly wasn’t because of the story! In GODZILLA VS. KONG, there are two sets of “characters” and two sets of “stories.” I guess you could call them Team Kong and Team Godzilla. There’s Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall) who’s known as the “Kong Whisperer” because she can communicate with Kong as he is kept in a virtual rendition of Skull Island, which just happens to be— on Skull Island!— for his own good, because if his presence is made known, Godzilla will seek out and kill him. Come again? Just because humans hadn’t discovered Kong doesn’t mean that Godzilla wouldn’t know about him. And why Godzilla would go after Kong, to be the one and only alpha on Earth, yeah, that’s about as believable as the cliched cardboard villain who wants to “take over the world!” Hahahahahaha!!!!!!

Actually, young Jia (Kaylee Hottle) who is deaf is better at communicating with Kong, and Kong actually uses sign language with her, in one of the few sequences in the movie that actually works. And there’s professor/author Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgard) who believes in a hollow Earth theory— whaaaatttt??? Yep, this here is GODZILLA VS. KONG MEETS JULES VERNE. Yes, in this flick, we journey to the center of the earth, because that’s where all the giant monsters came from, and it’s where they must bring Kong so he can learn about his origins! WTF? In the next movie, we will learn that the moon is made of cheese.

Then there’s team Godzilla. High school student Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown), who survived the events in GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019) believes that Godzilla is only attacking humans because he’s been provoked, and she sets out with one of her friends to find the truth about what’s going on and save the world in the process. She connects with conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) and the three travel to Hong Kong to take on the “evil company” which is driving Godzilla nutty.

Just an aside. A conspiracy theorist as a hero in this movie? Seriously? Here in 2021 where conspiracy nuts attacked the U.S. Capitol? This is reason alone for me never to watch this movie again. What were those writers thinking? I know! They weren’t!

Then there are the villains, led by Walter Simmons (Demian Bichir) who is about as effective Pedro Paschal’s Maxwell Lord in WONDER WOMAN 1984 (2021) which is to say, he’s not effective at all.

These folks spend most of the time saying and doing things, only to be mostly ignored by Godzilla and Kong, who do what they want anyway, eventually meeting up in Hong Kong for the movie’s title bout. And I guess no one lives in Hong Kong. I mean, the two behemoths completely demolish the city, and it’s all so nice and neat. No human carnage to be found anywhere.

GODZILLA VS. KONG does have talented actors working here, so in spite of the poor writing, some of these folks do have their moments.

Brian Tyree Henry fares the best. After all, he’s playing the character I liked the least, conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes, and yet he’s pretty funny throughout the movie. His performance is proof that really good actors could read from the pages of a dictionary and turn in a good performance based on their talents alone, which is the case here, because pages in a dictionary would make more worthwhile reading than the pages of the script.

Rebecca Hall also delivers a very nice performance as “Kong whisperer” Ilene Andrews, even though Andrews is pretty much a nothing character. The same can be said for Alexander Skarsgard, who plays Nathan Lind, another ridiculous character, but Skarsgard, like Hall, somehow manages to make their characters at least sympathetic. And young Kaylee Hottle is sufficiently innocent as Kong’s best friend, Jia.

Millie Bobby Brown, a wonderfully talented actress who we’ve seen in STRANGER THINGS (2016-2021) and the recent Netflix movie ENOLA HOMES (2020) is largely wasted here as Madison Russell. She gets some of the worst dialogue in the movie, and her story arc of a high school student infiltrating a major tech company in Hong Kong with more ease than opening a classmate’s locker is exceedingly farfetched.

But not to worry. Demian Bichir fares even worse, as his villain Walter Simmons is by far the worst character in the movie.

But what about the giant monsters? Kong fares better than Godzilla here. Most of the story revolves around Kong, and he looks better than he did in KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017), a film I did not like, even though many fans do. Kong in KONG: SKULL ISLAND had zero personality. The Kong in this movie does, and it was good to see the giant ape monster reestablish his screen persona.

However, I thought Godzilla did little more than stomp around and destroy things.

The climactic battle is okay. The CGI effects on Godzilla and Kong are fine, and the colors in Hong Kong are dazzling, but at the end of the day, all of it, is just so… fake looking. Nothing about it comes off as real. Like the entire movie, it’s just visuals on a screen. And for me, that’s one big yawnfest.

Director Adam Wingard makes this one look good, but that’s about all I can say about it. GODZILLA VS. KONG looks good.

The screenplay by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein reads like a first draft, and not a very good one.

If you like giant monster movies, and are satisfied watching Godzilla and Kong battle for the final few minutes of a movie with the rest being pretty darn dull, you’ll like GODZILLA VS. KONG. But if you’re like me, and actually want to see a MOVIE, a piece of film that actually has a story to tell, one with a little more relevance than “the world is hollow and giant monsters once lived there!!!” you’ll find GODZILLA VS. KONG to not only be a snoozefest, but an insult to moviegoers the world over.

So, no, I didn’t hate this one. It’s Godzilla and King Kong, after all. But it’s long past time for Godzilla and Kong to find a new agent.