DON’T WORRY DARLING (2022) – Utopian Thriller’s Reveal a Disappointment

0

If you’re going to make a science fiction thriller with an anticipated “big reveal,” you’d best keep the “big” in the reveal.

DON’T WORRY DARLING (2022), a new quasi-science fiction thriller, fails to do this. It has a reveal all right, but it ain’t big! The only thing big about it is, it’s a big letdown!

DON’T WORRY DARLING takes place in the 1950s in an idyllic closed community located somewhere in beautiful sunny California, where the young husbands of the families who reside there all work for an ultra-modern, yet mysterious company run by the eccentric Frank (Chris Pine). It’s mysterious because no one seems to know exactly what the company does, as the husbands never talk about their work, and the wives don’t seem to care. They’re all wealthy and happy in their utopian community.

The story focuses on one couple in particular, Alice Chambers (Florence Pugh) and her husband Jack (Harry Styles). They are the perfect couple, and life has never been better, until one of the wives and one of Alice’s best friends, Margaret (Kiki Layne) begins to act strangely and make unexpected accusations against the company, saying it took her son away from her. Her behavior is dismissed by Frank as delusions after the traumatic experience of losing her son in an accident out in the desert, an area the wives are told not to visit because of the hazardous materials there. But when Alice witnesses Margaret commit suicide, and when she is later told that Margaret is fine and is recuperating at the hospital, she pushes back against being told she only imagined she saw Margaret take her own life.

More strange occurrences ensue, and Alice realizes that this utopian community isn’t as it seems. There is something else going on. And the rest of the movie follows Alice as she tries to figure out what is really going on, while everyone else, including Frank and her own husband Jack, fights back against her, telling her that she is unfortunately dealing with her own delusions since she too ventured into the desert and was affected by the “hazardous materials.”

This all leads up to the anticipated “big reveal,” which as I said, isn’t all that big. Nor is it terribly new or exciting.

But before the reveal, the film has a lot of good things going for it.

Things get off to a lively start with some energetic and creative direction by director Olivia Wilde, who also plays one of the wives in the movie, Bunny. The cinematography is bright and cheery, and the homes, cars, costumes, music, and characters all capture the 1950s perfectly in an opening montage that has this film hopping in its first few minutes. The setting and the characters are established with gusto.

The performances are very good. Florence Pugh, who has never looked better, by the way, is perfect as the fully content stay-at-home wife Alice, until she begins to doubt that she is living in a utopia, and that something far more sinister is going on. The one knock here is we’ve seen Pugh play this type of role before, specifically in MIDSOMMAR (2019). Not a big deal, but as good as Pugh is here, it wasn’t quite as fresh as some of her other performances. Still, she’s a wonderful actor, who I first noticed in the wrestling movie FIGHTING WITH MY FAMILY (2019), and who has since wowed me in the aforementioned MIDSOMMAR, in LITTLE WOMEN (2019), and in Marvel’s BLACK WIDOW (2021).

Harry Styles as Alice’s husband Jack is convincingly loving and supportive, until the plot takes a different direction, and his character takes on a ROSEMARY’S BABY (1968) vibe, as he plots against his wife.

It was fun to see Chris Pine cast against type as the villain here, Frank, the man who coolly and confidently seems to have an answer for everything. Frank is super annoying, and he gets under your skin. Pine’s performance might be the best in the movie.

Timothy Simons makes for a dubious doctor who works for the company, Dr. Collins, whose stoic demeanor irritates as he counters Alice’s emotional accusations with calm comments to the contrary. And director Olivia Wilde is effective as Bunny, a housewife who seems to be one of the most loyal to the needs of the company.

The screenplay by Katie Silberman, based on a story by Carey Van Dyke and Shane Van Dyke, presents an interesting premise but then doesn’t deliver on that premise. From the get-go, the audience knows there’s going to be a twist, a reveal, as it’s pretty darn clear that this utopian society isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. And so, it’s not a surprise when that reveal happens, but worse, the reveal itself is something we’ve seen before, and this take on it is nothing new.

On a metaphorical level, the story tackles the issue of the husband who stomps on his wife’s autonomy, which is the most interesting theme the film has to offer, but it’s handled in such a superficial way that it really doesn’t resonate.

And while the characters are generally interesting, and the two leads Alice and Jack likeable, no one really drives this movie. Pine’s Frank is the most effective character in the film, but he’s the elusive villain, and so the bulk of the movie isn’t built on him.

So while DON’T WORRY DARLING starts off well, it actually slows down and becomes rather dull long before the disappointing reveal.

Director Olivia Wilde does a decent job here, but I prefer her previous directorial effort, the sharp and funny BOOKSMART (2019).

DON’T WORRY DARLING has some creative direction, and a couple of strong acting performances by Florence Pugh and Chris Pine, but none of it is enough to overcome its dull reveal or sluggish second half pace.

Don’t worry about missing this one.

I give it two stars.

—END—

RATING SYSTEM

Four stars- Excellent

Three stars- Very Good

Two stars- Fair

One star- Poor

Zero Stars- Awful

NOPE (2022) – Jordan Peele’s Latest Labors as It Tries Too Hard to be Clever

0

Sometimes movies try too hard to be clever.

NOPE (2022), the latest genre movie by Jordan Peele, the man who brought us GET OUT (2017) and US (2019), goes out of its way to be puzzling and thought-provoking, but this creative zeal often gets in the way of its storytelling, to the point where its narrative never really flows, instead laboring from start to finish as it works through an otherwise interesting story.

In NOPE, OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) operate a ranch in California where they train horses to appear in movies and television, so right off the bat you have an interesting premise just with the main characters’ occupation, as this isn’t something we see in movies all that often. OJ hasn’t been right since the tragic death of his father Otis (Keith David), who was killed in a bizarre accident when he was struck by random debris which fell from a passing plane. But OJ was there that day, and he never saw a passing plane in the sky, although there was thick cloud cover and some strange noises overhead.

Soon OJ is hearing and seeing strange things through the clouds which seem to always permeate the sky above their farmhouse. When computer geek Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) arrives to help them set up surveillance cameras, he joins them on their quest to find out what is going on in the sky above their home. And when OJ gets a closer look at the phenomenon, he tells his sister that it didn’t move like a ship, implying that while it seems to be a UFO, it might be something different…

And that’s the premise of NOPE, as the main characters try to unravel the mystery in the skies above their home.

As stories go, I liked the one told in NOPE, but as I said, the way Jordan Peele tells it comes across as more labored than polished. Peele obviously chose to tell the story in this way to be more creative and innovative. Scenes often end in the middle, effectively teasing the audience, not letting them know answers and information needed to figure things out. The movie also opens bizarrely, with a scene from a cancelled sitcom after a tragedy struck.

We find out later that former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun) who runs a western show not far from OJ’s ranch, was on the set of that sitcom when the tragedy ensued, something that scarred him greatly. Ricky’s story ties in directly with the main one in the movie because he too has seen the strange phenomenon in the sky, but his take on it is different from OJ’s, and a lot of his interpretation is based on his childhood trauma. So, it all connects. Eventually.

As does the plot point about OJ’s relationship with his horses. Everything that happens in this story is there for a reason. I don’t have a problem with that. But the convoluted way Peele goes about telling his story gets in the way of effective storytelling, and as a result, I had a difficult time warming up to this one.

It also gets in the way of the characterizations. No one in this movie really comes to life, in spite of some nifty acting performances.

Daniel Kaluuya, who won the Oscar last year for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in JUDAS AND THE BLACK MESSIAH (2021), and who was also nominated for Best Actor for his work in GET OUT, is a terrific actor, and his talents are on full display here in NOPE. He plays OJ as a brooding, grieving son who is not yet over the death of his father. He’s also the strong, silent type, and barely says much of anything throughout the movie. OJ’s personality reflects the feel of the entire movie: quiet, brooding, and not that exciting.

Keke Palmer as OJ’s sister Emerald is the opposite of her brother, as she is lively, outspoken, and anything but introspective.

I also enjoyed Steven Yeun’s performance as Ricky, the former child actor now running a family friendly western show in the middle of California nowhere. Yeun is very good in a role that at first seems tangent to everything else that is going on in the movie, but when the big reveal is made near the end, it makes sense at that moment how his story ties into the main one. Yeun, who played Glenn on THE WALKING DEAD (2010-2020) was also nominated for an Oscar last year for Best Actor in MINARI (2020).

It was fun to see Keith David for a couple of seconds (should have been more!) as OJ’s dad Otis. David has enjoyed a long career going all the way back to his performance as Childs in John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982).

Brandon Perea as geek Angel Torres primarily provides the comic relief throughout the movie, and Michael Wincott plays a dedicated cameraman who agrees to help them film what’s going on in the skies above their home to give them proof, in a role that should have been much more interesting than it ultimately was. While Wincott is fine, the writing is not.

Jordan Peele wrote the screenplay, and with the exception of OJ, the characters in this one do not come to life. Michael Wincott’s cameraman character, specifically, is left dangling in the wind. He comes in and does his thing, yet we know nothing about him. The other characters are shallow as well.

While the story is clever and creative, and the reveal is satisfying, the execution here is not. Peele seems to have decided that he wanted to make this movie feel like a puzzle, something for audiences to think on and figure out, and for the most part, that’s what NOPE is. But it gets in the way of the narrative, and it reminded me of a work in progress, where another draft of the screenplay was needed, one where things would be polished, to hammer points home and make sure the story works, because ultimately, it doesn’t work completely. Why not? The number one reason is there’s little or no emotional connection with the characters.

I liked NOPE better than Peele’s previous outing, US, which I didn’t like at all, but I still strongly prefer GET OUT to this latest outing by Peele.

It has its moments. Like one where OJ is terrified of something he’s seeing, and he turns away shaking his head muttering, “Nope!” which was a genuine laugh-out-loud moment, as well as a light bulb moment for the meaning of the title, and there are flashes of genuine suspense and intrigue, but more often than not, there are long periods of labored exposition and scenes that end before they should to keep audiences guessing, but when you do this too much, audiences lose interest in guessing.

I liked the reveal, but after this, the third act of the film continues to drudge through a long climax which strangely was the least exciting part of the movie, mostly because we were watching superficial characters deal with a somewhat interesting but never horrifying threat.

In its defense, NOPE has a worthwhile theme, and the story it tells is actually a good one, but the way it tells it doesn’t do it any favors. Simply put, it can’t get out of its own way.

I liked NOPE, but I didn’t love it.

It’s thought-provoking science fiction. It’s a fairly creepy horror tale. But is it an engrossing movie that I am going to want to watch over and over again?

In a word:

Nope.

—END—

SPIDERHEAD (2022) -Mild Science Fiction Thriller Can’t Take Advantage of Good Script and Solid Acting

0

SPIDERHEAD (2022), a new science fiction action thriller now available on Netflix, is a mishmash of these three genres, never really developing into anything special, yet remaining generally entertaining throughout.

It stars Chris Hemsworth, who must have a deal with Netflix, because he keeps showing up in their original movies. He starred in the superior Netflix action movie EXTRACTION (2020), one of the streaming network’s best movies to date, and appeared unbilled in the recent INTERCEPTOR (2022).

In SPIDERHEAD, Hemsworth plays Steve Abnesti, a scientist who runs a special prison program in which he accepts volunteer inmates to be guinea pigs for drugs he is working on that he hopes will help curb humans’ criminal personality traits, in the hope of keeping more people out of prison. While generally safe, the drugs can be dangerous, and so in exchange for taking the risk, the inmates are housed in a rather fancy minimum-security prison, complete with some pretty nice living conditions and freedoms. These drugs are administered in packs which connect to the body, and the dosages are all controlled virtually with the help of Steve’s trusted assistant Verlaine (Mark Paguio).

Enter inmate Jeff (Miles Teller) who agrees to help and is one of Steve’s most cooperative test subjects, mostly because Jeff feels terribly low and worthless, due to the crime he committed which got him sent to prison in the first place. When he’s not being tested, he’s friends with fellow inmate Lizzy (Jurnee Smollett), who’s harboring a dark secret from her past as well.

Everything is hunky-dory until Steve begins to ask Jeff and some other inmates to do some weird things, like having sex with another inmate Heather (Tess Haubrich) while Steve controls how attracted or unattracted they are to each other. And when things grow even more bizarre and dangerous, Jeff begins to question Steve’s motives, and so he does a little snooping and what he finds out is— of course— that things aren’t as they seem!

No surprise there.

SPIDERHEAD pretty much remains mediocre throughout. Its story is mildly interesting, mildly disturbing, but not overly exciting or mind-blowing. Honestly, throughout most of the movie I had a “so, what?” vibe going on. I was never all that invested in what was happening to the characters or their stories. While I understood Jeff’s plight, I never really cared for him all that much, and Steve is pretty much a one-note character without any real motivation other than to be the villain in this one by film’s end.

The screenplay by Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, based on the short story “Escape from Spiderhead” by George Saunders, is a mixed bag. The dialogue is really good, and there are some memorable exchanges between Jeff and Steve, but the story never becomes more than a standard melodrama. When we finally find out what is really going on, it’s not that explosive a revelation. And the characters, while fleshed out well enough are all kind of— boring. This comes as a surprise because Reese and Wernick are the guys who wrote the DEADPOOL movies and the ZOMBIELAND movies. Go figure!

Visually, SPIDERHEAD is impressive to look at, but like a lot of other Netflix films, it suffers from not being all that cinematic. It plays like a TV movie. It was directed by Joseph Kosinski, who is receiving high praise these days for his work at the helm of TOP GUN: MAVERICK (2022).

Chris Hemsworth and Miles Teller do work well together, and their scenes together are the best in the movie. However, overall, Hemsworth plays Steve as a one-note guy, and even with the charismatic Hemsworth playing the role, at the end of the day, Steve’s boring.

Miles Teller fares better as Jeff, and while I have not been a Teller fan over the years, he gives the best performance in the movie. He makes Jeff a real person, and his story arc is the most interesting and emotional in the film. Sadly, it’s a story we’ve seen countless times before, where a character hasn’t meant to, but his reckless actions led to someone else’s tragedy, and he’s beating himself up over it because he can’t get over the guilt.

Jurnee Smollett is also solid as Jeff’s friend and possible girlfriend Lizzy, another character with a tragic past.

Themes of loneliness, abandonment, and letting down those you love, permeate the proceedings, but the film never rises to the level in terms of plot where these themes can take center stage. They’re there, but in the background of a tale that struggles to come to life.

I wouldn’t rush home to see SPIDERHEAD, but on a rainy summer night, when there’s not much else going on, it might be worth a look.

And for Chris Hemsworth fans, it’s something to watch before his highly anticipated Marvel movie THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022) opens in theaters on July 8.

SPIDERHEAD is a minor diversion, a mild science fiction thriller that possesses a good script and solid acting, but remains low-key and muted throughout, mostly due to plot points that fail to resonate because they have been done before and done better.

—END—

THE ADAM PROJECT (2022) – Ryan Reynolds Time Travel Tale Will Make You Laugh and Cry

0

THE ADAM PROJECT (2022), a new Netflix time travel movie starring Ryan Reynolds, is marketed as witty, feel good, and exciting. It scores high on the first two categories, as it will make you laugh, and better yet, will tug at your heartstrings and you may even shed a few tears, but in terms of excitement, it’s rather lame.

That’s because the villains in this sci fi adventure are the least developed and the least interesting parts of this movie, and whenever our heroes break out into battle against the stormtrooper-like fighter drones from the future, the film plummets several notches, as we’re forced to watch dull video game style fight scenes that while they look fine are inferior to the quality of the rest of the movie.

The gimmick in THE ADAM PROJECT is that time travelling pilot from the future Adam (Ryan Reynolds) travels back in time where he meets his 12-year-old self (Walker Scobell), and the two team up to save the future. Specifically, older Adam is trying to both save his wife Laura (Zoe Saldana) who has also travelled back in time on a mission of her own, and to prevent some bad people from manipulating the timeline. Along the way, older Adam helps younger Adam deal with his emotional issues stemming from the recent death of their father, including helping him treat their mom (Jennifer Garner) better, and also helping him deal with bullies. On the flip side, younger Adam can’t help but be impressed by his older self and can’t stop interrogating him with nonstop questions about both time travel in general and his future experiences.

But the man who holds the key to solving the time travel conundrum, is the man who invented it, which happens to be their deceased dad (Mark Ruffalo), and so the two Adams travel back in time again, this time together, to meet their dad before he dies and seek his help in putting the fractured timeline back together.

I like time travel stories just as much as the next person… heck, I even wrote a novel, Time Frame.… time for a shameless plug!… which if I must say so is much more ambitious in scope than the events described in this movie. The time travel story told here in THE ADAM PROJECT is a decent one. I’ve seen better, and I’ve seen worse.

But the best part of THE ADAM PROJECT is the story of the relationship between the two Adams and their dad, and to a lesser extent, their mom. The film soars when at long last the two Adams meet their dad and discuss not only the time travel concerns, the ones involving the less interesting plot of villains manipulating the future, but their own complicated family relationship. The scene where the three play catch is one of the best sequences in the movie, an emotional tender scene that packs a wallop. There are other scenes like this as well, like when young Adam remembers his older self’s advice and hugs his mom, and it’s here where the film is at its best.

The movie is equally as effective with its humor, as Ryan Reynolds and young Walker Scobell share great chemistry and timing, playing off each other effortlessly. The script is full of very funny dialogue.

Sure, we’ve seen Ryan Reynolds do this a gazillion times, but he does it well, and once more he’s funny, entertaining, and a lot of fun to watch here as older Adam. No, it’s not Deadpool caliber humor, but it’s a heck of a lot better than last year’s RED NOTICE (2021), a Netflix film in which Reynolds was paired with Dwayne Johnson where the humor did not work.

Walker Scobell is excellent as young Adam. He captures a lot of Ryan Reynolds’ mannerisms and delivery, and the two actors really play well off each other.

And then you have Mark Ruffalo as their father Louis Reed, Jennifer Garner as their mom Ellie, and Zoe Saldana as older Adam’s wife Laura, who are all superb in their roles, especially Ruffalo, who gets to enjoy some of the best scenes in the movie.

Catherine Keener plays the villain, Maya Sorian, and unfortunately, she is stuck in the least interesting part of the film.

The screenplay by Jonathan Tropper, T.S. Nowlin, and Jennifer Flackett works best when operating outside the action realm of good guys saving the world from bad guys. That part of the story is meh and definitely in the “been there, seen that” category. It handles the time travel elements well enough, and then really shines with its family storyline dealing with the relationships between both Adams and their mom and dad, especially their dad. This part of the film is the best part by far. And the banter between young Adam and old Adam is very funny throughout, which is also a nice plus.

Veteran director Shawn Levy helmed THE ADAM PROJECT. Levy has directed such films as REAL STEEL (2011), DATE NIGHT (2010), NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM (2006), and the Steve Martin remake of THE PINK PANTHER (2006), to name just a few. I did not like most of these movies, and THE ADAM PROJECT is better than any of these films. In fact, of all the movies I’ve seen that Levy has directed, THE ADAM PROJECT just might be my favorite.

In terms of time travel, while it’s not a classic like George Pal’s version of H.G. Wells’ THE TIME MACHINE (1960) or Nicholas Meyer’s TIME AFTER TIME (1979), or even the various episodes of the many STAR TREK series and movies, which all had more to say on the subject than THE ADAM PROJECT, it still does a decent job with the topic. It’s not too out there, most of it makes sense, and the film doesn’t take itself too seriously and definitely has fun with it.

I liked THE ADAM PROJECT well enough. It has a moving story and sharp humor, and it’s also a showcase for Ryan Reynolds, so if you’re a fan, you’ll love this one.

Even if you’re not a fan, chances are you’ll have a good… time.

—END—

Best Movies of 2021

0

Here’s a look at my TOP 10 LIST of BEST MOVIES from 2021.

As I did last year, I’d like to put an asterisk next to this list due to the pandemic. One of the drawbacks of not seeing movies at the theater, is that we don’t all get to see the same movies, as lots of smaller, obscure releases don’t always make it to the various streaming services. So, as much as I enjoyed watching movies once again this year on Netflix, Prime Video, HBO Max, and Disney +, to name a few, I didn’t get to see many of the movies that didn’t make it to these streaming services.

Hence, I know there are a lot of films from 2021 that I did not see, that I would have seen had I been able to go to the movie theaters like I used to before the pandemic struck in March 2020.

So, with that being said, here are my TOP 10 movies… all watched at home on streaming services…. from 2021:

10. THE TOMORROW WAR

One of the things I miss most watching movies at home, is that movie theater feeling. THE TOMORROW WAR, a science fiction action movie from Amazon Prime starring Chris Pratt, was one of the few movies I saw this year that by itself captured that movie theater feeling. This action-packed tale of humans travelling into the future to help battle invading aliens didn’t always make sense, but it was a fun ride, so much so that I could almost smell the buttery popcorn wafting through the air!

9. FEAR STREET: PART THREE – 1666

My take on this Netflix horror trilogy was completely opposite most folks, who found the third installment to be the weakest. For me, it was the best, mostly because the trilogy’s wraparound story about a witch’s curse I thought was pretty lame until this final installment where we find out its origins, and the writers flipped the story on its head, giving new insight into what really cursed the town. I really liked this revelation. The entire trilogy is uneven at best, but it finishes strong, so much so that it’s the only horror movie from 2021 to make it into my Top 10 List.

8. NO SUDDEN MOVE

Atmospheric crime thriller by director Steven Soderbergh, starring Don Cheadle, Benicio Del Toro, David Harbour, Jon Hamm, and Brendan Fraser, makes for a compelling flick.

7. MOXIE (2021)

I really enjoyed this comedy drama directed by Amy Poehler about an awkward teen played by Hadley Robinson who draws inspiration from her mom’s activist past to take on sexism at her high school. Very satisfying, strong screenplay by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu, well-directed by Poehler, who also plays the mom.

6. THE UNFORGIVABLE

Sandra Bullock delivers a transformative performance in this Netflix drama about a woman, played by Bullock, who after serving a twenty-year prison sentence for shooting a sheriff, tries to reunite with her younger sister who has lived with a foster family the past two decades and has no memory of her older sister, while fending off threats from both those who hate her in general because of her crime, and from the adult sons of the man she killed. Dark, depressing stuff, but fiercely acted by Bullock.

5. GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE

One of my favorite action movies of the year. I loved this movie! It’s basically nothing more than female assassins kick ass, but the action is all so stylized and expertly choreographed. It contains some of the best action sequences I saw all year. Wonderfully directed by Navot Papushado, who charges this one with energy and pizzazz.

4. THE DIG

Wonderful period piece from Netflix, this one is much better than it sounds. Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes co-star in this tale of the historic archeological dig in the English countryside at Sutton Hoo at the outset of World War II. Awe-inspiring, awesome movie.

And now, drum roll please, for my TOP 3 MOVIES from 2021:

3. THE COURIER

Another period piece, THE COURIER was actually filmed in 2020 but wasn’t released until 2021. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Greville Wynne, a British salesman who because of his dealings in the Soviet Union becomes an unlikely spy for Britain just before the Cuban Missile Crisis. Another topnotch performance by Cumberbatch, who seems to be able to play these dramatic biographical roles in his sleep.

2. THE SUICIDE SQUAD

Hands down, both my favorite action movie and superhero film of the year. Hailing from the DC Universe (sorry, Marvel, they bested you this year!) this “sequel” to 2016’s SUICIDE SQUAD is far superior to the first film. While Margot Robbie returns as Harley Quinn, it’s Idris Elba as Bloodsport and John Cena as Peacemaker who steal the show. The real star however is writer/director James Gunn, who works the same magic he wielded with Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies, creating an energetic, innovative, and nonstop laugh-out-loud actioner that never quits. This tale of supervillains turned superheroes is a must see for all superhero movie fans, although it is rated R for some pretty intense violence and language. A helluva fun ride.

And now, drum roll please: my Number One movie from 2021:

1. DON’T LOOK UP

Adam McKay’s sharp satire is so on-point that it is far more disturbing than funny. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as scientists who discover a large meteor on a collision course with Earth that will wipe out all life when it strikes in six months, but the President, played by Meryl Streep, won’t have any of it and plays fast and loose with their science, while the media simply isn’t interested in a negative story. Try as they might, they simply can’t get their message out. Eventually, when the meteor becomes visible to the naked eye, the president’s political party and followers adopt the ideology that those who want people to look up are doing so for political reasons, and their rallying cry becomes, “don’t look up!” A sad commentary on where we are as a nation in 2021 after suffering from four years of a presidential administration that also played fast and loose with the facts during a world crisis.

So, there you have it. My top 10 movies from 2021.

Coming soon, my Worst 10 Movie List from 2021.

Until then, as always, thanks for reading!

—Michael

ZONE 414 (2021) – Tepid Science Fiction Movie Inspired by and Inferior to BLADE RUNNER

0

ZONE 414 (2021), a new science fiction movie which was just released on Netflix, plays out like BLADE RUNNER LITE.

As in oops I spilled half the cream into the coffee-kind-of-lite. Or would you like some coffee with your milk?

Yup. There’s not a lot going on here.

ZONE 414 takes place in the near future where a private detective David Carmichael (Guy Pearce) is hired by the eccentric Marlon Veidt (Travis Fimmel) to find his missing daughter Melissa in Zone 414, a place also known as the City of Robots. And Veidt knows a lot about this “city” because he’s the guy who created it. He is a reclusive scientist who successfully created exceedingly realistic artificially intelligent beings, and the government decided to give these beings a test run in a special area, a city now known as Zone 414, the only place on Earth where these A. I. beings exist.

It’s an insanely expensive place to visit, so only the very wealthy go there, paying for these artificial beings to satisfy their every fantasy. Veidt’s daughter, unhappy at home, and perhaps jealous that her weirdo scientist daddy spends all his time creating robots, runs away and disappears somewhere in Zone 414. Veidt doesn’t want to involve the police because he wants no negative publicity regarding 414, and so he hires David to get the job done, and he gives the detective a place to start, the name of an A.I. being, Jane (Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz) who was friends with his daughter.

When David finds Jane, she tells him she doesn’t know where Melissa is. She also tells David that someone out there is trying to kill her, and David decides to help her with her problem so that she will help him find Melissa. Together, David and Jane navigate through the seedy streets of Zone 414, looking for clues to find Melissa and the man who is targeting Jane, and as they do so, they begin to learn more about Zone 414.

Which would be really interesting if there actually was something to learn about! The biggest knock against ZONE 414 is its screenplay by Bryan Edward Hill. The set-up is fine. Hard-boiled detective on the case to find a missing woman in a dark underworld known as 414. This one had me at the outset. But the deeper David gets into this underworld, the only major surprise is how much isn’t there! The deep dark dirty secret behind ZONE 414 isn’t really all that deep dark and dirty.

And what is there— the highly advanced A.I. Jane struggling with her feelings and wanting to be human, for example,— has been done before and done better.

There’s a conversation in this movie between David and Veidt that perfectly sums up the problem with this story. David tells Veidt the results of his investigation, and Veidt goes off on this insane supervillianish rant about how he won’t allow David to use this information to take down Zone 414, to which David just shrugs and tells him he’s not interested in taking down anything. He just wants his money.

I felt the same way. I wasn’t interested in Veidt’s ravings either. Mainly because his creation Zone 414 is a snooze. Who cares? The real interest in this movie is simply David’s search for Melissa. It’s as simple a story as that. The rest isn’t fleshed out at all.

As such, David is the one interesting character in the movie, and he actually has a rather compelling back story involving his terminally ill wife. Guy Pearce is a really good actor, and he is solid here as the hardened former cop turned private detective David. Pearce keeps this movie from being a total snooze fest. Pearce has a ton of credits and has been in all kinds of movies and TV shows, including films like PROMETHEUS (2012), THE KING’S SPEECH (2010), and THE HURT LOCKER (2008), and shows like MARE OF EASTTOWN (2021).

I also enjoyed Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz as Jane, but her role is kind of a cliche at this point, the A.I. who wants to be really alive, and the writing doesn’t add anything new or original to her character.

The rest of the cast is okay. Jonathan Aris plays Joseph Veidt, Marlon’s creepy brother, a character who becomes more involved in the plot as the film goes along, but revelations about the character are simply meh.

Olwen Fouere enjoys a couple of interesting scenes as Jane’s weird handler, Royale, and Ned Dennehy is memorable in one scene as one of the slimy patrons of 414 who tries to bargain with David to buy Jane for a day.

The look of ZONE 414 borrows heavily from BLADE RUNNER (1982) but doesn’t look nearly as comprehensive or mind boggling, and that’s pretty much all you need to know about ZONE 414, that a film made here in 2022 pales in comparison visually to a movie made in 1982!

Director Andrew Baird does a decent job here. I mean, the film looks good, but as I just said, within seconds of watching it, BLADE RUNNER immediately comes to mind, and then as it goes along one realizes that in terms of both visuals and story it is far inferior to the 1982 Ridley Scott movie. Baird also does a good job framing David’s story, which I enjoyed. It’s just that what David uncovers is hardly worth a look, and any deep dark mysteries or secrets waiting to be revealed just aren’t there. It’s a simple crime drama mystery about a missing girl dressed up as a science fiction flick, with some tired A.I. angst thrown in for good measure.

Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t hate ZONE 414. Most of the time I was watching it I was enjoying it. Guy Pearce is strong throughout and makes David a very watchable hero, and Matilda Anna Ingrid Lutz as Jane is equally as watchable as Pearce. But once David and Jane find their answers, at that point, it’s like a big shrug of the shoulders and a loud, “so what?”

ZONE 414 is a tepid science fiction movie that borrows heavily from BLADE RUNNER while remaining far inferior to its source of inspiration.

It’s worth a visit, but you probably won’t find yourself going back any time soon.

—END—

DUNE (2021) – Latest Film Version of Frank Herbert Novel Needs Spicing Up

0

For a movie about spices, DUNE (2021) isn’t all that zesty.

Yes, one of the main plot points in DUNE is that the most valuable commodity in the universe these days is spices, mostly because in the future in which these people live, it’s the main ingredient in their ships’ warp drives, and so the races that control the spice trade have all the power. It’s the oil of its day.

DUNE is based on the celebrated science fiction novel by Frank Herbert, and it was filmed once before in 1984 by director David Lynch, with mixed results.

Denis Villeneuve is at the helm this time around. Villeneuve directed one of my favorite movies of the past few years, SICARIO (2015), which was my pick for the top movie that year. He also directed the well-respected BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017). So I was excited to see what he would bring to this project.

And what he brought was a visual style and mood to this piece which plays out in a deliberate fashion that keeps this one intriguing yet low key throughout. I was always interested, but I was never excited. Not a good thing for a two and half hour movie.

The biggest problem with the story told in this version of DUNE is it’s all about potential and never really focuses on the here and now. It’s the story of young Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet) who’s the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), whose people have inherited control over the much sought-after spice planet when the emperor rules that the current owners move out and Atreide’s people move in. Paul is the heir to the dukedom, but more so, he’s viewed as a “chosen one” by the indigenous race who lives on the spice planet who have been fighting their oppressors for independence for generations.

Amidst deceit and war over the spices, Paul is destined to emerge as an all powerful leader in the struggle for independence. But alas, that’s the story for another movie! As young Chani (Zendaya) tells him near the film’s conclusion, “this is just the beginning.”

Um, no it’s not. This is the END of the movie, sweetheart.

And that’s the biggest problem I had with this version of DUNE. The entire two hours and thirty five minutes are spent setting up the next movie. Why not just skip all this stuff and get to the part of the story you want to tell? I found this exceedingly frustrating.

The screenplay by Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts, and Eric Roth doesn’t help. Nearly every character in this movie is wooden and sleep-inducing, the situations slow and uninspiring, and the action scenes few and far between. This one could have used a heavy dose of some of those valued spices, that’s for sure! And these guys are seasoned screenwriters— heh, heh— with lots of credits. You’d think this screenplay would have struck gold. But it doesn’t. It’s all so bland.

The best part of DUNE is its cast, which reads like a who’s-who of tough guys and superhero movie veterans.

Timothee Chalamet gets the lead role here as Paul Atreides, and he acquits himself quite well. Chalamet has delivered strong performances in such films as LADY BIRD (2017) and LITTLE WOMEN (2019), but I liked him even more here as Paul Atreides. It’s a quiet understated performance, which Chalamet does well. I enjoyed his performance throughout the movie, but I just kept waiting for him to do something, which again is the main problem with this movie. Chalamet provides some great acting with an interesting character, but if you want to see him do something significant, you will have to wait until the next movie.

Oscar Isaac is very good as Paul’s honest and well-respected father, Duke Leto, who rules with great integrity. Which means he doesn’t stand a chance in this world of brutal and vicious dictators. Isaac is an excellent actor who played Poe Dameron in the new STAR WARS trilogy, but he’s delivered far more notable performances in such films as EX MACHINA (2014) and OPERATION FINALE (2018). Isaac turns in another solid performance here.

Rebecca Ferguson is on hand as Paul’s mystic mother Lady Jessica, and she’s very good as well. While not as memorable as she was as the menacing Rose the Hat in DOCTOR SLEEP (2019), she does achieve better results than her last turn as Mae, the mysterious stranger who walks into Hugh Jackman’s life in the recent subpar science fiction tale REMINISCENCE (2021).

Jason Momoa, Aquaman himself, plays Duncan Idaho, a loyal warrior for the Atreides family. Momoa as he almost always does imbues his character with a charismatic personality, so much so, that it’s too bad he’s not in the movie more. He gets some of the film’s best scenes. He’s not in this one nearly enough. It was good to see Momoa on top of his game again, after seeing him in the pretty lame actioner SWEET GIRL (2021) earlier this year.

Josh Brolin, who played the most infamous Marvel superhero movie villain yet, Thanos, in the AVENGERS films, here plays Gurney Halleck, the Duke’s head of security. Halleck could have used some of Thanos’ superpowers in this one. And Dave Bautista, who plays Drax in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and the AVENGERS movies, plays Beast Rabban Harkonnen, one of the baddies, but Bautista is barely in this one and hardly makes an impact.

Faring better is Stellan Skarsgard as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the main villain in the movie. Sure, he’s practically unrecognizable under CGI, motion capturing effects, and make-up, but he still delivers one of the better performances in the movie. Skarsgard is a superior actor with a ton of credits, who today is largely known for his role as scientist Erik Selvig in the Marvel THOR and AVENGERS movies.

The same can be said for Javier Bardem, who appears briefly as Stilgar, the leader of the indigenous race fighting for their independence on the spice planet. He only has a couple of scenes, but he makes his mark in each of them. Bardem is another superior actor with a long and varied career, and he played one of the more memorable Bond villains in recent memory, Silva, in SKYFALL (2012). Of course, for me, his most memorable role remains hitman Anton Chigurh, in the Coen brothers’ NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (2007) in which incidentally he also co-starred with Josh Brolin.

I also enjoyed Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Dr. Liet Kynes as she turns in a nice performance as a mysterious yet ultimately likable character. And Zendaya spends the bulk of this movie in brief snapshots from Paul’s dreams, and her character Chani doesn’t show up for real until the film’s conclusion. So, like everything else in this movie, if you want to know more about her, you’ll have to wait for the next film.

Visually, DUNE is satisfying, and you can’t go wrong with the cast, but the story is as flat as a deflated dune. A nice microcosm of this movie’s problems is there are these massive and dangerous worms that travel underneath the sand which makes spice harvesting dangerous. Do you think we ever get to see these monsters? Nope. That’s kind of how the entire movie plays out. There’s all this potential, all this talk about prophecies, the chosen one, oppressors, and fighting for independence, but none of this happens in this movie. It’s all a set up for the next movie.

DUNE is okay. It would have been better had the filmmakers paid attention to the movie they were making rather than the one they plan to make next.

And frankly, after watching DUNE, I can’t say I’m all that excited about sitting through a DUNE 2.

It was all just a bit too bland for my palate. Pass me the pepper and salt.

—END—

REMINISCENCE (2021) – Science Fiction Love Story Mildly Intriguing

0

REMINISCENCE (2021), a new science fiction movie by writer/director Lisa Joy, starring Hugh Jackman and Rebecca Ferguson, has been described by some as INCEPTION (2010) – lite.

Make that very lite.

It doesn’t even come close to the complex mind-bending excitement generated by Christopher Nolan’s ambitious hit. And I’m saying this as someone who’s not even a big fan of INCEPTION.

But it is mildly intriguing. And to be fair, it’s a much different movie than INCEPTION, which was a science fiction action/adventure. REMINISCENCE is a science fiction film noir romance, with the emphasis on the romance.

REMINISCENCE takes place some time in the future when wars and economic disparities have further separated the classes into the haves and have nots. Water levels have risen to the point where only the wealthy can afford to live on the dry lands. Things are so bad that most folks don’t even come out in the daytime anymore as life has shifted towards the nocturnal.

But one way people find joy is by using a new technology which allows them to revisit their memories, sort of a time travel back to their favorite moments in life. But evidently it’s not something people can do alone. Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman) and his partner Emily (Thandiwe Newton) have access to this technology, and they run a business where the client pays to re-live their memories. The client is submerged into a tank of water, and as they listen to Nick’s soothing voice they drift into a sort of sleep, and their memories play out as holograms which both Nick and Emily can also see.

Life is good, until one night when a beautiful woman named Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) shows up at Nick’s door— of all the gin joints in the world—, and as Nick watches her memories play out, he finds himself attracted to her. They see each other again, and suddenly they fall in love. But then Mae disappears, just like that, and Nick refuses to believe that she would just leave him without saying anything. He believes something has happened to her. And as he starts searching for answers he learns that Mae isn’t the person he thought she was.

Of course she’s not! I bet she was associating with some rather unsavory people as well. Yup. You bet! Welcome to the movie world of love stories gone wrong, Nick!

Yeah, this is a story I’ve seen a lot lately. Two people fall in love, but then one of them is either killed or disappears, and the person left alone starts looking for answers and learns they didn’t really know the other person as well as they thought they did. We just saw this plot a few weeks back in the action film JOLT (2021) starring Kate Beckinsale.

Director Lisa Joy’s script isn’t really a strength here. The story it tells is interesting enough, but it doesn’t do a good job with the details. For example, the back story of the state of the world is glossed over too quickly. You don’t really get a sense of what happened or why things are so bad now. What kind of a war was it? Why are the water levels so high? Dunno!

Joy’s direction here doesn’t help either. The potential is there to create a memorable futuristic world, but the film barely does this other than shots of cities surrounded by water. Even the photography is bright and cheery, capturing the feel of a love story rather than a film noir.

Speaking of which, Hugh Jackman’s voice over narration is also a detriment. The writing isn’t so hot, and the things Jackman says seem out of place with the feel of the rest of the movie. In fact, the dialogue as a whole is pretty bad.

The love story isn’t so hot either. There’s no real sense of why Nick falls in love with Mae, and the two performers, Jackman and Ferguson, don’t really generate much heat with each other. Their relationship falls rather flat.

There’s also no background on the technology used by Nick. Is he the only one using it? Or are there other memory vendors? The movie has nothing to say on this. And Nick’s business is barely surviving, which makes one wonder why. You would think business would be booming. If people had the chance to relive fond memories you’d think there would be long lines of folks waiting to do this. But then again maybe not.

I like Hugh Jackman well enough, but I can’t say his performance here as Nick Bannister did much for me. He’s motivated at first because his new girlfriend has vanished, but then he pivots when lives are at stake, and so his intentions are admirable, but the character never really came to life for me.

Jackman is reunited with Rebecca Ferguson here, as the two also starred in the enjoyable musical THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (2017). Ferguson is okay as Mae, but she hardly generates the kind of sexual intensity of the classic femme fatale in these types of movies. Like Jackman, Ferguson is somewhat subdued here. Part of it is the script, which just doesn’t get all that dark and dirty.

I actually enjoyed watching Thandiwe Newton more as Nick’s business partner Emily. She exudes sincerity as Nick’s loyal friend, which is something neither Jackman or Ferguson do in their roles.

The most fun role however belongs to Cliff Curtis as a corrupt cop turned enforcer. He’s sufficiently creepy and nasty, and he gets some of the darker and livelier moments in an otherwise quiet science fiction tale.

Also making an impression in a small role is Angela Sarafyan as a client of Nick’s who uses her sessions to remember a former lover. Sarafyan’s grieving woman seems like a throwaway character until later when it turns out she’s something more.

REMINISCENCE has some twists and turns but none of them mind blowing. The film really plays like a science fiction romance. It’s not really much of a thriller. And with its two leads barely generating any sexual heat or tension, it’s not much of a romance either.

I was mildly entertained, and I was interested enough to want to follow Nick on his quest to find out what really happened to Mae. The answers are okay but again not fantastic. You won’t find yourself watching a spinning coin in the film’s final shot wondering what it all means a la INCEPTION. Nor will you be awed by being transported into a futuristic world a la BLADE RUNNER (1982).

Overall, I found REMINISCENCE to be somewhat diverting. Its story was just creative enough to catch my curiosity, but it didn’t possess enough details to really hammer its points home, nor did it move me in a way where I couldn’t stop watching.

Simply put, I don’t think I will be reminiscing about it any time soon.

—END—

THE TOMORROW WAR (2021) – Science Fiction Actioner Starring Chris Pratt An Entertaining Summer Popcorn Movie

0

If this were a normal year in the days before the Covid-19 pandemic, THE TOMORROW WAR (2021) would be playing in theaters everywhere and being hyped as a true summer blockbuster. It’s that kind of movie.

It features high octane action sequences pitting soldiers and everyday civilians against some very hungry and aggressive alien monsters, time travel, and it stars Chris Pratt. It has all the makings of a true summer hit. And it really is a fun movie. But you’ll need Amazon Prime Video to see it, because that’s where it’s playing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s just how things are for movies in the here and now.

In THE TOMORROW WAR, a group of soldiers from the future dramatically interrupt a major soccer match and declare to the world in a very cinematic scene that they have come from the future to recruit soldiers from present day to fight a war against vicious alien creatures that are wiping out the human race. While this is an interesting premise, I couldn’t help but wonder why with this time travelling technology they possess in the future they just couldn’t go back in time before the alien monsters arrive and come up with a way of stopping them before they invade. You know, what they do in the TERMINATOR movies. Then again, those plans always fail, so maybe that’s the reason!

The film does offer a couple of answers to this question, neither of which are overly satisfying. One, the humans in the future have failed to determine when the aliens first arrived, and two, there’s a quick scene of dialogue which explains that the time travel technology is new to the future humans and they are very limited in what they can do with it.

And also, there’s no way I see the world’s nations agreeing to send soldiers into the future. The idea that any nation would reduce its military might for any reason I find ludicrous and unrealistic.

The good news is none of this matters much. When Dan Forester (Chris Pratt) is drafted into the future and has to leave his wife and young daughter behind, he is immediately thrust into a world in which the alien monsters attack quickly and relentlessly, setting the stage for a series of very impressive action sequences. If you don’t think about things all that much, THE TOMORROW WAR is a lot of fun.

While Dan is in the future, he meets Colonel Muri Forester (Yvonne Strahovski) who happens to be his daughter all grown up. She sent for Dan from the future for a specific reason, and thus the time travel element of the plot begins in earnest.

I really enjoyed THE TOMORROW WAR. The action sequences are fun and frequent, and loud. Director Chris McKay sets up some very satisfying cinematic sequences, and while at times the action becomes intense, as the alien creatures are nasty and formidable, this one never becomes scary or horrific. The emphasis is on action. So, while I was reminded of classic movies like ALIENS (1986) and CLOVERFIELD (2008) when the alien creatures wreaked havoc, the film never ventures down the horror road, which for me, was a detriment.

That being said, the film doesn’t forget its roots and its connections to previous science fiction horror movies. There are nods to both ALIEN (1979) and THE THING (1982), which I appreciated.

THE TOMORROW WAR is also a bit long, clocking in at two hours and twenty minutes, and I can’t say that the whole thing was one nonstop thrill ride, although the pace is nonstop. It’s one of those movies that keeps pushing its way forward without taking a breath or giving the audience a chance to get to know the characters. I don’t usually like movies that are paced this way, but THE TOMORROW WAR supersedes this problem with its impressive action scenes, having Chris Pratt in the lead role, and finally deciding to take that much needed breath in the film’s final reel, in which the time travel elements come into full play and some of the characterizations finally come into the forefront.

And so while I knocked some of the time travel elements with this one, and the plot point about nations sending soldiers into the future, all in all I enjoyed the screenplay by Zach Dean. I definitely enjoyed the story, as well as the unusual plot construct of having things slow down a bit towards the end, setting up a very satisfying conclusion. I enjoyed the theme which ran through this one of not having second chances, and when some of the characters are finally able to get those second chances at film’s end, it makes for some rewarding moments.

The dialogue runs hot and cold. Sometimes the banter is tired and cliche, and other times there are some really memorable lines. One of my favorites is right near the end when James Forester (J.K. Simmons) asks his son Dan if he just told the creature to die, and when Dan says yes, James quips, “It worked. Why didn’t you tell it sooner?” In another scene, one of the characters is being chased down a staircase by a rampaging alien, and the character is repeatedly crying out, “Sh*t! Sh*t! Sh*t” all the way down. It had me laughing out loud.

Chris Pratt channels his amiable hero personality which he has used so successfully in both the Marvel GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and AVENGERS movies, and the recent JURASSIC PARK films, to once again anchor an action packed summer blockbuster movie. I like Pratt a lot, and he doesn’t disappoint.

On the other hand, Yvonne Strahovski doesn’t fare as well as Forester’s adult daughter Muri. While she does get ample screen time, her scenes and dialogue are mostly reduced to her character reacting to her dad. The story really is about Pratt’s Dan Forester. He’s the central figure, and the film doesn’t seem to want to allow other characters to cross into that territory. That’s probably the biggest problem I had with THE TOMORROW WAR. It’s not very “today” in utilizing female characters. Yvonne Strahovski’s Muri should have played a much more prominent role and not just played second fiddle to Chris Pratt.

Even worse, Betty Gilpin plays Dan’s wife Emmy and she gets very little screen time, which for me, was a huge missed opportunity. You have Betty Gilpin in your cast and she’s reduced to playing a supportive wife? She should have been in the forefront of the future action sequences kicking alien butt alongside Chris Pratt. For me, this was the biggest disappointment about THE TOMORROW WAR.

Veteran actor J.K. Simmons is excellent as Dan’s estranged dad James, and of all the characters in the movie, he probably enjoys the most satisfying story arc. And both Sam Richardson and Edwin Hodge add fine support in smaller roles.

While it’s not perfect, THE TOMORROW WAR doesn’t have to be. Its riveting action sequences and intriguing time travel story are enough to make this one an enjoyable summer popcorn movie.

So, don’t wait for tomorrow to see THE TOMORROW WAR.

See it today.

—END—

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

1

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.

—END—