Home Video Round-Up 6/7/2021

Stowaway (5/28/2021)

Stowaway is a movie that sort of snuck up on me.  It doesn’t have big name director behind it, it hasn’t benefited from any kind of festival run, and while the film appears to have been produced independently it’s being distributed by Netflix, who have done basically nothing to hype its release and are basically treating it like a piece of disposable content to appear in the middle of April without even a token theatrical run.  Despite that it has been championed by some critics and I can see why.  It’s a film with a pretty interesting concept: a crew of three astronauts in some near but not too near future have launched into space bound for a base on Mars but soon discover there’s a fourth person on board, a technician working on the launch who had some sort of accident that left him unconscious in the ship’s crawlspace.  They can’t turn around but think they can make this work until the ship’s life support system has a malfunction and it becomes clear that there won’t be enough air on board to sustain all four of them the whole way, setting up quite the moral dilemma.  The film was made with a relatively low budget for a space movie, but it doesn’t look too cheap or like necessary corners were cut in order to make what is ultimately more of a hard sci-fi character drama than a space opera.  It also supports a reasonably impressive cast with the likes of Toni Collette, Anna Kendrick, and Daniel Dae Kim making up the crew and Shamier Anderson playing the stowaway.  The movie sort of leaves you in suspense because you keep expecting it to make a goofy left turn and get stupid, but for the most part it doesn’t: the stowaway doesn’t turn out to be a spy, none of the crew turns out to be a secret psychopath, aliens don’t show up, and for the most part it doesn’t cheat or take the easy way out of the various moral quandaries that the situation entails.  I won’t spoil too much more, I don’t think this will go down as a science fiction classic or anything, it’s a bit too small and enclosed, but then I said that about Ex Machina as well and that thing has held up pretty well, maybe this will too.

***1/2 out of Five

Seaspiracy (5/29/2021)

I wasn’t really sure what Seaspiracy was about before watching it other than that it was a documentary about some sort of ocean based conspiracy and was a bit mystified when it more or less opened with its director going to the Japanese island of Taiji to unravel the “mystery” of what is happening to dolphins in a nearby cove… which was mystifying to me because that “mystery” was already solved and was the subject of the 2009 Academy Award winning documentary The Cove, so it wasn’t very clear to me why this guy was playing dumb.  Fortunately that ends up not really being the subject of the movie, which has something of a structure where it introduces something bad happening to the ocean only to then pull back and show that that’s only the tip of the iceberg and that the real problem is this other bigger thing, except actually the problem is this other even bigger thing, and so on.  The ultimate target here is the commercial fishing industry writ large, which the film views as being a completely unregulated cabal that’s openly lawless and that whatever watchdog groups there are to look after it are corrupt and worthless.  The film rejects the basic concept of sustainable fishing and instead goes full vegan and advocates for people to stop eating seafood altogether, which is kind of like the abstinence only sex-ed of environmentalism: technically correct but not taking into account actual human behavior.  The movie itself is compelling, but rather extremist and a bit agit-prop.  Director Ali Tabrizi is clearly a fan of Michael Moore and adopts a lot of that filmmaker’s more annoying habits; he constantly injects himself into narratives, pulls gotcha stunts on interview subjects that appear to operating in good faith, and draws attention to it whenever someone opts not to talk with him under the assumption that they “have something to hide.”  The film has a rather alarmist tone that I don’t find entirely believable and I also think it’s plainly obvious that the “journey” into the subject this guy is claiming to go through to be rather insincere.  But, despite that I do think the film is correct to be drawing attention to the basic subject matter and well, sometimes you have to yell if you want to be heard.  I can’t recommend this as a documentary, but it is free on Netflix and is certainly rather watchable if you are intrigued.

**1/2 out of Five

Those Who Wish Me Dead (6/1/2021)

Angelina Jolie is an actor who in some way feels like a bit of a relic of a time when “movie stars” were enough to make a movie bankable, but we now live in a time when franchises make movies rather than stars and outside of her work in the Maleficent franchise she hasn’t done much high profile acting at all in the last ten years opting instead to try directing and producing.  But apparently she was feeling nostalgic or something so she took a very traditional starring role in a very traditional star vehicle called Those Who Wish Me Dead which has resulted in rather mediocre results.  The film, which has a much cooler title than it deserves, is set in Montana and deals with a situation where a pair of assassins have been sent against a forensic accountant who has evidence against organized crime and his son and this pursuit ends up colliding with a sheriff and his wife as well as a forest fire fighter played by Jolie.  The film was directed by Taylor Sheridan, who made some fairly interesting thrillers as a screenwriter (Sicario, Hell or High Water) and as a director (Wind River), but this feels like a step backwards for him.  There’s still some clear competence behind the camera and Sheridan elicits some decent performances and brings some workable action scenes to the film, but the whole thing lacks any real vision or flair and just generally lacks anything memorable and noteworthy.  The whole thing feels like a throwback to the late 90s or maybe early 2000s.  “Die Hard in a forest” wouldn’t be a perfect analogy since there are only two villains but it kind of speaks to the era of thriller this is harkening back to.  The movie likely will provide passable enough entertainment if watched through free streaming on a Saturday afternoon or something, but temper all expectations.

**1/2 out of Five

A Glitch in the Matrix (6/3/2021)

A Glitch in the Matrix is the latest documentary from Rodney Ascher, who previously made Room 237 (about crazy interpretations of The Shining) and The Nightmare (about sleep paralysis), and generally seems to be very interested in people who have unique experiences they sort of obsess over as well as a keen interest in pop culture and how it interacts with people’s lives and his latest film certainly fits both of those interests.  The movie looks at simulation hypothesis, which is the belief that all of human experience is just a simulation we all believe in, which can either be entertained a hypothetical philosophical exercise or genuinely believed by certain individuals, and it is of course an idea that was somewhat popularized by the film The Matrix.  Most of the movie is made up of interviews with various people who have had an interest in these topics, but it’s not clear what their qualifications are.  Ascher’s last too films were also made up by interviews with nobodies, but it made more sense their because the first film was about obsessive kooks and the second was about people with a specific medical ailment but here it feels like input from actual scientists and philosophers would have been more helpful than from these people who appear to be tech bros who more than likely have very detailed thoughts on cryptocurrency.  What’s more, for whatever reason Ascher employs a technique where his interview subjects are presented not as humans but as CGI avatars.  I guess the people requested their anonymity and this was done as a fanciful way to do that but… man, it just looks stupid.  I wasn’t really feeling this, but I do sort of respect it as an extension of Ascher’s previous work and hope to see what he does in the future.

**1/2 out of Five

The Woman in the Window (6/7/2021)

If you follow the trades you likely knew that The Woman in the Window had the whiff of failure on it throughout the industry given that 20th Century Fox was basically begging Netflix to take it off their hands despite it having been directed by Academy Award adjacent filmmaker Joe Wright and starred a murderer’s row of talent including Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Brian Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore, and Anthony Mackie.  Some suspected this nervousness had to do with some emerging controversies surrounding the author of the book this was based on, but no, the movie really is just rather poor.  The film is a thriller which draws clear influence (bordering on ripoff) from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and The Lady Vanishes and looks at an agoraphobic woman who sees a murder happen in the house across from her New York brownstone.  It’s not easy to point a finger at one thing that makes this movie not work, it’s more of a death by a thousand cuts.  The central mystery in the middle of the whole thing is just not very interesting and the film’s general tone is just too over the top to be taken seriously but not over the top enough to be campy fun.  Gary Oldman is shouty and over the top in most of his scenes and characters played by Wyatt Russell and Fred Hechinger are just wildly miscalculated.  Anthony Mackie is billed third in the movie but he’s barely in it, which suggests to me that much of the sub-plot he was in got left on the cutting room floor.  I blame almost all of this on Wright, who clearly wasn’t really sure how seriously to take this material and never came close to striking the right tone.  He manages to make a couple moments here and there work but they were few and far between and the movie itself is best left forgotten.

*1/2 out of Five


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s