Stowaway

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Netflix;
Sci-fi;
Not rated.
Stars Anna Kendrick, Toni Collette, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson.

It comes as no surprise that science-fiction is often a breeding ground for morality tales steeped in the guise of fantastical fiction, the trappings of the genre providing unique options for new ways to explore a topic. The ethical dilemma at the core of Stowaway is one that has been debated in countless philosophy classes and is itself a sci-fi staple: Can taking an innocent life be justified if it means saving more?

The film, steeped in realism by director and co-writer Joe Penna, depicts what is supposed to be a routine mission to a Mars colony in the not-to-distant future. The crew consists of Commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) and medical researcher Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick).

Their method of travel between the planets is a Mars cycler — an intriguing concept that involves parking a large habitable vehicle in a stable orbit around the sun that takes it near Earth and Mars every few months. Since the ship, once it’s established as a cycler, doesn’t need to burn the massive amount of fuel required for an interplanetary journey (aside from slight course corrections), it offers an efficient method for travel between the two destinations, with crews simply needing to shuttle from the surface to the cycler when it’s in range (while also refreshing its consumables from time to time).

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As the crew of MTS-42 settles into their two-year mission, they discover that a launch support engineer named Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) was knocked out performing some pre-flight maintenance, and has accidentally become the stowaway of the title. With no way for the cycler to turn around, Michael is stuck with them on the trip to Mars, so they make him part of the crew. It turns out, however, that his presence threatens the entire mission. First, during the launch his unconscious body damaged a device that scrubs carbon dioxide from the ship’s breathable air. With no way to repair it, and with Michael’s unexpected presence putting more strain on the ship’s oxygen reserves, the crew will run out of air weeks before reaching Mars.

Mission control determines there’s no way to mount a rescue mission in time to save the mission. Biologist Kim’s planned experiments to grow algae on Mars, if implemented on the ship, might provide enough extra oxygen to get three people to Mars. That leaves the crew with the harsh reality of finding another desperate solution on their own, or ejecting Michael out of the airlock.

The dilemma, as it applies to spaceflight, has its origins in Tom Godwin’s 1954 short story The Cold Equations, which involved a medical supply ship loaded with vaccines and just enough fuel to reach an outlying world as quickly as possible hampered by too much weight when a teenage girl sneaks aboard because she wants to see her brother, forcing the pilot to consider her life against those of thousands of colonists dying from an outbreak. The short was the basis for a pretty faithful adaptation on an episode of the 1980s “Twilight Zone.”

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Like Cold Equations, Stowaway is bound to inspire discussion about the tragic circumstances that can often arise from the inherent dangers of spaceflight, and the best ways to deal with them, especially when there are no easy answers. Of course, like all works of fiction designed to twist the audience’s natural sensibilities, fate and plain old bad luck have their roles to play as well.

While the dilemma requires intricate plotting to serve the story, as a piece of speculative fiction Stowaway is methodically paced and a bit claustrophobic, bringing the audience along with the POV of the crew — which means Penna eschews any flashy visual effects or long lingering exterior shots of the spacecraft. The cast’s performances are engaging, with Kendrick playing the typical energetic, optimistic personality she usually plays, just as an astronaut.

Interestingly, Penna conceived of the film as the first of a loose trilogy of films involving Mars missions, though the story for the sequel apparently became the basis for Penna’s 2018 film Arctic, with Mads Mikkelsen awaiting rescue in the polar north regions of Earth, rather than somewhere on Mars had the trilogy panned out.

TV Time: Warner’s ‘Mortal Kombat’ Most Anticipated Movie in April

Warner Bros.’ Mortal Kombat was the most anticipated movie in April on the TV Time chart.

Based on the video game franchise of the same name, the film follows Shaolin Monk Liu Kang, from Earth, who gets invited as a competitor in a mysterious, intergalactic tournament of ancient martial arts. It premieres April 23 in theaters and on WarnerMedia’s HBO Max streaming service.

A Whip Media company, TV Time is a free TV viewership tracking app that tracks consumers’ viewing habits worldwide and is visited by nearly 1 million consumers every day, according to the company. TV Time’s “Anticipation Report” is based on data from those users.

Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse, premiering on Amazon Prime April 30, took the second spot on the chart. The action thriller is based on the 1993 novel of the same name by Tom Clancy and is a spin-off of the Jack Ryan film series.

Coming in at No. 3 was Netflix’s Thunder Force, premiering April 9 on the streaming service. Starring Melissa McCarthy, Octavia Spenser and Jason Bateman, the film follows two childhood best friends who reunite as an unlikely crime-fighting superhero duo when one invents a formula that gives ordinary people superpowers.

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Also from Netflix, Stowaway, premiering April 22, took the fourth spot on the chart. In the film starring Anna Kendrick, Daniel Dae Kim, Shamier Anderson and Toni Collette, a three-person crew on a mission to Mars faces an impossible choice when an unplanned passenger jeopardizes the lives of everyone on board.

Another space story, Lionsgate’s Voyagers, landed at No. 5. Starring Colin Farrell, Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp and Fionn Whitehead, the film follows a crew of astronauts on a multi-generational mission who descend into paranoia and madness, not knowing what is real or not. It hits theaters April 9.

Rounding out the chart at No. 6 was Concrete Cowboy, which began streaming on Netflix April 2. Starring Idris Elba and Caleb McLaughlin (“Stranger Things”), it follows a rebellious teen, sent to live with his estranged father for the summer, who finds kinship in a tight-knit Philadelphia community of Black cowboys.

 Most Anticipated April Movies

  1. Mortal Kombat – April 23 (Warner Bros., theaters and HBO Max)
  2. Tom Clancy’s Without Remorse – April 30 (Amazon Prime)
  3. Thunder Force – April 9 (Netflix)
  4. Stowaway – April 22 (Netflix)
  5. Voyagers – April 9 (Lionsgate, theaters)
  6. Concrete Cowboy – April 2 (Netflix)

 

TV Time features a global community of 16 million users who have reported more than 18 billion views of TV and movie content across 230,000 titles.

Knives Out

BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Street Date 2/25/20;
Lionsgate;
Mystery Comedy;
Box Office $163.71 million;
$29.95 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $42.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for thematic elements including brief violence, some strong language, sexual references, and drug material.
Stars Daniel Craig, Ana de Armas, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer, Riki Lindhome, Edi Patterson, Noah Segan, K Callan, M. Emmet Walsh, Frank Oz.

Director Rian Johnson’s penchant for subverting expectations has manifested itself in the delightful Knives Out, a modernized take on the classic murder mystery format.

The set-up is familiar. In a quirky mansion in the countryside of New England, the maid discovers the body of her wealthy employer — crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) — dead from seemingly cutting his own throat.

As Harlan’s family comes out of the woodwork for the funeral and reading of the will, the police initially rule it a suicide. Yet the case remains open at the behest of private sleuth Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), Johnson’s southern-flavored homage to the likes of Columbo and Hercule Peroit. Hired by an anonymous party to ensure all aspects of Harlan’s death are explored, Blanc quickly uncovers dissension within the family, several members of which having had loud arguments with Harlan in the day leading up to his death.

The expertly-crafted, Oscar-nominated screenplay toys with the conventions of the genre, revealing what actually happened within the first 30 minutes or so, then uses the next hour-and-a-half to clue the audience in the fuller context of the events viewers have already seen, thus providing the true focus of the mystery.

Blanc recruits Harlan’s nurse, Marta (Ana de Armas), to aid in his investigation, though she is more aware of what happened than she lets on. A unique physical tic causes her to puke whenever she lies, providing one of the film’s central running gags but also lending a fair amount of tension to the proceedings as Marta has a fair number of secrets she’d rather not help expose either. The pairing of Craig and de Armas must have been agreeable enough for them, as she’s slated to appear in his next James Bond movie. And for Craig, tapped to reprise Blanc investigating new cases in future sequels, the role offers a nice new franchise once he wraps up his tenure as the super spy.

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This is the kind of film that not only invites multiple viewings, but practically demands them. Luckily, the Blu-ray offers a couple of nice options for the rewatch in the form of audio commentaries that dissect the story structure and reveal many of the details layered into the film’s intricate construction. Both are well worth a listen. One is a solo commentary by Johnson, originally released online while the film was still in theaters so fans could listen to it through headphones when they returned to their local cinema to partake in a fresh viewing. The second commentary, recorded for the home video release, features Johnson, cinematographer Steve Yedlin, and actor Noah Segan, who plays one of the cops investigating the murder.

Visually, Knives Out is gorgeous, shot digitally yet rendered to evoke the feeling of classic film, bringing forth textures and color that immerse the viewer in the story’s uneasy atmosphere while making one wish they too could be crawling around that quirky old mansion searching for clues.

The Blu-ray includes the outstanding “Making a Murder,” an eight-part, feature-length behind-the-scenes documentary that provides in-depth details on all aspects of the production, from writing it, to casting it, to making the costumes and sets, and recording the music. It runs a shade under two hours in total.

The “Rian Johnson: Planning the Perfect Murder” featurette supplements this a bit, with a six-minute video on how Johnson created the story to be, as he describes it, a Hitchcock thriller within a whodunit. There’s also a 42-minute Q&A from a SAG screening in November that gives the massive cast a chance to sing their own praises while recounting their joy in making the movie.

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The Blu-ray also includes two deleted scenes comprising about five total minutes, with optional commentary by Johnson. These add some interesting subtext to some of the film’s subplots, but it’s easy to understand the decision to omit them from the final cut.

Finally, the disc offers a trove of marketing materials, including trailers and viral ads starring several of the characters in the film.

All-in-all, it’s an impressive package that harkens back to the glory days of DVDs that really gave fans a lot of bang for their buck.

‘Knives Out’ Coming Home on Digital Feb. 7, Disc — Including 4K — Feb. 25

The murder mystery Knives Out, which earned writer-director Rian Johnson an Oscar nom for Best Original screenplay, is heading home.

Lionsgate will release the whodunnit on digital Feb. 7 and 4K Ultra HD combo pack, Blu-ray combo pack, DVD and on demand Feb. 25.

The film, which has earned $278 million at the global box office, also received Golden Globe nominations for Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy (Ana de Armas) and Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy (Daniel Craig). Written, produced, and directed by Johnson (Star Wars: The Last JediLooper), Knives Out also has received awards from AFI, National Board of Review, New York Film Critics, Philadelphia Film Festival, The Hollywood Critics Association and Rotten Tomatoes’ Golden Tomatoes Awards.

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In addition to Craig and de Armas, the film’s ensemble cast includes Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, LaKeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell and Christopher Plummer. It follows the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of crime novelist Harlan Thrombey (Plummer). There’s one thing that renowned Detective Benoit Blanc (Craig) knows for sure — everyone in the wildly dysfunctional Thrombey family is a suspect. Blanc must sift through a web of lies and red herrings to uncover the truth.

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Special features include an audio commentary and in-theater commentary by filmmaker Rian Johnson, two deleted scenes, the eight-part “Making a Murder” documentary, the “Rian Johnson: Planning the Perfect Murder” featurette, and a Q&A with the director and cast.

Horror Title ‘Hereditary’ Due on 4K UHD, Blu-ray and DVD Sept. 4 From Lionsgate

The horror title Hereditary arrives on 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack (plus Blu-ray and digital), Blu-ray Combo Pack (plus DVD and digital) and DVD Sept. 4 from Lionsgate.

The film, from writer-director Ari Aster, stars Toni Collette as the beleaguered mother in a grieving family haunted by tragic and disturbing events. The film also stars Alex Wolff (Patriot’s DayMy Friend Dahmer), newcomer Milly Shapiro, Ann Dowd (TV’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”) and Gabriel Byrne (The Man in the Iron Mask, TV’s “Vikings”). When Ellen, the matriarch of the Graham family, passes away, her daughter’s family begins to unravel cryptic and increasingly terrifying secrets about their ancestry. The more they discover, the more they find themselves trying to outrun the sinister fate they seem to have inherited.

The Hereditary 4K Ultra HD Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack, and DVD will be available for the suggested retail price of $42.99, $39.99, and $29.95, respectively. The 4K UHD version includes Dolby Vision HDR.

Special features include deleted scenes, the making-of featurette “Cursed: The True Nature of Hereditary” and the “Evil in Miniature” photo gallery.

Netflix Announces New Toni Collette Series, Movie Reuniting Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston

Netflix announced a new series starring Toni Collette and a new movie reuniting Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston.

Toni Collette, Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever have been cast in “Unbelievable,” a series based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning article by The Marshall Project and ProPublica, “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.” Collette and Wever will play detectives whose lives become intertwined in their mutual pursuit of a possible serial rapist.

Sandler and Aniston, who teamed in Just Go With It, will reunite in Murder Mystery, due in 2019. It follows a NYC cop (Sandler) who finally takes his wife (Aniston) on a long promised European trip. A chance meeting on the flight with a mysterious man (Luke Evans) gets them invited to an intimate family gathering on the Super Yacht of elderly billionaire Malcolm Quince. When Quince is murdered, they become the prime suspects.

Directed by Kyle Newacheck, the film also stars Gemma Arterton (Their Finest, The Girl With All The Gifts), Luis Gerardo Mendez (Club de Cuervos, Nosotros Los Nobles, Time Share), Shioli Kutsuna (Deadpool 2), David Walliams (Little Britain), Adeel Akhtar (The Big Sick, Murdered By My Father, Four Lions), John Kani (Captain America: Civil War, Black Panther, The Lion King), Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (The Meg, True Detective, The BFG), Dany Boon (R.A.I.D. Special Unit, Bienvenue chez les Ch’tis) and Terence Stamp (Miss Peregrine’s, The Limey, A Song For Marion).