Film capsules

by Megan Bianco

Stowaway leaves quite a bit to be desiredMovies set in space are almost as bad as films built around time travel movies. The amount of suspended disbelief they require if you want to believe the plot lines often gets in the way of the viewing experience. That said, space films based on real events, like Philip Kaufman’s “The Right Stuff” (1983) or Ron Howard’s “Apollo 13” (1995) are the exceptions— and for obvious reasons.

If you want to enjoy other space film hits, though, like Duncan Jones’ “Moon” (2009), Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity” (2013), Christopher Nolan’s “Interstellar” (2014), Ridley Scott’s “The Martian” (2015), and yes, even Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), you have to be ready to swallow the idea that the plots are more fantasy than reality. And, as with those other space hits, Joe Penna’s new sci-fi drama, “Stowaway,” is also inherently hard to grasp based on some serious plot issues.

As the film opens, we are introduced to a small crew of astronauts, including commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), medical researcher Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick), and biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim). The crew is taking off for a two-year trip to explore no-man’s land on planet Mars.

Things take a turn when one day after lift-off they discover an unconscious stowaway, launch plan engineer Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson). And, neither he nor the crew can figure out how he got there. As the crew tries to accommodate their unexpected passenger, things go from bad to worse thanks to some serious issues, like lack of oxygen and radiation leakage.

It was instantly hard for me to believe that no one helping to prep for this mission, either on the ground or in the crew, would notice an entire human hidden near the back of a spaceship — especially not before departing. There would have been, after all, an entire team back on Earth that was responsible for preparing the ship.

That’s not the only issue with “Stowaway,” wither. Aside from this far-fetched plotline, the film is also bleak and has the equivalent of a sloth’s pacing, with only 10 minutes of action — all packed toward the end. And that’s pretty much the main problem with this film. It’s a lot easier to suspend belief when watching a film filled with action-packed scenes, but this film is not exciting like “The Martian” or “Gravity,” nor is it even suspenseful like “Interstellar.” Rather, Penna chooses to portray an eerie, isolated study of these four crew members as they try to resolve the dangerous dilemmas as quickly as possible. And, while the characters are fine — at least as far as personalities go — ultimately, that alone was not interesting enough to keep my attention for the two-hour runtime.

There are a couple of highlights tucked within “Stowaway,” though. For starters, Kendrick gets to finally showcase her range as an actor. After Kendrick followed up the “Twilight” flicks with an Oscar nomination in Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air” (2009), it was underwhelming to see Kendrick choose goofy comedies and animated musicals, like Jason Moore’s “Pitch Perfect” (2012) and Mike Mitchell’s “Trolls” (2016). So, one upside is that “Stowaway” reminds us that Kendrick has a knack for dramas — and it’s nice to see her talent showcased. Toni Collette was also able to showcase her natural Aussie accent in character, which was a nice addition — especially considering that she’s typically a critical darling affecting many dialects.

If you want to catch this film, “Stowaway” premiered straight to Netflix. And, that move, while not typical for films featuring stars of this caliber, made sense by the end of the film. It also makes us wish Kendrick and Collette had stronger material to work with, but that’s neither here nor there.

Hope in the Holy Land is a surprisingly well-balanced documentaryAs the old Monty Python saying goes, “And now for something completely different.”

If you need a reminder of how convoluted politics can be outside of America, look no further than “Hope in the Holy Land,” Jason Schluntz’s new documentary. This film tackles one of the most complicated — and most difficult — current issues in the modern world: the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

The Israeli-Palestine conflict is an issue that has been ongoing for decades. It’s a tangled web to try and unravel, given both the time it’s continued for and the many perspectives that can confuse the uninformed, especially those outside of the region.

If you’re interested in figuring out just what the heck is happening over there, this film may be an eye-opener. In it, Schluntz and his filmmaking partner Todd Morehead try to answer why the concept of “love your enemy” is so difficult to grasp for this region of the world. The documentary starts with our narrator and host, Morehead, as he explains how he’s a Christian from California who is fascinated by both sides of the Israel dilemma, which is why he has traveled abroad to document the conflict.

Prior to dipping their toes into contemporary commentary on the issue at hand, Schluntz and Morehead also give us a brief history lesson on the origin and development of Israel and Palestine as nations. From there, we get fascinating insight from locals and officials in the area, who share both their experiences and their opinions on the ongoing war between the Jewish nation and the Arab nation. This includes some insight on Christians living in Israel or Palestine, which is a relatively small segment of people who are not typically covered in the discussions on the conflict.

In all, “Hope in the Holy Land” is one of the most fair and balanced documentaries I’ve seen in recent years — and not just on this subject matter, either. Schluntz does a standout job as director, making sure his documentary gives both Israeli and Palestinian voices equal time and attention. This keeps the documentary from coming across as biased at any point.

That said, the Christian angle might be a surprise and off putting to some. Still, it does have a natural angle and feels relevant to the topic at hand, at least in this film, anyway.

Adding to the mix is Morehead, who is a fine interviewer. He’s friendly and meshes well with the citizens he speaks with throughout Holy Land, whatever side of the conflict they’re on. Plus, the director and narrator make sure to note how the Western media that reports on Israeli and Palestine can come off as a bit out of their league. They also have a habit of skewing toward Israeli sentiment, which is obviously less than fair and balanced reporting.

These components, combined with stunning cinematography from Andrew Thompson, make “Hope in the Holy Land” one of the must-see documentaries of 2021.

Megan BiancoHippies vs. punks in pop cultureThe hippies of the 1960s era, and the punks of the 1970s era, might be the two most significant alternative cultural movements of the 20th century.

Both movements had similar ideologies and messages focused around bucking the system and traditional societal roles, though the two groups used entirely different tactics to drive the points home. Hippies typically believed in peaceful protest strategies, while punks took the route of loud and rowdy.

And, as we’ve seen time and again, from huge movements like these come great art and entertainment to add to the pop culture canon. Perhaps that’s why there were an impressive number of classic films and albums that grew from the mid-1960s to early 1980s.

By 1967, the acceptance of things like recreational drug use, anti-war sentiments, and the sexual revolution broke through globally. Terms like “flower power” and “counterculture” were coined, and artists had no problem gravitating to the new phenomenon.

During that era, bands like the Beatles, the Byrds, Jefferson Airplane, the Doors, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the Grateful Dead, and Buffalo Springfield penned classic psychedelic rock albums, like “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967), “Younger Than Yesterday” (1967), “Surrealistic Pillow” (1967), “The Doors” (1967), “Are You Experienced?” (1967), “American Beauty” (1970), and “Buffalo Springfield Again” (1967).

Filmmakers also jumped the chance to use the cultural shift as a creative outlet, with Mike Nichols’ “The Graduate” (1967), Dennis Hopper’s “Easy Rider” (1969), Paul Mazursky’s “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” (1969), Monte Hellman’s “Two-Lane Blacktop” (1971), the documentaries of DA Pennebaker’s “Monterey Pop” (1967) and Michael Wadleigh’s “Woodstock” (1970), and even the second season of NBC’s “The Monkees” (1966-68) all emerging from that period in history.

A decade later, the punk scene started emerging in New York City and London before spreading like wildfire all over the world. It started with some noticeable influences — music acts like MC5, the Stooges, and the New York Dolls — and was followed a few years later by groups like the Ramones, the Sex Pistols and the Clash, who made it clear that rainbow face paint and natural hair were out. Leather jackets, black eyeliner and brightly colored hair dye, on the other hand, were in.

And, with those changes came the rejection of the hippie culture. The peace sign was replaced with the middle finger. Albums like “Ramones” (1976), “Never Mind the Bollocks” (1977), and “London Calling” (1979) were instant hits with the rebellious youth and remain classics to this day.

The film industry took a little longer to grasp this next subculture of anti-establishment, though. Movie fans still got cult flicks from the era, like Lou Adler’s “Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains” (1982), Susan Seidelman’s “Smithereens” (1982), Penelope Spheeris’ “Suburbia” (1983), James Merendino’s “SLC Punk!” (1998) and Spheeris’ own documentary, “The Decline of Western Civilization” (1981) — but they were hardly a hit with the mainstream at the time.

And, that leads us to where we are today, both with counterculture movements and the arts that follow.

The fact that the last few decades or so have been filled with political strife in America, but nothing like the hippies or the punks have come from it. It makes one wonder why we haven’t experienced a huge boom in the arts, at least since the start of the 21st century. We don’t have the answer to that question, but it sure would be nice to usher in an exciting new era of counterculturalism and see what grows from it — and later, what ultimately stuck in the pop culture canon after it was over.

Megan Bianco


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