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Stowaway's Taut Drama

And Mortal Kombat's bloody mess



I didn't watch the Academy Awards broadcast this year; from what I've read, you likely didn't either. That I say I don't care about the Oscars, seeing them as increasingly culturally insignificant and out of step, and yet feel compelled to constantly mention them in this context is something I wrestle with. In fact, I paid closer attention to the "race" this year than I have in, well, maybe decades. This could be symptomatic of a year in which we've welcomed almost any diversion from our suddenly hazardous reality. But the nominees and winners this year, like the recent growth of the Academy itself, suggest something greater to me.

I alluded to it weeks ago, after the nominees were announced, but the notion that the collection of movies could represent something other than a quasi-political, reactionary recognition of a truncated and painful year has begun to cohere. The Oscars got small this year, both in the scale of the ceremony and in the median scope of the Best Picture nominees. Many are inclined to treat 2020 as an asterisk year, when of course we watched most of our movies at home on streaming services. But I have a feeling the year that was simply accelerated a significant change in the business of movies and our participation in it. We're overdue for a recalibration and this may be it.

More pointed and hopeful — yeah, I said it — though, are the Best Picture and Best Director statuettes Chloé Zhao took home for Nomadland. Her work is indisputable and richly deserving of recognition. And, of course, it's about damn time women and non-white artists started collecting more of the hardware. But the crux of the conversation lies in a movie about loneliness, loss, community and hope being collectively recognized after we've endured a half-decade sentence of callousness, greed and violence with a pandemic exclamation point. If, as it hopes to, the Academy is actually becoming a truer, more inclusive representation of our culture, maybe change is coming.

And now, for something decidedly un-Oscars-y ...

STOWAWAY. Despite putting little stock into Netflix's recently adopted Top Ten feature, I must admit it works. Sure, I dismiss probably six of 10, but the list itself invariably directs my eyes to something I likely would not have otherwise noticed. Such was the case with Stowaway and my perhaps unfairly lowered expectations. To be fair, I would likely have stumbled on it some months down the road, in a concerned search of Anna Kendrick's recent filmography. Here and now, though, Netflix's seemingly hokey marketing method, like so much of what they do, worked exactly as intended. And while I haven't found a new favorite or late-night rewatch, I'm glad it worked.

At the outset of a privatized two-year Mars mission, commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette) discovers an uninvited passenger. He, Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson), maintains his presence on the ship as purely accidental; circumstances and narrative structure would have us take him more or less at his word. Regardless of intentions, though, Michael immediately complicates matters for Barnett and the rest of the crew, they being medical officer Zoe Levenson (Kendrick) and David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim), a botanist (I guess?) researching viable food crops. With the captain injured and their life support systems compromised, tension mounts and the possibility of survival diminishes.

The internet is already crackling with take-downs of Stowaway's science; as long as it isn't hurting anyone, I guess I don't care. More relevant to me is the fact that it is a taut, well-acted, generally immersive experience. It shares elements with a number of the space movies you might already be thinking of but, to its credit, manages to explore the territory without feeling derivative or redundant. TVMA. 116M. NETFLIX.

MORTAL KOMBAT. That the prestige release of the weekend reboots a 25-year-old video game adaptation about supernatural fighters ripping each others' spines out might — just might — contravene my earlier gushing optimism about cultural reunion. We remain fairly repellent as a species; I say this as someone who just watched Mortal Kombat.

Full disclosure: I've never seen the first version, though I vaguely remember its release and am somewhat intrigued by the presence of Christopher Lambert. I've played the game, though, because it seemed to be literally everywhere, back when. I didn't realize then that the game had a plot and I don't understand now why the movie does. It's a bunch of claptrap about otherworldly — what — demons (?) rigging the recurring, titular fight tournament to increase their odds of invading Earth. Why they care about that conquest, and why we should care that they care, remains unexplained.

The opening sequence with Hiroyuki Sanada, set in 17th century Japan, is actually riveting: Beautifully photographed and impeccably choreographed, it strikes a tone never again touched upon for the remainder of the movie.

There's a lot of blood and inauthentic coarse talk (really leaning into the R rating for unknown reasons) and not much else to recommend. I waited almost two hours and no spines were extracted, nor was the title screamed over a techno track — disappointing! R. 110M. HBOMAX, BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

John J. Bennett (he/him) is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase.

For showtimes call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.

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