Sunday Movie Roundup (1/22/2017)


Not a bad week for film, especially science fiction.  Here is the tally.

Approaching The Unknown (2016)

Director:  Mark Rosenberg

This one got mixed reviews, for reasons that will become clear once I explain the plot.  The story is about as direct and straightforward as one can get:  a lone astronaut is shot into space on a one-way trip to Mars.  On the way, he fights boredom, melancholy, and loneliness.  The contamination of his water supply forces him to decide whether to abort the mission or to press on.

Some critics objected to the somber tone, the lack of “action,” and the lack of a clear resolution at the film’s conclusion.  But they’re missing the point:  the journey here is the action.  This is a film about loneliness and man’s search for meaning in life.  The voice-overs are personal meditations on fate  and purpose, and should be seen in this light.  Some of the best science fiction takes as its theme the insignificance of man when framed against the vastness of space.  I found this film to be absorbing and watchable; once we keep the director’s goals in mind, it’s clear that he succeeds in what he sets out to do.  This view is not shared by everyone, but for me this worked.

Crave (2012)

Director:  Charles de Lauzirika

Less potent is this disappointing foray into well-trod cinematic ground.  The plot:  a marginalized crime-scene photographer retreats into violent fantasies to compensate for the drabness of his urban environment.  Between photo assignments, Aiden (Josh Lawson) tries to start a relationship with a skeptical girl in his apartment building, hangs out with his cop buddy, and contemplates his shoelaces.

Attempts to sound deep ring hollow, and for good reasons.  We’ve seen this sort of thing before, and presented in better ways.  The protagonist here is unsympathetic and annoying, and gives us little reason to sympathize with him.  As an actor, Josh Lawson is simply unable to convey the kind of coiled angst that a role like this requires; he remains the glib millenial at all times, never quite as “on the edge” as he likes to think he is.  He’s disconnected from his environment, to be sure; but this is not due to some profound insight into the nature of man, but simply because he’s a narcissistic prick.

But Crave has bigger problems, and these have to do with construction and plot.  There are a few scenes of absurdly over-the-top violence that unbalance the film.  There is a pointless subplot about the main character trying to blackmail an annoying businessman, but this goes nowhere and is left unresolved.  All in all, the director tries to do too  many things, with the inevitable result that we are left scratching our heads, profoundly underwhelmed.

Predestination (2014)

Director:  The Spierig Brothers

Now this is a science fiction film.  Predestination has acquired something of a cult following since its quite release a couple of years ago, and now I know why.  I knew little to nothing about this movie before I queued it up in Netflix:  my only reason for wanting to see it was that I like Ethan Hawke and make a point of seeing as many of his movies as I can.  He just knows how to pick the right projects.  I remember reading a recent profile of him on one of those “in-flight” magazines you find on airplanes.  He’s a smart, disciplined guy, and I respect that.

Based on the mind-bending 1959 short story “–All You Zombies–“, this time-travel drama ranks among the best yarns of the genre in recent years.  I still think the Spanish film Timecrimes remains the best time-travel drama of all time, but this one is right up there among the top few.  The basic plot involves a futuristic “Temporal Agency” that tries to eradicate crime by stopping it before it happens.  In 1975, a terrorist called the “Fizzle Bomber” is supposed to detonate a massive bomb in New York City that will kill thousands.  To stop the perpetrator, the future authorities initiate an elaborate and sinister plan that takes advantage of successive temporal “loops” all running together at the same time.

To say more would ruin the enjoyment of the story.  Fascinating and yet vaguely repellent at the same time, this is one of those films that challenge you to think; every scene counts and needs to be watched closely.  But the payoff is worth it, believe me.  When all these plot strands come together in the last five minutes, the viewer is left reeling.  For fans of the genre, this is a must-see.