Tag Archives: Sci Fi

Voyagers

13 Apr

‘Voyagers’: It’s Lord-of-the-Flies-into-space, with kids off their meds and onto adult trouble

By Tom MeekFriday, April 9, 2021

Playing with YA future tropes (think “Hunger Games” and “Chaos Walking”), director Neil Burger (“Limitless” and “Divergent,” another YA sci-fi flyby) fills a spaceship with the genetically engineered offspring of MIT scientists and Nobel laureates and sends them off into the universe to find the next place for humans to expand, because, well, we’ve screwed Earth so royally – no surprise there. The journey, as we’re told by Richard (Colin Farrell), the one adult/chaperone aboard, will take 86 years, and it will be the grandchildren of the mensch progeny that will reseed mankind on a far distant planet, where one can foresee a wash, rinse, trash orb and repeat cycle.

Like “Passengers” (2016) and Clare Denis’ alluring jump into space, “High Life” (2019), “Voyagers” is more about the sexual and personality play among those onboard as opposed to the quest at hand. Of the myriad high-cheekboned Calvin Klein models, the main trio consists of the blandly heroic Christopher (Tye Sheridan, “Ready Player One”), a manically glossy-eyed Zac (Fionn Whitehead, “Dunkirk”) and the dour Sela (Johnny Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, who channels dad’s “Cry-Baby” sullenness here). Everyday the sexually budding teens drink a shot of mouthwash-blue liquid that, as Christopher discovers, contains a toxin. Richard quickly explains it away, but the persistent Christopher learns it’s a drug to control, numb and pacify them like saltpeter was rumored to be used on soldiers in days of old. Once the kids go off their meds, merriment, Greco-Roman wrestling and libidos take center stage. It’s here that Richard, through dark happenstance, exits and Christopher and Zac vie to be the alpha male, with Sela’s chastity as the prize hanging in the balance. Other little horny teen fires flare up too, and there’s the threat of an alien aboard whom no one has seen, but can be heard roaming and clanking in the passages above and below. 

What the film comes to is “Lord of the Flies” in deep space with sensual desires being acted upon – forget the conch, it’s all about the satiation of urges. The problem is that everything feels staged and unfelt, even those urges. More problematic perhaps is the sexual aggression some of the young lads unleash upon their female co-explorers. One vicious breast grope is a real eye catcher, but then you realize that the inflight film selection probably didn’t include “Promising Young Woman” (2020) or any proper sexual code of conduct lessoning, given that they’ve been chemically sedated (what was Richard’s master plan, considering the kids would outlive him?). Since this is 2063, #MeToo is clearly a distant memory, or because these kids were deposited on the space vessel so as to not be acculturated to our fat and obsolete ways, how would they know? The provocatively fun thing about Denis’ “High Life” was the way checked and regulated sexuality bent and shaped character and pushed the rules of conduct aboard the ship, as well as our own sense of sexual turpitude. Here it’s like boys discover erections and go berserk with the future of humanity the last thing on their hormone-guided minds.

Godzilla vs. Kong

2 Apr

‘Godzilla vs. Kong’: The humans wisely step aside for a battle of titans, with more kaiju ready to join

By Tom MeekWednesday, March 31, 2021

Pretty much a toe-to-toe slugfest between two alpha males. Think of any of the three Frazier vs. Ali fights or Ali vs. Foreman in the “rumble in the jungle” classic, but at under two hours, the CGI-propelled monster smackdown of “Godzilla vs. Kong” is more like Hagler vs. Hearns, light, fast and furious. The thing about that epic 1985 middleweight bout was its resonance: People were so awed by the raw brutality, the nuclear salvo of haymakers thrown, so violent and yet balletic, three frenetic rounds that would be watched and rewatched, etching Hagler into Boston sporting lore alongside names such as Orr, Bird, Williams and Russell. (Hagler, who sadly just passed, was one of the most dominant boxers of his era; he hailed from Brockton and became an adopted son of Boston).

Speaking of Boston, the last time we got a look at Godzilla in “King of the Monsters” (2018) he was giving Ghidorah a beatdown at Fenway Park. Here, mumblegore stalwart Adam Wingard (“You’re Next,” “V/H/S”) makes an odd but effective choice of director, and with a phalanx of screenwriters forms a crew that knows that the green screen titans getting it on is the jam; they dispatch the what’s-what with a brief undercard of mumbo-jumbo about there only be one ruling kaiju, and then we get into it. Kong is taken from his tiny island; Godzilla comes for him; and aboard the deck of an aircraft carrier we get round one. Cities in the aftermath get obliterated as the lads wander off into their respective corners. There’s something clearly up with Godzilla, we’re told by myriad humans with thespian mettle (and more Boston connections) including Kyle Chandler (“Manchester by the Sea”), Rebecca Hall (“The Town”) Alexander Skarsgård, Millie Bobby Brown from “Stranger Things” and Brian Tyree Henry. What’s eating the big green lizard is Florida. It’s not Mar-a-Lago, the maskless hordes or hanging chads, but a firm called Apex Corp. that makes giant robots – think “Pacific Rim” (2013). Meanwhile, the humans get to fly around in cheesy, neon-lit space pods as they trail Kong, venturing to the earth’s core to retrieve an artifact that will allow him to level the field with the brash lizard. The journey’s a bit of brief psychedelic wonderment, but the buzz is interrupted by some human-hungry fledglings and a radioactive projectile vomit from Godzilla. 

To tell you how the final round goes would be to do a disservice. I can say it’s a worthy climax and, as always with these things, you can be sure the avarice of man has a play in it. And smartly (from a business sense) in this mini-running “MonsterVerse” (two Godzillas, Kong’s “Skull Island” and this) the door’s left open for more.

Chaos Talking

11 Mar

‘Chaos Walking’: On this sci-fi New World, displays of masculinity are clear, dangerous

By Tom Meek Thursday, March 4, 2021

On a far distant planet two centuries into the future, a colony of humans lives in what feels like a Western frontier town atop a forested hilltop. Verdant and inviting like the Adirondacks or British Columbia’s Northwest Pacifica, this is some great outdoor space. The humans in “Chaos Walking,” however, are at war with the planet’s indigenous species, known as the Spackle. It’s an interesting, and I guess, apt name, as the tar-textured, obsidian-colored humanoids look something like sculpture park art more than anything threatening – I feel like I’ve seen them around the grounds of the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum.

Throughout the film we hardly ever see any of the wall patch-named menace, besides one or two encounters. No, the evil here comes in the form of other humans. David Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) – make that Mayor Prentiss – presides over Prentisstown, seemingly the only outpost on the planet. The main things to note about Prentisstown is there are no women, and all the men have digital Pig-Pen dust clouds over their heads called “The Noise,” which basically is whatever’s going on in their mind. What’s that, you say? Imagine going to your boss to ask for a raise and the request is promptly denied due to “tough times,” so you politely say, “Thanks for hearing me out, maybe next year?” as your Noise blurts, “Bastard, you knew I just had a kid, you told me you would bump me up two years ago and you just got a 20 percent bonus for holding down costs? Such a liar!” Awkward and dicey moments happen. (So what of the title? Would not “Chaos Talking” make more sense?) Some of the men can mute their Noise, though; others, including the mayor, can turn it into a sonic shockwave of sorts or project doppelgängers.

“Chaos Walking” is very much a Western in construct, a sci-fi crossover like “Cowboys & Aliens” (2011). The men have blasters, ride horses and are draped in Viking fur dusters, if ever such a thing existed. The reason there are no women, we’re told (like much in Prentisstown, it comes from the lips of the mayor), is that they couldn’t handle The Noise and that the Spackle targeted them. There’s also, across a valley dell, a husk of a gigantic space ship that holds some answers. No one seems curious enough to seek them, and of course, the mayor doesn’t want anyone to go looking.

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Bliss

8 Feb

‘Bliss’: Wilson and Hayek simulate ‘The Matrix’

By Tom MeekFriday, February 5, 2021

Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek in “Bliss.”

Mike Cahill, the somber indie voice behind “Another Earth” (2011) where alternate realities coincided, overlapped and collided, retools the concept here with a bigger palette and broader ambition. It grips and grabs as his former film did, but the result’s not nearly as compelling. “Bliss” begins something like a Mike Judge offering (“Idiocracy,” “Office Space”) with an IT office cog gloriously named Greg (Owen Wilson) who doodles sketches of a fetching woman on some exotic veranda. The place Greg works at, Technical Difficulties, is a pressure cooker, bleeding business to cheaper, India-based call centers; needless to say, Greg’s artistic malaise doesn’t bode well with his coworkers. In short order he’s called in and terminated; but before the escorted-out-of-the-office walk of shame takes place, Greg accidentally kills his former boss, decides to cover it up (in a great tracking shot) and heads to the bar next door to steel his nerves.

It’s a grandly dark and goofy (mostly because of Wilson’s shaggy dog persona) waltz in. You’re hooked; Greg’s either liberated from the yoke of unappreciative capitalism or en route to a 10-to-life term for manslaughter. But where Cahill goes from there becomes muddled and disconcerting. At Plato’s Dive (said watering hole ) Greg is called out by a woman (Salma Hayek) sitting across the dark divide in a booth. “You’re real,” she exclaims, pointing a finger at him like she has him snared in a tractor beam. Curiosity piqued, Greg takes a seat, tunes in and over the course of a soul-nourishing scotch, the thick-haired maven (Isabel, as the film has it), operating with shamanistic authority, pops a few magic crystals and makes Greg’s office worries disappear. It’s here that we learn Greg is newly divorced, his daughter is graduating college and he’s been living in a motel somewhere around the corner. It also looks like he hasn’t washed his hair in weeks. (Some people might find the pairing of Hayek and Wilson a curious one. I did, but the Mutt and Jeff contrast abates early.)

The film bounces us to Isabel’s digs, something of a hobo encampment within the confines of the concrete channel that is the L.A. River (“I’m not homeless,” she says. “I’m living off the grid”) and pulling back the veil, the two are at a grand Riviera estate with Bill Nye in a tuxedo addressing Isabel as a doctor and professor. The two are also in grand attire, with Greg’s hair washed and blown out, and every now and then passersby are seen as glitchy computer generated images – FGPs, or Fake Generated Persons, as Isabel tells us. What’s going on? Have we jumped down some weird, sci-fi rabbit hole? Are these homeless delusions à la “The Fisher King” (1991), or some type of a psych ward or science experiment gone off the rails like “12 Monkeys” (1995)? Then there’s all the “Matrix”-esque crystals Isabel keeps popping.

The device that rooted the viewer in that stasis-dreaming-man-as-a-battery trilogy helmed by the Wachowskis and those Terry Gilliam films (and “Vanilla Sky” as well) was the reliable point of view from their unreliable protagonists: We saw only what they saw. Here Cahill has us tight in with Greg, and halfway through the film offers side vignettes of his children (interestingly, looking nothing like Greg – something that’s never really explained and doesn’t really need to be) and other POVs that jar and poke holes in the tenuous bubble he’s filled with techno/other-world mumbo-jumbo.

One of the more interesting spins is that Isabel and Greg, when jacked on crystals, can use their fingers to throw the fake people around. “You’re a telekinetic warrior,” Isabel says of Greg after he crushes a van full of harassing hoods like a tin can. But it’s somewhat unsettling to see him take a walker out from under an old woman just because of a scowling glare directed at Isabel. What begins as a social justice payback when Isabel takes out the legs of a creep copping butt grabs of yoga-panted women at a skating rink becomes something of the bar bloodlust scene Hayek was part of in “From Dusk Till Dawn” (1995). In that Quentin Tarantino-Robert Rodriguez vampire creation, it was comical and to the point; here, even given the impunity of consequence, it’s not dark or even cruel like a boy blowing up frogs with firecrackers – it just undermines the characters and the tone of the film.

Outside the Wire

17 Jan

‘Outside the Wire’: If they survive their mission, do androids dream of military pensions?

By Tom MeekFriday, January 15, 2021

There’s no way drone warfare will ever be as cinematically visceral or thrilling as flesh and blood warriors going at it hand-to-hand in the trenches. Not going to happen. The Aaron Paul vehicle “Eye in the Sky” (2015), in which the “Breaking Bad” actor played a drone pilot on U.S. soil taking out baddies abroad, isn’t going to make anyone forget “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), let alone “Fury” (2014), the WWII chess game with tanks staring Brad Pitt. But what if you sent out the ’bots to settle things? Imagine BB-8 and Robocop teaming up to take out Isis insurgents, that could work, right? “Outside the Wire” pretty much weaves all the above into an antiwar anthem that’s ironically powered by some heavy-duty blam, blam, boom shoot-em-ups.

The film lands us in the near future, with much of the action taking place in the Baltic region. There’s a Cold War tang to the landscape and it feels as if all is calm in the Middle East, as if 9/11 never happened. Much of what drives the plot is heavy-handed hooey, but there are some big ideas touched upon and some great performances. First up we have Harp (Damson Idris), a U.S. drone pilot who, like Paul’s ace, sits in a high-tech shipping container somewhere in the United States as his drone surveys a hot military operation in an Eastern Bloc country. Up against the wire, Harp chooses to hit the site despite there being friendlies in the area, his thought being that it’s better to lose two and save 30. It gets him in some hot water, earning him an assignment over in said hot zone to learn what it’s like to be under fire. The troops in this near-future scape are supported by robotic units called Gumps – think of those cool Boston Dynamics creations and you’d have the right idea – but Harp’s assigned to aid a special ops mission led by Anthony Mackie’s uber intense Capt. Leo, who operates lone wolf style outside the wire.

The classified (and pat) crisis du jour is terrorist and rebel factions vying to get their hands on some nukes. The twist is that Leo’s an android. No, it’s not like finding out late that “Ash is a goddamn robot” in “Alien” (1979); it’s an early giveaway. Under his uniform Leo has the glowing blue internals that Alicia Vikander’s demurring AI had in Alex Garland’s sharp contemplation on creator and creation, “Ex Machina” (2015). Like Vikander’s android, Leo’s got a few computations going on beyond what his human handlers have given him, and on-the-job training for Harp at times calls to mind the good-cop, bad-cop hazing Denzel Washington laid down on Ethan Hawke in “Training Day” (2001).

The fun of “Outside the Wire” isn’t so much the narrative arc but the navigation of chaos – robotic, rebels and otherwise – by Harp and Leo. Leo’s physically gifted beyond human, a “Six Million Dollar Man” lite, but the film doesn’t ride that rail; he’s designed to appear human in all aspects (and feels pain). Some of the more interesting thinking points raised are Leo asking Harp why the Marines made him look as he does and not a blonde, blue-eyed QB (Do you dream of an electronic Tom Brady?), and in the occasionally abusive treatment of Gumps by their human military counterparts. Neither gets explored in any depth, but they are cause for provocative pause. The production values of “Outside the Wire” impress in scope and quality, and the combat scenes are well choreographed and orchestrated by director Mikael Håfström. In the end, the film succeeds on Mackie’s stoic magnetism and Harp’s wide-eyed vulnerability. Like the equally serviceable Netflix thriller “Extraction” (2020) starring Chris Hemsworth, “Wire” would be pure pap without its top-notch cast.

Tenet

14 Sep

‘Tenet’: Time travel caper by Christopher Nolan chooses its moment, masked against apocalypse

By Tom Meek

Well, I did it: I went to a theater and saw “Tenet.” Would I recommend you to? That’s a personal call. For me it didn’t feel too risky, but read on. I attended a 4 p.m. show at Landmark’s Kendall Square Cinema. I bought my ticket online, but still had to wait in line to show the usher behind a plexiglass shield my emailed barcode and get a printed ticket. I saw only three other people at the theater, all folks asking for senior discounts – in short, those in high-risk categories but clearly desperate for an in-theater experience, as was I. Landmark offered no snacks, and masks had to be worn 100 percent of the time. Every two seats in the theaters are blocked off, and management asks you to sit in alternating rows – something, I did not need to worry about. I was the only person at my screening. (Apple Cinemas near Fresh Pond and Alewife is showing it too, since reopening Friday.)

This being a Christopher Nolan film, seeing it on a big screen is kind of a must – in the very least for the imposing, driving score (by Ludwig Göransson, though it feels and sounds a lot like Hans Zimmer’s work on Nolan’s 2010 “Inception”) and the impressive camera work by Hoyte Van Hoytema, Oscar-nominated for Nolan’s WWII time scramble, “Dunkirk” (2017). Playing with time and space is Nolan’s thing; he did it with “Memento” (2000) to tell a murder mystery in reverse, and “Interstellar” (2012) as space travelers who go through a black hole where decades of Earth time pass in minute. Here time is imbued into objects sent back from the future. Sounds zany, right? It’s one of the things you just let wash over you, because no matter how hard Nolan and his characters try to explain, you feel like you’re just not getting it. The best I can do is that you can rewind history and insert yourself into the action – in essence, altering the future – but the catch is everyone else is moving in reverse while you’re going forward. People walk backward, cars go in reverse, and bullets get sucked back into their gun. 

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Color Out of Space

23 Jan

‘Color Out of Space’: It’s classic Lovecraft updated with classic Nicolas Cage freakout

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If you were tickled pink by Nicolas Cage doing his goofball gonzo best in the bloody revenge thriller “Mandy” in 2018, sharpen your knives for another foray into the freaky with some genuinely glorious hambone-gnawing moments. In this adaption of H.P. Lovecraft’s favorite story, “Colour Out of Space” – which has had several cinematic spins, including “Die, Monster, Die!” back in 1965 starring Boris Karloff – Cage plays Nathan Gardner, trying to live off the grid in the farmhouse he grew up in under the thumb of a controlling patriarch.

The pursuit of Eden (in the fictional town of Arkham, which Lovecraft situated in our fair state and used often in his tales, though the film’s not shot here) doesn’t last long. Nathan’s attempt at growing tomatoes isn’t going so well – he’s a Gardner who can’t garden – though his alpaca endeavor seems to be doing marginally better. Then there’s Nathan’s wife, Theresa (Joely Richardson) who’s wildly unhappy with the spotty Wi-Fi and can’t work, while their daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) practices Wiccan rituals in the woods.  Rounding out the nuclear-plus clan are big brother Benny (Brendan Meyer) who gets stoned while tending to the woolly creatures in the barn and the youngest, little Jack (Julian Hilliard), something of  mama’s boy who becomes drawn to the voices he hears in the old well out front.

Things get really weird after an electrical storm drops a meteor in the front yard. The anemic tomatoes suddenly grow plump and large – but taste like crap – while fuchsia mushrooms crop up and a large technicolor dragonfly bemuses Jack. It’s all a wonderment, until the dog goes missing and mom goes into a hypnotic trance while paring vegetables in the pantry – the scene is the edgiest moment in the film and one that’ll have you wincing before anything goes wrong. Turns out the meteor’s an alien invasion of sorts that’s transported a “color” here to contaminate the water supply, mutating/possessing those who quaff it. Watching Nathan pull a clingy jellyfish creature from the shower drain will give you as many second thoughts about entering the bathroom as “Psycho” (1960) did.

Things work their way into John Carpenter’s “The Thing” (1982) territory. Tommy Chong pops up as the tripped-out hippie down the lane and the small-town cops are late to the game as Cage’s Nathan starts to do his very best Jack Torrance. You want to say you’ve seen it all before, but you have to remember Lovecraft was a contemporary of H.G. Wells, penning tales of the outré long before Stephen King was in diapers or John W. Campbell cooked up “Who Goes There?” (the basis for “The Thing”). The film also marks something of a comeback for director Richard Stanley, who, after coming to notoriety for his 1990 “Terminator”-esque thriller “Hardware” had a nasty fall when given a chance to helm a passion project, “The Island of Doctor Moreau” in the mid-90s. Yes, the one based on Wells’ book and starring Brando and Val Kilmer – and from which he was fired and replaced a week or so into principal photography, after a litany of production problems forming a rich narrative in its own right). Since then Stanley made a series of documentaries, including “The White Darkness” (2002) about voodoo and, more recently, returned to genre with a segment of the horror anthology “The Theatre Bizarre” (2013). “Color Out of Space” sets Stanley comfortably back where he started. The film looks far more polished than its modest $6 million budget. it’s not fully consistent or narratively clear, but it is a ghoulish pleasure to see Cage ditch his ho-hum dad and dive into the lunatic fringe.

Ad Astra

19 Sep

 

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The title of James Gray’s latest epic odyssey as translated from Latin simply means, “to the stars.” It’s a pretty highfalutin term for a film that’s fairly slack on the sci side of this sci-fi quest that takes us to the moon, the red planet and beyond. Its biggest boost is its star, Brad Pitt, coming in reentry-hot after an Oscar-worthy turn as a bum-around stuntman in “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.” He’s solid here as Major Roy McBride, a man with a low resting heartbeat and few emotional attachments. He’s distant from his wife (Liv Tyler) and has no kids, so he’s cool, calm and able to MacGyver his way out of any hairy situation no matter how impossible or far out in space.

The film begins with a bravura sequence (worthy of “First Man” comparisons) where, in the not too distant future, Roy is working on an antenna projecting up and out of earth’s atmosphere that gets struck by a rogue energy wave. The massive spire implodes, collapsing back to earth in a long, slow chain of events that call eerily to mind the 9/11 attacks. Roy, with some cool thinking, survives, but more than 40,000 people are killed by the surge from somewhere out in the galaxy.

The purpose of the tower, we’re told, is to communicate with other intelligent life, because humans cannot survive much longer on their own – the implications being that we’ve messed up the planet and are looking for someone to bail us out, though that’s never really articulated. If you’re thinking the Tower of Babel or “Contact” (1997) you’d be correct, but with the death toll from the wave and more on the way, phoning ET gets dropped as the surge and its source become job numero uno. Naturally the brass at Space Command (a branch of the military) pick Roy (can anyone ever pass over Brad Pitt?) for the need-to-know mission, and also, what’s that? Those in the know think the shockwaves are coming from Neptune, where some years earlier Roy’s father (Tommy Lee Jones) led a mission and may still be alive.

Yup, daddy issues run deep, but not with much emotional effect. The journey to Neptune is a damn fine amusement ride, beginning with the running of a gantlet of pirates on the dark side of the moon to the abandoned spaceship where a lab experiment has gone wildly amok and the penultimate stop, Mars, run by an effete with a mini-man bun and myriad agendas. But it’s there on Heinlein’s precious planet and beyond that the film begins to drift. The mission and the stunts lose their importance, the sense of urgency and peril get nipped, and all we’re left with is something of a stripped-down existential quest, a diet lite posturing of “Apocalypse Now” (1979) or “Interstellar” (2014) without a credible force (or fully baked cause) to reckon with (i.e., Brando’s Kurtz or Matt Damon’s rogue astronaut). All of a sudden, the slog to the outer limits feels all for naught. Also challenging to logic and scientific principal, these guys hop planets like catching the noon Greyhound to Penn Station. There’s no warp speed, wormhole or stasis sleep – in short, the sense of time and space feels distorted, if not ignored.

Gray, who cut his teeth with gritty crime thrillers such as “Little Odessa” (1994) and “We Own the Night” (2007), last turned in “The Lost City of Z” (2017), an account of British explorer Percy Fawcett’s quest to find signs of early civilization in the Amazon. That film, another journey into the vast unknown, feels like boilerplate for “Ad Astra.” It’d be fair to call it a Z-peat, but in the real-life account, Fawcett always seemed one fateful decision away from ruin. Here, Pitt’s Roy, while steeped in palpable, reflective soulfulness, is so can-do capable that Kryptonite has no shot of buckling a knee. Pitt, for better or for worse, has become something of an icon and a brand, like Tom Cruise (impossible to separate the celebrity from the performer) – and while that worked to everyone’s advantage (shirtless scene and all) in Tarantino’s Tinseltown fable, Gray never imbues his hero with enough vulnerability, or even a hint of it. “Ad Astra” is like a 5 Hour Energy drink: a sharp, pure blast of wow, until you come down and it leaves you empty and wanting.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

29 May

‘Godzilla: King of the Monsters’: Reunion time for earth-shaking titans, humans underfoot

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Who knew that “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” was a Boston movie? I won’t say how much it is, but I will say that the oldest ballpark in the country (RIP Bill Buckner) and that iconic high-rise so eloquently framed in a semi-famous short story by John Updike make it in there – and then some. The Japanese-launched franchise has matured to full CGI fury, improving on the effects in versions from 1998 and 2014 and certainly from its 1950s beginnings, when miniature models of Tokyo were stomped by a man in a rubber suit. (Let’s call those the MIRS years.)

The tagline is the same as in 1956, when American actor Raymond Burr (“Ironside”) lent his American mug to an early Japanese MIRS entry. Here, the film picks up five years from when “Godzilla” (2014) left off, namely the leveling of San Francisco, with all “titans” now neatly in hibernation. Some players from that chapter (Sally Hawkins and Ken Watanabe) reprise their roles as scientists, appearing before congress to try to derail plans to exterminate Godzilla and the other titans – while in hibernation, a cryptozoological agency known as Monarch has pretty much put all the beasts in an electronic lockdown. We also meet the Russells, a family of Monarch scientists fractured by the loss of their son in the stomping of San Fran. The father, Mark (Kyle Chandler, so good in “Manchester by the Sea” and “Zero Dark Thirty”), unable to cope with the grief, has gone off to film wolves in the wilds, while wife Emma (Vera Farmiga) and daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown, from “Stranger Things”) are nestled in a forest abode near one such titan bunker where they witness the larval birth of Mothra.

Before the flaming pterodactyl Rodan and three-header King Ghidorah – aka Monster Zero – make it into the mix, of course we need some zany zealot to bring down the boom. In this case that’s a former British special ops officer played with charm and menace by Charles Dance, who has had an awakening of his own and sees the only way to right humankind’s environmental wrongs being to raise the titans and let them cull the population. Much philosophical talk is made early on about man being an infection, and the titans something like white blood cells to take care of it. Sure, okay, nothing new: The original Godzilla was an incarnation raised by man’s use of nukes and nuclear energy, so the themes imbued here by writer/director Michael Dougherty seem in line. And a little biorhythm device Emma has made (the thing everybody wants) has the monster-whispering effect that the two thumb-sized Japanese twins had in the old MIRS flicks.

But this is a big CGI flick, seen to good effect as Brazil gets bowled over by Rodan and Ghidorah (which, given all the talk of infections and viruses, sounds even more like an STD) gets awakened from his icy crib. Boston, home of the Russells, hosts a Godzilla-Ghidorah smackdown – and if some of those new high rises in the Seaport irk your aesthetic eye, here’s a shot at some virtual schadenfreude.

The film does what it needs to. The trio of lead actors manage to elicit enough emotion and Godzilla, a hero whose mission and morals are as straightforward as Clint Eastwood’s indelible “Man with No Name,” gets to don the superhero cape, if just for a small while. It’s bang-bang fun that clicks by with smart, rapid pacing, all the while reminding us of just how much a mess we’ve made of this planet.

Aniara

18 May

‘Aniara’: Another trip to deep space goes awry, a getting away from it all that demands escape

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Much of this sleek Swedish sci-fi flick may feel borrowed from the recent, grim “High Life” from the unlikely source of Claire Denis, but its roots go back to the similarly named 1956 poem by Nobel laureate Harry Martinson. Like Denis’ contemplation on loneliness, lust and what constitutes law and righteousness beyond the outer limits, “Aniara” dumps us aboard an outer space cruise ship occupied by souls from wildly varying social strata. The vast voyager comes replete with discos and gourmet eateries, but it is not a vacation, not by any means. Those aboard are en route to a Martian colony because Earth has become uninhabitable.

Not long into the journey something goes bump, and The Aniara gets knocked off course and on a trajectory out of the solar system and into deep space. The initial projection of two years to get the engines back to full capacity and get back on course comes as a bit of a bummer – it was supposed to take three weeks to get to Mars – but hey, they have unlimited algae, so all’s good, right? No. Plans don’t go accordingly, timelines shift, cults form and society devolves into chaotic semi-lawfulness. Think Ben Wheatley’s adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s 1975 dystopian novel “High-Rise” (2016) and you’d have the right idea.

It’s a piquant setup and something of an existential exercise, pitting hope against the torturous throes of not knowing. As adapted by first-time feature filmmakers Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja, the time-hopping narrative orbits around a strawberry-haired woman blessed with the gender opposite moniker of MR (Emelie Jonsson). MR proves quite the gravitational point; she’s the tech who runs the mental relaxation room known as Mima. The small, seatless amphitheater’s something like your favorite bar and bartender without the hangover – kind of: While resting in an inverted yogi Savasana pose, waves of flame shoot across the ceiling of Mima while visitors in their hyper-relaxed state take walks along the beach or a stroll through a verdant forest. In short, they get to go to their happy place. As the reality of return becomes increasingly glum, the demand for Mima spikes. And even there, the prospect for virtual escapism begins to become something of a shop of horrors.

The catch with “Aniara” becomes its overly ambitious scope, which begs for the razor eye of a master (say Kubrick or Tarkovsky); Kågerman and Lilja get the grandness and wonderment of the universe beyond right, but their chapter-esque jumps in time tend to break apart what came before. MR ultimately pairs up with fellow female crew member Isagel (Bianca Cruzeiro), so there’s something at risk emotionally and we’re reassured that true human companionship bears more value than a visit to Mima – phew. Years out, as prospects gray and the suicide rate skyrockets, folk still party like its 1999, engage in ritualistic orgies and even bear babies. Is it sustainable? It turns out space is a very cold place to contemplate time.