Anna Kendrick

Stowaway

04/05/21

Netflix

There’s a familiar shaggy dog story which concerns four passengers on a stricken airplane, who discover that they have only been issued with three parachutes and must therefore decide which of them is going to have to make do without one. Will a passenger do the decent thing and volunteer? Or will they simply opt to push one of the others out of the door? I wonder if writer/director Joe Penna took his inspiration from that same tale? At any rate, what we have here is a futuristic version of the same conundrum. In space.

Three astronauts embark on what will be a two year mission to Mars. They comprise Captain Marina Barnett (Toni Collette, for once given free rein to employ her native accent), biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) and wide-eyed medical researcher, Zoe Levinson (Anna Kendrick). The actual details of their mission are somewhat nebulous, but that’s not the main concern of this story, which is far more interested in moral dilemmas.

The plot kicks in when the three crew members discover an injured man lying inside one of the er… hatches. He is engineer Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) who – in equally nebulous circumstances – has ended up wounded and unconscious onboard. He is quickly patched up by Zoe and, despite being somewhat bewildered to discover he’s not going home for two years, seems a nice enough fellow, determined to fit in with three strangers. But his presence on the spaceship has caused complications, not least of which is the fact that his prone body has somehow damaged a vital bit of equipment and… there will now only be enough oxygen to allow three people to reach Mars safely.

In short, one of them needs to die, fairly promptly. Unless of course, they can come up with a better er… parachute.

Stowaway is an unashamedly low budget affair and, while it manages to make the interior of the ship thoroughly believable, whenever the characters are required to step outside of it, the result looks like a less convincing version of Gravity. This is particularly evident in an extended sequence where David and Zoe undertake a perilous space walk along a constantly rotating structure in order to reach some oxygen tanks. While it manages to exert a degree of genuine suspense in the telling, this idea has been done before and, it must be said, more convincingly than here, most recently in George Clooney’s The Midnight Sky.

It’s nicely acted by Kendrick and Anderson, who make an appealing double act. Dae Kim and Collette have rather less to do and are mostly required to sit around looking glum. Understandable, under the circumstances.

More importantly, perhaps, that central moral dilemma is never satisfyingly explored and the story’s resolution does feel like a bit of a cop out. Still, this isn’t a total dud. It keeps me reasonably entertained throughout and it’s perhaps only afterwards that I start to seriously question some aspects of the plot. I can only say that Hyperion – the company that organised this mission to Mars – needs to take another look at its safety procedures.

And they should definitely start by providing more parachutes.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney

The Day Shall Come

 

16/09/19

Once dubbed ‘the most evil man in Britain’ by a tabloid newspaper, Chris Morris arrives at a sold-out Cameo Cinema for the public screening of his first new movie in nine years, in advance of its October general release. In conversation afterwards, he proves to be anything but evil – a genial and entertaining fellow, who, like so many others, is just appalled by the everyday madness of the modern world. While it might not carry the devastating punch of Four Lions, his debut feature, The Day Shall Come is nevertheless a fascinating tale, inspired by real events – or, as the movie’s strapline prefers to describe it, ‘based on a hundred true stories.’

Moses Al Bey Al Shabazz (Marchánt Davis) is an impoverished preacher, living in the Miami projects where he runs The Church of Six Stars. He is constantly assuring his followers (all four of them) that one day they shall inherit the earth, which has been ‘accidentally dominated by the white man.’ But it’s hard to keep your followers on board when you’re feeding them on whatever the staff at Wendy’s are about to throw into the dumpster every night. Moses also believes that God and the Devil regularly converse with him through the medium of a duck, but this might be more symptomatic of the fact that he refuses to take the meds that prevent his delusions.

Unfortunately for Moses, ambitious special agent Kendra (Anna Kendrick) has him in her sights. It seems the FBI find it easier to meet their targets by entrapping hapless individuals than by catching actual terrorists in the act, and Moses is clearly a possible target. Kendra sets about trying to lure him aboard with offers of large amounts of cash and/or some plutonium. As Moses and his family are about to be evicted from their ‘farm’ for non-payment of rent, he finds the offer of $50,000 tempting – though it drives a wedge between him and his wife, Venus (Danielle Brooks). He’s not so keen on the plutonium, however, as he maintains a stringent ‘anti-weapon’ policy. Indeed, his follower’s only have one: a toy crossbow. As the planned sting steams headlong into ever more surreal waters, it’s clear there are no limits to the depths the FBI will plumb in order to fill their terrorist quota, and no barriers they won’t smash down in their haste to disassociate themselves from any suggestion of wrong-doing.

The Day Shall Come takes a little while to get into its stride but, once all the elements are in place, it delivers a large helping of caustic laughs, before heading in an unexpectedly poignant direction. Davis makes an auspicious debut as the film’s central character, a man who exudes likability even as he careers towards his own self-destruction, and there’s a nice performance by Kayvan Novak as FBI stooge, Reza.

It will be interesting to see what American audiences make of this film, but fans of the elusive Mr Morris will not be disappointed by what’s on offer here.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

A Simple Favour

23/09/18

After the hysterical social media mauling that Paul Feig received over his all-woman remake of Ghostbusters, I fully expected him to navigate back towards the safer waters of his earlier material, but with A Simple Favour, he’s attempted something altogether trickier than the ‘women being outrageous’ comedies that made his reputation. It’s evident from the very start, as vintage French jazz oozes over the credits, that he’s trying to emulate one of those twisty-turny Gallic neo-noir thrillers of the 1950s – indeed, one of the characters even mentions Henri-Georges Clouzot’s Les Diaboliques, without so much as raising an ironic eyebrow.

A Simple Favour is the story of Stephanie (Anna Kendrick), an endlessly sparky single mother, trying to be positive after the death of her husband and half-brother (in the same car crash), and channeling most of her spare time into the Vlogs she does, which offer cookery tips to hard-pressed ‘moms.’ As a result, she is soundly patronised by the other parents at the school and doesn’t really have any close friends.

Her life changes dramatically, however,  when she encounters Emily (Blake Lively), a mysterious mover and shaker in the fashion industry, who lives in the kind of dream home that Stephanie has always fantasised about, and who has the dreamboat husband to go with it. Sean (Henry Golding) is a failed-novelist-turned-college-lecturer, a man who is clearly putty in his wife’s manipulative hands.

One day, Emily asks Stephanie for the titular favour. Could she pick up her son from school and look after him until Emily comes for him? Stephanie readily accepts, seeing a way for the two of them to develop their friendship, but as the days pass by and there is not so much as a text message from Emily, Stephanie begins to realise that something is wrong. She decides to do a little digging… and discovers that her new friend has several dark and troubling secrets.

Of course, this being Paul Feig, he keeps the tone comic throughout, something which works well enough for the first two thirds of the film, as Kendrick and Lively strike verbal sparks off each other – but, in the final third, when the storyline strikes out into darker territory, he might have been better advised to ease off on the chuckles. The problem with this lightness of tone is that nothing ever feel convincingly threatening. The various revelations, as they drop, lose much of their power and, instead of suspending my disbelief – as I need to – I start to notice how wildly implausible much of the storyline is. I also can’t help thinking of an alternative twist, that I’m convinced, would work better.

Look, this isn’t by any means a terrible film. Kendrick is as delightful as ever, Lively is convincingly seductive and, as for Golding, he clearly has a huge future ahead of him. But this doesn’t quite come off. Nice try, but no cigar.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney