Unhappy fates: Dying world, exploding students

By Tom Von Malder | Nov 14, 2020
Photo by: RLJ Entertainment Kodi Smit-McPhee, left, and Ryan Kwanten star in "2067."

Owls Head — 2067 (Australia, RLJE, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 114 min.). Time travel movies are always tricky and this one is no exception.”2067” opens in the year of the title, when the Earth is literally dying. No more living plants exist and what few people are left have to exist on synthetic oxygen, only the synthetic is causing an illness that is wiping out its users.

A group of scientists have created a time machine, the giant jet engine-looking Chronicle, to see if they can reach a future Earth, one in which a cure for the illness has been discovered. When their “ping” is sent forward, the information that comes back contains the embedded message: “Send Ethan Whyte.” Ethan (Kodi Smit-McPhee of “Let Me In,” “X-Men: Apocalypse”) is an underground tunnel worker who helps to keep the city’s unstable nuclear reactor operating. His father, who disappeared or died on Ethan’s eighth birthday, actually is one of the scientists who created Chronicle – only Ethan does not know that. Ethan has a best pal/protector in Jude (Ryan Kwanten of HBO’s “True Blood”).

Despite his concern for his sick girlfriend (Sana’a Shaik as Xanthe), Ethan reluctantly agrees to be flung into the future to seek the cure in 2474. To Ethan’s amazement, he survives, although his suit is burned up, and he finds a lush green world, only one apparently without people. At one point, though, he apparently nearly dies from eating local berries, which causes the scientists to send Jude forward in time to rescue him, as they were monitoring his vital signs.

The following may be construed as a spoiler. In the future, Ethan finds a skeleton and an audio recording that creates all kinds of time travel problems, as they seem to indicate future events that have occurred in the past. As I said earlier, time travel movies can get a bit wonky.

The plus of the film, written and directed by Seth Larney (“Tombiruo”), is the set design, both in the “Blade Runner” like 2067 and the forested beauty of 2474. The intriguing central idea is a bit undermined by the stale dialogue and Smit-McPhee’s character actually being unlikable. Overall, the film is more than a bit philosophical.

Extras include audio commentary by Larney and an eight-part behind-the-scenes look that covers the story (3:39), the cast (7:39), the director (6:19; the first read through was in 2012), the film’s look (6:22; a good piece), costumes and make-up (3:30), creating the time machine (4:10; interesting and with editor Sean Lahi    ff), the editing with  Lahiff and visual effects (4:24; 870 visual effects shots were used) and the music (14:12). The latter is an extended piece with composer Ken Lampl, who describes his work as a 110-minute symphony rather than a usual film score. Lampl plays some of the music on piano during the interview. His collaborator was Kirsten Axelholm. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 3 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Spontaneous (Paramount, DVD, R, 101 min.). This science fiction/horror mix, coming-of-age film evokes both laughs and shocks, but overall has a sweet romance at its center for most of its running time, before a more downer of an ending. For most of the film, writer/director Brian Duffield (“Underwater,” “The Babysitter”) manages to balance the uneven tones successfully, as the film centers on new love and loss in the life of a couple of high school students, whose classmates have literally started exploding spontaneously. The film is an adaptation of a 2016 novel by Aaron Starmer.

The story centers around Mara (the always good Katherine Langford of “Cursed,” Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why”), a senior whose attitude is to just get through the year. One day though, fellow classmate Katelyn suddenly explodes in class, drenching her fellow students with her blood. The incident is shocking, but It would be the first of ultimately 31 deaths among the senior class of Covington High School.

One day while at a café with her friend Tess McNulty (Hayley Law of “Echo Boomers.” The CW’s “Riverdale”), Mara is approached by shy fellow student Dylan Hovemeyer (Charlie Plummer of “Lean on Pete,” “All the Money in the World” and “Words on Bathroom Walls,” another unusual high school romance). Dylan had been sending her anonymous funny text messages (“dick pics” of Richard Nixon) and has now decided, since they might explode any day, to actually approach and befriend her.

The pair do become friends and more – starting with a humorous night when Mara’s ingesting of “shrooms” leads her to see five Dylans and eventually seven Dylans as he helps steady her. In some of the fun that Duffield has in telling the story, Dylan recounts moments of seeing Mara, talking directly to the camera and even, at one point, redirecting the camera.

Another exploding incident during a football game leads to school being closed as the authorities try to figure out what is going on. The most disturbing incident happens in a car, but later there is a horrific one at the school. “E.T. The Extraterrestrial” gets a shout-out and visual reference when people in hazmat suits round up the surviving students to study and experiment with cures on as they are kept in isolation. The film has its cutesy moments, like when the potential cure is called the Snooze Button and Dylan buys an old milk truck to drive around in.

Plummer is really sweet here and has good chemistry with Langford. Mara’s parents are played by Rob Huebel (“Transparent”) and Piper Perabo (“Penny Dreadful: City of Angels”). There are no bonus features. Grade: 3 stars

Hero on the Front (Portugal, 2018, Omnibus, DVD, NR, 89 min.). The film is based on the true story of Anibal Milhais, a farmer from Murça, Portugal who became a hero while fighting in the battle of La Lys in France during World War I. He became the only Portuguese private to be awarded the Order of the Tower and the Sword, the country’s highest national honor.

Directed by Gonçalo Galvão Teles and Jorge Paixão da Costa, the film jumps often from the present in 1943, when  Milhais (Miguel Borges) is unhappy about being honored at another town memorial ceremony, to 1917, when Milhais (João Arrais) leaves his wife and heads off to military service, and to 1918, when Milhais is serving on the front line in the trenches, before and during the battle of La Lys. The 1943 scenes also include Milhais hunting down a wolf that is killing his livestock, while unexpectedly being accompanied by his young daughter (Carminho Coelho as Adelaide). There is arguably too much jumping around in time, but at least it is done cleanly and is not confusing.

The best scenes are the battle scenes, including when Milhais refuses to retreat with the rest of the 15th Infantry Regiment and instead continues to fire upon the advancing German soldiers with his Lewis light machine gun, which he named “Luisinha.” Not only does he help his fellow soldiers retreat safely, but as he finds his way alone through German-occupied territory he rescues another small group of soldiers and a lone British soldier. In effect, the film can be seen as a companion piece to the recently released “Fatima” as it tells what happened to the soldiers whom we are told went off to fight for their country during World War I.

The film won five prestigious Portuguese Academy Awards (the “Sophia”) for Best Screenplay, Best Special Effects, Best Art Direction, Best Film Editing and Best Sound. Although the film loads with an English dubbed soundtrack, one can switch to the original Portuguese with English subtitles. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 3 stars

Hosts (Great Britain, Dark Sky Films, DVD, NR, 89 min.). This is a different kind of alien abduction film, emphasizing horror and gore over a sensical plot. The film is directed by Alan Leader, who also wrote the script and story, and Richard Oakes, who collaborated on the story, served as director of photography and editor with Craig Hinde (also a producer).

The film opens like an everyday soap opera, with Michael (Frank Jakeman), who had been hunting dinner while dressed in a Santa suit, and wife Cassie (Jennifer K. Preston) preparing a hearty Christmas dinner for their family, which consists of adult son Eric (Lee Hunter), adult daughter Lauren (Nadia Lamin) and much younger son Ben (Buddy Skelton), as well as neighbors Lucy (Samantha Loxley) and Jack (Neal Ward). When we first meet Lucy and Jack, they are very playful in their relationship, but then Lucy sees lights go by their patio window.

Taken over by apparent aliens – their eyes now glow – Lucy and Jack attend the Christmas dinner, where Lucy performs a horrific act and then both then terrorize their hosts. The initial shock is devastating, but the rest just seems violence and gore for the sake of violence and gore.

Why would the first act of invading aliens be to terrorize their unwilling hosts’ neighbors? It is much too small scale. And why not just kill or take them over without all the “playing around?” Apparently, a backstory for Jack was added to the script late, which would make sense for what a human might do, but why would an alien care?

The film does have plenty of atmosphere, even if the story is wicked poor. Extras include a solid behind-the-scenes feature (59:19) and cast interviews (12:45). Grade: film 2 stars; extras 2.75 stars

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