Awards season ripens in April. With the buzz around the Academy Awards, this month’s new film releases are likely pushed to the mental back burner. Yet, there’s no need to fret — film beat reporters Dominic Marziali and Maya Thompson are here to help you stay up to date on the movies that might otherwise be swept beneath the Oscars’ red carpet.
“Cher and the Loneliest Elephant”
How long can a gimmick carry a film? Approximately 46 minutes, proves the Smithsonian Channel’s documentary “Cher and the Loneliest Elephant.” The film chronicles the rescue of an Asian elephant named Kavaan and the surprising celebrity support that furthered the initiative. Kavaan was held in captivity in an Islamabad zoo for nearly 20 years in isolation and poor living conditions. The elephant’s dire condition inspired veterinarian Dr. Samar Khan to launch an online campaign, and in the internet’s mystifying ways, it somehow spilled onto Cher’s Twitter feed. Cher responded to the injustice — in her typical all-caps and emoji-laden fashion — and co-founded an animal rights organization called Free the Wild.
When a Pakistani court ordered Kavaan’s release, the ruling was a great victory, but the film unveils the logistical nightmare of transporting a traumatized elephant. Without the remarkable efforts of Dr. Amir Khalil and other experts from Free the Wild, the operation would have failed.
With all these specialists, where does Cher fit in? The documentary doesn’t quite know. There’s no doubt that the celebrity was emotionally moved by Kavaan’s plight, but her role is superficial in comparison to the heartfelt bond between Kavaan and Dr. Khalil. Moreover, the editors clip Cher’s interviews so abruptly that it looks like they want to cut her off — get her off the hook so she doesn’t say something to betray her ignorance to and real distance from the cause. This type of documentary would strike out with a less charismatic celebrity, and it only works because Cher understands her sidelined role, even though the film champions her centrality. Charismatic as ever, she’s a formidable spokesperson for the documentary’s homily on the good of celebrityhood — that when a celebrity speaks, people listen and change is made.
Yet, in blithely pointing out the triumph of power and influence, the film leaves a bitter aftertaste as viewers wonder how many injustices endure when people with accessible, abundant resources are indifferent and silent.
— Maya Thompson
A grueling movie is worth the struggle when it has a point. A grueling movie that exists only to wallow in its own grief is an eyesore, an interminable and staggering waste of time. “Moffie” is such a movie, masquerading as profound while reusing the weepy tropes found in queer melodramas gone by.
Nicholas van der Swart (Kai Luke Brummer) has been drafted into the 1981 South African military and must hide his sexuality during his two-year compulsory service, which is filled with racism and homophobia. The inspiration for “Moffie” is worthy — dramatizing the hypermasculine brainwashing of young white men in South Africa — but after 108 minutes of repressed sexuality, communal showers galore and a parade of bucket hat-wearing army boys, you’re left with the impression of a missed chance. For all its historical acumen, “Moffie” is a movie we’ve seen before, if in a different context.
As far as representation goes, any stake “Moffie” had in a refreshing film goes out the window with its sobbing adherence to a genre that’s had the life beaten out of it by flimsy romances. “Moffie” never fashions something of its diatribe-laden masculinity, and, in the end, this sack of virility tries to split the difference between history and romance, never committing to an inventive take on either.
— Dominic Marziali
Outer space tests the strength of human endurance, but Netflix’s “Stowaway” tests the strength of your patience. The two-hour film follows three prestigious researchers — commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette), biologist David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim) and young medical researcher Zoe (Anna Kendrick) — on their journey to Mars. During the trip, they discover an accidental stowaway named Michael, played by a great Shamier Anderson; his unexpected presence jeopardizes the spaceship’s oxygen levels. If you recall the “trolly problem,” you can anticipate where this movie will go.
What’s frustrating about “Stowaway” is the way the script draws out the film’s runtime while failing to deepen its characters. The slow burn dissipates. Each of the four leads has hollow backstories, and the film mistakes the creation of accomplished characters for an accomplishment in itself — there’s just one joke told in the whole movie, and it’s about the Harvard/Yale rivalry.
Though Collette is surprisingly underused, the other actors are the best parts of “Stowaway.” Kim and Kendrick’s are particularly noteworthy as they create an interesting, heartfelt dynamic with almost no help from the film’s anti-gravity dialogue. Though it’s set out of this world, you’ll space out while watching “Stowaway.”
— Maya Thompson
It’s hot girl summer, and two drunk Americans are brought together by another drunk person in one of those interchangeable party destinations (it’s Athens). “Monday” stars a boisterous Sebastian Stan and a professional Denise Gough as party people on a one-night stand that gets complicated.
“You wanna get out of here?” Chloe (Gough) asks Mickey (Stan). “Yes,” he responds, and they’re off to the races — but waking up naked on a beach and getting arrested was not in the plan. Chloe’s a lawyer and Mickey’s a DJ, and their relationship is not meant to last as long as it does. Stan’s delivery is flat and his job as Mickey is mostly to be hot, while Gough’s character is scant and as dull as sheet metal, but if you’re in the mood for something dumb but not fun that’s the opposite of a pandemic, this is it.
The only stakes in “Monday” are sex on the beach (or, on a boat or whenever else writer Rob Hayes and writer-director Argyris Papadimitropoulos think things are getting slow) and questions of “what the f— am I doing?” You could ask the same of “Monday,” a film so meaningless, it’s as if someone took a rom-com and made it dreary, instead of simply writing an opposite rom-com. Toward the end, as the prolific sex turns rote and reality catches up with the two, “Monday” makes a cheap play for viewers’ pity, with a return of nil.
— Dominic Marziali
Dominic Marziali covers film. Contact him at [email protected].