Stowaway has drama, while Together and Easttown are bland

click to enlarge Joe Penna's Stowaway
Joe Penna's Stowaway

Flawed Stowaway still manages to impress

Moral dilemmas abound in Joe Penna's Stowaway, a space adventure that's less about cosmic spectacle and more about various crises of conscience the crew of Hyperion experience as they embark on a two-year mission to Mars. Marina (Toni Collette), Zoe (Anna Kendrick) and David (Daniel Dae Kim) are the trio headed into deep space, taking the first steps in colonizing the Red Planet. And while the launch goes off as planned, trouble soon arises when errant technician Michael (Shamier Anderson) is found unconscious and bleeding. What with the ship's oxygen and food supply calibrated for three, it soon becomes apparent that while this number may traditionally be considered a crowd, four on a trip to Mars is nearing a mob.

Despite a couple glaring plot holes, the film ends up being an effective exercise in slow-burn tension. The cast of four each have meaty roles, their characters put through the ringer as the situation gets more dire and options for success become fewer, each required to make life-and-death decisions that impact them all. To be sure, Stowaway could be narratively tighter, but the drama it contains is top-notch. Be prepared for that last scene. Streaming on Netflix.

Bland Together a lesson for staying apart

It's not that I hated Nikole Beckwith's Together, Together, but man, did it irritate me. Like a slow drag of fingernails across a chalkboard that steadily increases in volume until your hair stands on end, the film is a long slog to nowhere with one of the most aggravating practitioners of passive-aggressive behavior you're likely to meet. That would be Matt (Ed Helms), a single guy in his 40s who longs to be a father and decides to hire a surrogate to help him to that end. That poor soul would be Anna (Patti Harrison), a not particularly responsible young woman who just wants to make a quick buck.

Calling this as bland as white paint would be an insult to that criminally underrated color. There's no chemistry between the two leads, the jokes concerning their differing views of childrearing are far too safe to be funny, and Matt is such an overbearing jerk, you can tell why he's still single. Helms is just doing a variation on his Andy Bernard character from The Office, but Harrison grows on you, her character developing in interesting, surprising ways. But that's far too little to maintain any interest in this exercise in tedium. In theaters.

Mare of Easttown a dreary mystery

Your ability to sit through the new HBO miniseries, Mare of Easttown, will depend on how much joy you get wallowing in other people's misery. Starring Kate Winslet as the titular police detective in a blue-collar Pennsylvania burg, nearly every character in the show is beset with one tragic circumstance or another. Unemployment is prevalent, as is drug and spousal abuse, while family members dying young is way above the national per capita average. And don't get me started on the subject of teen pregnancy, which seems to be a rite of passage in this town.

On top of it all, there seems to be a killer on the loose who likes to target teenage girls, and Mare is getting nowhere fast in catching him. Bitter and angry over her circumstances – she's a single grandma whose son has died, her glory days far in the past – the pressure she's under from all sides is debilitating. Whether she finds any redemption over the course of the series' six episodes remains to be seen, but I'm hoping so. Mare and everyone in Easttown sure deserve a break. Streaming on HBO Max.

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