Salty Air

‘I.S.S.’: power struggle in space – Play It Again, Tim

Written by Tim Miller

Given current U.S.-Russian relations, “I.S.S.” (R, 95 minutes, in theaters) is especially timely.

The sci-fi thriller, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite (“Our Friend”), is set on the International Space Station, where three U.S. astronauts (Ariana DeBose of “West Side Story,” Chris Messina and John Gallagher Jr.) and three Russian cosmonauts (Maria Mashkova, Costa Ronin and Pilou Asbaek) share space and cautious friendship while conducting research experiments.

Everything is going relatively well until the Americans and the Russians receive transmissions from their respective governments that their countries have gone to war. Both sides are ordered to take control of the I.S.S. – through whatever means necessary.


Ariana DeBose stars in “I.S.S.” (Bleecker Street)

Well … that complicates matters. Suddenly, all six crew members are faced with intense choices involving morality vs. patriotism, friendship vs. duty, and so forth. You probably won’t be shocked to learn that not everyone survives. After all, this space station is obviously meant as a microcosm for the self-destructive, warring world they can see at a great distance.

Despite its obvious intentions and occasional lapses into predictability (“Uh-oh; this doesn’t bode well for that guy”), “I.S.S.” has moderate success as a thoughtful suspenser, with DeBose especially good in the lead role as the newest member of the crew.

Written by newcomer Nick Shafir, the film could have used a stronger ending. As it is, the finale drives home a point rather than providing a satisfying finale. Sometimes this type of approach works; this ending, in leaving the moviegoer hanging, feels like a cheat. **½ (out of four)

‘Founders Day’ nothing to celebrate

Those mad masked slashers sure like to celebrate the holidays.

Recently, we had Eli Roth’s mediocre “Thanksgiving,” in which a killer in a Gov. John Carver mask (howdy, Pilgrim) marks Turkey Day by killing a bunch of people (cooking one for T-day dinner!) in Plymouth, Mass.

Now comes “Founders Day” (R, 106 minutes, in theaters), in which a masked fiend disguised as a hideous judge gives victims a beat-down with a deadly gavel. This takes place in a town where a heated mayoral race is going on between the incumbent, Blair Gladwell (Amy Hargreaves), and her challenger, Harold Faulkner (Jayce Bartok). Both candidates are awful human beings concerned only with saying and doing whatever will help them win the election. Sound familiar?

Founders Day

“Founders Day”: Here comes the judge. (Dark Sky Films)

Meanwhile, high-schooler/protagonist Allison Chambers (Naomi Grace) sees the slasher attack Faulkner’s daughter, Melissa (Olivia Nikkanen), and give her the heave-ho off a bridge. Despite this threat to the community, Mayor Gladwell insists on continuing with plans for a family festival to celebrate the town’s Founders Day. Probably not a good idea, but it does infuriate her opponent.

Brothers Erik and Carson Bloomquist, who wrote “Founders Day,” with Erik directing, clearly are trying to blend the conventions of the slasher genre (red herrings, multiple suspects, mutilated teenagers) with campy political satire.

There are a few problems, though. One is that, God help us, what we see nightly on the news is so absurd that modern politics seems satire proof. “Founders Day” pummels us with the obvious.

Still, it might have worked on some level if it were clever, or funny, or scary. Instead, it’s trite, obnoxious and amateurish. *

** Click here for  Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **

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Tim Miller

Tim Miller, Movie Critic

Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics and a Tomatometer-approved critic. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.

About the author

Tim Miller

Tim Miller, a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics, was the Cape Cod Times film critic for nearly 36 years. A Detroit native (and hardcore Tigers fan), he’s been obsessed with movies since skipping school in 1962 to see “Lawrence of Arabia” with his parents when he was 7. Miller earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and his master’s from Suffolk University, where he taught film and journalism for 10 years. He continues to teach film at Curry College and Cape Cod Community College. He is a juror each year for the short-film competition of the Martha’s Vineyard International Film Festival, has moderated several panel discussions at the Woods Hole Film Festival and frequently is heard as a guest on Cape & Islands NPR station WCAI. His work appeared as a chapter in the book “John Sayles: Interviews.” His favorite movie is Cameron Crowe's “Almost Famous” – because it makes him feel good to be alive.

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