Film: a rocky effort and a Russian space thriller

A scene from Russian space thriller, "Sputnik".

The Sentinel’s arts and entertainment editor Rita Bratovich reviews Sophia Coppola’s new film and an intriguing Russian sci-fi.

A somewhat rocky effort by Sofia Coppola

The new film On The Rocks by Sofia Coppola has a lot of warmth and charm, with engaging lead characters and lovely set design. But alas, it’s all icing and no cake – well, not much beyond a plain sponge and mock cream. 

The impressive cast is led by Bill Murray who plays the wealthy, incorrigible playboy father, Felix to Rashida Jones’ restrained, introvert daughter, Laura. Their relationship is really what the film is all about, and the flimsy plot line of suspected infidelity by Laura’s husband, Dean (Marlon Wayans) merely gets in the way. 

The film has a Woody Allen-esque feel, to the extent that it features New York as a character, and focuses on people and dialogue rather than screen-filled action. The script doesn’t have the bite or wit of Allen, but it does have the staid confidence in its own storytelling. 

In a nutshell, Laura, on the most tenuous of clues, begins to suspect her husband of having an affair. (The scenes in which he appears feel clumsily contrived to support this suspicion.) 

She unwisely shares her misgivings with her father who then encourages a campaign of espionage. During their various stake-outs they explore their own rocky past and her father’s inability to remain faithful. 

There are some lovely peripheral characters, such as the incessantly babbling school mum played by Jenny Slate, and delightful veteran Barbara Bain’s too brief appearances as Laura’s grandma. 

Laura’s two children, Theo (played alternately by identical twins Alexandra Mary and Anna Chanel Reimer) and Maya (Liyanna Muscat) are gorgeous scene-stealers.  

It’s not brilliant, but as an alternative to what’s going on in the real world, it’s a pleasant enough 90 minutes of escapism. 

In cinemas now

Rahsida Jones (left) and Billy Murray in On The Rocks. Photo courtesy of Apple.

Russian space thriller borrows from classics

It’s hard not to immediately draw a comparison between Russian director Egor Abramenko’s new sci-fi thriller, Sputnik and the timeless Hollywood classic, Alien

In fact, the film draws inspiration from many space/alien themed movies and borrows a lot of the tropes, but it still somehow manages to stamp its own brand on the genre. Some of that can be attributed to endemic cultural idiosyncrasies, but a lot has to do with the taught, character based script and solid directing. 

Two cosmonauts are in a capsule on a routine mission in space. Something happens and the next thing we know their capsule is floating down to Earth on a parachute where it makes a crash landing. One astronaut is dead with horrific head injuries. The other, Konstantin Veshnyakov (Pyotr Fyodorov), is badly injured and taken to a high security military institution where he is nursed back to health and then kept under close observation.

Meanwhile, a feisty psychologist, Tatyana Klimova (Oksana Akinshina), who is in deep trouble with authorities over her rebellious ways, is seconded to the military base to provide a psychological assessment of the cosmonaut. 

What she eventually discovers is that the spaceman returned to Earth with more than just bad memories. 

It’s a very dark movie – literally. Most of the action takes place in the dimly lit, austere concrete facility. That, as well as some other techniques, takes the edge off some of the more gruesome scenes, but by no means diminishes the gripping tension. 

The two leads are excellent, and it’s refreshing to see a young female actor in a strong, non-romantic female role. 

The other notable performance is that of Fedor Bondarchuk as Colonel Semiradov, the man in charge who is breaking rules to try and find answers. 

This is well crafted, well paced and quite well made – predictable in parts, quite unexpected in others. 

In cinemas now

Oksana Akinshiputna (left) and Fedor Bondarchuk in Sputnik. File photo.

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