Double feature: Mark Burger reviews ‘Underwater,’ ‘Cunningham’
Despite the holiday blockbusters and awards contenders still playing multiplexes, January has long been considered a dumping ground for new films, almost as if the studios were unloading their trash come the new year.
For a quintessential example of this theorem, one need look no further, and no lower than Underwater, a soggy sci-fi shocker that hearkens back to the late 1980s, when a spate of undersea scare-fests came swimming to movie screens in rapid succession.
The biggest, but by no means the best, was James Cameron’s The Abyss (1989), which was undoubtedly the most publicized, and perhaps the most disappointing. Sean S. Cunningham’s DeepStar Six (1989) and Leviathan (1989), directed by the inimitable George P. Cosmatos, are guilty pleasures at best. The Roger Corman production Lords of the Deep (1989) is simply guilty, and the less said of Juan Piquer Simon’s The Rift (1990) – released as Endless Descent in the U.S. – the better.
With a derivative screenplay by Brian Duffield (who wrote the original story) and Adam Cozad, Underwater manages to surpass its dubious predecessors in listless fashion. It’s a ponderous, draggy affair, despite a few jolts, decent special effects, and good work by cinematographer Bojan Bazelli.
Things get off to a literally shaky start when Kepler Station, a hi-tech corporate mining installation located some seven miles deep in the Pacific Ocean, suddenly implodes. Whether it was faulty construction or (ahem), another reason is never made clear, not that it matters much.
A handful of survivors, including Kristen Stewart (plucky engineer), Vincent Cassel (grizzled captain), and T.J. Miller (resident comic relief), attempt to escape the station before it’s destroyed altogether, meaning that they have to walk along the ocean floor to another, apparently safe, section of the rapidly-collapsing station.
There is, of course, another complication, and an entirely predictable one: A slew of slimy sea monsters that further diminish the film’s human contingent at regular intervals.
Under the circumstances, there’s not much that director William Eubank brings to the party. Underwater is hardly an acting showcase, although Cassel tries and Stewart’s livelier than might be expected. There are some arbitrary attempts at characterization, but none of it sticks. Indeed, Underwater is entirely forgettable and pedestrian. Had the title not been used for an animated feature some years back, Flushed Away might be a more appropriate moniker for this monstrosity.
Invitation to the dance
In addition to directing and editing, filmmaker Alla Kovgan makes her feature debut as writer/producer of Cunningham, an award-winning documentary that examines the life, career, and enduring legacy of the esteemed and prolific dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919-2009).
Cunningham’s philosophy, often told in his own words, is showcased both in vintage footage and contemporary demonstrations, the latter beautifully shot by cinematographer Mko Malhasyan. Sometimes, no words are necessary; what matters are the movements and the motions.
Cunningham is an exceedingly accessible work, and one need not be a devotee of dance to appreciate or enjoy it, but there’s no question that those viewers familiar with Cunningham and his work will find this a thorough and engaging. It’s less a biography than a celebration, and quite a colorful and festive one at that.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. © 2020, Mark Burger.