This month’s picks include two moon-titled movies and two of Mahershala Ali.
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Benjamin Cleary’s thoughtful film takes place in a near future that feels within reach: People travel on sleek trains and in driverless electric cars; they have cameras in their contact lenses. And while not widespread (yet), human cloning has become a reality. Because he has a terminal illness, Cameron (Mahershala Ali, effortlessly carrying the movie) decides to secretly replace himself with a duplicate so that his wife (Naomie Harris) and their young son will be spared the grief of his death. Cameron elopes to a secluded facility run by Dr. Scott (Glenn Close), where his consciousness is uploaded into a “molecularly regenerated” copy of his body. But then Cameron finds it hard to let go: Cameron 2 is himself — only one small mole differentiates them — and yet he is not, provoking complex feelings of fear, jealousy and defensiveness. One of the few people who understands the predicament is Kate (Awkwafina), a dying woman spending her last days at Dr. Scott’s compound after having been replaced in the outside world by a clone. Bathed in the cold palette and cool details (these characters listen to music on vinyl, of course) that are de rigueur for this type of arty sci-fi, “Swan Song” does get a little mopey, but it is also insightful about the difficulty of making huge decisions. And it posits a situation that may not be all that far-off.
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Roland Emmerich’s latest — a pleasure so guilty that it deserves a life sentence — is the polar opposite of “Swan Song,” but the films share a big plot element that it would be cruel to spoil. The bombastic disaster auteur of “The Day After Tomorrow” and “2012” stays true to himself with a story in which the moon spinning out of its orbit wreaks large-scale destruction on Earth. A former astronaut (Patrick Wilson), a NASA mucky-muck (Halle Berry) and a “fringe astronomer” (John Bradley, Samwell Tarly on “Game of Thrones”) team up to find out what’s going on and prevent our planet’s annihilation. Naturally Emmerich also makes room for a frayed father-son relationship in urgent need of mending. The movie really takes off when it recycles familiar crackpot conspiracy theories to amusing effect — as it turns out, the moon is not made of cheese after all. Emmerich builds it to a finale that is nutty even by his own standards. The lunacy (pun intended) is epic, and the best possible response is to embrace it.
Stream it on HBO Max.
Despite its name, the second entry in this month’s moon doubleheader actually takes place on Mars, or mostly en route to it. An opposites-attract rom-com with a Y.A. bent, the movie pairs the barista Walt (Cole Sprouse, from “Riverdale”) and the high-achieving student Sophie (Lana Condor, from the “To All the Boys” franchise) on a trip to the red planet, where they are planning to meet up with their respective loved ones. The two leads have a comfortable chemistry, especially once you get used to Sprouse’s gravity-defying hair. The moral of “Moonshot,” which is set in 2049, is that going to Mars isn’t going to fix what ails you, which is a good lesson for young folks in love as well as billionaires. Indeed, Christopher Winterbauer’s film has some pointed zingers under its fluffy exterior — Zach Braff is perfectly cast as a manipulative Elon Musk-like magnate who favors such slogans as “Together we can build a better world … on a different world.”
Stream it on Netflix.
“Attack on Titan” is among the most critically successful anime franchises of the past decade, so it’s worth paying attention when one of its lead directors, Tetsuro Araki, steps into another project — and another vibe. Whereas gigantic, violent creatures hunt humans in the dark “Titan,” Araki’s new feature “Bubble” takes a slightly more gentle view. In it, Tokyo has flooded, leading the remaining inhabitants to compete against each other in parkour teams around the half-submerged city (the setting evokes a friendlier version of J.G. Ballard’s “The Drowned World” or Kim Stanley Robinson’s “New York 2140”). The plot coalesces around the “battlekour” champ Hibiki and the mysterious Uta, who draws him with her song. Their relationship echoes the one in Hans Christian Andersen’s “Little Mermaid” with touches of “The Odyssey,” which, admittedly, are not the most feminist stories. But the film, despite some haphazard moments, creates a fascinating world, and Araki is a terrific director of video game-like action scenes — it’s easy to go with the flow.
Stream it on Hulu.
Last month Amy Seimetz exited the HBO series “The Idol,” starring the Weeknd and which she was directing. There was the usual brouhaha about creative differences and such, and you have to wonder if the powers-that-be had paid close enough attention to the actress-director’s disquietingly odd film from 2020 before hiring her — they might have been a little better prepared for her style. “She Dies Tomorrow” uses disruptive narrative methods to tell a story of fractured inner landscapes, starting with the one of Amy (Kate Lyn Sheil), who is suddenly struck by the knowledge that she will perish the next day. As if this weren’t bad enough, people around her start thinking the same fate awaits them. “I feel like you put this idea of dying in my head,” Amy’s friend Jane (Jane Adams) says to her. It’s hard to tell if we are looking at social contagion, a startling case of influencing run amok or a potent apocalyptic premonition. This is the kind of film that prefers slithering under your skin to offering explanations, and it demands to be accepted on its own fractured terms.