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Reviews for Swedish sci-fi ‘Aniara’; ‘Amaurosis’; ‘Slaughterhouse Rulez’ and more

Emelie Jonsson in “ANIARA,” a Magnet release. Credit: Magnet Releasing
Emelie Jonsson in the movie “Aniara.”
(Magnet Releasing)

‘Aniara’

It’s pretty rare for any film’s credits to read, “Based on a poem by…,” and even rarer for the picture in question to be a decades-spanning science-fiction saga. “Aniara” adapts a 1956 epic by Swedish Nobel laureate Harry Martinson, regarded as a genre classic, if perhaps too bleak — and oblique — to make a good movie. The writer-director team of Pella Kågerman and Hugo Lilja, however, have pulled off something difficult, turning Martinson’s deep melancholy and ineffable yearning into something that works as a story.

Emelie Jonsson stars as MR, a scientist employed on the city-size passenger vessel Aniara: the interstellar equivalent of a luxury cruise ship, ferrying the wealthiest survivors of a dying Earth to a new home on Mars. MR manages “Mima,” a piece of advanced tech that creates realistic simulations of human memories.

When the Aniara gets knocked off course, a three-week voyage gets an updated ETA of “TBA.” While the staff and the customers try to distract themselves with shopping, arcades and discos, as the years drag on — as once Mima conks out — the ship’s culture degrades into ritual orgies and suicide cults.

Though the basic premise here has some similarities to Pixar’s family-friendly hit “Wall-E,” “Aniara” is more cerebral and episodic, dispassionately watching humanity repeat past mistakes and slowly die off. It’s a grim vision, sure. But it’s a compelling one too, using the flash of a space opera to remind viewers that — whether on the ground or in the stars — we’re stuck with each other.

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‘Aniara’

In Swedish with English subtitles

Rated: R, for strong sexual content, graphic nudity, disturbing images, and drug use

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Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Playing: Starts May 17, Landmark Nuart, Los Angeles; also on VOD

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‘Amaurosis’

(L-R)- Gemma (Jasmine Hyde) and Will Shields (Richard Flood) are grieving ? and haunted - parents in
Jasmine Hyde and Richard Flood in the movie “Amaurosis.”
(Subliminal Films)

Formerly known as “The Unseen,” the psychological thriller “Amaurosis” takes its new name from a condition of partial blindness that begins affecting the movie’s heroine, Gemma Shields (Jasmine Hyde), after she and her husband Will (Richard Flood) experience the death of a child. As they struggle to cope with grief, the Shields meet a friendly stranger named Paul (Simon Cotton), who offers them some peace and quiet at his guest house, situated near his mansion, by a mountainside lake. Soon though, the emotionally fragile Gemma becomes unsure if she can trust either the increasingly irritable Will or the suspiciously kindly Paul.

Writer-director Gary Sinyor uses a blurring effect to represent Gemma’s POV, adding creeping suspense to a story that’s otherwise better as a study of loss than as a Hitchcockian nerve-jangler. “Amaurosis” doesn’t spare audiences the details of the Shields’ tragedy. (Be warned: The child’s death opens the movie.) So while the “Wait Until Dark”-like suspense of the film’s climax feels a little rote, that’s OK, because the foggy depiction of a troubled marriage is plenty disturbing.

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‘Amaurosis’

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Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Starts May 17, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also on VOD

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‘Slaughterhouse Rulez’

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Asa Butterfield and Finn Cole in the movie “Slaughterhouse Rulez.”
(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

A star-studded cast and a high-concept premise make promises that “Slaughterhouse Rulez” ultimately can’t keep. Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Michael Sheen, Margot Robbie and Asa Butterfield all star in this horror-comedy, set at a class-stratified English boarding school beset by mutated subterranean beasties. There’s nothing particularly awful about the film (title aside), but it never develops into the “Shaun of the Dead”-like social satire it strains to be.

Director Crispian Mills deftly weaves together Harry Potter, “Animal House” and “Tremors,” while taking shots at a British ruling class more interested in archaic hazing rituals than in protecting the populace from greedy corporations and demon hordes. But many of the bigger-named actors (like Robbie and Sheen) are only in the picture for a few scenes; and most of the monster-fighting action and high school melodrama is more derivative than inspired.

If this film were homework, it’d get a passing grade … but no gold star.

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‘Slaughterhouse Rulez’

Rated: R, for bloody violence, language throughout, sexual content, and some drug use

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Playing: Starts May 17, AMC Atlantic Times Square 14, Monterey Park; also on VOD

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‘Shed of the Dead’

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Spencer Brown in the movie “Shed of the Dead.”
(Indican Pictures)

Speaking of “Shaun of the Dead,” the ghost — corpse? — of that modern zombie classic looms large over “Shed of the Dead,” a dispiritingly familiar story about a fussy gamer, Trevor (Spencer Brown), and his slobby buddy Graham (Ewan McIntosh), and how their neighborhood is unexpectedly overrun by the undead.

Occasional fantasy sequences — where the heroes imagine themselves as the characters in their favorite D&D-like game — add visual novelty, and the movie has an impressively stubborn streak of pessimism, showing Trevor and Graham failing repeatedly. But “Shed of the Dead,” written and directed by Drew Cullingham, also suffers from some ugly misogyny, with nearly every woman in the picture framed as a sex object or shrew. The openhearted humanism of Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg is much missed.

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‘Shed of the Dead’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes

Playing: Starts May 17, Laemmle NoHo 7, North Hollywood ; available May 20 on VOD

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‘Breakneck’

Lorenzo Richelmy as Max in the extreme sports, thriller film ?BREAKNECK? a Gravitas Ventures release
Lorenzo Richelmy in the movie “Breakneck.”
(Paolo Ciriello / Gravitas Ventures)

Though it’s mostly more asinine than awesome, the adrenalized science-fiction thriller “Breakneck,” formerly known as “Ride,” at least tries something new. Director Jacopo Rondinelli and (according to the credits) “creative directors” Fabio Resinaro and Fabio Guaglione bring the kind of jaw-dropping, GoPro-aided, video-game-style POV stunts popular on YouTube into a low-budget action movie.

To maximize the frenetic first-person chases, “Breakneck” has an over-amped plot, which sees two extreme athletes, Kyle (Ludovic Hughes) and Max (Lorenzo Richelmy) taking part in a high-stakes downhill dirt-bike race, which gets deadlier as an occult organization keeps introducing new rules and obstacles.

The script’s a mess, constantly shifting in style from bizarro fantasy to earnest self-actualization drama. But those white-knuckle, often un-simulated action scenes? They’re pretty cool. One gimmick isn’t enough to sustain a whole movie; but it’s easier to sit through something this silly when it keeps delivering little jolts of, “Whoa, what did I just see?”

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‘Breakneck’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.

Playing: Available May 17 on VOD

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‘A Violent Separation’

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Ben Robson in the movie “A Violent Separation.”
(Screen Media)

The small-town crime drama “A Violent Separation” stars Brenton Thwaites and Ben Robson as brothers Norman and Ray Young: a clean-cut cop and a notorious nogoodnik, respectively, whose fates become intertwined when Norman helps Ray cover up a fatal accident. Alycia Debnam-Carey gives a good performance as the victim’s sister Frances, whose relationship with the Youngs raises questions about where everyone’s loyalties should really lie.

These kind of indie neo-noirs can be little gems when done well. Here though, directors Kevin and Michael Goetz and screenwriter Michael Arkof have delivered something largely devoid of style or narrative tension, where everyone’s fates seem drearily predetermined. The cast is fine, and the film has some polish, but for a story that’s supposed to be about the bad choices people make out of desperation (or convenience), none of these characters seems particularly ruffled — which makes it all the harder to get worked up on their behalf.

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‘A Violent Separation’

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 48 minutes.

Playing: Starts May 17, Monica Film Center, Santa Monica; also on VOD

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