By Susan Granger
Special to WestportNow
These three movies were scheduled for theatrical release this month, then shifted to streaming.
“Les Miserables,” winner of the 2019 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize and France’s official submission for Oscar’s Best International Feature, is basically Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miz’ in the ‘Hood.
Co-written and directed by Ladj Ly, who was born and raised in Montfermeil, where Hugo set part of his story, it’s surprisingly relevant in contemporary culture, focusing on a real incident of police brutality.
The story opens on July 15, 2018, as a troublemaking, street-wise youngster named Issa (Issa Perica) wears a French tricolor as if it were a cape. France is playing Croatia in the World Cup final, and thousands have gathered to watch.
When Kylian Mbappe, the son of a Cameroonian father and an Algerian mother, scores the final goal, enabling France to win the Cup, the Champs-Élysées erupts into a raucous, international festival.
Reporting for his first day on duty with the Street Crimes Unit (S.C.U.), Stephane (Damien Bonnard) cruises around the Montfermeil commune with the patrolling squad leader, hot-tempered, racist Chris (Alexis Manenti), and their laid-back colleague Gwada (Djebril Zonga) at the wheel of a gray Peugeot.
The veterans on the force denigrate the area’s crime boss (Steve Tientcheu), whom Chris dubs “our own Obama,” along with Salah (Almamy Kanoute), part of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Tension erupts with the disappearance of a baby lion cub named Jimmy, part of a small traveling circus. And high atop the roof of an apartment building in the infamous Les Bosquets housing projects, young tech-savvy Buzz (Al-Hassan Ly) launches a drone equipped with a camera that captures video footage of Issa, who is wanted for questioning, being pursued and wounded by the S.C.U.
The apocalyptic action sequences are vividly filmed by Julien Poupard, set to a Pink Noise soundtrack.
“My film is like a cry for help in a space that has been ignored for the last 30 years … This is a film I’m addressing to the politicians of France,” declares Ly, making his debut feature.
In French with English subtitles, “Les Miserables” is an incendiary 7, an urban thriller, available on Amazon.
Inspired by H.P. Lovecraft’s 1927 short story, the sci-fi terror tale “Color Out of Space” revolves around former city dwellers — Nathan (Nicolas Cage) and Theresa (Joely Richardson) Gardner — who moved to the country with their three children: Lavinia (Madeline Arthur), Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Jullian Hilliard).
Having renovated Nathan’s father’s old farmhouse in (fictional) Arkham, Massachusetts, they’re now raising a herd of alpacas (“the animal of the future”) and indulging volatile Lavinia as she consults a paperback copy of “The Necronomicon” to practice a riverside Wiccan pagan ritual, hoping to hasten her mother’s recovery from a recent mastectomy.
One day, Ward Phillips (Elliott Knight) appears; he serves as the narrator, a hydrologist sent to test local water levels for a future dam project. Ward is attracted to teenage Lavinia, while adolescent, oft-stoned Benny confers with their hermetic, tech-savvy neighbor Ezra (Tommy Chong).
That night, there’s an ominous crash as a mysteriously glowing purple/pink meteor fragment lands in their front yard, releasing a magenta-colored extraterrestrial organism that not only infects their family but turns the countryside into a horrifying, shape-shifting, cotton candy-colored nightmare.
As Ward says, “What touched this place cannot be quantified or understood by human science. It was just a color out of space — a messenger from realms whose existence stuns the brain and numbs us with the gulfs that it throws before our frenzied eyes.”
FYI: Ward Phillips’ name stems from that of author (Ho) ward Phillips Lovecraft.
South African-born director Richard Stanley (“The Island of Dr. Moreau,” “Hardware”) co-wrote the adapted screenplay with Scarlett Amaris (“Replace,” “The Theatre Bizarre”), which indulges in far too much weirdly incoherent, B-movie violence and gore, punctuated by Colin Stetson’s synth-based score.
On the Granger Gauge, “Color Out of Space” is a sinister 6, available on Apple TV, Vudu and Fandango.
If you’re into more sci-fi horror, Neasa Hardiman’s low-budget creature-feature “Sea Fever” chronicles how the crew of a creaky Irish fishing trawler battles a horrific oceanic parasite.
Steely Siobhan (Hermione Corfield) is a savvy but anti-social marine biology student who must spend some time doing field study in order to earn her doctoral degree. So she joins a crusty crew that includes Gerard (Dougray Scott), his wife Freya (Connie Nielsen), Johnny (Jack Hickey), Ciara (Olwen Fouere) and the engineer Omid (Ardalan Esmaili) aboard the Niamh Chinn-Oir.
Suddenly, the sea takes on a mysteriously phosphorescent glow as a giant jellyfish attaches itself to the hull, its long, glowing tentacles oozing microscopic, poisonous secretions that puncture and penetrate the wood. A strange, biological anomaly has totally disabled the boat.
In this cramped, claustrophobic setting, there’s a growing sense of eerie paranoia, particularly when they discover that the entire crew of another nearby vessel has suffered a gruesome demise.
How can they combat and contain this parasitic, primordial creature? And who will be infected next?
Irish TV writer-director Neasa Hardiman amps the nautical suspense in her debut feature, borrowing liberally from Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” and Ridley Scott’s “Alien” with the help of cinematographer Ruairi O’Brien and production designer Ray Ball.
Unfortunately, she doesn’t spend enough time delineating and differentiating the various characters before they’re besieged and eliminated. There are a few superstitious allusions to Siobhan’s red hair being ‘bad luck’ and the seemingly rushed conclusion is frustratingly anti-climactic.
Nevertheless, Hardiman’s message about the importance of working together against an unknown entity and staying in self-quarantine to ensure the safety of others is particularly resonant and timely during the current pandemic.
On the Granger Gauge, “Sea Fever” is a slimy, slithering 6, available on Prime Video, Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, Blu-ray and Digital HD.
(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)