Review Round-Up: “Low Tide,” “Memory: The Origins of Alien,” And “Semper Fi”

By now, you all know the drill. When we have a busy week, article wise, when there isn’t enough space to get to everything hitting theaters, we use part of the weekend to catch up on reviews. Today, the round up has three titles to detail, which again represent a trio of very different genres. There’s the teen mystery Low Tide, the documentary Memory: The Origins of Alien, as well as the action outing Semper Fi. How are these films? Are any of them worth recommending? All of them? Well, read on to find out my take on each of the movies below…

Low Tide

Back at the Tribeca Film Festival, this teen-centric drama/mystery/thriller played, and I was bummed to have missed it. Now, as it hits theaters, I’ve finally caught up with it and am glad I did. Too often, having a younger cast can soften the edges of a work. Not here, as this flick manages to be intense and moody, though never dour. It just feels like what would actually happen in this sort of a scenario. If this never becomes as fun as The Goonies or as potentially disturbing as It, it stay finds a nice middle ground to present an independent film worth not letting slip through the cracks.

The movie is a drama and mystery hybrid, with thriller elements, filtered through a teenage lens. For Alan (Keean Johnson), Peter (Jaeden Martell), Red (Alex Neustaedter), and Smitty (Daniel Zolghadri), their small town on the Jersey Shore is mostly boring. At least each summer, the older kids can roam the boardwalk and get into some low-key trouble, especially when families from out of town drop in. However, this summer is different. When the group discovers literal treasure, the friends have to deal with potential betrayal and constant suspicion. even in modern times, old fashioned gold can bring out the worst in everyone, including possibly even violence. Kevin McMullin writes and directs, with cinematography by Andrew Ellmaker, as well as a score from Brooke Blair and Will Blair. Supporting players include Kristine Froseth, Mike Hodge, Shea Whigham, and more.

The atmospheric approach serves filmmaker Kevin McMullin well. That, and his cast, including Keean Johnson, Jaeden Martell, Alex Neustaedter, and Shea Whigham, are up to the task of investing you in this story. They don’t do a perfect job, as despite the short running time, the film tends to drag here and there, but they do it well enough to make things more than worthwhile. Martell especially has his teen angst down well, something he showed off in the It franchise as well. In some ways, it feels like a bit of a dream, like a memory these kids had of a crazy time in their lives. McMullin puts that forward quite nicely, in fact.

Low Tide isn’t an indie to fall over yourself praising, but it’s the sort of rock solid festival offering that I’m glad wasn’t just shuttled off into the abyss. Especially if you liked Martell in the It movies, you’ll enjoy what he’s doing here. Look for this film and you’ll find a throwback sort of work. It never makes a fuss, but it manages to leave an impact.

Memory: The Origins of Alien

Alien is an undisputed classic. There’s no two ways about it. However, is it the sort of film that needs to have a documentary made about it? Luckily, the answer is yes, so the emergence of Memory: The Origins of Alien is a gift to fans of the movie. In making a doc about the flick, the decision here is made to dive in, not just to what ideas led to its making, but about how a pivotal scene was done. If it at times feels like a great version of a DVD special feature from another era, that does little to prevent this from being a fascinating watch.

This documentary has a lot to say about the classic Alien. Via the production, as well as IMDb: “The untold origin story behind Ridley Scott’s Alien – rooted in Greek and Egyptian mythologies, underground comics, the art of Francis Bacon, and the dark visions of Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger. A contemplation on the symbiotic collaborative process of movie-making, the power of myth, and our collective unconscious.” Early on, the focus is on Dan O’Bannon and what led him to pen the flick. Then, there’s a spotlight on H.R. Giger and his legendary designs. Finally, the third act brings in the actual Ridley Scott production, including how the famous chestburster sequence was constructed. Alexandre O. Philippe writes and directs, with a score from Jon Hegel, plus cinematography by Robert Muratore.

Taking such a granular approach to the work provides real detail to Alien, but also reveals some shortcomings. Notably, while Dan O’Bannon is looked at a lot, Sigourney Weaver and her contributions are barely mentioned. Plus, Ridley Scott is only used in archival interviews, which is an odd choice. Alexandre O. Philippe previously looked at a single scene from Psycho in his last work, 78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene. Here, he mixes a bit of that with his other notable doc, The People vs. George Lucas. It creates a hybrid situation that might puzzle folks who prefer his 78/52 approach, but it fits in giving Scott’s classic the prestige treatment it deserves.

Anyone who loves Alien will find something to like in Memory: The Origins of Alien. Philippe has love and reverence for the movie, and it shines through in the documentary. If the focus is a bit on the muddled side, the earnestness of the doc helps to smooth things over. Cinephiles will get the most out of this one, but anyone can find something to grab on to here. It’s well worth seeking out, I can assure you of that much…

Semper Fi

How far can a pair of performances take a movie? Semper Fi is an example of yet another production that lucks into some strong acting turns, but can’t make the final product around them worthwhile. The drama wants to be a deep and even tragic look at familial bonds, but nothing about it really strikes a stirring chord. There are hints here and there, but despite two bits of acting worth praising, the entirety of Semper Fi amounts to very little of note.

The film is a story of brothers. Cal (Jai Courtney) and Oyster (Nat Wolff) couldn’t be more different. Older brother Cal is straight-laced and honest police officer who helps to make ends meet in his life as a Marine Corps reservist. He spends those days along with his close group of childhood friends, bonding over military service. Oyster, however, is young and reckless, quick to get into trouble. When Oyster accidentally causes a death during a bar fight and opts to try and flee the scene, Cal isn’t having any of that. He wants him to face fair justice. However, when the prison sentence comes down, it’s wholly unfair and puts Oyster into a dangerous position. As he literally struggles to survive in the dangerous Pennsylvania prison system, Cal and his friends wind up being deployed to fight in Iraq. Forced to be overseas, Cal struggles with what he did to Oyster, ultimately contemplating a risky operation to bring freedom to his brother. Henry Alex Rubin directs and co-writes with Sean Mullin. Hanan Townshend contributes the score, while David Devlin shoots the film. Other cast members include Arturo Castro, Beau Knapp, Leighton Meester, and more.

This flick has potential, but can’t figure out where to place its focus. Jai Courtney is better than we’ve usually seen him, but his story is blander. Nat Wolff is again very good, playing a darker character than normal, and his scenes are stronger. However, Rubin wants to split things as equally as he can, ultimately just frustrating his audience by weakening both sides. The plot is fairly rote, so when you can’t fully be invested in either performance, there’s not much to latch on to here. Shot in bland hues that just look unnecessarily washed out, it’s a visually boring flick that can’t support its central acting jobs. Things perk up a bit during the climax, but by then, it’s too little, too late.

Semper Fi could have been a really great film. Courtney and Wolff are doing their damnedest to make it one. Sadly, it just never comes together. If you’re a big booster of either of the two men, you might want to give this one a look, since they’re both very compelling. However, the movie surrounding them simply is not. Alas.

All three of these films are in theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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