Thursday, August 17, 2023

Aliens rule in comic helping of sic-fi


   When you see the aliens in Landscape with Invisible Hand, you'll probably giggle. These are not imposing creatures who gobble up humans like candy. They're goofy-looking visitors with paddle-like hands. Their doughy loaf-like bodies suggest what beings might become should they cede all their vital functions to technology.
    Somehow (never mind how) these aliens -- known as the Vuvv -- have become the rulers of Earth, selling their presence as a high-tech boon to humanity even as they engage in all manner of entrepreneurial exploitation, replacing people with technology whenever possible.
   Working from a YA novel by M.T. Anderson, writer/director Cory Finley explores class hierarchy and the commodification of ... well ... nearly everything, especially art.
    Basically, the human characters dominate the story.
    Asante Blackk plays Adam, a high school student who aspires to be an artist. Adam lives with his mother (Tiffany Haddish), a lawyer who has been put out of work by the Vuvv, and his sister (Brooklynn Mackenzie). 
    Dad (William Jackson Harper) did a disappearing act shortly after the aliens arrived.
   At school, Adam meets Chloe (Kylie Rogers). Chloe, her brother (Michael Gandolfini), and her father (Josh Hamilton) are homeless. 
   Sensing a kindred spirit, Adam invites Chloe and the rest of her family to move into the basement of his mother's house.
   Finding a place to live represents an upgrade, but the visitors occupy a lower rung of the house's social pecking order. Conflict looms when resentment begins to supplant gratitude.
    For their part, the aliens, convinced of their superiority, seem bemused by Earth's inhabitants. Because they don't reproduce sexually, the aliens are fascinated by human romance and want to observe it up close -- for both edification and entertainment. 
    Looking for extra cash, Chloe and Adam become members of a courtship broadcast team; i.e., stars of their own reality show. The more aliens who tune in, the more Chloe and Adam earn. They need the money and they like each other anyway — at least at the outset.
    Later, the Vuvv place one of their number in the household to further study the human institution of marriage. This leads to a bizarre mock wedding between the Vuvv visitor and Haddish's character.
     Finley eventually focuses attention on the commodification of art.  When Adam's work becomes popular, Vuvv eyes light up. They'll reward him handsomely and turn his art into a replicable commodity. Will Adam sell out or stick to his principles?
     Blackk gives the movie’s keynote performance, a quietly expressive rendering of teenage awakening. Rogers keeps pace.
     Finely scores points for inventiveness and for making a sci-fi movie that plays down super-sized effects. His depiction of aliens becomes part of a larger joke about exploitation and the class fractures it breeds.
     The movie's themes stay close to the surface and Landscape doesn't quite attain breakthrough velocity. Its amusements may be intermittent but they're enough to keep things going.
    The title, by the way, would be great for a one-person art show.

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