Spaceman -- Photo Netflix
Spaceman — Photo Netflix

Stand-up comic Adam Sandler established his screen career in broad, slapstick comedies. But in 2019, he stunned audiences by playing a desperate New York City jeweler on the lookout for the ultimate win in “Uncut Gems.”

Now in “Spaceman,” he’s Jakub Prochazka, a weary, bearded Czechoslovakian astronaut who is six months into a solo mission to explore and retrieve particle samples from a huge purple nebula known as the Chopra Cloud, located near the outer limits of Jupiter.

Yet his research mission is minor in comparison with his concern about the dissolution of his marriage to pregnant Lenka (Carey Mulligan), who resents his ego, ambition and commitment to space travel. (Didn’t she know that when she married him?)

When she sends him a video message announcing that she’s leaving him, it’s intercepted by Jakub’s deeply concerned Euro Space Program boss, Commissioner Tuma (Isabella Rossellini), who refuses to pass it on, particularly since a competitive South Korean spaceship is following close behind. 

She knows Jakub is already in emotional distress, searching for some kind of redemption for the sins of his disgraced father, an informant for the Communist Party, but the narrative almost obliterates that political connection. 

Meanwhile, looking in a mirror, Jakub extracts a spidery creature from his mouth . . Is it a nightmare or is it somehow connected to his subsequent discovery of a huge, hairy arachnid, a six-eyed alien intruder, lurking on his spaceship?

Addressing him as “skinny human,” this mysterious creature (voiced by Paul Dano) quickly assures Jakub that it’s not predatory; instead, it seems to be offering soft-spoken counsel, evoking an empathetic cross between the barn spider in E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” and Stanley Kubrick’s HAL in “2001: A Space Odyssey.”

Adapted by Colby Day from Jaroslav Kalfar’s 2017 novel “Spaceman of Bohemia,” it is unevenly directed by Sweden’s Johan Renck (HBO’s “Chernobyl”), who never quite decides whether this is a melancholy marital relationship drama, an existential meditation on loneliness, or cosmic conjecture about the ability of a human to remain sane while in claustrophobic solitude.

Due to mixed reactions at test screenings, “Spaceman” has been in post-production for almost three years. On the plus side, as Max Richter’s score soars, cinematographer Jakon Ihre comes up with some stunning visuals, creating an experiential sense of zero gravity.

FYI: The little girl who inquires whether Jakub is the loneliest man in the world is actually Sandler’s real-life daughter Sunny.

On the Granger Gauge of 1 to 10, “Spaceman” is an ambiguous, inconsequential 4, streaming on Netflix.

The Boys in the Boat - Photo Prime Video
The Boys in the Boat – Photo Prime Video

George Clooney helms “The Boys in the Boat” as a classic underdog sports saga set during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Based on Daniel James Brown’s 2013 non-fiction best-seller, it begins with elderly Joe Rantz (Ian McElhinney) watching a young boy rowing a boat in a lake – which reminds him of the challenges of his youth at the University of Washington.

Unlike many of his classmates, young Joe (Callum Turner) didn’t have parents who could pay his tuition. He lives in a dilapidated car and often goes hungry. He’s had to work for every penny – with jobs few and far between. 

Then he hears about tryouts for the junior varsity rowing team. If he qualifies, he’ll get three meals a day, lodging and enough of a stipend to pay his tuition bills.

Despite never having lifted an oar, resourceful Joe miraculously makes his way through the selection process, demonstrating strength, stamina and determination – along with his best friend Roger Morris (Sam Strike).

Since their jobs are also at stake, Coach Al Ulbrickson (Joel Edgerton) and his assistant Tom Bowles (James Wolk) are determined to end their losing streak and – finally – beat Cal (University of California at Berkeley).

Eventually, as history notes, they qualified for the Olympic Games in Nazi-held Germany, facing off against the Third Reich’s elite team.

Clooney excels at depicting the grueling training sequences which demand that eight – perfectly matched – men on alternate sides of the boat, holding one oar each, master the demanding rhythm required to propel them across the finish line. Rowing four hours a day, the actors trained for five months, eventually achieving their goal of 46 strokes per minute.

Screenwriter Mark L. Smith utilizes a satisfying ‘bookending’ prologue and conclusion, but his cliché-clogged dialogue is far too staid and superficial, eschewing all subtleties.  As a result, many character-revealing nuances are ‘told,’ rather than shown.

FYI: Back in 2017, this saga was featured on an episode of PBS’ “American Experience” titled “The Boys of ’36.”

On the Granger Gauge, “The Boys in the Boat” is a rousing, inspirational 7, streaming on Amazon Prime.

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 all her reviews at www.susangranger.com.