The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

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Dropped like something out of the sky; here comes a game-changer in terms of movie marketing and distribution, but that aside is this a good ‘Cloverfield’ movie?

Set in our future and aboard the Cloverfield Station are a crew from various countries who are hoping to perfect a particle accelerator; which could solve the energy crisis on Earth. As their mission finally catches a break, it seems not everything is good. The team become stranded, meanwhile life back on Earth isn’t looking safe and sound either.

So, after a few months of whisperings and internet talk about a new feature in the ‘Cloverfield’ series, we’re finally greeted with this big surprise release. It was due last year and then apparently again for an April 2018 cinematic date under the name ‘God Particle’ from Paramount Pictures, but as the sporting spectacle of the Super Bowl reached it’s halftime parade of expensive ads and new trailers, a teaser for this very movie was shown. Not long after the game itself the film was up on Netflix for all (subscribers) to see.

This I must admit is a bold move to make and pretty special to keep something under wraps. Having a $45 million movie on your hands and to maintain its secrecy and avoid the usual over hype of many trailers and TV spots is a fantastic achievement, if not one that disappoints me slightly because it’s final destination means it can’t be seen on the big screen. It’s a great film visually and the sci-fi element is explored quite well through the vacuum of space and a sleek revolving spaceship but Paramount mustn’t have had high expectations to forgo a cinema roll-out and leave Netflix to pick up the rights. This can be felt in a film that seems to have grown out of control to fit within the ‘Cloverfield’ universe.

It’s a mildly slow-burner of a science fiction to watch, there’s neat moments of burrowing unease as things start to go wrong; as they always do in these kinds of films. The back and forth between space and Earth feels like the parts where they re-wrote to segue in the movie monster tie-in and general spots do feel like a scrambled mess to keep that storytelling building.

Saying this, the dynamic of the crew is good and the moments of error, confusion and danger aboard the spacecraft are entertaining. I wouldn’t say exciting or wholly dramatic but they work well and keep the film going along nicely too. The main interest for me was in the construct of the shifting paradox and the problems arising from there, which is explored with both thrills and humour but not as deep as perhaps it may have delved. I feel one reason the film isn’t as successful as it could be is down to the distracting technique of its release and expecting the ‘Cloverfield’ monster/arc to keep rearing up.

’10 Cloverfield Lane’ was one of my favourite films from 2016 because it tied in the monster series nicely and felt like a creepily separate thriller at the same time. This is still a good film but nowhere near as great. It’s a film that perhaps, thanks to its many delays and streaming resting place, feels more like a somewhat enjoyable online flick but not a dazzling or suspenseful one.

5.5/10

 

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Downsizing (2018)

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A film about a huge idea has never felt so small and yet so long.

Earth is facing more climate change issues and the devastating toll of overpopulation sees Norwegian Dr. Jorgen Asbjornsen (Rolf Lassgard) invent a procedure that shrinks humans to be inches tall. Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) sees this as a chance to live a better life with his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), but she runs scared from the downsize and leaves Paul to look differently at his way of life, with this newly gained perspective.

This was a movie that initially had me very intrigued and excited. The trailers and Alexander Payne credit gave me good reason to see this as a neat and quirky release but upon seeing the film a few months later, I must say that’s it’s far from the kooky gem it could have been. There’s an unshakeable mundane quality to the storytelling and the majority of the movie left me switched off and yawning.

To its credit, this is a fun idea to play around with but the idea never really gets played around with that much. It’s within the set up and initial thirty or so minutes, that the visual humour of small scaled people with large props works well. Leisureland; a community especially designed for the downsized is a cool idea and all the notions around that are executed very well. It’s just a shame that the movie feels like a split from one half to the next and this shrinking set story from Payne and Jim Taylor becomes one devoid of comedy and stretched to uninteresting ends.

The main problem, I feel with this film, is that almost all the characters left me bored. I never connected to them or felt engaged by their progression. The way they talked was uninspired and certain actions made by some of the characters, between Paul and Vietnamese activist turned cleaner Ngoc felt truly out of place. This idea of a love blossoming like a big yellow rose didn’t ring true. I didn’t really see them as loving each other at all and a lot of the characters; Paul, Audrey, Dave, Dusan and others are cartoonish almost unbearable people, so to follow them for over two hours left me wanting the film to shrink away.

Matt Damon is meant to be a pathetic character and he does carry this constant feeling of uselessness to his role and then manages to turn just upon seeing this inspirational cleaner turn up after a drug fuelled party. It’s the mostly dull and pathetic moping to his character that becomes annoying; to emphasise my point I want to mention Oscar Isaac in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ who is a talented musician but a pathetic man who never gets anywhere, that is a film and performance where you still feel connected and engaged, Damon and ‘Downsizing’ are not. Kristen Wiig is made out to be a villain of the piece after ditching her husband but you never really know enough about her to care. Christoph Waltz is an actor I do like watching but recently he’s appeared in some bad films and that’s no exception here, he’s still going with the shtick he’s been pigeonholed into but with extra arrogance. The MVP of the whole movie is Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran who seems to be the only one with emotion and shows some connection to the film she’s acting in unlike everyone else.

It’s the sheer disappointment of what could have been, that lets down this movie massively. The premise has some good moments to start but becomes lost very quickly. I haven’t felt so unenthusiastic or uninterested for quite a while.

5/10

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

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Well cor blimey, this film looks delicious up on the big screen. The visuals aren’t the only delights though; storytelling, acting, music and cinematography are all excellent features of this sci-fi sequel that in my tiny insignificant opinion may be just as good if not better than the original.

Possibly a first here as I won’t go into a usual plot summary paragraph because I feel that any info on what the story serves could be, if not a spoiler at least something that ruins the element of intrigue that you should enter this movie with. Suffice to say it’s 30 years after the setting of the first one and we follow K (Ryan Gosling) in dystopian LA following a case after discovering something potentially world changing at a farm.

Even though I hadn’t seen the 1982 movie at the time, once this film was announced with details of Denis Villeneuve attached I did squeal a little. This incredible visual and smart director gave me cause for excitement and he does indeed pull off an incredibly visual and smart film again. It’s a very intelligent movie with cause for thought and the whole dystopian set up like in the first one gives amazing room for creative space and design. Villeneuve keeps the tone similar but that doesn’t stop him from expanding on ideas and updating them to fit in the mould of what 2049 could bring.

A strong theme within both movies is the notion of identity. In a way I feel this thread is felt even more within this release thanks to the character of K and the freedom movement he is tracking. What makes us human and what does that mean are two powerful questions and they course throughout the film with constant but not overbearing presence. The whole hero idea is another one played with and K is an interesting character because he’s not exactly all out nice guy but that moral code sits within him. A film is always good or great I say when it leaves you thinking about what you’ve seen and immersing yourself into that world to think on possible answers.

Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch have conducted a wonderful score that trickles along in the background adding suitable futuristic sounds and as Zimmer does best the rises and boom of music at times creates the tension within certain scenes. Better than the music though is the sublime work from director of photography Roger Deakins who deserves to finally win an Academy Award with the sheer beauty he gifted this movie. The lines and forms are stunning all the way through, for example the yellow shifting light and frames captured within Wallace’s headquarters are mesmerising.

I have to comment on the newer technological ideas implanted in the movie too; such as the memory maker aspect which was visually pleasing and a very neat idea. The ‘Her’ like sexual encounter with K and his girlfriend with help from someone else was another case of something visually different. A fight with the background holographic accompaniment of Elvis and some showgirls further boosts the creative visual flair.

This film may be a little long and at times the pacing, like in the original, feels at odds and can be a tad slow but the detective story-line and the stunning future world presented on a big screen makes this a science fiction movie to stand up on its own and not just as a follow up to the Ridley Scott outing. In fact because I got to see this in the cinema unlike the first one, that is possibly the reason I like this more, the atmosphere and scale of seeing it on the big screen is necessary for this movie.

7.5/10

Blade Runner (1982)

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Forgive me Movie Community for I have sinned. Today was the 1st time I’d seen this film in almost 27 years of existence. A cult classic and movie continually hitting Top film lists and finally I have watched it…mostly in preparation for the new flick but also to try and rectify a big list of classics I’ve not yet seen.

As a group of ‘Replicants’ (extremely strong and equally intelligent synthetic humans) arrive to Earth, Deckard (Harrison Ford) takes one last job to track them down and kill them. Things don’t go so easy though as he comes across Rachael (Sean Young) and eventually comes face to face with Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer).

The genre of this movie is something I can wholeheartedly get behind, the slick neo-noir vision is indeed special even to this day, so I can only imagine how it may have looked back in the early 80’s. The combination of futuristic science fiction vibes with film noir is most definitely cool and provides a great backdrop for not only the look of the world being created but the rich story too.

Based off a book by Philip K. Dick, who’s adapted work is further seen currently on Channel 4 which I really want to see, this film written by David Peoples and Hampton Fancher almost effortlessly blends the sci-fi genre of fantastical worlds, gadgets and futuristic elements with the layered and more interesting aspects of noir; the femme fatale, the questionable detective hero and moody lighting and moodier characters.

Not that far into the film I began questioning the central idea of clones and the Replicant possibility within the main character. I see now that it has been a topic of controversy for years. Not helping matters are the changes in various versions of this film that have been shown, released and updated. I watched the Final Cut and I must say that I did start thinking that Rick Deckard could very well be a copy and not human but I guess that interpretation idea makes for good conversations and a thinking piece.

Another controversy is my admittance that though I enjoyed the film and see it’s very very well made, I didn’t completely get behind the hype and amazement people have built it up to have over the years. It’s acted well in places, the music from Vangelis is stellar and the plot is interesting, quite complex and provoking but it felt like a lullaby in places and didn’t keep my interest as I wished it may have done. Perhaps I misunderstood it like people did upon it’s first release but the mystery of the narrative never gripped me and the pacing was slightly irritating.

Those are my only negatives, which I know could well have me shot. Aside from that I get that this film is a superb sci-fi and the ground-breaking hybrid and intelligent story-making on show is cause for this definitive status. I back that status and would recommend the film, I just wouldn’t put it on my Top 10 or Top 20 list of films. Forgive me again Movie Community.

7/10

 

Arrival (2016)

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Gladly, this is not your typical ‘alien invasion’ flick, it’s a much smarter story that totally immerses you into a situation filled with dread yet hope, understanding yet confusion. I came out of the film feeling a little lost but it’s a grower because as you think on it the whole idea becomes more interesting.

As 12 shells arrive on Earth and hover above different locations, linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) is called into help the military. Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker) hopes that she can understand and translate the aliens’ talking and find out why they’re here. Together with scientist and maths man Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) they start uncovering a complex world-changing language.

Coming from ‘Prisoners’ and ‘Sicario’ director Denis Villeneuve, you can surely expect tension and smart movie story-telling and you’d be right to do so, as this sci-fi release is burning with clever ideas about language, time and humanity’s fight for survival and knowledge. Villeneuve doesn’t go for any last minute twist, he keeps his film going along and through shots or blurred flashbacks we begin building a picture of what’s to come. What he does well is ensure every scene has importance or emotion and gives moments with the aliens a nervous and affecting tone as we try to grip what may happen.

Eric Heisserer gives the story no cliches or over expositional content, aside from one line near the end of the film, everything we hear sounds plausible and brings you into this alien filled drama with ease. The way he adapts the short story and ensures the Heptapods’ speech is intellectual, so much so that it befuddled my mind but not enough to make me disengage from the movie. This language is a huge factor of the script, connecting to Louise and creating a rounded story that gives ‘Arrival’ fantastic depth.

Back to help Villeneuve is composer Johann Johannsson, who has a superb skill in building tension through music. The dread mounts and through deeper reverberations in the score we feel on edge as the characters go to encounter the Heptapods. A brilliant track comes in with some narration and is used again for the credits, it’s haunting and a chorus of voices makes it more impacting.

Amy Adams in her second November outing, is much more interesting to watch in this compared to ‘Nocturnal Animals’, that’s to say she has more to do and her character is excellent. The subtle flickers of tired emotion that fill her thanks to flashes of events or the way she gleefully acts when breaking ground with the aliens communication all make Louise a captivating role. Jeremy Renner is good also, his smart mathematician role bouncing off Louise very well. Whitaker is a great choice as the military superior, his calmness a good thing as he easily could have been the villain straining for violence. Michael Stuhlbarg is a fine actor, always doing good with what he’s given and here he grows as the film progresses.

It may still have me slightly puzzling over the whole grand scope of time but this is a science fiction that dazzles and if you like a movie to make you think then this is the perfect choice. Performances, writing, directing and music create something to blow your mind like not much before.

8/10

 

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

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Yes, this latest in the Trekkie universe is entertaining and feels like it’s ticking boxes of the roots of the show but there’s numerous times where it felt either too campy or too boring. It’s most certainly a blockbuster movie but it ended up being quite loud, crashy and dumb.

3 years into their 5 year mission, Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) and his crew land in Yorktown. Kirk goes for a promotion to Vice Admiral but whilst there he sees a distress signal out of the nebula. Once the escape pod figure is rescued the USS Enterprise is attacked by a swarm of ships and a powerful leader named Krall (Idris Elba). The Enterprise ensemble end up separated and then together as they try to take down the force of Krall’s plan and army.

Even though my opening paragraph may sound negative, there’s still a lot to enjoy in this film. The major thing being the look of it all. Each new planet and landscape is detailed to glorious colour, texture and ultimate perfection. The sleek quality of the ships, space and creatures are in full effect. It definitely has a sci-fi appeal and visually the movie strikes a neat balance between weird worlds and summer popcorn entertainment.

Jaylah; a new character and a unique looking scavenger is another great addition the film. She’s smart, strong and resourceful and hopefully she’ll stick around with the team. There are some funny moments also, but at times it’s this attempt at comedy that begins waning and feeling out of touch. The comradery is great though and I liked the different pairings the film goes for as the fleet end up separated. Bones and Spock are a highlight of the movie.

It’s really clear to see that Simon Pegg wrote this film, because with Doug Jung there is a quirky stab at comedy that sounds more Cornetto trilogy then Final Frontier. The most impressive piece of writing is having the Enterprise attacked so early on, it’s a cool moment to set up the conflict and the battle look of this sequence is glorious to watch unfold. I think that was the best set-piece of the movie meaning it could only go downwards from that point. Pegg injects perhaps too much jokey attitude in places that deserve to be more tense and the final showdown in Yorktown feels very silly indeed; from gravity streams to glass shard reflections it just appears quite cheesy.

Chris Pine is looking more and more like Kirk as the franchise goes on, he has a smarmy charm but a confident and likable approach to being the captain and as a hero he acts the part. Zachary Quinto is even more the doppelganger to a young Spock, his Vulcan appearance and demeanour providing logic and humour along the way. Idris Elba gets to perform under some admittedly heavy but cool villainous make-up, his usual dominant voice and stature aiding Krall very well. Sofia Boutella as Jaylah is brilliant, she can hold her own and feels right amongst the rest of the story. Pegg, Zoe Saldana, Karl Urban, John Cho and Anton Yelchin in one of his last feature roles are all fantastic, creating a sparkling chemistry and getting enough screen-time each to contribute something to the plot.

So yes, this is a fun film for the majority and it looks great, there’s just a heavy touch of dullness in places and the climactic scene feels totally the opposite. It may not live long and prosper but it’ll do until Rogue One comes along.

6/10

 

Self/less (2015)

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Looks very good and in a few places it has a cool sense of substance but it begins ‘shedding’ brains and tense thrills as a more twisting Hollywood series of action sequences taint what could have been a better movie.

Billionaire Damian Hayes (Ben Kingsley) is seriously ill but hears of a new process that can give him chance to continue his work in a younger vessel. Damian meets Professor Albright (Matthew Goode) who lets him know about how moving his consciousness into a grown body works. Soon Hayes wakes up as a younger and fitter man given the new name Edward (Ryan Reynolds). All isn’t as it seems as Edward hallucinates and finds out more is behind this body swap.

Tarsem Singh directs the film with an undeniable flair, the way troubling past lives warp into existence is brilliant for creating that mysterious unease. It is a film that builds and builds in sense of urgency for Edward’s character. Unfortunately Singh’s quite intelligent vision for this movie is lost as he places in more car chases, gun fights and comes to a rather soppy ending. It starts off really well and Singh can direct greatly with inter-cuts of future moments playing out while present narration continues, it does help the film in style but sadly the script isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Alex and David Pastor are the screenplay duo and though it’s a neat concept it doesn’t work to completion when watching. I admit, it’s a stretched sci-fi idea in the first place but when I saw the trailer it enticed me and it seemed like a dark yet fun look at the identity crisis of this scientific breakthrough. Though the more you journey on this film you start questioning why they picked action over intelligence. The script is one that has so much potential in being edge, creepy and smart but apart from a couple of clever qualities this plot crashes into entertaining fodder with little under the surface.

The look of the film is near perfect, even with all the action screeching in your face, that’s still presented coolly as well. Brendan Galvin’s cinematography is sleek and designed like a glossy new model akin to the central feature of the film’s story. Each location is mastered with a confident touch and all in all the movie does visually everything you’d hope for. Musically too the film hits the right notes. It’s a score that builds on that bubbling tension of what is going on and feels like a usual yet great thriller sound.

I honestly can’t say I am disappointed with the film, even though it doesn’t hit the clever heights it could have reached, I still walked out entertained. I went in expecting a close cut thriller and exited seeing a glossy action piece, not fabulous but still slick and watchable. It’s just a real shame that the sci-fi thriller it easily could have been is left dangling in a lazy grip of action and summery cinematic ‘Lucy’ fatigue.

Ryan Reynolds is getting better though, I feel recently he’s making strides in his acting, ‘The Voices’ is still hands down his best but in this movie he balances charm and swag with that worried broken sense of who am I. Ben Kingsley basically cameos as the set up for the movie. Matthew Goode truly has that chilling factor to an art form, playing the professor Goode manages to give the film it’s more tense moments in that fine line where it could have continued being a focused brainy thriller. Michelle Dockery as Damian’s daughter Claire doesn’t have much to do and could have been used further if the story took a better turn.

Self/less is less about self and more about guns, cars and killing. It’s like a Bourne trip to find yourself instead of the intellectual questions that could have produced a finer sci-fi thriller. Saying all this, I still liked it for some reason and enjoyed the potential it had even if it’s squandered.

6/10