Amidst the colliding bodies and celebrity advertisements of the Super Bowl, Netflixreleased a teaser for the long rumoured third entry in the Cloverfield series. Not only was The Cloverfield Paradox being released straight onto the streaming giant — it would be available straight after the game. Praise at the ingenuity of the immediate release spread across the internet. It was cool and novel and could signal a major shift in the film industry. Then people watched it. And it swiftly became apparent that Julius Onah‘s The Cloverfield Paradox is an incoherent and derivative sci-fi B movie full of hollow characters that do dumb things to serve the needs of the script, which appears to have been taken from the recycling bin of a USC lecture hall.
To fix the energy crisis on Earth which is apparently, without access to wind, water or the sun, a team is sent to space to build a particle accelerator and save the planet. The Cloverfield International Space Station crew is made up of Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), Kiel (David Oyelewo), Schmidt (Daniel Brühl), Volkov (Aksel Hennie), Monk (John Ortiz), Mundy (Chris O’Dowd) and Tam (Ziyi Zhang). They have been in orbit for 679 days and time is running out, so they rush another attempt to complete “the Shepard” accelerator. In doing so they make the Earth “disappear”, supernatural things start to occur, and Elizabeth Debicki‘s Jensen turns up inside a wall in her best impression of the Basilisk from Harry Potter. While all this is happening, Hamilton’s husband, Michael (Roger Davies) sits at his computer in his well-lighted room trying to survive the energy crisis and hide from monsters.
You can almost see the wet glue where the Cloverfield brand has been pasted over the story. Donal Logue appears in close-up on a TV screen explaining “the Cloverfield paradox” that risks “shattering reality” and unleashing “monsters and demons”. Likewise, the Cloverfield name on the Space Station attempts a clumsy connection to previous films. And that’s simply what The Cloverfield Paradox is. A tenuous attempt to craft a bad sci-fi movie into a prequel that explains what happened before the events of the original Cloverfield. Just like 10 Cloverfield Lane (a much better film), the monsters and aliens feel like an afterthought added to a separate movie.
What results is a movie where scientists race around a ship explaining what they are doing, what they just did, and what they are about to do, while bad things happen. It has the feeling of a Black Mirror episode set on the ship of last years’ Life, without the efficient execution of either. Life worked because it was simple: there’s an alien trying to kill everyone and they need to stop its escape. The Cloverfield Paradox doesn’t, because Onah moves from disaster to disaster with no motivation or explanation; there’s not even a villain to root against (or for), and the most gruesome accidents are shrugged off as inescapable consequences of the leap to a parallel dimension.
One example of this is when Mundy’s arm is engulfed by a bioorganic wall. It is torn off above the elbow, perfectly cauterized. Moments later his severed arm crawls down the corridor and the crew imprisons it. The independent arm then asks for a pen and writes down a vital message that propels the plot forward. All of this is shrugged off as a byproduct of that pesky “multiverse”. Ridiculous occurrences like this continue in various incarnations throughout the film. Viewers have no choice but to wait for characters to die off and hope for a convincing solution that never comes.
All of this may have somehow been salvaged with interesting characters. They’re not. Instead, they are imbued with about as much personality as a video game character from the ’90s; complete with character-defining accents and national flags sewn on their shoulders. It is a shame, because the cast — Ayelowo, Brühl, O’Dowd — are talented. But here, especially with the dialogue’s contrived exposition, they don’t have much to work with. Show me someone who could pull off saying, “Earth disappears, station does not feel the same, a woman appears in the wall, we’re definitely not in Kentucky anymore” without sounding like Tommy Wiseau. Mbatha-Raw’s Hamilton is given the most to do and she tries valiantly as the only character with a remotely interesting arc. She is credited in three more films this year and I look forward to seeing more of her on the big screen.
The Cloverfield Paradox‘s release was a refreshing idea. It got people thinking about new ways to deliver movie experiences and that can only be a good thing. The film itself is bad — nowhere near the quality of Cloverfield or 10 Cloverfield Lane. Were it released without its viral marketing and in its original title, The God Particle, it’s the kind of movie you and your partner resign yourselves to after scrolling through the app for half an hour. In other words, it’s just another bad Netflix movie.
Imagine a mind map. You remember the kind. Scribbled in your exercise books with an over-sized subject surrounded by ideas you copied directly from a tattered old textbook. If one was to create a mind map on Michael Haneke (which I’m sure at least one film student has done), it would include terms like voyeurism, bourgeois family dysfunction, suppression of guilt, memory, and the wrath of the repressed. His latest offering, Happy End, is just that: a mind map of previously explored ideas scribbled in the notebook of an aging filmmaker that offers little new information, but distils the central ideas spread throughout his oeuvre.
The Laurents are a wealthy family living in a palatial estate in the French port city of Calais. Anne (Isabelle Huppert) has been put in charge of the family construction business due to her father, Georges’ (Jean-Louis Trintignant) decaying health. Anne has strained relationship with her adult son, Pierre (Franz Rogowski), due to his drinking problem. Her surgeon brother, Thomas (Matthieu Kassovitz), also lives there with his new wife, but their life is interrupted when his daughter, Eve (Fantine Harduin), is forced to live with them after her mother overdoses in suspicious circumstances.
On the surface, their lives are as polished as the cutlery around their dinner table. But each has their issues. An accident at the construction site due to Pierre’s incompetence results in the death of an employee, Georges desperately searches for someone to help end his life to avoid impending dementia, and Thomas is engaged in an affair with a cellist that we are privy to through a series of lewd messages over social media (one memorable message reads, “I want you to piss on my smiling face”). If it sounds like a soap opera it is, but one akin to the wicked parlour walls of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 more than an episode of Days of our Lives.
Events are shown through different points of view with Haneke’s trademark cold detachment. He is preoccupied with surveillance and social media, particularly how lives are mediated through screens where one only sees what they wish to. This is shown through surveillance footage of the construction accident, ominous videos taken from Elle’s phone (reminiscent of Benny’s Video), and the dull click of the keyboard while kinky social media messages fill the frame. Long-time cinematographer Christian Berger frames scenes from deliberate distance in static wide-shots that have you searching for the subject, paranoid that you may miss a singular, important moment. Like the opening shot of Anne and Georges Laurent’s home in Hidden (notice the identical names), these shots imbue mundane events with mesmeric control
Of course, these moments are nothing without actors, and the performances are great. It goes without saying that Huppert, Kassovitz and Trintignant are excellent, as is Toby Jones in a small role. But the star of the film is Fantine Harduin, who is dazzling as Eve. Early on we have her pinned as a teenage sociopath obsessed with death, but as the film proceeds, cracks appear in our preconceptions. My heart fluttered in one scene rife with implicit tension where Eve soothes her crying brother, yet, later in interactions with Georges, she resembles a quiet and scared little girl. Is she a malicious monster in sheep’s clothing? Or a confused and lonely sheep amongst wolves, worthy of our compassion? In true Haneke form, it is never clear. Franz Rogowski is also magnificent as Pierre, particularly during a drunken rendition of Sia’s Chandelier that makes Napoleon Dynamite look like Michael Jackson.
All of this takes place inside a bourgeois bubble that refuses to be popped. Refugees are shown in the background, roaming in packs, waiting in hope of crossing the Eurotunnel. In one sequence, Anne’s iPhone remains central in the frame as she drives past Sangatte refugee camp without a glance. In another, BBC footage of the refugee crisis is drowned out by family conversation. The family servants are a hardworking Moroccan couple, who are admonished and soothed with a box of chocolates when their daughter is bitten by the family dog. In hands other than Haneke’s these subtle moments could feel hastily-pencilled in, but one feels their presence on the edge of every frame; just out of sight. After all, it’s where these characters live.
That is, until its perfect ending. Haneke manages to bring together the myriad relationships and themes in a farcical and cringe-inducing finale at the white-washed wedding of Anne and Lawrence. There is no bloody demise or shocking act of violence like so many of his previous films, but what comes made those within the screening I attended gasp and giggle alike. And the final sequence is one that has lingered with me since and can be ranked amongst the best of his career. Haneke has been exploring these issues since The Seventh Continent, his debut in 1989 (look at the character names). While you may get more thematic depth from earlier films, here they are concentrated with unique poise and potency that only time and experience can provide. Study this mind map, there is lots to learn.
Happy End is distributed by Transmission Films in Australia and will be released in cinemas nationwide on February 8th. You can purchase tickets at Dendy Newtown, Palace Central and Hayden Orpheum, amongst other locations. Please comment below what you thought of the film, or let me know via twitter @jayd3l. Thanks for reading.
Certain cinematic landscapes stay with you long after viewing. Recently, the Cyberpunk wasteland of Blade Runner 2049 and Technicolor wonderland of La La Land. But there are none more evocative than the “city” movies of the ’70s, the grimy and corrupt streets of Gotham depicted in films like Scorsese’s Mean Streets and Lumet’s Serpico. With Good Time — Josh and Benny Safdie’s third co-directorial feature — they have given us a modern reimagining. Its New York setting is a nightmarish milieu where the incessant traffic deafens, buildings bleed neon, and streets are polluted with the kind of scum that would make Travis Bickle pull the tarp off his taxi and dust off the revolver.
In it, Robert Pattinson plays Connie, a petty criminal that has made it his mission to ‘rescue’ his mentally disabled brother Nick (played by Benny Safdie) who was imprisoned after an ill-concocted bank heist. Here the movie begins proper and barely relents for its swift 101-minute runtime. Predictably, Connie’s rescue attempts are thwarted by chaos and misfortune as he scurries through Brooklyn’s Stygian streets over one frosty night. It is the ingenuity with which events proceed that are harder to predict. Pit stops in a desolate amusement park, a stranger’s apartment and moments of mistaken identity blend menace and farce on a gleaming knife-edge.
While there are moments of black humour, its impossible to mistake farce for funny. The film has you so deeply wrapped in its web of anxiety and paranoia that when something comical happens you can’t untangle yourself in time to utter more than a hollow bark. There is a trippy flashback sequence involving Buddy Duress’ Ray that would be hilarious were it not for the act of senseless violence that directly proceeds it. This endless sense of paranoia is courtesy of cinematographer Sean Price Williams‘ claustrophobic hand-held camera, which frames characters in intense close-ups under artificial lights, and Daniel Lopatin‘s throbbing synthetic score that owes much to Tangerine Dream‘s work on William Friedkin’s Sorcerer.
But in his career-best role, Robert Pattinson’s performance is with what makes Good Time so enthralling. His screen presence is intoxicating. Connie is as unsympathetic a protagonist as they come; an impulsive slimeball whose broken moral compass points somewhere between selfish and malicious. His powers of manipulation are evident early in the film when he demands that his girlfriend (played by Jennifer-Jason Leigh) pay for his brother’s bail bond — with her mother’s credit card. He is the type that digs himself deeper and deeper into trouble and then blames someone else for not bringing a ladder.
Pattinson is a bundle of nerves — glancing over his shoulder, around corners, out of windows. He’s rarely able to stay still. We never quite know what he will do next, and one supposes, neither does he. He’s not so much running from the police as he is his own series of stupid decisions, yet he manages to never outstay his welcome. Much of the performance comes down to the eyes, the way they burst from his gaunt face, and the edgy unpredictability of his body language which channels the enigmatic flair displayed by actors like De Niro and Pacino in their most lauded roles.
I saw Good Time on Netflix due to an odd Australian cinematic release. Its theatrical release must be gorgeous. At home on a Friday night, the Safdie brothers’ managed to tear me from my comfortable environment and drop me into an urban cesspool so tactile that I felt as tense as their protagonists. Those ’70s New York crime movies and their memorable anti-heroes remain in the public consciousness 40 years after their release because of vivid environments and compelling characters. In one of the best films of 2017, Connie Nikas joins their ranks.
You can watch Good Time now on Netflix.com and iTunes. Thanks for reading. Let me know what you thought of the film in the comment section below, or on twitter @jayd3l.
This contains spoilers, so please don’t read it unless you’ve watched the film.
You know what’s tiresome? Being disregarded as a “super geek” when you critique something from a property you love. It’s a discourse I’ve seen with worrying regularity on numerous forums and comment sections in the hours since watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi. I’m sick of it and I’m sure you are too.
‘Critics’ and ‘reviewers’ are quick to expound, by using a litany of condescending synonyms, just how incorrect anyone who disagrees with them is. Geek. Nerd. Fanboy. It’s frustrating. Being a ‘fan’ is looked upon with the derision and disdain with which Darth Vader sees the ‘Rebel scum’. Although, if the original films were made today, Vader would more likely be force-choking on his own tears over blowing up Alderaan than tormenting rebellion soldiers.
But what would I know, I’m just a meagre *hushed whisper* fan.
And critics will say:
Let go of your prejudice, Rian Johnson is challenging what a Star Wars film is — don’t you get it?
Humour and jokes and gags, oh my! It doesn’t take itself too seriously, neither should you.
Abandoning previously established traits of beloved characters isn’t wrong, it’s maturing the series.
Rian Johnson and his band of merry Disney executives subverted fan theories and resolved elements from The Force Awakensin unexpected ways that provided thrilling twists.
Fans are holding on to the past. Disney is all about Tomorrowland, propelling relentlessly forward like Princess Leia flying through outer space in her best Mary Poppins impression.
Anyway, you don’t even dislike it, you just don’t understand it.
Themes and Politics, A Star Wars Story
Before I go any further, let’s first discard this pretentious myth of Star Wars: The Last Jedi’s depth, underlying themes and, the favourite buzzword of faceless avatars on Twitter, politics.
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a mass-produced, popular film that is a part of the most popular franchise in history. It is the definition of mainstream. There are no gold medals for critics spouting that we don’t “get it”. Its themes, metaphors, and allegories are explored with the subtlety of Kylo Ren’s tantrums. I get it, I really do. I just don’t like it — and since when are films judged on what they’re trying to say, they’re judged on how well they bloody say it.
Force Awakens, Force Ashmakens
One of the early scenes sees the continuation of The Force Awakens’ fantastic final shot, where Rey travels to Ahch-To and offers exiled Jedi master Luke Skywalker his lightsaber. A relic of his past. And Obi-Wan’s. And Anakin’s. A grand moment that spouted two-years of rumour and fan theories — all discarded as Luke inspects the lightsaber for a few seconds, before casually tossing it over his shoulder. It felt like a Saturday Night Live sketch. Where’s Matt, the radar Technician? If you listen close enough you can hear the canned laughter.
The message is clear: toss away your preconceptions. Discard everything you thought you knew. This speeder is going in a new direction. Buckle up. I mean, why satisfy fans that have waited for a two-year payoff? Why not dispose of the entire climax of Episode VII with a lazy flick of the wrist.
Out with the old, in with the new
Luke Skywalker, one of the most iconic characters in pop culture history. A bastion of reckless optimism, the farm boy who rose to Jedi Knight and saved the galaxy, is now more Scrooge than Skywalker. He’s a curmudgeon who has lost all faith in the galaxy, in the Jedi, in himself. And lost his memory too.
He’s an old man in self-imposed exile, approached by a wannabe hero who pleads with him to join the rebellion against an evil empire led by Luke’s former pupil.
You would be forgiven for thinking that ol’ Lukey boy might notice some parallels between his current predicament and that of Obi-Wan thirty years earlier. You‘d be wrong. Maybe his time training with Yoda on Dagobah is fresher? Nope. Apparently Luke isn’t one to learn from the past. He’s too haunted by his failure that gave rise to Kylo Ren, and boy does he let you know it. Through at least three flashbacks, and a performance made up of brooding close-ups and whining — the later being the only trait remotely close to the Luke we all know and love.
Eventually, he relents. He will train Rey. We only see one such session, where he trains her in ‘reaching out’ with the force. It just so happens that she reaches out and latches on to the ‘Dark Side’ of the force. Luke’s only seen this happen once before. With Kylo Ren. He “wasn’t scared enough then”, and is now. Eery — and never again explored.
On the island is an ancient tree containing the biblical texts of the Jedi religion. Luke decides to destroy said tree and books. Giggling force ghost Yoda, who resembles the wise, deceptively senile muppet from The Empire Strikes Back, pops in to assist Luke via a strike of lightning. The tree goes up in flames. The archaic ways of the Jedi are destroyed. The way is paved for a new generation of the Jedi Order to be built. (Except its not, it’s later revealed that Rey had the books all along, which undermines the precious theme).
It is no mistake this destruction takes place in flames. Again, we see this theme of the passing of the torch. The old generation is burnt, and the new shall be forged from the ashes. Johnson uses Yoda to suit his agenda. If Luke burns down what remains of the Jedi religion, it is the action of a bitter old man, but Yoda is the wisest being in Star Wars. If he approves, then it must be right.
This is what Johnson sees himself as doing — burning what we know aboutStar Wars to the ground, in order to build it anew from the ashes. He sees fans as those who grip desperately to the old ways of the Jedi, and himself as the Yoda figure, who must destroy what we previously knew to allow something new to rise from the smouldering embers.
Unfortunately, it’s not a fierce, beautiful phoenix that rises from the smouldering flames; it’s a Porg. A walking plush toy mandated by the powers-that-be at Disney to hit sales targets and sell toys. Signifying a future of films cooked up with one eye on the camera, another on the boardroom. Films that are full of danger that, like a mirage, is never quite realised. Inhabited by cute and cuddly characters with a veneer of substance that shatters like Captain Phasma’s helmet at the slightest glancing blow.
A Failure of a Film About Failing Heroes
This movie is a movie about failure. Hopes are dashed, plans foiled, allies fail to answer the call and our heroes constantly disappoint. Poe’s hare-brained bombing run results in thousands of casualties. A side-quest involving Finn and newcomer Rose not only plays out like a filler episode of Star Wars Rebelsbut actively works against the overall plan of Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern), whose scheme is like if the English Army evacuating Dunkirk only returned to shore with a boatful of soldiers. Rey doesn’t turn Kylo to the light side. Snoke can’t control his pupil. Heck, even the rebellion gas tanks fail, in a plot point that makes one crave the comparatively enthralling taxation levies and Trade Federation blockade of the prequels. There’s no hope of the rebellion defeating the First Order in The Last Jedi — they’re doing all they can to get out alive.
Jacob Hall has an explanation, via SlashFilm:
Maybe it’s dangerous to worship our heroes to the point of idolatry, to convince ourselves that they can never do wrong, never make mistakes, and never let their hubris create monsters that threaten a new generation.
I agree. Blindly following heroes in the real world can be dangerous. Often you set yourself up for disappointment when it’s inevitably revealed that your favourite writer, actor, sports star or cosmologist isn’t perfect. They make mistakes. They’re human. But — is Star Wars, an epic fantasy space-opera full of silly creatures and Buddhist space samuraireally the right vessel to explore that message? I don’t think so.
On Rian Johnson’s new Disneyland ride — oops I mean film — there is no room for heroes. Legends. Good vs. Evil. It’s a politically correct campus safe space where there is no ‘bad guy’. He’s just misunderstood. A place where there is a horrendous twenty-minute segway to a casino for a brisque critique of unregulated capitalism. A place full of creatures stolen from Pokemon concept art, of Marvel-esque one-liners and quips which break the modicum of tension built, where the protagonist is saved at the last second in the clutches of certain death. In other words — a Marvel movie with a Star Wars coat of paint.
There is a visually stunning moment where Laura Dern’s lavender-haired Admiral, the worst Star Wars character of all time, stays behind and sacrifices herself in a kamikaze hyper-speed jump into the First Order command ship. It was a moment that could have held real gravitas — wasn’t it that no one gives a shit about Admiral Holdo. Meanwhile, off-screen, goddamn Admiral Ackbar is killed with barely a cursory mention in a line of dialogue. If that doesn’t sum up the entire mindset of the film then I don’t know what does.
Playing with expectations? No, sabotaging them
The Last Jedi knows our expectations. It was made with full awareness of the questions circulating around the internet: Who are Rey’s parents? Who’s Snoke? Who the hell are the Knights of Ren? What will Luke do when he receives his lightsaber? Will he train Rey? Can Kylo be redeemed? And a trillion others. People who act like fandom invented these questions are ridiculous — ‘they’ JJ Abrams and co., set the expectations, then proceeded to shatter them.
Johnson had no responsibility to answer ALL these questions, but he did have to answer some, if not most. And of course, potential answers have been theorised and debated for two-years since the release of The Force Awakens — from Rey being a clone of Jar Jar Binks to Luke using his lightsaber as a flute. What no-one, no-one, expected, was for Rian Johnson to write down all the unresolved questions on a napkin, stand from his exclusive table in a Hollywood restaurant, walk to the toilet, napkin in hand, and proceed to wipe his arse with the question-covered napkin. But that’s what he did, and masqueraded the resolutions as ‘twists’. It’s a tad easier to craft a twist when you know what everyone is waiting for and intentionally take a complete right turn.
Supreme Leader Joke
Supreme Leader Snoke is a somewhat Marvel-esque figure of ominous power, who rules with seemingly limitless power and is shrouded in mystery. Signs were promising early in The Last Jedi. He sat in his blood-red throne room straight out of Dario Argento’s wet dream, surrounded by guards in lobster-style armour inspired by The Imperial Guard. He’s powerful enough to force-drag General Hux from within a hologram, create a mental bridge between Kylo and Rey, and when his plan comes to fruition and Rey is brought to his chambers, control her with the flick of a decayed, sinewy finger.
But, as Luke Skywalker says early in the film, “This isn’t going to go the way you think.” One assumes that Snoke will be the big bad guy until the third film where he is eventually overthrown. Ol’ trickster Rian has other plans. Instead of executing Rey, Kylo uses the force to operate the lightsaber laying on the arm of Snoke’s chair and cuts him in half. Dun. Dun. Dun! Then proceeds the only real lightsaber battle of the film which plays out like a piece of fan fiction or a multiplayer match in Star Wars Battlefront II. Kylo and Rey fight side by side and slaughter Snoke’s guard, in an action-scene that would make the Arrow choreographers wince in dismay. Snoke becomes an insignificant, minor distraction. A joke.
Which ties into the theme of unceremonious failure. All-powerful Snoke is killed by his inconsistent, morally torn and endlessly angsty protege. Bla, bla, bla, death doesn’t care who you are, what your story is, it comes upon you with the same might whether you are a king or a pauper etc. Boring. How about this: They spent one-and-a-half films setting up an Emperor-like, omnipotent, supreme villain — who was killed with the ease of a protocol droid. Oh — except that would be harder — BB8 has proven to be the most overpowered character in Star Wars history.
A Rogue Squadron of Other Issues
In the interest of not overstaying my welcome, allow me to breeze over some other major issues.
a bumbling General Hux who goes from delivering one of the most menacing speeches of the series to being a bumbling buffoon and the victim of a ‘your mumma’ joke courtesy of Poe Dameron.
Finn facing certain death and a worthy sacrifice (one I was cheering for), only to be saved at the last moment. Then, in the most on-the-nose scene since Anakin and Padmé discussing sand, being kissed by his saviour.
Captain Phasma returning in an encore performance of equal parts disappointment and shiny armour. Oh, and she’s called “chrome dome” by Finn. Someone, please take the pen away from Mr Johnson.
Or what about DJ, the Lando stand-in, who chops and changes between being good and bad so many times that even Rian Johnson loses track. When an AT-ST shoots at a band of stormtroopers to save Finn, I was certain that it would be the stuttering Codebreaker back to save the day. But it’s BB8. Again. And you thought Rey was a Mary Sue.
And how could anyone ever forget the ultimate twist, from our Lord and Saviour Rian Johnson, when Princess Leia seems to be dead in space after being blown from the cockpit of her ship, before returning to life and flying back into the hold like a force-wielding Mary Poppins.It’s the most unintentionally funny scene in the history of cinema. It’s the moment in a normal movie where you walk out of the theatre. I can’t believe a group of people sat down to watch the dailies, and actually gave that the nod of approval. “Yep, you nailed that one out of the park, Rian.”
Or that the entire plot revolves around Admiral Holdointentionally withholding her strategy from the rebellion. If she simply tells Poe her plan, not only is Finn’s quest obsolete, thousands of lives are saved.
An oddly inconsistent tone. Characters constantly face death and make inappropriate jokes which drain scenes of any tension. Not to mention the litany of nonsensical decisions characters make — mainly, why the hell does Luke invent the hardest possible way to fish???
It’s the longest Star Wars movie and doesn’t it feel like it. God. It makes attacks of the Clones feel like a YouTube short.
I can forgive Rey’s rapid rise to power in The Force Awakens. But in The Last Jedi,Rey wields both a lightsaber and the force with prowess that makes a joke of, y’know, the training and hard work required to be a Jedi. She continues to be a character of limitless power who can do no wrong.Did anyone else find it weird when she knocked that creatures wheelbarrow over, destroying his days work, and didn’t apologise?The climax of the film sees her displace a mountain of debris with the force to open an escape route for the rebellion — it took weeks, if not months of training with Yoda for Luke to be able to lift a rock.
The plot doesn’t advance. Characters and factions are the exact same place they were in after The Force Awakens, and the rebellion is somehow WORSE OFF after destroying Starkiller Base in the previous instalment.
Argh! And I almost forgot. That cringe-inducing Maz Kanata hologram, who apparently travels with a camera crew while she fights. And I’m fairly certain she doesn’t actually know Poe. Another integral character reduced to a cardboard cutout to deliver a quest and a quip — the Marvel formula.
If it’s so bad, what’s with the critical reception?
I… I… I don’t know. I really don’t think that Disney pays off critics, as people love to declare on social media. I do, however, believe that critics and reviewers being given early access to the film and being understandably excited to watch it plays a part. They attend a premiere full of realistic cosplay, surrounded by peers and stars and alcohol and with the knowledge of how exclusive the event is. Few would be able to resist the pomp and ceremony.
I just can’t see how plot holes, poor writing, and jokes more suited to the Big Bang Theory than Star Wars has largely avoidedthe critical gaze. Criticism is met with cries of misunderstanding and condescension. Rian Johnson is a decent filmmaker — Looper was okay, Brick less so — and I can’t imagine how difficult it is making a film with the scope of The Last Jedi. But it’s not my job, it’s his. And through egotism and, attempts to subvert expectations rather than entertain, he failed in every way to make a compelling Star Wars movie.
But what would I know, I’m just a meagre *hushed whisper* fan.
Since Edgar Allen Poe wrote The Murders in the Rue Morgue, crime and detective stories have remained a popular part of public culture. One can barely turn on a television and open (insert streaming service of choice here) without being inundated with programmes depicting flawed geniuses solving gruesome crimes in exotic locations. Undoubtedly due to the suitability of the genre to episodic television, cinematic depictions have been scarce of late. Enter The Snowman, which attempts to bring a chilling tale of Nordic noir to screen but manages only to be a slushy mess that resembles something squashed together by children.
Based on the bestselling novel by author Jo Nesbo, The Snowman sees Michael Fassbender play Harry Hole, a Norwegian detective in Oslo. There have been many boring and obvious jokes about the name. In Norway, it is pronounced ‘Hoh-leh’ and is apparently quite common. Though the film is thoroughly westernised: ‘Politi’ changed to police, newspapers written in English, characters who speak in British accents. Why not change his name to something less ridiculous? Let’s just call him Harry. Harry is a brilliant detective with a drinking problem and a tortured past. Although the viewer is subjected to plenty of drinking, no past, and certainly no brilliance. We are, however, told of his prowess. Star recruit and new partner Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) explains that she studied his cases “at the academy”. Katrine believes that she has found a prodigious serial killer that has gone unrecognised. One that strikes when the snow falls and leaves behind a twisted signature — a snowman. Coincidentally (the film is rife with convenient coincidences), after Bratt’s hypothesis Harry receives a personalized letter from the killer and the hunt begins.
Well, less of a hunt and more of an amble through a gallery of tropes and half-finished story threads that wrap up with the nuance of HSC student running out of time in an English exam. Director Tomas Alfredson (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Let the Right One In) wrote before the film’s release that up to 15% of the script was not shot, leaving the plot to be spliced together in the editing room. I doubt the missing percentage would fix the gaping holes in the script. That would be like filling a half-finished jigsaw puzzle with play dough and calling it a day. They couldn’t have been too short, several shots that appear in the trailer were omitted from the final product. What was shot, and released, includes an inconsequential subplot involving J.K. Simmon’s billionaire Arve Stop, a bid for the Winter Olympics and (possibly?) human trafficking, a muddling mess of interviews and the death of a character that is inexplicably ignored and never confirmed. Then there is Val Kilmer’s baffling appearance as detective Gert Rafto in a series of flashbacks. His scenes have been inexplicably dubbed and leave him looking like a failed ‘Lip Sync Battle’ contestant whose puffy face has been injected with bee venom.
It does have its moments. Sweeping shots of frosted roads snaking across frozen fjords build a chilly thriller atmosphere, a few well-executed jump scares and an effective scene involving coffee beans and melted snow hints at what could have been. Unfortunately, the snowmen of the central conceit are never given the right attention, and by the third hard cut from suburban street to a sludgy snowman, become more comedic than horrific. Good crime story resolutions come slowly into view like a boat on the horizon, with a sigh of contentment and a chuckle of inferiority from the audience as they realise the answer was right there the whole time. The Snowman has none of that. The payoff is ham-fisted and confusing. And when a completely mistimed hint at a sequel came, I couldn’t help but think: there snow way I’d watch that.
I attended the original Bad Moms with trepidation. The horrible trailer suggested a kind of female The Hangover film (written and directed by the same duo). I was pleased to discover that it wasn’t. Underneath its raunchy exterior, the film held a smart critique of modern motherhood, a solid emotional core and most importantly, was funny. Barely a year later the sequel is here. It is silly and sentimental, butA Bad Moms Christmas is a jolly good time.
This film follows the events of Bad Moms, which was about under-appreciated and over-burdened mums, Amy, Kiki and Carla (Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, and Kathryn Hahn). Only this time it’s Christmas and the festive season is taking a toll. “Why do I have to get a present for Kent’s mum?” asks Kiki, “I don’t even like her”. Adding to their woes, their own terrifying mothers are visiting. Cue a series of vignettes introducing their caricatured parents.
Sandy is Kiki’s mum (played entertainingly by Cheryl Hines from Curb Your Enthusiasm) and is obsessed with her daughter. She can’t decide if she wants to be Kiki’s best friend, or be Kiki — she mimics her haircut and dress sense and wears pyjamas brandishing her portrait. Personal boundaries are a foreign concept to her. Oscar winner Susan Sarandon is shaky as Carla’s mum. She is a Rock ’n’ roll chick and career roadie with a bad habit of arriving unannounced and asking for money. Think Ricki and the Flash minus the flash. Her name is Isis, which she explains is “like the terrorist organization” in a gag with the subtlety of a hand grenade.
Enter Ruth, who is the antithesis of her unassuming daughter Amy and played in a show-stealing performance by Christine Baranski (The Good Wife). She is aristocratic and wealthy, meticulously groomed and diabolical, her standards are as high as her designer heels. She hands out verbal barbs with the same frequency and nonchalance she hands her grandchildren expensive gifts, “Here, have an iPhone”. Dissatisfied with being a mere guest, Ruth overthrows Amy’s plans. She has organised an elaborate Christmas party with Kenny G as the headliner, who is “cheaper than you might think”. I laughed out loud when Ruth dresses Amy in a Dickensian outfit and forces her to go carolling around the neighbourhood.
Baranski’s straight-faced delivery provides most of the laughs throughout the slightly long 1hr 44m running time. Ten minutes could have easily been cut by avoiding cliched montages in slow-motion showing just how wild the mums are. A few more could have been shredded by stopping when jokes don’t work. There’s a lazy trend in modern comedy of using ‘long jokes’, a technique popularized by Family Guy. You take a moderately funny joke and repeat it until it grows tiresome, then gets funny again. It’s like compressing coal until it turns into a diamond, though rarely bears the same result. A grotesque scene involving “balls, taint, and asshole” waxing is a case-study in how not to do this. Luckily, more often than not the gags hit their mark.
It is a testament to the commitment and congeniality of the actresses that A Bad Moms Christmas works at all. Attempting to unpack the jumbled mess of a plot is like untangling Christmas lights from a long-discarded box. Beneath the occasional vulgarity and sentimental, senseless story there are hints of what could have been had they spent six more months in pre-production. Regardless, what we got is fun fluff, a series of skits fueled by flawed relationships in a suburban neighbourhood. Something we have seen a thousand times, but it works. When a third instalment was teased in the final act I couldn’t help but think that I would happily sit down to watch Mom’s Mom is a Bad Mom or whatever inane title is chosen. I just hope it’s not so soon.
“If you wear a dress and have an animal sidekick, you’re a princess” mocks demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) when his companion Moana (played excellently by newcomer Auli’i Cravalho) contends that she is actually a Chieftain’s daughter. This meta-textual point is emphasised by veteran directors John Musker and Ron Clements of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin fame, who transform their virtuosity for hand-drawn animation to the arena of CG with ease and succeed in positioning Moana away from those sickly sweet (and usually white) princesses synonymous with the Disney marketing machine. This allows Moana to join aboard the new generation of Disney films in utilising the tools of its predecessors to sail towards new and exciting places.
As a child Moana (which means “deep ocean”) is marked by the ocean as special, its lapping waves invite her into its depths like an old friend, in one scene opening up around her to form a natural aquarium. This intimate bond with the ocean is challenged by her father, Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), who insists that she stay within the confines of the reef which surrounds their picturesque island home of Motunui. When the island’s ecosystem begins to die, the task falls to Moana to venture out into the ocean’s vast blue depths in order to save their home. Inheriting the spirit of exploration from her ancestors, she sails into the unknown with vigour, some trepidation, and her dim-witted chicken, Heihei.
Motivated by her grandmother, the self-proclaimed village crazy lady, Moana’s mission is to persuade the demigod Maui to return the Heart of Te Fiti, a magical stone which he stole many years ago. Maui resembles a Samoan rugby player, his gigantic muscular frame covered in magical tattoos reminiscent of the vases in Hercules, and act as the physical manifestation of his conscious. It is ironic that Johnson’s career, forged on his physical appearance, hits its loftiest heights with his vocal performance as Maui. He clearly enjoys the role, his voice inflected with joy and self-deprecatory laughter which is no better identified than during the catchy and egocentric “You’re Welcome” (“there’s no need to pray, it’s okay, you’re welcome!”). The film is filled with other memorable musical moments including the affecting “I Am Moana”, the stirring “How Far I’ll Go”, and trippy “Shiny”, performed by Jemaine Clement as the blinged out hermit crab Tamatoa who wouldn’t look out of place in a rap entourage.
The adventures of Moana and Maui will be familiar to longtime Disney fans, though the execution ensures the formula stays fresh. They encounter miniature pirates which resemble Mad Max villains, traverse the vividly realised realm of monsters, and battle a fiery lava monster which laughs in the face of the rating board’s declaration that “some scenes may scare young children”. The duo’s companion along these trials is the ever-reliable and ever-present sea, reciprocating Moana’s love as it guides her across its shimmering surface. More refreshing than the ocean on a summer’s day is the character of Moana herself. Liberated from the unrealistic elfin body image of previous princesses, she is imbued with a healthily proportioned physique akin to the Hawaiian characters in Lilo & Stitch. It would be remiss to think the liberation only skin deep, she is a woman who inspires respect from her tribe and shows an affinity for ruling her homeland — she just has different dreams.
Moana is another addition to the modern renaissance of Disney films, a simple tale that is amplified by its cultural context, characters imbued with life by their voice actors, as well stunning animation and a brilliant soundtrack which will have you humming along for days. Much like the demigod, Maui crafted the islands, Disney have created a world which is a pleasure for us to venture into.
The success of the Rocky franchise can be mainly attributed to the good ol’ underdog story. Though, winner of the best picture in 1976, the first instalment in the series was much more — a love story and an in-depth character study. In Creed, writer-director Ryan Coogler (Fruitvale Station) perfectly captures the more nuanced intricacies of the original Rocky opposed to the ridiculousness of later films (looking at you, Tommy Gun).
Creed sees Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) struggling without the guidance of his father Apollo. With the absence of his parents, much of Adonis’ childhood is spent between group homes and juvenile detention, where he constantly gets in fights. Adonis resents the father he never knew and hides his last name in an attempt to carve his own path. He wants to be a fighter and is naturally adept without any formal training. No one wants to train ‘silver spoon’. This leads to him recruiting the reclusive Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) to train him. Rocky feels indebted to his old friend Apollo, and reluctantly agrees.
Michael B. Jordan is excellent as he echoes the arrogance of his fast-talking father while showing self-doubt and emotional fragility. Stallone doesn’t just come back for the pay cheque either, he adds depth to Rocky formerly unseen. His portrayal is not only honest and understated, the indestructible Rocky is now fragile. He could easily have won Best Supporting Actor. Rocky and Adonis share great chemistry too, as Rocky acts as both trainer and father figure for Adonis. After the death of his wife and sometimes best-friend Pauli, and the absence of his son (who has always been the worst), Rocky finds comfort in having someone in his life again. Coogler allows plenty of quiet, restrained moments between the two which are as entertaining as the scenes in the ring. This is complemented by Bianca (Tessa Thompson), a budding musician and Adonis’ romantic interest. She does not feel inserted purely to serve the story; she has struggles of her own.
In Rocky, Philadelphia was as much of a character as the man himself. In Creed, Coogler uses the city again as a metaphor for the passing of the torch to Adonis, a new generation of fighter. Quads and dirt bikes wiz through suburban streets to a hip-hop heavy soundtrack boasting Tupac, Nas, Future, and Philly native Meek Mill. Tessa Thompson even worked with composer Ludwig Goransson on the trippy techno songs her character performs. This may sound out of place, but it never feels it. Both the soundtrack and the depiction of Philadelphia act to contrast the old Rocky with the new Creed.
It wouldn’t be Rocky without fight sequences and the film boasts some of the best in the series. The first fight sees a continuous shot track the fighters as they trade vicious blows. The camera dances between fighters, placing the audience firmly in the ring, ensuring they feel the connection of every punch. The final fight with antagonist ‘Pretty’ Ricky Conlan (Real life fighter, Tony Bellew) doesn’t disappoint either. On the press circui, Jordan spoke about taking real punches during filming, and the hits pay off. Coogler even adds a unique twist to the training montage synonymous with Rocky movies.
While the film stands on its own feet, longtime fans will still find many references to the Rocky lineage. These are best discovered in your own viewing, but as Michael B. Jordan said when talking to Bill Simmons “There are plenty of breadcrumbs for you”. Coogler hits the perfect spot in making a sequel or reboot; the original films are not essential viewing for newcomers, but there is plenty there for long time fans. Creedis a standout entry into the Rocky collection, and marks the start of a new franchise which is in extremely capable hands. While not sharing the name in the title there is no mistaking this is a Rocky film, and it not only lives up to the name, like Adonis, it stands valiantly on it’s own.
Prevenge is a British horror-comedy about the pregnant Ruth (written, directed and starring Alice Lowe), who is goaded into a homicidal rampage by her unborn child. The idea was conceived during Lowe’s struggles finding work while pregnant, and the film acts as an outlet for her frustrations — while also showing her directorial skill in darkly comic, distinctly British fashion.
Brilliant execution and thematic layers breathe life into the ‘demonic spawn’ horror trope. Sharing similarities with Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, Lowe explores maternal stress, alienation and grief through a series of encounters with grotesque caricatures. A double-entendre spitting pet store owner (“That’s my fat snake. Do you want to touch it?”), a boorish DJ who lives with his mother, a cold human resources head who denies her employment, a fitness fanatic blonde. These oft-hilarious vignettes are laden with sexism and gender discrimination, and somewhat excuse Ruth’s murderous (p)revenge on these characters who may be culpable in her husband’s death.
A subtle performance by Lowe ensures that Prevenge doesn’t become a tasteless serial killer slasher film. Her wit is as sharp as her blade, her face a clean window to her emotions. In a split second, she turns from middle-class mum to marauding murderer. Cinematographer Ryan Addlestone emphasises Ruth’s loneliness; she watches a father push his child on a swing, suffers cramps as she walks alone at night, studies a photograph of her husband to the rhythmic bangs of the fornicating couple next door. But she’s not completely alone. The sadistic voice of her fetus is ever present and her maternity nurse reminds her “she’s got no control over her mind or body anymore”, so why not listen? With only the occasional falter, Lowe carries this through to full term.