I felt it coming last night when I was watching Darkest Hour. Like a cat, it snuck up on me. A faint tickle in the back of my throat, a burning sensation behind my eyes, my nose dripping like a faucet. When I got home I hurried to devour all the usual home remedies. But there was no stopping it. This morning I woke up and resigned myself to the dreaded fact — I am sick.
Is there a more frustrating feeling? Not deathbed sick or hospitalisation sick, but the sick where your bones ache and your head too. Where every breath is like a razor blade in your throat. Like Christmas with extended family that you can’t stand, you forget how bad it is every time until it happens again. Yet when it comes, there’s little you can do but call in sick to work, plonk down on the couch with a box of tissues and your Netflix subscription and wait it out. Problem solved.
But what if you’re a writer who works from home? You don’t have any scaffolds to climb or iPhones to sell. All you have to do is sit in front of the computer and type. It’s across the room. You can drink tea at your desk. You have no excuse. If you don’t write you’re procrastinating, and you’ll never finish your book and you know what, you’re probably just delusional in thinking you can be a successful writer anyway. And you’re fat.
That’s roughly the route along which my brain took me this morning. It’s so easy when you’re a kid — if you are sick your mum tells you to stay home, and if you’re not and want a day off, you rub your head along the carpet for a few seconds. Either way, the decision is made for you. With the decision entirely in my hands, I felt like Chidi in The Good Place. I couldn’t make a choice. So I grabbed my computer from my desk, jumped back into bed, and opened up my ‘Book Second Draft’ file.
It didn’t go well. Trying to think, to find ideas, was like trying to drag an Elephant from a tar pit with my bare hands. Impossible. I quickly realised that I couldn’t possibly work on anything new that would do anything but add more work for me later. So I edited the work that I had done yesterday. It was only a few word changes and some cuts, but it was something.
I wrote this blog post as a low-pressure way to keep the creative juices flowing. This and my small editing session were enough to stave off that neurotic beast that lives in every writer’s stomach for a day. Hopefully, I feel better tomorrow. For now, Netflix is calling my name.
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.
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.
Yesterday, Marvel released a trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp, and Netflix released theirs for Mute. One is the latest blockbuster entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the other, Netflix‘s latest foray into sci-fi. Both films share a special connection: Paul Rudd. As I watched the trailers back-to-back, I pondered which trailer has the best version of everyone’s favourite bumbling nice-guy. In the tradition of the great philosophers – Descartes, Seneca, Plato – I decided to investigate this quandary.
To do so, I had to set up some ground rules. The Rudds will be judged in four categories:
*A note on the Rudd Scale: Paul Rudd has a distinct personality. He’s usually the smart, quirky friend who throws out quips with laid-back ease and adorable charm. This is what we shall refer to as Full Rudd. Think of a film like Wanderlust as a touch point. Alternately, there have been films where he has been able to limit his Ruddness, like Gen-Y Cops, a Hong Kongese movie where he plays an FBI agent. This is Negative Rudd.*
Paul Rudd plays Scott Lang. As the titular character of Ant-Man, his involvement is maximum. Yet the trailer centres around his new sidekick, Wasp, which is good for both women and wasp communities. The trailer opens with Lang’s voiceover and he participates in many scenes: inside a microscopic van, surveying Wasp, and riding on the back of a fly. At one point he swims through a germ-infested body and that is possibly the ultimate form of involvement.
In the Mute, Rudd is not the main character and doesn’t appear in the trailer until the 31-second mark. He sits alone at a bar staring into the distance, which suggests that he is unengaged in proceedings. Though, later he becomes involved in some sort of scheme involving misadventure and surgery. He leaves his daughter at home to do so, which shows admirable commitment. He seems sufficiently involved and pops up in diverse places — a bar, kitchen, a house brandishing a wooden ornament — which means that he holds an active role in proceedings.
Verdict: While Mute Rudd is undoubtedly involved, you cannot surpass Ant-Man Rudd, who is the titular character and thus extremely involved in Ant-Man and the Wasp.
Ant-Man has an unfair advantage — we’ve seen him in the first film. He is an ex-con who had to forego his criminal ways to embrace the hero within and save the world. He’s a mischievous rascal with good intentions and better abs. We don’t learn much new information from the trailer, except that he shows envy towards Wasp’s wings, which is an undesirable character trait.
Rudd’s character in Mute is named Cactus Bill, possibly the greatest name of all time. He has a handlebar moustache, wears Hawaiian shirts, and runs some sort of underground medical centre. Cactus is a better dad than Ant-Man because he looks out for his daughter’s soda intake instead of whining to her about his job. It’s hinted that Cactus may be a bad guy but either way, he stands up to Alexander Skarsgård armed only with a tree branch, which shows bravery, a highly sought after character trait.
Verdict: In an upset, Mute Rudd wins the battle of character. Cactus Bill has the better name, shows bravery and that he’s a good father. Not even Ant-Man can shrink away from his superior character.
Ant-Man and the Wasp‘s trailer is typical Marvel. Safe, fun, and aimed at the largest possible audience. No one expects a nuanced deconstruction of western democracy in a movie about a hero that controls ants, just as no one expects to be served a Merlot with a Big Mac. Interspersed between constant cuts-to-black, there are some memorable moments: Michael Douglas using a skyscraper as luggage (don’t think about it too hard), Wasp dancing along a knife’s blade, and the appearance of a villain that resembles a Hunter from Destiny. Its theme song is reminiscent of cartoons in the ’90s, and most refreshingly it bucks the trend of revealing the entire plot.
Mute introduces Berlin in 2052. Where people dress like characters from a Wes Anderson film and live in a cyberpunk metropolis. Events are intentionally unclear as it cuts between disparate locations and shows characters who talk in only the vaguest terms. It includes a villain named Duck Teddington played by Justin Theroux, who not only has an amazing name but also looks like one of Philip Jennings’ disguises in The Americans. We are left with a collage of distinct images — from the haunted, mute Skarsgard to pole-dancing robots and blind gangsters with face-paint. The trailer hints at an interesting premise and leaves us with more questions than answers, which is a good thing.
Verdict: While the Ant-Man trailer looks good enough, the unknown potential of Duncan Jones’ Mute is too enticing. An interesting flop is better than a predictable success.
The Ant-Man and the Wasp trailer is largely focused on the latter. However, we know from the first film that Scott Lang is Medium Rudd. His character is supposedly a rebel, but he doesn’t ever manage to shed that exoskeleton of loveable Ruddness. However, the trailer focuses on stern Rudd. It opens with a very superhero monologue about heroism and sacrifice and the few times he’s on screen he is mostly serious. A scene where he complains to Dr Pym about Wasp’s new suit gives a fleeting glimpse of his sarcasm and jealousy, two tent-poles of Full Rudd.
Exotic outfits and facial hair have always been markers of a Full Rudd performance. Anchorman, Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later — now Mute. Cactus Bill also ensures his daughter has no soda, which shows maximum Rudd levels of care. But there is a flummoxing moment of Bipolar Rudd where Bill confronts Skarsgård’s Leo armed with a wooden log and delivers a threatening, witty remark. Forced to make a ruling, I contend that the threat is made in fear, and thus is markedly Pro Rudd behaviour. However, this is preceded by damning evidence of Negative Rudd conduct, when Duck says, “you need to maintain a sense of humour”. Full Rudd would never need to be reminded of this.
Verdict:Ant-Man and the Wasp depicts a stable Medium Rudd, while Mute fluctuates between extremes of non-Rudd and pro-Rudd behaviour. Ordinarily, this would tend to position Cactus Bill as a Medium Rudd performance. However, one must consider the flamboyant outfits and facial hair — two historical signposts of Full Rudd — and thus, must award Mute the victory.
Final Score: Mute 3 – 1 Ant-Man
That’s it! Mute takes out a close victory. Though, with over six-and-a-half million views (14x Mute), I don’t think Marvel will be losing any sleep over their loss in the Battle of the Rudds. It is our job to remember this momentous victory.
You can watch the trailer for Mute here and the trailer for Ant-Man and the Wasp here. Mute releases on Netflix on February 23rd, and is directed by Duncan Jones. Ant-Man and the Wasp, directed by Peyton Reed, will be released in cinemas everywhere July 6th. Thanks for reading. Let me know what you thought in the comment section below, or on twitter @jayd3l.