Annihilation

Year: 2018
Directed by: Alex Garland
Starring: Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Alex Garland had been floating on the edges of Hollywood fame for years before he made it big. He’s a talented writer who is responsible for genuinely great films like ’28 Days Later’, ‘Never Let Me Go’, and ‘Dredd’, but it was the leap to directing that truly put him on the map. 2014’s ‘Ex Machina’ was a critical smash hit as it earned award nominations in various categories at the Golden Globes, BAFTAs, and the Oscars. Alex Garland was suddenly a household name and we all waited with bated breath to see what he will do next. Enter ‘Annihilation’.

‘Annihilation’ sees a mysterious governmentally quarantined zone, Area X, being studied to find out what exactly it is. They’ve named it ‘The Shimmer’ after it’s gorgeously shimmery quality when you look at it, but it remains a mystery beyond its name because if you go into The Shimmer, you don’t come back out. Until, that is, Oscar Isaac’s Kane returns from The Shimmer. Cellular biology expert and Kane’s husband, Lena (Portman), is called to help study The Shimmer, and she joins a team of scientists and soldiers to enter The Shimmer on yet another expedition to explore Area X to discover the truths behind it and what exactly happened on Kane’s mission.

Writing that short summary took far too long. ‘Annihilation’ is a film that’s hard to qualify. On the surface, it does seem like a high concept science-fiction, but looking beyond that, it’s a film with tremendous depth and meaning that has spawned hundreds upon hundreds of YouTube videos and articles and film essays studying it. I fear that going into too much detail about the story will ruin the surprise and genuine shocks the film has in store. More than any film I’ve seen recently, ‘Annihilation’ will serve you better if you go in as blind as possible.

What I can talk about, though, is the sheer quality of the film. ‘Annihilation’ is a film that takes a lot of commitment from everyone involved – actors, writers, set designers, special effects artists, editors. It’s a film that has been known to lose a fair few of its viewers because of how complex it becomes as the expedition team head deeper into The Shimmer. It’s a film that plays games with genetic mutations, time and space, using all the elements of the Earth (and elsewhere?) to confound its team and its audience into questioning everything they’re seeing. The end result, however, is a film that truly is firing on all cylinders.

Starting with the actors, the expedition team all leave an impression one way or another. They all have their justifications for going on what’s become a suicide mission, but the film does a masterful job of investigating these characters and letting us understand them as people. Each of the team, from Portman to Thompson to relative newcomer Novotny, gives their character nuances and extra moments where they are just themselves to help them come alive. All of the performances here are terrific; Tessa Thompson’s Josie has a dreamy quality to her as the team’s nature expert, and Dr. Ventress (Jason Leigh) is the most mysterious of the team but Jason Leigh imbues her with a desire for the truth unmatched by anyone else.

Natalie Portman is naturally the stand out given her bigger role in proceedings. She brings all of her talent, her Oscar winning gravitas to a role that requires dedication and commitment to the extremely high concept ideas that are being thrown at her. Lesser actors would have struggled with the workload of the final act, but here is where Portman excels as she gets closer and closer to finding out answers for her burning questions.

‘Annihilation’, all being well, is sure to earn itself accolade after accolade next year, none of which will be more deserving than for special effects. Given all the blockbusters we’ve had this year – ‘Avengers: Infinity War’, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’, ‘Deadpool 2’ – ‘Annihilation’ stands tall as the best looking film of 2018 so far. The Shimmer itself is a stunning achievement, an idea that seems impossible to convey on screen after having read the book upon which the film is based, is shown beautifully, and every shot of The Shimmer makes you stop and stare in awe at what Garland and co. have achieved. Within The Shimmer, without spoiling too much, the set designers and the special effects team have pulled no punches as they’re allowed to go as batshit crazy as they want given The Shimmer’s mutating quality. Creatures, plants, buildings are all spliced together to create things we haven’t seen on screen before. The characters are amazed by what they’re seeing, and so are we along with them. Whatever you think of ‘Annihilation’, the visuals and the production are universally agreed to be stunners.

‘Annihilation’, tragically, failed to earn the support from distributors around the world. It was shown in cinemas in North America and China, but the rest of the world were given ‘Annihilation’ via Netflix. Netflix are a fantastic company, providing a platform for filmmakers around the world to show their work to as wide an audience as you can imagine, but ‘Annihilation’ is different. ‘Annihilation’ is a film from an Oscar nominated filmmaker, with multiple A-listers attached, and arguably most importantly, it’s different. It’s a book adaptation, sure, but it’s not a sequel, not attached to a franchise, for all intents and purposes, it’s new. Why are studios so scared of new ideas? Why are they so reluctant to take risks. Paramount, the production company who picked up the rights to distribute the film in North America only, aren’t exactly strapped for cash. They have the box-office behemoth that is ‘Transformers’ under their belts, along with franchises like ‘Shrek’, ‘Kung Fu Panda‘, and ‘Mission Impossible’. Take some risks. Let your audience see something different for a change.

‘Annihilation’ is a film that deserves to be seen on as big a screen as possible. When it was released, I went as far as upgrading my Netflix account to 4K purely to watch a film, and in the week or two before the film’s release I bought a new 4K TV. Did I buy a new, big TV purely to watch ‘Annihilation’ in a medium close to what it deserved? I can neither confirm nor deny that. What I’m saying is – ‘Annihilation’ is worth your time. It is worth sitting down and watching something you almost certainly have never seen before. It’s a miraculous achievement in filmmaking across the board, and it deserves your attention. It’s on Netflix right now. Watch it, experience it, and prepare for it to take over your every thought for some time.

Rhys’ Rating:

5

Advertisements

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Year: 2018
Directed by: Ron Howard
Cast: Alden Ehrenreich, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Emilia Clarke, Paul Bettany, Joonas Suotamo, Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Written by Chris Gelderd

In 10 films spanning 41 years, ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ is the first of the franchise that started and ended production under a big black cloud. Original directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, wanting to make a “space comedy” were let go just 6 months into production due to creative differences. Acclaimed director Ron Howard came on weeks later to carry the film forward. Following that, extensive re-shoots were carried out to shape the film into the vision Howard and LucasFilm intended.

But before all this happened, the fans and critics were divided. Do we need or even want a film about a young Han Solo, a character immortalised in three films by Harrison Ford. Does the story of how he became the roguish smuggler and pilot with a bounty on his head and a large walking carpet as a friend need to be told? Who will ever be as talented and physically similar like Ford to pull this off? Will this fit into the wider Star Wars timeline or just be totally unique?

These questions never went away, and coupled with the rumours and hear-say and negative views on the production, it’s safe to say ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ has had a mountain to climb just to get where it is today and win over audiences and critics alike.

Well, you can forget the woes about a trouble production and leave your picky questions at home because this space Western is slick, stylish and shows no sign of trouble at all. It’s a fun and light-hearted space adventure, just the sort George Lucas envisioned back in 1977. There is no dark, brooding conflict and mystical power hanging over the story – not to say there isn’t plenty of menace – and there are no Jedi Knights, Force powers and tedious links to the Skywalker story. This is how Han became Solo.

Think of it as a watered down ‘Casino Royale’ for all generations.

From the outset, Alden Ehrenreich had near impossible shoes to fill. Yet to enjoy his performance, we owe it to this talented actor to see he is portraying not Harrison Ford, but Han Solo. A character we know nothing about at this young age. Yes, it’s hard not to look for Ford in him, but if you look BEYOND the man he becomes, you enjoy him all the more for it. Alden bleeds Ford’s mannerisms in subtly, such as his stance, the way he fires his blaster and that dry sense of humour starting to form. He carries the film and proves that he was the right choice to cast.

Emilia Clarke is a little hard to buy into at first, and she only comes to life more in the second half. She may be a talent on the small screen, but somehow her presence on the big screen never leaps at you and she’s just a little forgetful for most of the time, and you don’t buy her relationship with Han as much as you probably should. Paul Bettany is our merciless villain, and while he also is a little glossed over sadly, he commands much of the threat our heroes face in the film and it’s refreshing to NOT be an Imperial officer or a Sith Lord as the bad guy.

Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian, equally having a big character to represent like Solo, does a fine job here. He’s smooth, charming and equally proud to look good and fight the good fight. The film could have benefited from more of his friendship with Solo to blossom, because you’re left wondering is this it? Is this the last time they see each other until the frosty reunion of ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ a good 15 or so years later? You probably expected more, but you at least get to understand Lando’s ESB greeting of “Why you slimy, double-crossing, no-good swindler!”

Chewbacca finally comes to life more than ever after six films and he really does what you’d expect from a Wookiee here, in more ways than one. Seeing the beginning and formation of a life-long friendship is wonderful to see, and there is nothing more satisfying than seeing Han and Chewie together doing what they do best. Joonas Suotamo, a more than worthy successor to Peter Mayhew, does a brilliant job.

One of the best performances comes from Woody Harrelson as Beckett; a mentor, gun-slinger, smuggler and outlaw. He’s the one who guides us and Han into the world of crime and also the real dangers that the galaxy throws at you. Harrelson is instantly likeable and really looks the part, spinning those blasters and leading his crew into battle. He’s having a blast, and it shows. It’s clear all the cast are enjoying themselves in these iconic roles and situations, and that makes it easy to invest in to have fun too, but some seem to enter and exit the film quicker than you’d expect.

Characters drive the film, and they are key in making it flow. While the run time is not too hefty, and certainly doesn’t drag, the story stumbles a little in the first act. It tries to find its feet, which may be evidence of the production woes.  Another slight irk is the humour; it’s not silly humour at all but sometimes you get the feeling the script is trying too hard to be funny when it doesn’t need to be. Phoebe Waller-Bridge as droid L3-37 is a highly off-putting and pointless character. When she speaks, the attitude and humour doesn’t seem fit for a Star Wars film. Something about her portrayal and character didn’t sit with me – it certainly wasn’t funny.

Once Howard does establish the story and the tone, it takes off a lot quicker. The story zips to various new planets in a blend of genres – from crime to drama to Western and sci-fi opera – to deliver something that adds nothing new to the timeline, but lets us have some fun out there without the need for Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker or the importance of civil wars being the focus point.

The action is slick and well executed, and the visual effects are spot-on. One bonus is that Howard seems to opt for more practical sets and action over CGI, and that adds to a much more real looking universe. From the slums of Corellia, to the dunes of Savareen and the nightmarish vortex of the Kessel Run, this is Star Wars at its finest, adventure planet-hopping best. It may be hard to adjust to a Star Wars film where Stormtroopers aren’t the main bad guys and the faceless Empire doesn’t do much or you see nothing of the Rebellion, but this is why the film is much braver than it appears.

It takes risks, it forces us to buy into a new idea and wants us to do nothing but enjoy the ride. Han Solo is just warming up and I want to see where he goes from here.

Is this a Star Wars film we needed in the timeline? Not really, but I’m glad we have it because Ron Howard just whetted my appetite for more of this sort of anthology film away from the ‘Episodes’. And on the basis of a certain cameo towards the end, the timeline just got a whole lot spicier!

Chris’ Rating: 

4

Anon

Year: 2018
Directed by: Andrew Nicol
Cast: Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore, Sonya Walger, Mark O’Brien

Written by Chris Gelderd

This 2018 British science fiction thriller is directed and written by Andrew Niccol and stars Clive Owen, Amanda Seyfried, Colm Feore, Sonya Walger and Mark O’Brien.

In the not too distant future, biosyn implants allow humans to be connected to an endles visual stream of information nown as the ‘Mind’s Eye’. What people see is recorded and stored in a grid called ‘The Ether’. Privacy and secrecy no longer exist.

Detective Sal Frieland (Owen) is soon brought in to investigate a string of murders where the killer seems to be living within the Ether itself; leaving no visual clues, footprints or streams against their victims – he is seeking a ghost within the system. Sal comes across an informant known only as Anon (Seyfried) who he suspects is linked to these crimes – but why? It’s clear the security of people’s minds has been compromised, and Sal needs to find the Anon before it’s too late…

An “original film” which at least comes across as original in context, but really it’s just a blend of other big-budget sci-fi thrillers before it like ‘Minority Report’ and even ‘The Matrix’. Yet it’s painful to watch with a un-engaging story, a less than engaging cast, and a pace that makes a snail look quick in comparison.

It’s a world where people “see” streams of information depending what they look at. They can see adverts ping up around shops and sidewalks, they can see information about everyone they pass including age, job, place of residence, criminal records. It’s not a million miles from what technology can find on people today, except here it’s a constant stream where your privacy and secrets are recorded and stored in a “cloud”.

It’s like Apple becomes Skynet.

And yet to compensate a basic formula for a crime-thriller where you don’t know who or what is behind an obvious major conspiracy or rebellion against the system, you need a good cast. We sadly don’t have that either.

While Amanda Seyfried does a mediocre job as our ‘Anon’ living in the void as a ghost, never really becoming anything other than a 2D hacker with a grudge, it’s left to Clive Owen as the sharp suited detective of this cyber world. A detective who juggles heavy drinking, a failed marriage and a traumatic past to do what he does best – solve crimes. But Owen just lacks any gravitas as Sal, either due to the material he’s working with or the fact he isn’t just that great an actor in a film that requires complex character studies. We get none of that here.

With Owen out to solve a crime as basic as this, it takes so long for the cogs to turn and almost an hour for things to just warm up. Cue lots of sub-par visual effects, over-used P.O.V shots (‘Hardcore Henry’ this isn’t!) and lots of talk. Too much of a relatively good thing soon loses the impact it initially set out. Exposition upon exposition makes it complicated to follow and adds so much more to things when it didn’t need to.

Maybe there’s a reason this is a Netflix ‘original film’, because in the mainstream swing of things, it’s not original. It’s been done before, and it’s been done better. This is just a basic offering with a premise that looks and sounds exciting in trailers, but comes over slow, amateur and boring in execution.

 

Chris’s Rating: 

Untitled-1

Rampage

Year: 2018
Directed by: Brad Peyton
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Naomie Harris, Malin Akerman, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Written by Megan Williams

 

Video game-to-film adaptations have always had a bad reputation, and have rarely been accurate to their source material. However, the arrival of new film ‘Rampage’ might be able to destroy that stigma.

‘Rampage’ is based on the 1986 arcade game of the same name, where you have to control a giant gorilla, named George, a giant crocodile-type creature called Lizzie or a giant werewolf, called Ralph, and destroy as much of the game’s city landscape as possible to proceed to the next level.

After seeing the film, I can definitely say that this is the most accurate video game adaptation so far.

The film adaptation follows Davis (played by Dwayne Johnson), a primatologist and ex-military personal, and his friend George the Gorilla. When George is hit by a scientific experiment that has fallen from the sky, he starts to rapidly grow in size and aggression. Desperate to save his friend, Davis travels to Chicago in hopes of finding a cure and discovers that this same experiment may have also mutated a wolf and a crocodile…and citywide destruction ensues.

The performances are great: Dwayne Johnson and Naomi Harris play very likeable and interesting characters, and they work very well on-screen together. Even though Johnson seems to be in his comfort zone with this role, it looks like he had fun making this film, and I’ve grown to liking him more as an actor with every film I see him in. His on-screen chemistry with Jeffrey Dean Morgan was very charming to watch too (even if Morgan’s accent did get annoying very quickly).

The friendship between Davis and George was believable and, at times, heart-warming which made me care for the characters when the film’s storyline really kicks into gear; I wanted these characters to survive the chaos that was happening on-screen.

While the CGI was cartoon-ish at times (especially when focusing on George), the creature designs for Ralph the Wolf and Lizzie the Crocodile were fantastic and unique-looking. The soundtrack was also fantastic and perfectly worked with the visuals. On top of this, it was memorable, which I find rare in action films.

Overall, ‘Rampage’ is a fun-filled action adventure, and is probably the most accurate video game adaptation to date.

Megan’s Rating: 8.0/10

Ready Player One

Year: 2018
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, Simon Pegg, Mark Rylance

Written by Jo Craig

During the eighties and nineties, standing before a chunky black mirror — fingers and thumbs strategically placed over buttons — was the norm for the vintage gamer. Saturday nights resembled the ‘Stranger Things’ arcade scene and the blind belief of beating an anonymous high score was initiated by one on-screen statement: “Player One, Ready!”

Encasing this nostalgia within a fictional epic was Sci-Fi writer Ernest Cline back in 2011, praised for his tale of friendship and pop culture explosion inside novel ‘Ready Player One’. Arriving seven years later — amidst a flurry of disco era revival in TV and film — marks the thirty-third release from the BFG of directors, Steven Spielberg. As predicted, it’s a spectacle not to be missed.

Masterful in filming thrilling adventures and creating memorable companionships, ‘The King of Entertainment’ was undeniably the man to bring Cline’s vision to life. Quoted as being his third most difficult movie to shoot behind ‘Jaws’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’, Spielberg has roared a geek war cry and we have come running.

The complexity of RP1’s world of pure imagination was always going to be a high level endeavour to visually reconstruct. For Spielberg (who is no stranger to tackling Science fiction), transitioning a story largely set in a virtual reality interface demanded attention to detail and creative trust in effects team Industrial Light and Magic. Shot in Panavision, our first trip down the technicolour rabbit hole — where a rush of mass media characters are live, active and driven by civilians of the year 2045 — is nothing short of an eye-widening wonderland.

The OASIS (Ontologically Anthropocentric Sensory Immersive Simulation) is a limitless, retro universe and in outline, provides real-world outcast, Tye Sheridan’s Wade Watts, a platform to enter Anorak’s Quest — a competition designed by the late OASIS inventor James Halliday (Rylance) — and win full control of the multi-user program. Watts’ VR avatar Parzival is rock star cool — sporting hypnotic locks with a sleeveless, denim jacket — and introduces the OASIS’ main attraction: Being somebody/something else. In addition to escapism, themes of friendship, innocence and courage give a gooey centre to this technological gobstopper and equips a diligent plot with a solid, emotive core.

A level balance is constant between reality and fantasy, guiding you back to the grounded motifs after gawking too long at the ‘Gears of War’ styled gunfight surrounding The Iron Giant’s PvP battle against Mechagodzilla. Frontrunners Tye Sheridan and Olivia Cooke avoid scrutiny by being their charming selves, proving — along with Mark Rylance’s quirky Halliday and Ben Mendelsohn’s deceitful businessman Sorrento — that Spielberg’s casting is meticulous and loyal to the source material.

As awesome as it is watching central Gunter (Easter egg hunter) Art3mis (Cooke) annihilate Sorrento’s (Mendelsohn) army of Sixers by use of a Lancer assault rifle with a chainsaw bayonet, viewers unfamiliar with Cline’s material will be forgiven for missing plot details in the thick of ocular overload. While 3D IMAX might be a component too far for our motion sickness threshold, Spielberg enhances our first-person experience of virtual reality gaming by altering Cline’s Halliday challenges to accommodate a more visually acceptable result on screen. Left unaltered and we might have had to watch Parzival play hours of competitive Joust.

Weaving through a plethora of movie references (including a whole sequence dedicated toThe Shining’), gaming-inspired escape plans and equilibrium-altering camera movements, Spielberg — working closely with writer Zak Penn and Cline — stack several elements and every Easter egg imaginable into a cyberspace treasure hunt on steroids, without letting any eggs fall out of the basket. In simpler terms, it’s an adrenaline-pumping, good versus evil race to the finish line, complete with a down memory lane Alan Silvestri score blended with an 80’s classics soundtrack.

‘Ready Player One’ is a geekgasm that incidentally excites us for Marvel’s behemoth later this month, achieving $53 million coins on its four day debut at the Easter weekend box office. After Warner Bros. pushed forward RP1’s premiere from December – to avoid clashing with ‘The Last Jedi’ — fans of lightsabers, video games and cheeky superheroes will be grateful for the release date staggering, precluding the possibility of geeky heart-failure. Ultimately, one of 2018’s most anticipated productions does not disappoint, nor purge Ernest Cline’s concept of its defining qualities. Instead, Sir Steven — God of euphoric adventure — deserves one thunderous high-five for letting us break free from the mundane and witness a magical journey too colossal for the real world.

Jo’s Rating: 9 / 10

Pacific Rim: Uprising

Year: 2018
Directed by: Steven S. DeKnight
Starring: John Boyega, Scott Eastwood, Cailee Spaeny, Rinko Kikuchi, Charlie Day, Burn Gorman

Written by Rhys Bowen Jones

Guillermo Del Toro’s ‘Pacific Rim’ is, unashamedly, a favourite of mine. Taking the craftsmanship and dedication of the man behind genuine classics like ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and ‘The Devil’s Backbone’ and applying it to a giant monsters vs giant robots film just worked. Del Toro loves Japanese culture and their obsession with kaiju, and that comes across in every beautiful, neon splashed frame of ‘Pacific Rim’. You can imagine my, and the rest of the world’s, hesitation when a sequel was announced, but sadly Del Toro wouldn’t be in the director’s chair. That hesitation, as it happens, was not wrong.

‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ takes place 10 years after the events of the original. They cancelled the apocalypse and restored order to the world after closing the portal at the bottom of the ocean at the end of the first film. Jaegers are being built again, but with less need than previous given the lack of kaiju around the place. Corporations, though, are hell bent on making Jaegers AI-operated in order to be mass produced, eliminating the need for drift-compatible pilots. When a rogue Jaeger attacks a demonstration of this, it’s up to the John Boyega’s Jake Pentecost, son of Idris Elba’s Stacker, and the Pan-Pacific Defense Corps to find out who is behind the defected Jaeger.

Immediately, red flags begin to rear their heads. The allure of the first one was the kaiju and their immaculate designs. The second film near enough removes kaiju from the equation entirely. Monster vs robot action is replaced by robot vs robot action, ultimately moving the Pacific Rim franchise towards becoming a little too similar to ‘Transformers’. Thankfully, the robot vs robot action is frequently great and isn’t painful to look at like in ‘Transformers’. For all the problems ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’ has, the action isn’t one of them.

One major change between the first and second film is, genuinely, the time of day. Where ‘Pacific Rim’ kept all the major action sequences at night, using neon to its advantage and allowing the colours on screen to truly dazzle the audience, ‘Uprising’ keeps all the action in the day. This was an intentional move by director DeKnight because of what Del Toro managed to achieve with his night-time sequences; DeKnight wanted to try something different. I fully respect that move from a novice director, a man who has largely been known for working on the ‘Daredevil’ Netflix series and ‘Spartacus’, making his directorial debut with a $150million film.

Where the action scenes falter compared to the original is in its weight. Every punch in ‘Pacific Rim’ had weight to it, you really felt like these were two giant beasts going at it and making huge amounts of damage to each other. In ‘Uprising’, while the action scenes are fun, they feel almost completely weightless. The punches and sword slashes don’t have the same impact as the original; the scale of the fights simply isn’t there. A stand-out shot from the first film is Gipsy Danger, carrying a tanker as a baseball bat, walking over the camera looking up from the ground, you saw these robots were literally the size of a skyscraper. In ‘Uprising’, it just felt a little like action figures going at it. That didn’t stop certain Jaegers making an impression (Saber Athena was my personal favourite of the new Jaegers), but the impact of the fight wasn’t as strong.

For a big action blockbuster, you don’t expect to see Oscar-worthy performances, and this remains true here. The acting is serviceable, but given the majority of the cast is young and new to the whole acting game, it isn’t surprising. Scott Eastwood, known for being an actor not understanding that ‘The Fate of the Furious’ is meant to be a fun film, continues to be entirely wooden on screen, lacking any sort of charisma you’d expect from a man who literally fights monsters for a living.

Fortunately, John Boyega is on hand to pick up the pieces left by Eastwood and charisma the hell out of us. Boyega, having won everyone over with his great performances as Finn in ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ and ‘The Last Jedi’, is able to slip back into his natural accent for a change. Back to being a boy from East London for the first time since 2011’s terrific ‘Attack The Block’, Boyega is out there just having fun. His charm and humour elevates this film so much because he’s a man that everyone can root for given his outright cool demeanour. Everyone either wants him or wants to be him, and ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’, whatever you think of the film, is yet another example of his talent on his meteoric rise to stardom.

All told, I enjoyed ‘Pacific Rim: Uprising’. The action was solid if unspectacular, it was visually impressive, and John Boyega sells the film with everything he has. I found the film fun and enjoyable, and when the action finally kicks in against the kaiju the film becomes even better in the final act. It’s just a shame it takes so long to get there.

Rhys’ Rating: 6.2/10

Mute

Year: 2018
Directed by: Duncan Jones
Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux, Seyneb Saleh

Written by Fiona Underhill

When I heard a new Duncan Jones film was coming to Netflix, I was excited. I loved both ‘Moon’ and ‘Source Code’ and it looked like ‘Mute’ would also have a sci-fi/futuristic element. When I saw the trailer, it looked even more up my street – a noir set in a ‘Blade Runner’-style world about a mute bartender searching for his missing girlfriend. The cast was also stacked, leading to me having really high hopes for this one.

Then came the reactions.

Woo boy, the reactions. According to the internet, ‘Mute’ is vile and offensive trash and yet another reason to blame Netflix for the death of movies (‘Cloverfield Paradox’ being another recent example). My take on ‘Mute’ is more complex – I neither loved it or hated it and I feel that most of the overreactions have been unduly harsh.

The film starts by showing the reason why Leo (Alexander Skarsgard) is mute, after a boating accident tears his vocal chords, his Amish family do not allow him to have the surgery that would repair them. As an adult in a futuristic Berlin, Leo tends bar in the same club as his girlfriend Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh). Leo wants his girlfriend to move in with him and take things to the next level, but in true noir-style, she keeps warning him that she has a secret – a dark hidden past that will change his perception of her. When she goes missing, Leo turns to her best friend Luba (played by a stunning Robert Sheehan) for help. He also becomes embroiled with two ‘doctors’ – Cactus Bill (played by Paul Rudd in a magnificent moustache) and Duck (an unrecognisable blond Justin Theroux) – who run an extremely shady side-line in torture, among other things. There is also a cameo by Dominic Monaghan, as one of the people Leo ‘questions’ in his search for Naadirah.

I shall start positively – this film had impressive visual effects, for a film that presumably had a limited budget and effective world-building. It featured believable touches such as your take-out being delivered by drone. Leo, who has been raised Amish is obviously struggling in this technological world, even resisting having a mobile phone. He also spends his time beautifully carving and crafting wooden furniture, in an attempt to create a homely environment for Naadirah. Skaarsgard gives a tender performance as Leo, in a totally different role to his award-winning turn in ‘Big Little Lies’. Something else I really liked about this film was the subtle nods to the fact that this takes place in the same universe as ‘Moon’ – the multiple Sams are shown on news footage on TV screens in the background. This film features one of my favourite Paul Rudd performances, purely because it’s so different to his usual charming fare. He uses his charm here as a weapon – to seduce those around him to do his bidding, including using prostitutes to babysit his daughter. Another extremely positive aspect for me is the score by my current favourite film composer; Clint Mansell. He can do no wrong in my eyes (ears?) and this is another stunning example from him.

Cactus Bill’s daughter is where the film becomes problematic for many viewers. A man who is capable of terrible violence, yet shows a softer, caring side with a young ward is a dynamic we have seen recently in ‘Logan’, among other films. This definitely adds a layer of moral complexity to Paul Rudd’s character, because he is happy doing evil to others, but when it came to his own daughter, he is obviously protective. The problem here is that Bill’s partner Duck is gradually revealed to be a paedophile. For me, this had a purpose within the plot because it added a lot of tension to the end which wouldn’t otherwise have been there. It is also used as a plot device in ‘Sin City’ – a film I can see as an influence on this and I don’t remember there being this level of moral outrage about that film.

I can understand the arguments leveled at ‘Mute’. The female characters are tropes, rather than fully fleshed-out characters. They really boil down to the missing girlfriend who only exists to give Leo his mission within the plot and a few workers at nightclubs, stripclubs and brothels. However, this is a staple of the genre and I heard similar arguments made against ‘Blade Runner 2049’ and ‘Baby Driver’ last year, both of which I loved (I’m clearly a terrible feminist). Another accusation against this film has been homophobia. I personally feel that Luba, played by Sheehan is a complex character and not just a caricature. He clearly loves Naadirah deeply and is allowed to show different sides of himself. Some people have said that Theroux’s character Duck shows that the film equates homosexuals with paedophiles, however that was not my interpretation of that character at all. Another thing people have been disgusted by is that the film is dedicated to Jones’ father, David Bowie and his nanny. I believe that Jones was exploring different types of parenthood in this film, from the seemingly ‘good’ mother to Leo, who actually damages him, to the perceived terrible father Cactus Bill, who actually has some positives. He is showing that there is no such thing as ‘traditional’ parenthood and this is understandable coming from someone who must have had an unconventional upbringing.

My main issue with this film, rather than being outraged or offended is that it did feel long and slow-paced. The plot lost its way at times, certainly in terms of holding my attention. However, the end did pick up for me and provided some effective tension. This film certainly is risk-taking and I can see why it found a home on Netflix, rather than on wide cinema release. I see it as a positive that films like this can be made and released and they won’t please everyone or always succeed, but are at least experimental and interesting. I would encourage people to look past the howls of derision that have greeted this film and give it a chance, particularly if you have enjoyed modern-day twists on noir, such as ‘Sin City’. It is violent, gritty and has adult themes that will offend some people, but I enjoyed it. I’m not sure what that tells you about me.

Fiona’s Rating: 7/10

Alien: Covenant

Year: 2017
Director: Ridley Scott
Starring: Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demian Bichir, Carmen Ejogo

Written by Jo Craig 

Met with scepticism from devout fans of earlier episodes, ‘Alien: Covenant’ divided audiences after it was unleashed onto the chopping block for worldwide cinema release. Many viewers claimed that an ‘Alien’ installment without Ripley was just another Sci-Fi rehash with Xenomorphs, along with the speculation that ‘Covenant’ left unanswered questions circling the conception of the deadly alien species and the Engineers that posed a real threat of shaky continuity. Dissecting all the conflict, JUMPCUT can hopefully shed some light on these dubieties.

‘Alien: Covenant’ joins officers Oram (Billy Crudup) and Daniels (Katherine Waterston) with their crew on-board the titular vessel as it journeys to an uncharted planet that promises sustainability for their colonial mission. Disguised as an idyllic ‘paradise’, the newly discovered planet reveals a dark infestation that threatens to compromise the mission’s success.

As much as Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley will forever be noticeably missing from the line-up, as ‘Covenant’s’ events occur before the Nostromo mission, Ridley Scott has had success in finding fairly equal momentum and survival instinct mentality in his ‘Prometheus’ crew that Ripley carried fearlessly in the first four films. Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw showed promise of conserving the push of self-preservation in the first prequel, showing strength in progression and the ability to propel the story forward to face greater threats in the future, before Katherine Waterston’s Daniels and her Ezra Miller inspired locks from ‘Fantastic Beasts’ undoubtedly failed to deliver the same values.

Ridley’s third outer space squad provided some fresh energy from Danny McBride’s Tennessee that offered distinct likeability to bestow faith in, however the rest of the crew appeared to serve no purpose other than tasty bait for far superior predators and a healthy extension to the franchises kill count. Leads Daniels and Oram spent most of the film dick-measuring, giving two capable actors incredibly stale roles that overruled any impressive leadership qualities. A vacant on-screen relationship between Waterston and Crudup fractured any connection the head officers were meant to possess, meanwhile Daniels and Tennessee’s relationship bellowed charisma that failed to get a glimmer of attention until the conclusion which by then was too little, too late. James Franco’s anticipated cameo as captain was cut short to the bewilderment of viewers, annihilating a component which could have supplied another dynamic addition to this weary feature.

On a higher note, an integral part of ‘Covenant’s’ storyline is refined droid Walter and his encounter with ‘Prometheus’ survivor David, Walter’s predecessor cyborg. The preordained plot takes a detour during their meeting as we learn what David has been involved in during the ten years between the two films and to what lengths he has gone to for answers. David’s detective work advanced the franchise to greater heights as it side-lined the accustomed action in the foreground to address the deeper question of creation. Who created the Xenomorphs and for what purpose? ‘Covenant’ also introduces a new breed of Xenomorph named Neomorphs, a livelier form of alien that further aids the mystery behind the Engineers.

Despite Scott wasting no time in establishing his classic oppressive ambience against a stunning display of Australian scenery that stimulates the films tension, a series of predictable outcomes and a rather shaky final showdown were both the fatal acid poured onto a once unique hypothesis. ‘Covenant’ and its big question of creation is ultimately the influence that could have lifted this second prequel into the Sci-Fi hall of fame, but instead this opportunity to delve deeper was flooded with time-wasting characters and a lot of infuriating faffing about. Scott sets emphasis on the two droids whose morals become the key fascination to the narrative, but is diluted by a sense of desperation to churn out violent sequences to keep audiences engaged.

For die-hard fans of the franchise, like myself, ‘Alien: Covenant’ provided a solid fix of Xenomorph action whilst addressing a biblical subtext that added an intriguing continuation to Ridley Scott’s original concept, but fell short at supporting this development by focusing on a rudimentary storyboard. With Scott slipping the title of his next Alien film ‘Awakening’ in an interview with Fandango, stating: “It will go ‘Prometheus’, ‘Awakening’, ‘Covenant’ [and] “If [Covenant] is successful, and then [Awakening], then there will definitely be three more.”, we can guarantee that one of the greatest loved Sci-Fi chain’s will be delivering exciting space chases for years to come, providing ‘Awakening’ has audiences running back for more at light speed.

Jo’s rating: 5 out of 10

Geostorm

Year: 2017
Director: Dean Devlin
Starring: Gerard Butler, Jim Sturgess, Abbie Cornish, Alexandra Maria Lara, Daniel Wu, Amr Waked, Andy Garcia, Ed Harris

Written by Chris Gelderd

When an internationally created series of satellites blanketed across Earth, controlled from the International Space Station, starts to malfunction and strange weather occurrences take place across the world, US President Palma (Garcia) demands it to be fixed.

Former station commander Jake Lawson (Butler) is commissioned to go up to the ISS and investigate and repair the fault. On Earth, Max Lawson (Sturgess) and his Secret Service girlfriend Sarah (Cornish) uncover a deadly conspiracy.

It seems somebody in the Presidential party wants the satellites out of action and has been sabotaging them, creating deadly weather that will build up to a Geostorm, killing millions. Only Jake and Max, millions of miles apart, can save the world, prevent the Geostorm and uncover the truth before it is too late…

Hello and welcome to the weather forecast from Jumpcut Online, but one you may be doubting due to the fact there have been rumours of a ‘Geostorm’ hitting cinema shores? What is a Geostorm? A Geostorm is a series of large consecutive weather disasters around the world that will wipe out cities, kill millions and re-shape Earth as we know it. Sadly, there is nothing of the sort in the ‘Geostorm’ movie and so, pretty much, is one big fake marketing campaign.

So. What can you expect? A Scottish actor with a bad American accent known as a Gerard Butler will sweep in from the West to lead this event. You may have experienced some intense activity from Butler in the past like ‘300’, ‘Olympus Has Fallen’ and, goodness, even ‘Phantom Of The Opera’. Butler usually causes chaos, but somehow he is a poor man’s Bruce Willis action hero, and delivers many cheap, fun bangs for your buck. Here, however, he blows in and fizzles out rather quickly.

The Butler today appears rather weak, lazy, bored and a little pasty around the edges. When the driving force behind such a weather event is this useless, it spells certain doom for the longevity of such an event as ‘Geostorm’.

Sadly, the Butler is just the head of the breeze blowing in, because behind him we have many other faces who just blow in, do what the script says and then fizzle out. We have the Abbie Cornish, the Ed Harris, the Andy Garcia and the Jim Sturgess winds who are your run of the mill supporting winds. Each character has been seen many times before in various genres, and they offer nothing new or engaging – it’s one big cliché and nonsense that none of them seem to eclipse.

I will say, just behind all the hot air is a little ray of sunshine dubbed Tabitha Bateman as Butler’s daughter. When a thirteen year old performs better than her elder, more acclaimed supporting cast, you know it’s a poor show of talent on the whole.

Brace yourselves, for the hot winds do not ease off over the 100 mins or so of this boring, hap-hazard storm. Freezing temperatures created by a terribly over-serious plot react badly with the hot winds and elongate everything. You’ll feel trapped. You’ll feel restless. You’ll feel tired. You’ve seen these sorts of disaster events done far better, such as the ones dubbed ‘The Day After Tomorrow’, ‘Volcano’ or even ‘2012’. They had a purpose and they were creative. They felt dangerous and left their mark visually with viewers with those big dramatic money shots. This does not.

This ‘Geostorm’ doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it some strange science-fiction adventure? Is it a family drama? Is it a disaster film? Is it a political thriller? It’s a big mess, and it shows. Too much gas and bloated weather pockets, not enough release.

Hot winds and freezing temperatures don’t react to make anything enjoyable, and sadly it’s not over yet. During this we will see a big old gust of smog roll in under the guise of CGI. All the smog you’ve seen before in trailers and marketing is as much as you see in reality. It’s the same old smog of people running away from CGI weather, mostly on beaches for some strange reason, and all of these moments last a minute or less. You will get fire, snow, tidal waves, hail and wind all in under 5 minutes. That’s your lot. If you’re expecting a pay-off for bracing this storm, you won’t get it. You don’t need to prepare yourself – you can stand out without aid and it will blow over you no matter how hard it tries to batter you with spectacle, danger, drama or forced emotion.

So looking ahead to when this storm passes, what will it leave? My answer? Nothing. There will be little damage left to you all once you emerge, and you will be more annoyed at the inconvenience than anything else. I can’t even lie and say there is anything positive to take away here.

The winds and temperature will die off as quickly as it came, and you won’t remember this storm in the days to come, and nor will it go down in history. Well, it might, as one of the most disappointing and lackluster Geostorms ever, due to the fact you never saw or experienced one at all.

Chris’ Rating: 1 out of 10