The muddled execution of Us didn't make me question what Jordan Peele could do next. He's only three films into his career, and doing all right for himself despite the divisiveness surrounding his last film. Still, with so little time to prepare my hype in these 'The Myans Were Wrong' times, Peele has regained stride from Get Out .
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
Wednesday, January 6, 2021
CIA Agent and the Protagonist (John David Washington) is given a word – tenet – and the objective to trail a Russian oligarch Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) who communicates with the future. As Sator sets his sight on obliterating humanity, the Protagonist does everything he can to save the world with the help of a fellow agent official Neil (Robert Pattinson) and Sator’s estranged wife (Elizabeth Debicki).
“Don’t try to understand it,” as scientist (Clemence Posey) declares in Tenet, the most concise way to approaching a Christopher Nolan film. You know that you’re going to get characters navigating a timey-wimey unraveling plot filled with exposition, amazing stunts, an ear-blasting score, and a suitable cast to carry it all on their shoulders. Where Nolan slightly fails with his latest mind-boggling adventure is with the following phrase, “feel it.”
Ironically, everything here is right out of Nolan’s staple of work. Similar to the clique of Inception led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Tom Hardy, and Jordan Gordon Levitt (or any of his previous casts), this ensemble meshes well together. John David Washington’s charisma draws out a tedious conflict with Kenneth Branagh, a friendly camaraderie with Robert Pattinson, and trusting warmth with Elizabeth Debicki. Despite the heftiness of Nolan’s script, they make a suitable crew who are easy to watch as their various cahoots unfold. Nolan also always packs his films with tactile stunts you won’t find anywhere else. With a story that helms the concept of moving forward and backward in time, there are sequences here that are on the same level of “the kicks” in Inception or the race to dock the Endurance in Interstellar - they'll baffle you with their practical effects yet ingenious execution. And instead of a dynamo score by the always-reliable composer Hans Zimmer, Nolan steps out of the box with Ludwig Gorannsson, who crafts an action-packed futuristic score that also blows out the dialogue.
Even though Tenet has these elements that are fun on their own, where the film goes “wrong” is how little there is to care about anything. While Nolan's plots are always a source of confusion for movie goers, I hate to flex I've never particularly struggled with them. So, Tenet isn't that hard to follow when the concept boils down to a cat and mouse chase locked in a time loop. But the script is too concerned with battening down the hatches to drop exposition and a completely forgettable subplot of an arms dealer using The Protagonist for their own means, that the story is left dry and cringe-worthingly cliché.
What works in favor for Tenet also works against it. Unlike his previous films where the hero had some semblance of humanity tying him to the world outside of saving it or a decent redemption arc, The Protagonist is the hero not because of some special inner calling to care about anyone’s particular fate but mostly it’s his duty and he’s the best at it; Neil shows up to begin and continue their beautiful chaotic friendship whenever he’s needed; Andre comes across as terrifying until his punishment via global annihilation falls down the trap of a 1960s Bond villain; Katharine is limited as the abused wife who is treated as a damsel-punching-bag for 2/3 of the story until she can “save herself” and the world (honestly one of the most offensive female roles I've ever seen). The cast does well with their roles but mostly because of they're given to work with. The action scenes are good, but they’re also too sparse to outdo what other end-of-the-world flicks have done before and more entertainingly.
Tenet is memorable for Nolan continuing his reputation to conjure a labyrinth of ideas, and there’s nothing wrong with the fact that this is his niche. But a complex film is not necessarily smart if the most resounding reaction is either confusion or accusations that everyone else who dislikes the film is not smart enough to understand. Contrary to common film bros' defense of Nolan, some to most movie goers understand what he’s delving into - we've just learned to accept that intricate concepts without a satisfying pay-off aren't always worth our time.
Have you seen Tenet? What did you think?
Thursday, November 21, 2019
Directed by D.C. Hamilton, The Fare immediately grabs your attention with its nostalgic atmosphere. A lone cab out in the middle of nowhere with nothing but two passengers, a mysterious radio show, and an electrical storm blocking their trip makes you feel like you’ve been transported into The Twilight Zone. There’s the natural sense, like with any sci-fi flick, that something else is brewing underneath the surface of what’s occurring on-screen. The use of special effects between the stretch of road Harris’s cab cruises over and over again as well as the black and white cinematography gives The Fare a production value of a much larger studio. Yet, as Penny and Harris’s relationship unfolds, the film also holds onto the intimate character experience of an indie, and lets the film unfold more than the initial sci-fi impression. Despite the seemingly simple premise, there’s a lot at play with the production between the characters and story, and Hamilton manages it with ease.
Similarly, some films falter when its cast can’t live up to the story, or the story engulfs the characters. But as a two-person show (three including the voice-over of Jason Stuart), it’s hard to believe how much the film relies and thrives on the deft performances of Brinna Kelly and Gino Anthony Pesi.
For Penny and Harris to work as individual characters reliving the same moment, as well as a partnership that evolves and flows with the story, their chemistry has to shine from the start. Even though the characters have been trapped together for an inordinate amount of time, their connection must be strong enough to sense that something else is going on between them – it’s not too fresh or too worn down to ruin the allusion of how long they’ve running into each other. They have a real interest in each other as well as a light-hearted banter and connection that makes you root for them. Both Kelly and Pesi exude that balance as their characters grapple with the routine of what they’ve experienced before as well as the startling discoveries that come along. It’d be difficult to believe that Kelly and Pesi don’t break out into the wider span of what Hollywood has to offer at some point, and hopefully The Fare will give them a bigger launching pad.
While this film works seamlessly together with the actors and production, The Fare’s greatest strength is its script. The direction and look of the film will grab your visual attention, and the performances will hook you emotionally, but the set-up of mystery and drama unfolds throughout Kelly’s plot with an impressive amount of pacing. The story rarely lags or feels overdone as the sci-fi element of a time loop gradually explores the loneliness of Harris’s lifestyle, the loss and yearning for connection, and contemplating the unknown. Kelly offers enough questions to keep you guessing about why and how the characters are trapped together, but doesn’t limit the characters’ own story. As the movie moves towards the ending, it’s surprisingly fitting how the film doesn’t throw in a twist just to be shocking as many sci-fi films manage to do. By all means, there is a twist - it’s not necessarily ground-breaking, but you also can’t say for sure you saw it coming. It fits well into the story that Kelly lays out, and depending on your guesses, should still leave you feeling satisfied.
Hamilton’s work on the production offers a visual appeal for longtime fans of The Twilight Zone, while Kelly’s script digs just as deep as Rod Serling’s character studies. Being forced to relive a moment or being trapped by the limitations of time has been done before throughout film and various genres – Memento, Groundhog’s Day, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and About Time, to name a few – yet none of them can quite compare to The Fare.
As always, I provide an honest critique for every film that I screen, and hope that you will check out the review and interview below. The Fare is currently available on YouTube, Google Play, and Amazon.
Rating for The Fare: ★★★
Friday, June 14, 2019
What are you watching right now? anything on streaming or traditional tv? Let me know in the comments.
Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Based on the trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer, a mysterious translucent orb looms over Area X. No one knows how or why it came to fruition, just that its electromagnetic power slowly absorbs everything in its wake. Anything or anyone that crosses the Shimmer’s threshold is never to be seen or heard from again. That is until cellular-biology professor Lena (Natalie Portman) is inexplicably reunited with her husband (Oscar Isaac), a soldier who entered the Shimmer as part of a military operation and was the only survivor to come out alive but suffering ill effects from being inside. Curious to venture into the heart of the orb and find out what happens inside, Lena and four other women - psychologist Dr. Ventress (Jennifer Jason Leigh), paramedic Anya Thorensen (Gina Rodriguez), anthropologist Cass Shepphard (Tuva Novotny) and physicist Josie Radek (Tessa Thompson) - make one last dangerous trek searching for answers.
On the surface level, there isn’t a lot about Annihilation that’s unique from many other sci-fi counterparts. The story is something that we’ve seen before: a uniquely qualified group of individuals enter an unknown world and nothing can prepare for them for what they’re about to encounter. We’re left with various questions about what happened, and the suspense is left up to both the cast of characters and the environment (which becomes a character on its own) to tease us with what happened: Were the previous military groups driven crazy and murdered each other? Did something else kill them - how? What? The longer Lena’s squadron spends in the orb, their doubts and terror about the environment start tipping the scale of how they struggle to trust each other and the deathly situation that they’re in.
What lies underneath the surface of the film is how the story and direction is gorgeously haunting. The Shimmer's overgrown forests and peaceful isolation feels like something out of a fairytale. But lurking behind the illusion of its dream-like atmosphere are changes that the team could never imagine: People become one with the landscape, animals transform into terrifying beasts, and the fact that nobody can really live within its translucent walls increases any sense of seeing civilization again. As Lena and her comrades follow its trail of breadcrumbs about the military units that came before them, their resolve starts to crumble – there really is no such thing as going back. The Shimmer is filled with tension and wonder about the unknown, a lingering suspicion about what will happen next; it has a foreboding peacefulness to it that’s matched by violence; life equals death; destruction breeds creation. The longer you spend with Lena and the group, the more you want to know answers too, and to see who might survive, die, or how the Shimmer changes them.
The film is very much an ensemble piece. Portman’s career over the past decade has truly flourished, churning out all kinds of complex performances from Black Swan to Jackie. As Lena, she offers a formidable leader to the group and someone to anchor the story to as she tries to navigate what’s going on around her – she’s vulnerable, smart, and resilient. The rest of the characters could come across as a little trope-ish compared to similar action / sci-fi movies, but they create a tight camaraderie between them that makes their tentative unity and division almost palpable. It’s not hard to fall in love with the film’s overall aesthetic, to be honest: Five women walking into the Shimmer ready to get answers and kick ass.
Written and directed by Alex Garland, Annihilation is only the first step in a trilogy, and unfortunately, he only had the intention of making the first one. When he started the project, the author's manuscript was just coming together, and Garland scraped the series' ideas together to form his own vision - ironically, just like The Shimmer. His film's world-building asks big questions, and the road to answering them is chilling and unexpected. Annihilation works well enough as a stand-alone, but knowing what happens next would’ve been interesting for the rest of the trilogy to be made and explore. There’s honestly nothing wrong with Garland's film, except the shame of wanting more and being forced to wait for another director to take the series on again. One can only hope that this breeds similar yet different sci-films in the future.
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
|Photo Credit: Netflix
Dropping on Netflix after the 2018 Super Bowl without any previous hype, the latest version of events leaves Earth behind to cover the apocalypse from space. As countries go to war at home over energy crises, an international space crew aboard the Cloverfield space station tries to utilize Shepard particle accelerator to create a renewable energy source. The downside is that executing the particle can create alternative realities. The crew's gamble poses numerous threats and questions: what will their actions do for those at home? is the sacrifice to leave their families behind worth it if they never return? did their vortex transplant monsters on Earth?
The one thing the Cloverfield franchise had going for it was its thrills. Not only its ability to release a new movie out of nowhere and let fans rush to see it, but also its ability to be scary. Cloverfield dropped movie goers into a first-person perspective as a group of friends try to survive a Godzilla-like attack. 10 Cloverfield Lane kept its suspense claustrophobic with a young woman taken in by a conspiratorial survivalist and making us question if he was crazy or telling the truth. Paradox starts off with a cool enough premise as the particle accelerator hurls chaos on the Cloverfield station. Along with the crew as they one from one crisis to another, you're supposed to feel like you don't know what's going to happen next. But unfortunately, the film's inspiring horror elements become too commonplace. After the first thrilling curveball, the script recycles "wouldn't it be scary if this happened" ideas every ten minutes; most of the intended scares of dimensions colliding are gimmicky. This isn't necessarily bad if you just want to enjoy a popcorn flick, but if you want more than the same tactics to make you scared it's unexciting.
If there's one thing the movie has going for it is the impressive cast, which includes but not limited to
David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O'Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Zhang Ziyi. Gugu-Mbgraw and Elizbeth Delecki are the only refreshing entries with each having their own reasons for wanting to manipulate the alternative reality they've fallen into, but even their agency boils down to a simple process of elimination instead of anything deliberate. Unfortunately, the abundance of talent can't save the film from the fact that their characters are the most basic tropes: each one representing their home country and bringing their international conflicts (and stereotypes) from home on board.
Similar to its sister sequel, Paradox wasn't originally connected to the Cloverfield universe. The script was written with the idea of it being released into theaters as its own solo flick. Unlike 10 Cloverfield Lane which found its place in the apocalypse universe, Paradox might've worked better on its own. Despite the decent reputation of Netflix making its own content and intentionally trying to be a great sci-fi flick, Cloverfield Paradox makes for a great SYFY flick on the level of Sharknado. With the Cloverfield name attached to it, it could've been a lot better.
Have you seen Cloverfield Paradox? What did you think?
Friday, December 29, 2017
|Photo Credit: Blade Runner 2049 / Warner Bros. Pictures
For thirty-five years Blade Runner fans have waited for the next chapter of director Ridley Scott's cult classic. His grim noir world focused on a future 2019 where LAPD officer Deckard (Harrison Ford) retires replicant slaves (androids) who have gone rogue against their human masters and ends up falling in love with one of his targets (Sean Young). After audiences were left wondering the whereabouts of humanity and its android population, its sequel Blade Runner 2049 succeeds at being more than a replica.
Set in 2049, the world has continued to fall into economic and enviromental despair as a genius with a godlike complex Niander Wallace (Jared Leto) has reinvented replicants with a shorter lifespan and wired to obey their masters. Agent K (Ryan Gosling), one of the newest models, is tasked to "retire" older rogue versions like Deckard. When one target sets K off on a quest against Wallace's corporation, he's bound to discover a dangerous truth about himself and his own kind.
While the original film and all of its uncut versions toyed with the notion of whether or not Deckard and Rachael were replicants or not, and a deeper philosophical meaning of what it means to be either, 2049 carries a much-heavier weight about love, humanity, and the soul. Establishing a steady history in film with intrigue and science-fiction, director Denis Villenue's vision dips the story back into its futuristic roots and manages to pull off an impressive, complimentary follow-up. (This review contains spoilers - read at your own risk!)