Last Words


Everything Old Testament will become New again.

(2020) Science Fiction (Gravitas) Nick Nolte, Kalipha Touray, Charlotte Rampling, Alba Rohrwacher, Stellan Skarsgård, Silvia Calderoni, Maryam d’Abo, Osemwenoghogho “Victory” Wilfred, Vincenzo Del Prete, Giovani Trono, Jun Ichikawa, Fiorenzo Madonna, Cosimo Desil, Adreina Liotti, Roberta Mattei, Ivan Alfredo Manzano, Nicolas Sacrez, Giulio Esposito, Fabiana Guarino, Valeria Golino. Directed by Jonathan Nossiter

 

Contemplating the end of mankind is never a pleasant thing. This dystopian post-apocalyptic sci-fi film from noted documentary filmmaker Nossiter does just that. It’s not so much Waiting for Godot as it is Waiting for The End.

It is 2086 and Kal (Touray) is the last man standing – or sitting, or lying down – on Earth. He wants to leave a record of humanity’s last days. An unnamed catastrophe has devastated the planet, leaving the water toxic and plant life pretty much obliterated. Those that remain sustain life on bottled water and canned goods. Kal and his sister who is pregnant live in what’s left of Paris until an encounter with a gang of feral kids leads to a most horrific offscreen death of his sister. Kal then heads to Italy, where he finds Shakespeare (Nolte) holed up in a cave with the last remaining celluloid, keeping himself entertained by watching movies.

Shakespeare comes up with the idea of constructing a movie camera and manufacturing film (into which Kal hand-punches the sprocket holes) and heading off to Greece, where it is rumored a last remaining settlement of humans remains, in a patch of Earth still capable of sustaining life. After an arduous journey, sure enough they find one, headed up by the resolute Dr. Zyberski (Skarsgård) and the hyper-sexual Batik (Rampling). There the two reacquaint the survivors with the wonders of motion pictures while counting down the days until The End.

The first half of the picture is dominated by Nolte and he responds by giving a performance that actually carries the movie. Nossiter plainly has a love for all things cinematic and Nolte is able to capture the essence of that love without being too maudlin about it. The cast has a few interesting performers like Rampling, Skarsgård and d’Abo, but mostly what we have here are extras who are going through the motions, which makes some sense – when confronted with the end of everything, a certain amount of numbness is likely to occur.

Try not to think too much about inner logic here; Shakespeare claims to remember the Sixties first-hand but hey, it’s 2085 and that would make him – even if he were a kid in the Summer of Love – well over 120 years old, and considering that he’d spent the last twenty years or so living off of what canned food and bottled water he can scrounge up, a lifestyle and diet not conducive to long life.

The plot feels a bit all over the place and nonsensical at times, which perhaps is the point. Still, this is a hell of a downer of the movie, unrelentingly bleak and depressing. This is not a movie to show to anyone who is clinically depressed, or even to fans of intelligent sci-fi. The message here is that things are going to end with a whimper or even more likely, a simple shrug of the shoulders. It doesn’t say much about humanity, or Nossiter’s opinion of it.

REASONS TO SEE: Nolte gives a truly strong performance.
REASONS TO AVOID: Disjointed and joyless.
FAMILY VALUES: There is sexuality, nudity and violence, including a sexual assault.
TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Skarsgård and Rampling both appear in the recent remake of Dune.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Redbox, Spectrum, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/8/22: Rotten Tomatoes: 40% positive reviews; Metacritic: 50/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Quintet
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Prince Philip: The Royal Family Remembers

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Astro Boy


Astro Boy

Love the hair, Toby!

(2009) Animated Science Fiction (Summit) Starring the voices of Freddie Highmore, Nicolas Cage, Kristen Bell, Nathan Lane, Bill Nighy, Donald Sutherland, Charlize Theron, Eugene Levy, Matt Lucas. Directed by David Bowers

In the soul of a machine there beats the heart of a young boy. Where does the machine end and the human being begin?

The year is 3000 and the world is terribly polluted. The citizens of Metro City have created for themselves something of a utopia by floating their city high in the atmosphere and creating an army of robots to wait on the citizenry hand and foot…or cog and wheel, as it were. Those who disagree with the policies of the repressive government headed by President Stone (Sutherland), a megalomaniacal tyrant, are sent to the surface to live amongst the garbage.

Dr. Tenma (Cage) is a brilliant robotics specialist and as it turns out, Minister of Science for the current regime. The President wants Tenma to create the ultimate war machine so he can wage war on the surface dwellers; not so much because they’re a threat but so that he can regain a higher approval rating and win the upcoming elections. The Peacekeeper is Dr. Tenma’s solution; what it needs, however, is a power source that won’t konk out on it mid-Peace.

That solution comes courtesy of Dr. Elefun (Nighy) who has extracted the core of a comet and discovered two opposing energy sources; the stable and pure Blue Energy and the unstable and unpredictable Red Energy, which predictably is much more powerful than the Blue Energy. Just as predictably, the President wants to use the Red Energy as the Peacekeeper’s power source despite the objections of his scientific staff. The result is a catastrophe; the Peacekeeper goes out-of-control ballistic and is only just barely restrained. There is a casualty however; Dr. Tenma’s young son Toby (Highmore)  is caught in the crossfire and is vaporized in front of his very eyes.

Understandably, Dr. Tenma is grief-stricken and withdraws from his position. Half-mad and wracked by guilt, he determines to replace his son with a robot, one that will pass for him physically and is cloned from the DNA of a single strand of Toby’s hair, which remains on his ballcap. Dr. Tenma also adds some enhancements for robo-Toby (Highmore) to adequately defend himself, knowing that once word of the advanced robot reaches the President he’ll want it for himself.

However, something odd happens. At first, the new robot is the perfect copy of his son, complete with all his memories and personality quirks, but he isn’t quite the same. For one thing, he very quickly becomes aware that he isn’t human – perhaps it’s the jet pack built into his feet, or the machine gun that comes out of his tush. Yes, that’s what I said.

In any case, Dr. Tenma rejects his artificial son and the robot winds up falling to Earth following an encounter with the military. There he is befriended by a group of scavengers reporting to Hamegg (Lane) who runs a battle arena where robots battle one another, most of them built from scraps and spare parts his scavengers pick up for him. The robot is christened Astro Boy and eventually is befriended by Cora (Bell), one of the scavengers but the military eventually comes looking for him and you and I and everyone in Japan knows that eventually Astro will be going robot a robot with the Peacekeeper.

Astro Boy originally appeared as first a manga and then a black and white anime in Japan back in 1951, showing up in the United States in the 60s as a color series. It has appeared occasionally in one form or another on these shores on television since. The creator of Astro Boy, Osamu Tezuka, is considered the father of modern anime and is credited with the distinctive large-eyed look of the genere.

Fans of the original manga and anime series will not be pleased at some of the subtle differences that have been wrought by Bowers who was co-director of Flushed Away for Aardman. For example, Dr. Elefun who in the series adopted Astro Boy is relegated to little more than a cameo here. In some ways, the rejection of Astro by his dear old dad is much crueler here than it was in the series as well, which may upset some young boys who might be feeling much the same as the robot.

Still, fans and non-fans alike will thrill to the visuals of this movie. Imagi Animation Studios, a Hong Kong-based studio, were responsible for those and they show themselves to be nearly the equal of Pixar in that regard. Both the utopian Metro City and the dystopian surface are wondrous to look at. Even Astro himself is a joy to behold.

What is not so much a joy is a good deal of the voice acting. Granted, the script is not super well-written but it felt like many of the actors phoned in their performances. Cage, who can be very emotional when he wants to be, is curiously flat here as the grieving father. The movie needed raw emotion to draw its audience into the story but that is never provided; consequently, the audience feels disconnected from the movie and that makes it really hard to love it.

There are some good elements here and certainly it is an attractive movie to look at, but like a vacuous blonde, once you get past the good looks you realize there is nothing of substance here. While I look forward to Imagi’s future endeavors, they have yet to learn the simple secret of Pixar’s success – that no animated movie, no matter how beautifully drawn it is, can survive a poor story but a movie with a great story that is beautifully drawn will be a classic that will last for years to come.

WHY RENT THIS: Exquisitely drawn visuals and a chance to re-visit an anime icon.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Wooden voice acting in many instances and a plot that could have used some shoring up.

FAMILY VALUES: This is action a-plenty, and scenes of a young boy placed in mortal peril. There are also a few mildly bad words which are probably nothing your average 8-year-old hasn’t already heard and most likely coming out of your mouth.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Japanese version of the movie uses Astro Boy’s original bodyform, facial characteristics and hairstyle, while the U.S. version is updated on all three counts.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There are a couple of short films utilizing characters from the movie, but for my money the most interesting extra feature is a featurette showing the evolution of Astro Boy from Tezuka’s original drawings until now.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $39.9M on a $65M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 4.5/10

TOMORROW: Gulliver’s Travels (2010)