The Cloverfield Paradox


Houston, we have a problem.

(2018) Science Fiction (Netflix) Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Chris O’Dowd, Aksel Hennie, Ziyi Zhang, Elizabeth Debicki, Roger Davies, Clover Nee, Jordan Riviera, Michael Stokes III, Celeste Clark, Nathan Oliver, Donal Logue, Susan Cryer, Ken Olin (voice), Simon Pegg (voice), Greg Grunberg (voice),Judy Ho. Directed by Julius Onah

 

Sometimes movies are made with the best of intentions, utilizes a nifty premise and terrific cast. We get excited for the movie but watch as it’s release date suffers delay after delay. We see no trailers, no publicity materials just rumors that the studio is dissatisfied with the final result. When we finally get to see the movie, sometimes we find out the studio was justified in their fears. More often than not the movie’s problems stem from studio interference. I don’t get the sense that’s what happened here.

In 2028 Earth is caught in a massive energy crisis. Sober news anchors intone that the planet will run out of energy within five years. Racing against time, a multinational scientific team on a satellite orbiting the Earth works to solve the crisis with a particle accelerator which will do…something. We’re never quite sure what. Thankfully, The Cloverfield Paradox doesn’t way itself down with unnecessary explanations.

Test after test ends in failure and the crew – the American captain Kiel (Oyelowo), the also American communications officer Hamilton (Mbatha-Raw), the German engineer Schmidt (Brühl), the Chinese physicist  Tam (Zhang), the Russian something or another Volkov (Hennie), the Brazilian doctor Monk (Ortiz) and the Irish technician Mundy (O’Dowd) get into finger-pointing and tensions between the Americans and Russians back home don’t help matters any. Then a power surge during a test causes the experiment to actually work. Everyone is happy – until they look out the window and notice that Earth isn’t there. That’s when the going gets really weird.

The cast here is as first-rate as any for any movie this year let alone a direct-to-Netflix film and quite frankly, they earn their paychecks impressively. The trouble is, most of them are hamstrung by underdeveloped characters. Other than Hamilton who at least gets the semblance of a backstory, most of the characters are essentially defined by their functions to the plot; the red herring, the indecisive one, the suspicious one, the compassionate one and so on. As the comic relief, O’Dowd is the most impressive here although Brühl and Mbatha-Raw both come close. While it is laudable to make the leads persons of color, it would have been far more admirable to give them something to work with.

The other glaring problem here is that while the concept itself – involving parallel universes and alternate realities – is intriguing, the execution is lacking. It’s all exposition with characters constantly advancing the plot by explaining what’s happening. The movie is scene after scene of too much talking and as the movie gets further alone, the plot begins to go off the rails. While the ending is actually quite nice (and ties the film to previous Cloverfield films), it isn’t enough to save a film which while promising turns out to be not only disappointing but that most awful of cinematic sins – boring.

REASONS TO GO: The cast is pretty nifty. The ending is fun but not enough to save the movie.
REASONS TO STAY: The plot gets more ludicrous as the film goes along. A decent premise is wasted with a poor execution.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, violence and disturbing images.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The film was originally titled God Particle and was intended for theatrical release. After several release date delays, Netflix quietly purchased the film from Paramount and ran the trailer during the Super Bowl – the same day it would become available on the streaming service.
BEYOND THE THEATERS:  Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/6/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 17% positive reviews. Metacritic: 37/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Life
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
The Legend of King Solomon

Star Trek Beyond


"Someone's sitting in my chair."

“Someone’s sitting in my chair.”

(2016) Science Fiction (Paramount) Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, Karl Urban, Idris Elba, Sofia Boutella, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Joe Taslim, Lydia Wilson, Deep Roy, Melissa Roxburgh, Anita Brown, Doug Jung, Danny Pudi, Kim Kold, Fraser Aitcheson, Matthew MacCaull, Emy Aneke, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Greg Grunberg, Fiona Vroom. Directed by Justin Lin

 

The Star Trek franchise turns 50 this year as next month marks the anniversary of the first appearance of Captain James T. Kirk and the U.S.S. Enterprise on the NBC network way back in 1966. The franchise has gone through six different television series including one animated version and a seventh set to debut in January, thirteen movies, dozens of fan-made videos and innumerable novels and fan-fic entries.

The latest film (and the first of the rebooted “alternate universe” Trek without J.J. Abrams in the director’s chair) finds the Enterprise in the middle of its five year mission and a bit of a malaise has set in among the crew, not the least of which is Captain Kirk (Pine) who is contemplating taking a promotion and a desk job. After a botched diplomatic mission left an ancient yet apparently unimportant artifact in the possession of the Federation starship, Kirk and crew pull into the gigantic Starbase Yorktown for some desperately needed R&R.

While the Enterprise is docked at the impressive space station, an unidentified ship comes from a nearby largely unexplored nebula. Its lone occupant, Kalara (Wilson) pleads for assistance, saying that her crew has been marooned on a planet inside the nebula after the ship was damaged. Kirk takes his ship into the Nebula, only to meet a foe that the pride of the Federation fleet has absolutely no defense again.

Separated on a hostile planet with much of the crew captured, the officers of the Enterprise have to figure out a way to warn the Starbase that Krall (Elba) a maniac with a serious mad on for the Federation is coming and has the might to bring the Yorktown to its knees. With the help of Jaylah (Boutella), an alien whose family was murdered by Krall, Chief Engineer Scott (Pegg), a badly wounded Spock (Quinto), his ex-girlfriend Uhura (Saldana), the irascible Dr. McCoy (Urban), plucky navigator Chekhov (Yelchin) and reliable Sulu (Cho) must utilize an ancient, outdated vessel and find a way to take down Krall before he takes down the Federation.

Justin Lin, who has directed several films in the Fast and Furious franchise, brings an action pedigree to the science fiction franchise and as you might expect, the emphasis here is more on the action. Surprisingly, however, there is a great deal of focus put on the various interpersonal relationships of the crew, particularly on the Spock-McCoy bromance which was a centerpiece of the original series but got little play in the reboot until now. Some of the best moments in the film involve the bickering between the two of them.

This is a fine-looking film and great care has been put into the sets and special effects. The Yorktown is particularly amazing, a space station that has a bit of an Escher vibe to it with amazing maglev trains and soaring skyscrapers. It’s what you’d expect from a cityscape four centuries from now. The question becomes why would something like that be built in space when there’s a perfectly good planet below it? It looks nifty as a space dock but would an entire city the size of Chicago be needed to support starships docking for repairs and resupplies?

But of course, the future is whatever you make of it and conventional logic can disappear in a flash of new technology. Speaking of technology, it’s put to good use here as the special effects are state of the art. There’s no doubt that you’ll dig that aspect of the film even if you enjoy nothing else. Quite frankly, there’s a lot more to enjoy too; the cast here is strong and getting Idris Elba as your lead villain is absolutely a coup. Elba is climbing up the ladder to what no doubt will be eventual A-list status and a slew of awards. Even unrecognizable under prosthetics and make-up, he still has the ability to command the screen in almost a Shakespearean turn here.

This isn’t the best movie in the Star Trek canon but it’s right up there. It’s good to see that someone besides J.J. Abrams and Nicholas Meyer can make a great Trek movie. Some blue blood Trekkers may grouse at the surfeit of action sequences (which has been true throughout the reboot) and even that it isn’t true Trek. I disagree. Much of the movie revolves around the concept of working together for a common goal versus waging war for the betterment of the species. It is a question we continue to struggle with even now. While this isn’t as thought-provoking as hardcore Trekkers may like, it is an extremely entertaining summer entertainment. Unfortunately, that hasn’t translated into box office dollars so it is likely that the franchise – with the next installment already greenlit and featuring the return of Chris Hemsworth as George Kirk – will take a different turn. And perhaps that’s for the best.

REASONS TO GO: The film emphasizes the interpersonal relationships of the crew. Some very cool special effects here. Idris Elba even under layers of make-up is one of the best actors today.
REASONS TO STAY: A couple of holes in logic appear here and there.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence and action, some a little bit gruesome.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the first Star Trek film or television show to be shot primarily outside of Hollywood. It was mainly shot in Vancouver and all of the interior sets were built from scratch.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 8/14/16: Rotten Tomatoes: 84% positive reviews. Metacritic: 68/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: The Little Prince

Star Wars: The Force Awakens


Home at last!

Home at last!

(2015) Science Fiction (Disney) Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Mark Hamill, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Max von Sydow, Peter Mayhew, Gwendoline Christie, Simon Pegg, Pip Torrens, Greg Grunberg, Kiran Shah, Andrew Jack, Warwick Davis, Sasha Frost. Directed by JJ Abrams

So, no joke, this is the cinematic event of the year – and one of the biggest event movies ever. Certainly it’s box office explosion, mowing down box office records like so many innocent civilians at the hands of Stormtroopers, gives credence to that. People weren’t just excited to see it – they were absolutely insane to see it. Many have gone back and seen it three or four or more times since it opened. But is it worth all the hype?

As the iconic opening crawl informs us, thirty years has passed since the Empire has fallen and the Republic was re-established. From the ashes of the Empire has risen the First Order, run by the shadowy Supreme Leader Snoke (Serkis) who appears via hologram as kind of a gigantic mummified cross between Abe Lincoln and C3PO (Daniels). Who appears later on in the film. C3PO, not Abe Lincoln.

I digress. Everyone is looking for Luke Skywalker (Hamill), the last Jedi Knight who has disappeared after some sort of catastrophe involving training new Jedi Knights that went horribly wrong. The First Order wants to stop him from doing what the Resistance (tacitly supported by the Republic) want him to do – to lead them to victory against the First Order. To that end, they have sent cocky pilot Poe Dameron (Isaac) to the desert world Jakku to retrieve a map which leads to Skywalker. However, the First Order led by their Sith-like leader Kylo Ren (Driver) show up and Dameron is forced to give the chip containing the map to his trusty droid BB8 (kind of like a Beach Ball with the top of a droid on it – perhaps that’s what BB stands for) and sends him rolling off to the nearest settlement. He’s captured and interrogated but eventually rescued by Fin (Boyega), a Stormtrooper who develops a conscience.

BB8 discovers Rey (Ridley), a metal scavenger who has been on her own since her parents left her on Jakku to fend for herself. In the meantime, Fin and Dameron get separated and Fin finds Rey and BB8 but with the Emp…er, First Order hot on their heels, they escape in what turns out to be a familiar spaceship.

Once away they run into familiar faces and new ones, and discover that an all-new and improved solar-powered Death Star is getting ready to do its worst. The new Resistance heroes must go to this new weapon and destroy it, but that is no easy task, even with the old Rebellion heroes on their side.

After the prequel trilogy left the Star Wars fandom and moviegoers in general underwhelmed, I can safely say that this had a pretty high bar to meet, but it has done so in spades. Frankly put, this is one of the best movies of the year and I never thought I’d say that about a Star Wars film. As you’d expect, the special effects are marvelous and mostly achieved through practical means. However, there’s more to the film than that.

Let’s talk about the story a little bit. Some have complained that there are too many similar elements to the very first film, which is now titled Episode IV: A New Hope in canon. That’s a pretty fair complaint and it is occasionally distracting, but the storylines aren’t terribly identical. I do wish they’d used something other than a desert planet to open the movie with although I suspect that the universe has more desert planets than those with greenery. But one can have a fairly barren terrain without having the same sand dunes that characterized Tatooine. However, the important thing is that the story has retained that epic quality that characterized the first trilogy (not the prequels so much).

That said, the acting here is marvelous. Ford in particular brings Han Solo back to life, giving him the same gruff, roguish qualities in the first trilogy but tempering it with melancholy – there have been events in his life since the fall of the Empire that have been bitter and some even tragic. Not all of those are gone into with much detail, but let’s just say that as a father and a husband he makes a good smuggler.

Ridley and Boyega, who share the heroic role, both show a good deal of screen charisma and promise as the new kids on the block. They both realize they don’t have to carry the film, but something tells me either one or both could if they had to. Boyega, particularly, has an incredible amount of potential, not just here but in all of the films he’s been in. His character is the most interesting one of the new ones, although Kylo Ren has some definite Daddy issues that no doubt are going to develop into something else.

The movie moves along at breakneck speed; even the pauses are well-placed and well-paced. It’s not a short movie but it never feels long. Considering all the expectations that were heaped on this property that Disney paid $4 billion for, it’s good to see that for once not only were those expectations met but exceeded. Looks like Disney has gotten an excellent return on their investment.

REASONS TO GO: Spectacular! Recaptures everything about the first trilogy that made it great. Will appeal to kids and adults as well. Surprisingly good performances.
REASONS TO STAY: Story a little too much like the very first movie.
FAMILY VALUES: Some sci-fi violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Abrams preferred to use actual locations and practical effects over green screen and CGI in order to be more aesthetically similar to the first trilogy.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/28/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 81/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT: Hitchcock/Truffaut

New Releases for the Week of June 10, 2011


June 10, 2011

SUPER 8

(Paramount) Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso, Noah Emmerich, Ron Eldard, Riley Griffiths, Bruce Greenwood, Glynn Turman, Greg Grunberg. Directed by J.J. Abrams

A group of kids making a monster movie on their Super 8 camera in 1979 witness a spectacular train derailment. It turns out that the train was carrying living cargo, cargo that was never supposed to get out but it does and now a small town is fighting for survival against an alien invader. From producer Steven Spielberg and director J.J. Abrams, this looks like a cross between E.T. and Cloverfield.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a promo here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard, IMAX

Genre: Adventure

Rating: PG-13(for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some nudity)

The Double Hour

(Goldwyn) Ksenia Rappoport, Filippo Timi, Antonia Truppo, Gaetano Bruno. An innocuous speed date leads to a romance between an Italian ex-cop and a Slovakian immigrant. A weekend in the country takes a dark turn when things from the Slovakian’s past begin to surface as a variety of twists and turns take the ex-cop on a whirlwind ride in which even what he takes for granted as real may not be.

See the trailer and clips here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Thriller

Rating: NR

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer

(Relativity) Jordana Beatty, Heather Graham, Kristoffer Winters, Parris Mosteller. A young girl bored out of her mind and facing a summer of the same determines to make this the best summer of her young life. With the aid of her eccentric Aunt Opal and her annoying kid brother, she goes about finding every thrill possible in an idyllic summer free of parental supervision.

See the trailer, clips, interviews and a featurette here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Release formats: Standard

Genre: Family

Rating: PG (for some mild rude humor and language)