Mortal Engines


A dystopian vista.

(2018) Science Fiction (UniversalHera Hilmar, Hugo Weaving, Robert Sheehan, Jihae Kim, Ronan Raftery, Leila George, Patrick Malahide, Stephen Lang, Colin Salmon, Mark Mitchison, Regé-Jean Page, Menik Gooneratne, Frankie Adams, Leifur Sigurdarson, Kahn West, Andrew Lees, Sophie Cox, Kee Chan, Sarah Peirse, Mark Hadlow, Caren Pistorius, Poppy McLeod. Directed by Christian Rivers

 

Bigger, as we have all come to learn, is not necessarily better. More often than not, bigger is just…not as small. When it comes to movies, we do love our big loud blockbusters, but sometimes we take a gander at the trailer, mutter “I can’t even” and move on to another podcast.

Based on the four-book young adult series by Phillip Reeve, Mortal Engines is set a millennium into the future when the surface of the earth has been razed by wars. Cities have become motorized literally – they are on wheels – and roam the landscape like pirate ships, absorbing smaller cities and using their innards for fuel. Think the opening sequence of Monty Python’s Meaning of Life but on a grander scale

Young Hester (Hilmar) lives in the dystopian future and she has a thirst for revenge against London’s heroic leader Thaddeus Valentine (Weaving) and attempts to assassinate him but is foiled by historian Tom Natsworthy (Sheehan) who discovers Valentine’s terrible secret. For this he is ejected from the city along with Hester, both of whom are left to make their way in the blasted landscape. The two hook up with swashbuckling Anna Fang (Kim) while trying to elude homicidal cyborg Shrike (Lang).

The images here are fantastic and the premise is imaginative, if impractical and somewhat illogical. Peter Jackson co-wrote this and was a producer on the project which explains it’s nine figure budget. Unfortunately, the plot is so convoluted and full of outright thievery from other franchises (Star Wars in particular) that once you get past the overwhelming visuals you are left with a plot that isn’t very good and characters that aren’t very interesting.

While I admit to being a junkie for Hugo Weaving (and he does elevate the movie significantly), he is offset by Hilmar who is the lead. She has almost no personality which is the fault of the writers, and no charisma which she has to look inwardly for. Putting a young person at the forefront of a big budget tentpole is always risky, but in this case that risk didn’t pay off.

This is still wonderful eye candy but little else. It the writers had put as much creativity to the story and characters that the special effects teams did to their craft, this would have potentially the start of a bold new franchise. Instead, it will go down in the annals of Hollywood as one of the biggest flops of all time.

REASONS TO SEE: The visuals are impressive and imaginative. I’d see Hugo Weaving in anything.
REASONS TO AVOID: The story is nonsensical and borrows too liberally from Star Wars. Hilmar has almost no presence whatsoever.
FAMILY VALUES: There is sci-fi action and violence.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Leila George, who plays Katherine Valentine, is the daughter of Vincent D’Onofrio and Greta Scacchi.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Max Go, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Redbox, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/30/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 26% positive reviews; Metacritic: 44/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: City of Ember
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Welcome to Marwen

End of Days


 

End of Days

All the Governator needs is a big gun and a trigger to shoot with.

(1999) Supernatural Horror (Universal) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak, CCH Pounder, Derrick O’Connor, Miriam Margolyes, Udo Kier, Rod Steiger, David Weisenberg, Rainer Judd, Michael O’Hagan, Mark Margolis, Jack Shearer. Directed by Peter Hyams

 

He’s battled un-killable battle robots, nuclear terrorists, druglords, barbarians, monsters of every shape, size and description. Isn’t it about time Arnold Schwarzenegger took on the devil?

It’s just a few days before the end of the 20th Century. New York City is gearing up for the biggest party of the Millennium, but there’s an uninvited guest – Old Scratch, who has been waiting for this shindig a lot longer than Mayor Giuliani. For, y’see, he’s got a wedding to go to – his own – and once the union is consummated, it’s curtains for mankind. Yeah, he’s gonna party like it’s 1999.

Enter Jericho Cane (Schwarzenegger), an ex-cop now making his living as a security guard, still grieving over the deaths of his wife and daughter at the hands of the mob, using the bottle to help him cope. When his charge, a Wall Street investment banker (Byrne) is attacked by a deranged Roman Catholic priest, Cane and his partner (an amusing as usual Kevin Pollack) start digging into the attempted murder and discover more than they want to.

As is usual with most devil movies, a lone, imperfect hero fights an implacable, insurmountable foe with little more than his lack of faith to sustain him. Byrne makes a charming Satan – less over-the-top than Al Pacino’s Lucifer in Devil’s Advocate. Byrne underplays Satan as a subtle, affable fella – who rather than fly into a demonic rage when provoked instead creates terrifyingly sudden acts of violence without much of a change of expression.

Schwarzenegger is surprising here, showing a depth of pain he usually doesn’t convey. He kicks patootie, sure, but he’s a very flawed and vulnerable man, who can cry for a lost family in moments of weakness. He has lost faith in his religion, in the system and finally, in himself. He neither wisecracks his way through flying bullets, nor does he bravado his way around falling chunks of masonry; he merely survives everything that is thrown at him. Early on, when he is hit by sniper’s bullets, instead of shrugging off the wounds, he stays down to the point where his partner calls him a wuss. Imagine, the Terminator a pantywaist. Unthinkable.

Also worth noting are Steiger as an irritable priest who holds the answers to most of Schwarzenegger’s questions, Tunney as the object of the Devil’s affections and Pounder as an officious detective. As devil movies go, the cast is as strong as any since The Exorcist, which remains the benchmark for the genre.

Lots of whiz-bang special effects, lots of things go boom, plenty of female breasts. What’s not to like? Well, the main failing of most devil movies is that the devil is vanquished a bit too abruptly in a bit too cliché a manner. Also, there are a lot of logical flaws; throughout the movie, Satan kills with a crook of his fingertips, and shows no hesitation in doing so. Why not simply dispatch Ah-nold and take out his only obstacle to a successful Armageddon?

End of Days is a visual treat and, with only a few semi-dead spots, an exciting ride. Even given Schwarzenegger’s surprising acting skills, it may not appeal to those with genuine end of the world Millennium fears. Just don’t hate it ’cause it looks beautiful.

WHY RENT THIS: Schwarzenegger’s unusually emotional performance. Some pretty nifty devil fu.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A bit dated, particularly in it’s end-of-the-world-Y2K stuff.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s plenty of violence and gore, a lot of sexual context and some graphic nudity and of course language, language, language.

TRIVIAL PURSUITS: Sam Raimi, Marcus Nispel and Guillermo del Toro were all offered the director’s chair for the movie at one time or another and all turned it down.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $212M on a $100M production budget; the movie made a little bit of money.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Muppets

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest (Luftslottet som sprangdes)


The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

Lisbeth Salander contemplates her disdain for society.

(2009) Thriller (Music Box) Michael Nyqvist, Noomi Rapace, Lena Endre, Anders Ahlbom Rosendahl, Aksel Morisse, Mikael Spraetz, Georgi Staykov, Annika Hallin, Jacob Ericksson, Sofia Ledarp, Mirja Turestedt, Niklas Falk, Hans Alfredson, Lennart Hjulstrom.  Directed by Daniel Alfredson

When caught in between a rock and a hard place, your choices are generally limited. No matter what you do, you’re going to get bruised and maybe even squashed. Your best choice of action might just be to attack the rock.

Lisbeth Salander (Rapace) is in a hospital bed, a bullet lodged in her brain following the events in The Girl Who Played with Fire. She is recovering but now she is being charged with attempted murder. The police want very much to talk to her but Dr. Jonasson (Morisse), who is her physician, forbids anyone but her lawyer, Annika Giannini (Hallin) – who is also the sister of Millennium publisher Mikael Blomkvist (Nyqvist) – from visiting.  

In the meantime, Evert Gulberg (H. Alfredson) and Frederik Clinton (Hjulstrom), old comrades from The Section, a loose group of operatives in the Swedish Security Service who have operated on a quasi-legal basis, meet and decide that in order to protect their group, Salander will have to die, as well as her father, Alexander Salachenko (Staykov), who lies in a hospital bed a few rooms down from Salander, recovering from the wounds at her hands.

Gulberg, who’s dying of cancer, is elected to do it. He kills Salachenko in his bed, then tries to get to Salander’s room but Giannini, who was visiting her client, bars the door and Gulberg can’t get to her. He sits down on a nearby stool and shoots himself in the head.

Blomkvist is planning to publish an expose just before Salander’s trial in order to tell her side of the story and throw the light of day on the murky figures who have opposed her. The Section is none too pleased about either and put plans in motion to discredit Blomkvist and have Salander committed to the mental hospital where she spent much of her childhood after attempting to kill her father in an attempt to save her mother from spousal abuse (getting all of this so far?) for which Dr. Peter Teleborian (Rosendahl), a member of the Section and Salander’s former psychiatrist, has created a false report in order to do so.

With events spinning towards a reckoning and Salander’s half-brother Niedermann (Spreitz) loose in the countryside also wanting Salander dead, things are going to get a whole lot of ugly before they get resolved. The question is, will Blomkvist and Salander be alive to see things come to a close?

The third of the Millennium trilogy is in my opinion, the best one of the three and it is for somewhat odd reasons. Granted, Lisbeth Salander, the most compelling character, spends most of the movie locked up either in the hospital in jail but this I think makes her more vulnerable; her character is such a force of nature in many respects that a change is needed from the first two movies.

When Salander shows up in court in a Mohawk and leathers, it’s one of the more compelling courtroom confrontations ever. She is thumbing her nose at the system, refusing to testify in her own behalf and essentially telling the world “I’m not playing your game anymore.” It is a further example as to why this character is one of the most compelling to come on the scene in ages, and why Rapace is perfect to play her.

Some critics have excoriated the film for being too talky and they do have a point – there is a lot of conversation and little action here. That doesn’t mean it’s boring however – it is so well-written that you are interested in the conversation and given all the subplots bobbing and weaving their way around the film, it is a sucker punch to the gut when they eventually come together at the end.

The hulking blonde impervious-to-pain hitman is a staple of the Bond series but he is human here, as is the evil men pulling the strings behind the scenes and the psychiatrist in the courtroom. They are not caricatures and not figures, but flesh and blood people, greedy and reckless yes but understandable at least. They feel a part of our own world, as does Salander and Blomkvist.

The first movie in the trilogy is due to be released in a Hollywood remake directed by Oscar winner David Fincher this Christmas, with Daniel Craig as Blomkvist and newcomer Rooney Mara as Lisbeth Salander. It is already being touted as an Oscar contender and could well be as successful here as it was in Scandinavia, the Swedish movies notwithstanding. However to those who are thinking of seeing that film, I urge you to find the three films made in Sweden and see them first.

WHY RENT THIS: The best of the bunch. Combines the taut thriller with a gripping courtroom drama. Rapace continues to be impressive.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Once again a bit blander on the action than Americans are used to, although when it does come it’s pretty good.

FAMILY VALUES: The character of Gulberg is played by Hans Alfredson, father of the director.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The character of Gulberg was played by the director’s father.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43.5M on an unreported production budget; the movie was very likely a hit.

FINAL RATING: 9/10

TOMORROW: Super 8