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By midlandsmovies, Feb 5 2018 09:21PM

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018) Dir.Julius Onah

The third film spawned from the sci-fi world created in the JJ Abrams-produced Cloverfield series is here and arrived on Netflix on 5th February 2018 without so much as a trailer in what I described on Twitter a week earlier as one of the more interesting promotional campaigns currently out there.

What the Cloverfield ‘project-helmers’ are doing (it’s difficult to call them filmmakers or a studio given its fractured nature) appears to be twisting the cinematic-universe idea in a far more interesting direction than the Disney behemoths. As a lesser-known and less financially risky franchise name, Cloverfield can take more chances and is all the better for doing so. In this latest film, Nigerian-American filmmaker Julius Onah takes on his first big project and mostly delivers a slice of silly b-movie fun as someone new to Hollywood.

After a rather mundane opening car conversation between Ava Hamilton played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Belle, Miss. Sloane) and her husband Michael (played by Roger Davies), the film sees her leaving him and Earth behind as she joins a crew aboard an orbiting space station. With the planet on the brink of war as they face a disastrous energy crisis, the international crew (who stereotypically represent the most powerful nations on earth) are working on a particle accelerator experiment to create endless energy and thus save the world.

As expected, this fails to go to plan as their accelerator malfunctions and they are warned of a “Cloverfield Paradox" – a by-product of messing around with space-time which could lead to the opening of other dimensions and whatever lies within. Before they know it they have “lost” Earth and strange events begin to occur from gravitational anomalies to the appearance of a mysterious woman who is revealed ‘embedded’ within power cables in a gruesome mash-up akin to Seth Brundle at the end of The Fly.

The film doesn’t take itself super seriously with (hopefully knowingly) creaky dialogue and a smattering of broad humour (mainly from the IT Crowd’s Chris O’ Dowd) whilst the tensions on the ship come from the rest of the crew who can’t fully understand their predicament which includes David Oyelowo, Daniel Brühl, John Ortiz, Aksel Hennie and Zhang Ziyi.

Speaking of those films, this one follows Michael’s side-story back on Earth where he eventually gets involved with the exploits of the monster attack in New York from the first film. This again tries to avoid avoids the problems of Marvel’s continuity complexities by simply alluding to familiar sequences and the permeating themes of their established world.

As I’ve said previously it’s great to see Netflix pump money into supporting these mid-budget films as only a few years ago films like this (Event Horizon, The Sphere and Sunshine etc) would have been given cinema releases.

It’s far from original, nabbing bits and bobs from a variety of seen-it-before sci-fi films, but it also reminded me of the excellent The Mist in a few ways. This was especially noticeable where monsters come through a portal into our world through a science experiment gone awry – which ironically ‘demystifies’ some of the unknowing tension the previous Cloverfield films had which was a shame.

Along with this, the usual mix of space explosions, air-locks and fixing internal systems are present but the characters (although one dimensional) are likeable and the grisly deaths spice up the visuals when needed.

With a splatter of PG-friendly body horror and a couple of interesting sequences, it’s a film more along the lines of 2017’s uninspired LIFE than it is Alien. And although the second movie is probably the best "film", the other two are sillier but perhaps more enjoyably so. With that said, from the interesting use of space tech including nano-bot Polyfilla (yes, really!) and a set of unchallenging b-movie thrills, the movie serves as an adequate Saturday night slice of ‘armless sci-fi.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Jul 31 2016 09:52AM

Star Trek Beyond (2016) Dir. Justin Lin

From a screenplay by Simon Pegg and Doug Jung, ‘Beyond’ is a return to the classic Trek themes that many (myself not included) felt missing from the rebooted franchise’s previous instalment “Into Darkness”. With JJ Abrams now producer, departing to helm the other ‘Star’ franchise, producers approached Justin Lin, director of four Fast and the Furious films to take the controls.

But whilst we are on it, I really couldn’t understand the negativity for ‘Into Darkness’. For serious fans it may have trod on a romanticised memory of the long “pined”-after ‘Wrath of Khan’ but for the passing movie-goer, it was thoroughly enjoyable fare. The lens flare was less, Benedict Cumberbatch and Peter “Robocop” Weller were superb additions to the cast and the film continued the faster pace set by Abrams’ first flight into the frontiers. However, I heard mostly derision of the film despite its 86% score on Rotten Tomatoes. My memory from the cinema was “this is what the new Star Wars should have been like” – which ultimately played out in what could be considered the most expensive interview test ever.

Moving back to this latest release however, the 13th film of the Star Trek movie-world sees Gene Roddenberry’s intergalactic explorers facing a new enemy in the form of Idris Elba’s Krall who lures the crew to a distant world for “revenge”. Sadly, this character is terribly underwritten and his motivations are unclear until a quick catch up at the film’s end. However, the very likeable crew who impersonate the actors as much as the characters from the original series, return as cocky Kirk (Chris Pine), logical Spock (Zachary Quinto) and Dr. ‘Bones’ McCoy (Karl Urban) lead the crew after being tricked into entering an area of space where they are unable to contact Starfleet. Of course.

As before Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Scotty (screenwriter Pegg), Sulu (John Cho) and a tragically missed Anton Yelchin as Chekov round out the gang and the interactions between all these characters keep the film fresh when the less-than-exciting narrative runs out of steam.

‘Beyond’ boils down the franchise to basics and Justin Lin provides solid (if uninspiring) directing. Sadly a few fight scenes had a Bourne/Fast & Furious quality (too quick cutting/jerky camera) but luckily the spectacular space scenes more than made up for them. The design and CGI on a “snow globe” space station reminded me of Elysium but on a far grander scale and there was a true sense of awe as the Enterprise entered along space ‘rivers’ and around angular cityscapes.

I cannot find much fault with the film but neither could I find much to get thrilled about. Fans of the franchise will find lots of nods to all the various series’ incarnations and the brilliant practical make-up effects were inventive and conceived well. I also like the acknowledgment of Leonard Nimoy’s passing. Drinking to “absent friends” (a quote used before in the Star trek universe) is used to show a respectful remembrance of Nimoy (and subsequently Yelchin too) as well as tie in the themes of searching for purpose in an infinite universe.

Everyone puts valiant efforts in and the film will satisfy the summer sci-fi crowd after a run of underwhelming blockbusters. The comedy is a nice touch from Pegg but I wished for a more interesting plot and the film missed a certain something that maybe only a JJ Abrams could bring and help raise it from the middle ground I felt it sat in.

But no Star Trek review would be complete without a related pun so here goes. Star Trek Beyond: The Search for Plot. (Happy now?) In all seriousness, whilst certain "Trekkies" wanted a return the style/low-key nature of the television show, a passing fan like myself preferred the first two films in this rebooted movie series precisely because they weren't like it.


Midlands Movies Mike

By midlandsmovies, Mar 30 2016 09:10AM

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) Dir. Dan Trachtenberg

Out of nowhere comes the completed film 10 Cloverfield Lane which was dropped like a bomb post-Star Wars as producer JJ Abrams continued his usual secretive marketing campaigns for films released under his Bad Robot company. Without any word of the film even being made, Abrams himself described it as "a blood relative" or "spiritual successor" to the first film, whilst the movie itself ditches the hand-held camera for a 3rd person perspective in a tense psychological thriller.

The underrated Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle gets into a car accident after an argument with her boyfriend only to awaken chained up in a bunker after a mysterious man called Howard (a fantastic John Goodman) tells of an apocalyptic event outside. Also in the bunker is Emmett (John Gallagher Jr) but Michelle is unconvinced by their true intentions and in a desperate bid to escape witnesses an infected woman outside and realises there are in fact dangerous unknowns outside.

As the three slide into a routine inside their foxhole, Michelle continues to have doubts when strange messages and photos appear that seem to suggest that all is not what it seems. After being caught hatching a plan to uncover more, Howard enacts a bloody revenge which spurns a further breakout plot from their contained location involving a hazmat suit.

With a viral campaign and low budget, this is the second film in the Cloverfield “franchise” but could easily exist outside the bunker of that term as the film is itself an individual yet claustrophobic tale with a taught script delivered well by a trio of actors. The performances create a tense atmosphere, with the scares not only coming from the unidentified danger outside but from the human hazards in the bunker.

I’ve like Winstead in films such as brief roles in Die Hard 4 and Death Proof as well as her great turn as Ramona in Scott Pilgrim vs The World. Here she is caught up in threats to her own world – both global and her internal world with her immediate safety in jeopardy from the unhinged Howard.

[Mild Spoiler]

With the story being linked to Cloverfield there’s a certain inevitability as to what the threat could be but the film raises the stakes throughout and we wonder what is the greater danger: the monsters within or the monsters outside? As a possible metaphor for domestic violence, Goodman controls Winstead with psychological terror which echoes her escape from an unsatisfying relationship at the film’s beginning.

With the peril of the strange and unidentified, the film does a great job of creating “alien” environments, ones that are unsettling and disturbing with risks to humankind and humans. I did however feel the connection to the Cloverfield name was forced. Maybe you could argue the title alone opens up a new (and original) screenplay to a wider audience but do not go in expecting a direct sequel with city wide destruction. Almost entirely confined to the bunker itself, thisnarrative is played out well by the leads so I enjoyed the new direction but ultimately found the film to be imprisoned by its own need to play out the Cloverfield “name” - which somewhat undermined the nerve-wracking sequences established throughout.

A sound if unremarkable movie, I could see the Cloverfield franchise as a series of low-budget risk-taking anthology films which tackle a range of subjects played out against impending global cataclysm. This movie was therefore a solid yet slow start to that possible result with a dangerous drama full of conflict and catastrophe.


Midlands Movies Mike

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