Bushwick

bushThanks to its outrageously preposterous storyline, this film has an awful lot in common with John Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York, and to be honest Carpenter’s film came to mind several times during the film. Its certainly something I most appreciated from it- Carpenter had a knack of coming up with a killer (albeit ridiculous) premise, whether it be turning New York into a State Prison or an old police precinct under siege from a murderous street gang or a coastal town terrorised by ghosts of pirates after revenge, and spinning it into a compelling low-budget thriller, the low-budget, no-frills approach only adding further verisimilitude to the project. Less gloss, more grit. The low camera angles, the long single-camera shots, the rather odd funky 1970s-like soundtrack… Bushwick shares a great deal of the style and sensibilities of early Carpenter work, with particular echoes of Assault on Precinct 13.

The casting of David Bautista (so good in BR2049) brought me to it, and to be honest I really didn’t expect much other than a derivative b-movie action flick and an opportunity to see Bautista in an early career effort. I even thought the title referred to the Bautista characters name, like in films such as Shaft, Bullitt etc- I didn’t realise it referred to a NYC district.

Sometimes films pleasantly surprise, because on the whole this film was pretty good. Shot in the style of Cloverfield, as one long continuous take as if in real time, that conceit wears a little thin as you play a bit of a game spotting the trickery that they use to join all the seperate takes (lens flare giving them an artificial fade-out/fade in to white, sometimes the shot slipping into dark shadow like a momentary fade to black, sometimes a split screen created by the scenery) which is a little unfortunate, in the same way as found-footage movies get distracting when you start wondering who keeps on filming stuff in such moments of stress or how did someone later find it and edit it together. But the film somehow still draws you in, ultimately becoming compellingly fascinating viewing.

The core fascination is that daft premise, and also its nightmarish reflection of the American Dream gone amok- in this respect it often reminds of The Purge series. Its a uniquely American thing, that mash-up of patriotism and gun ownership, where it fits in society and modern civilization, how easily that could break down and the country return to the Wild West myth of good vs evil, right vs might and the power of the gun.  It reminded me a great deal of DMZ, a comic book by Brian Wood set in a near future Second American Civil War in which Manhattan Island has become a Demilitarised Zone caught between the opposing factions. I bought the deluxe hardback collections a few years back and had heard it was going to become a miniseries or something- perhaps this movie dates back to this project, because it does seem awfully close.

bush2Lucy (Brittany Snow) returns to Brooklyn with her new boyfriend Jose, to find the underground station oddy deserted and alarm sirens sounding. Nearing the exit they are confronted by a screaming man racing by, all aflame, and sounds of explosions and gunfire ahead. It transpires that the city has been invaded by an armed militia, arresting and killing people in the face of an armed response from the locals. Anarchy has broken out, criminals and police and this mysterious militia attempting to take control of the streets through gun battles with innocents caught in the carnage and looters taking advantage of the bedlam. Helicopters patrol the skies and snipers take shots from rooftops at everyone passing by, lawlessness is everywhere.

Lucy falls in with Stupe (Dave Bautista) a veteran US navy medical officer traumatised by past experiences and the loss of his family in the 9/11 tragedy. They both get injured and have to work together to survive, heading for a US army extraction point, during which they get caught in lootings and gunfights and encounters with the armed militia, discovering that Political elements have broken free of the Union, and commenced a new civil war between rival States.

Its daft and crazy but somehow it works. I think its low-budget, no-frills approach works mightily in its favour, especially in how the gritty visuals, camera work and largely electronic score evokes so much of John Carpenter’s films. Its hardly groundbreaking but I’d much rather see low-budget, novel films such as this than your typical, anodyne blockbuster films: in some ways it reminded me of the early VHS era when stuff like this seemed to be on the rental shelves.  Admittedly its use of CGI etc betrays it as a modern film but on the whole in its sensibilities it really does feel very low-fi 1980s in mood and approach. Nothing particularly groundbreaking here but a pleasant surprise nonetheless-  I enjoyed it.

How it Ends (2018)

howitendsIts an unfortunate title, How it Ends, because my biggest gripe with this film is, er, how it ends. I really don’t want to spoil the film for anybody but, er, it doesn’t really, er, end. It just… stops, somehow. Dishearteningly, it really feels like it pulls a ‘end of part one’ on the viewer without any warning. I have no idea if a part two is or was ever intended, or if its just the ending that the film-makers originally wanted without any cynical ‘we can spin another film from this’ ploy. But it ends badly, and rather undermines the entire enterprise.

Thinking about it, I could easily summarize this film as simply being a Cloverfield wannabe.  Infact, if it were a Cloverfield movie, I’m sure it would get a better reception than it probably will, Some of the vagueness and conceits in this film are just a part of what seems to make that Cloverfield franchise ‘tick’ and without that attachment leaves this solo effort failing.

It doesn’t begin particularly well, to be honest; handsome designer-stubble/perfect hair hunk Will (Theo James) and beautiful/perfect hair Samantha (Kat Graham) are hopelessly in love having a idyllic life in Seattle. Everything is so perfect, they are going to have a child- their only problem is that Samantha’s father Tom (Forest Whitaker) is an ex-marine who doesn’t really think that Will is worthy of his daughter. While on a business trip in Chicago, Will pays Samantha’s parents a visit, intending to ask Tom for his blessing for the happy couple to be married. The meeting doesn’t go well, but then some Cloverfield-like event occurs over on the East Coast knocking out all communication and power, a disruption that spreads across the country and closes down all air travel. Tom and Will form an unlikely pair as they jump in a car and drive across the country to ‘save their girl’, beginning to form a bond of respect and friendship as they risk life and limb as society starts to break down in the face of this unknown/unspecified global disaster.

Yeah, its very Cloverfield. We see military jets fly overhead, travel networks are shut down, trains of military equipment and personnel travel East, we see the smoking wreckage of crashed airplanes. Any hick with a gun decides to go all Mad Max over gasoline and towns close themselves off from unwelcome visitors.  It all rather formulaic and bland, oddly enough,, but for some reason I’ve always had a soft spot for these post-Apocalyptic road movies; there is something almost irresistible about seeing how easy civilized behavior breaks down and society snaps. Seeing some ordinary guy struggle to do the right thing and just survive out of his usual comfort-zone can be a dramatic plot device:  guess its a male right-of-passage thing.

Perhaps it would have been more interesting had it been a role-reversal, if it had been Samantha struggling to get across country to Will, or maybe that would have been too much ‘me-too’ and would have gotten shot down by the ‘too-pc’ brigade (sexual and social politics in media is getting to be a minefield of late).

howitends2I will confess that I nevertheless rather enjoyed it. The two leads are good value, albeit Whitaker is obviously just going through the motions and is largely wasted- a better decision script-wise might have been to incapacitate Will and have Tom fight to get the young man back to Samantha despite not wholly approving of him, if only for his daughters sake. At least that would have given Whitaker something to chew on. This is partly what is so frustrating about films like this- there are all sorts of things that the film-makers might have done to shake things up and make it more interesting and novel. As it is, any goodwill the film earns on the road trip through the apocalypse (there are some nice segments and character beats) is completely undermined by that awfully unsatisfying ending.

A Netflix original, I suppose there is some possibility that given enough views, whatever the reviews/ratings, this film may get that ‘part two’ which might actually save the damn thing via hindsight, but as it stands, I’d recommend this with caution. Its no disaster (sic) and while the casting is largely uninspired (whatever happened to casting ‘ordinary’ or average types?) the production values are pretty good for a $20 million flick.

The real issue is the open-ended nature of what the hell is going on (in true Cloverfield fashion, none of the global apocalyptic event seems to be explained- Aliens? The Chinese? Eco-disaster?) which leaves a bad taste in the mouth when one is expecting some explanation or resolution by the finale and it never comes. It really doesn’t feel complete, almost as if there is another reel missing or they just shot the movie chronologically and they somehow ran out of money.

The film does have its moments but it does really leave the impression that it could have been much more- a missed opportunity, certainly.

The Cloverfield Paradox (2018)

clov1Frankly, you’d think we’d have moved on, by now. Moved beyond such silly tedium in sci-fi. Its like we as a species refuse to grow up. Then again, some of the biggest, most successful films in the world have adults dressed in tights in silly power-fantasies/moral dramas that have no relation to any reality any of us are living in. And we love space operas like Star Wars, with sounds and explosions in space and cute aliens and hissy panto villains. I mean, it’s not as if I expected The Cloverfield Paradox to be a 2001 but really, it’s fifty years since Kubrick made that film and people are still making sci-fi films like The Cloverfield Paradox?

At least BR2049 had something to say; it may not have said it very well or well enough to interest the majority of filmgoers who stayed away in droves, but, it said something to those of us who were listening. If The Cloverfield Paradox has anything to say, the message passed me by.

Well, lets be clear- The Cloverfield Paradox has nothing to say. Because it’s stupid.

Not that I expected anything else, from the reviews and comments I’d read on the ‘net. But its is so disheartening, how a script as bad and clunky and nonsensical as this could be written and passed for filming. That a film could be so woefully miscast (Chris O’Dowd, as a space engineer? What?). That a film could be so leadingly directed. That at some point thirty minutes before the end I could turn to my wife and say “I haven’t a bloody clue what’s going on, why these people are doing what they are doing, or how they are doing it, I don’t care about any of it and don’t  believe the people who made this film believed in any of it either.”

Not for the first time writing this blog, I am faced with the enigma about whether anyone ever deliberately makes a bad movie- does every film start with the best of intentions, and just when does it become just another pay cheque? When it does it pass the point at which some producer should just say, “stop everything, everyone, this just isn’t working.” Or, like Brexit and most modern politics, is it simply a case that no-one knows how to stop the ride or just dares call time on the idiocy? Are we, as film fans, simply fools to believe that film-makers know what they are doing?

clov2.pngIts 2028, and the world is suffering from a major energy crisis. The lights are, literally, going out. The oil is running out. Somehow during all this infrastructure and economic crisis we have built the Cloverfield orbiting space station, something that’s clearly more 23rd century Star Trek than 21st Century NASA/ESA. I mean, right from the start, its that stupid. Ten years from now we build something that’s as hi-tech as Star Trek in orbit? While the world is apparently going all Mad Max?  And we can have a bunch of dysfunctional ‘experts’ somehow spending years in space without being replaced or returned to Earth for health reasons or in need of fresh supplies? So they are let loose with a particle accelerator because its isn’t safe or cheaper to do so on Earth, but they cannot get it to work and then after a few years of trying, they get it to work but they fuck something up and ‘lose’ Earth or cross dimensions but can fix everything by running the same fucked-up experiment for a second time but without the shower running this time and wow, yes, they’re back but watch out for the saboteur from the other dimension and whoops now there’s giant monsters roaming the planet. But at least now we can keep all the lights on.

I mean, jeez, give me a break. I haven’t even mentioned the crazy disembodied hand that is actually given a pen and writes an important clue or the bloke who dies with a gyroscope in his stomach or the worms or… stop me now. Just stop.

Let’s all be nice to each other and pretend this film never happened, yes?