Schrödinger’s party: Coherence (2013)

coherenceCoherence, 2013, 89 mins, Amazon Prime

Oh this was a strange one: imagine a streaming app. There’s a film on that app, that may or may not be any good. If Erwin Schrödinger was a film reviewer, he might suggest that, until that film is actually watched, it actually exists in two states: its a one-star film, and its a five-star film, at the very same time. Its the act of observation that determines whether a film is any good or not. Hang on. I don’t need high-end Quantum theory or a professor to tell me that I need to watch a film to discover if its any good or not.

Coherence is a film that is very preoccupied by Schrödinger’s thought experiment about his cat in a box.  In fact, its the films central conceit. Eight freinds attend a dinner party at one of their houses while a comet dominates the sky and news headlines. Peculiar things start to happen; the lights go out, there is a loud banging at the door. The street outside is in blackness, except for a house down the street that has its lights on. Two of the freinds go out to that house, looking for a working phone. Two freinds come back. But they might not be the same freinds. Turns out the house with the lights on is identical to the one where they are having the party, and through the window they could see guests identical to those freinds they had left behind. But maybe there are more than two identical houses, more than two sets of eight identical party-goers.

Ironically, the film becomes less coherent as it progresses. This might well be deliberate. Initially its premise is very interesting, even unnerving, and the cast pretty great in what I suspect were mostly ad-libbed scenes other than whenever a key plot-point had to be thrown in to move things forward. Its an extremely low-budget production, mostly an ensemble piece set in one place, very much like a theatre play and that elements works best, with some nice character work and rising friction. Oh, and it features that guy from Buffy.

Its essentially a Twilight Zone-like piece, an exercise in rising paranoia which unfortunately just confuses more and more as it goes on. I can’t really say I even understood the ending, it throws a weird tangent right at the end which rather undermines everything before (an unconscious body left in the shower seems to have disappeared and there is some vague twist about a phone call that is meant to mean… what, exactly?). Its either one of those films that is too clever for its own good, or not as clever as it seems to think it is- or maybe it just lost its way in execution. I should need a diagram to understand a narrative? This is a film that possibly needs an internet FAQ (no, I haven’t looked) to explain it all- not a Good Thing, really.

Love, Death & Robots Vol.2

ldr2bThe first season (or ‘volume’ as Netflix would have it) of Love, Death & Robots, an animated anthology show apparently curated by David Fincher, remains one of the highlights of everything I’ve ever seen on Netflix. Its eighteen shorts were so varied in subject matter and animation style that, while there were some duds amongst the average and the great, there always seemed something worthwhile in each instalment. 

One never knows how popular a show is on streaming services, or how decisions are made regards greenlighting more seasons, especially with something as intrinsically weird as Love, Death & Robots, but the news a second season (ok, ‘volume’) was getting made filled me with joy. So news of this second volume getting dropped this month was pretty exciting, although that was tempered by disappointment at there being just eight episodes this time around. I guess this is due to production issues from the Covid pandemic and quite understandable, and news of a volume three coming presumably means that the original second volume has been split into two to facilitate dropping episodes now before a fickle public forget all about the original.

As was the case with the first volume, there are hits and duds even amongst just eight instalments, but again at the very least each is visually arresting. There is still a suspicion that the show is more of a tech demo from animation wizards let loose than a properly scripted anthology like The Twilight Zone– the series it most closely resembles- indeed it reminds me a great deal of the Japanese anime Genius Party films. Even the best episodes feel like the scripts need more polish, but as in the first volume, their advantage is their brevity; I think the longest is just 17 minutes and some run just about 10. Ironically, that’s possibly also a disadvantage, as the brevity means a lack of context and character is a weakness common to all. Once the ‘wow’ factor of the visuals drops, one realises there is often little else.

But what visuals. This show is constantly gorgeous, endless eye-candy. Some of the photo-realistic animation hints at where genre film and television may eventually go, with impossible vistas and pretty convincing… what do you call them, synthetic thespians? I guess its mostly motion-captured performances anyway but goodness, the tech has moved on since that Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within movie amazed me years ago. What I tend to enjoy most though are those incredible vistas, the impossible places, the sense that I’m watching what could easily have been branded ‘Metal Hurlant / Heavy Metal’ and it would have just fit perfectly (albeit the branding meaning nothing to most Netflix punters). I loved that magazine back in its 1970s heyday, and this just looks like the mag transformed into this new medium (that mags weakness, artwork over narrative, is carried over too).

And hey, we even get a Christmas episode this time around, a cautionary morality tale reminding kids to be good or Santa’s presents might not be what they’re expecting/hoping for. That ones quite fun and typically gorgeous. 

Stowaway (2021)

stowI’m not sure why exactly, but there was something of Michael Crichton about Stowaway, something about how the high-concept premise was grounded by realistic characters/scientists trying to survive a dangerous situation against mounting odds. The title says it all really: a three-man mission to Mars is scuppered by a fourth person being accidentally stowed onboard. Its a neat premise even though eminently unlikely- the kind of thing that might work for a thirty-minute Twilight Zone as a neat idea (thinking about it, wasn’t it the plotline of the 1960s Lost in Space?). Stretched to a full movie though its hard to suspend the element of nagging disbelief. Indeed it almost ruined the whole thing for me, as I kept on expecting some major revelation towards the end that would answer my doubts and questions. 

Just how does a launch platform engineer get trapped inside a space capsule bulkhead, without anyone realising he was missing, and then only retrieved from said bulkhead by unscrewing the panel trapping him inside like some kind of space age reversal of The Cask of Amontillado? It didn’t make any sense to me, and the characters plea of ignorance/amnesia too convenient to really convince, either. I maintained doubts and a hope that my questions would be answered, but they never were, so consequently it was a constant distraction that almost ruined the whole thing for me and left me frustrated at the end.

So I suppose one’s entire enjoyment of the film is predicated upon how easily one can accept its premise and lack of explanation. Certainly there is plenty to enjoy- the art direction is absolutely top-notch, its as convincing a setting as I can remember in recent space films (perhaps taking a nod or two from Ad Astra) and the characters are just as convincing too.  Ships commander Marina Barnett (Toni Collette) is an astronaut veteran of previous Mars missions, calmly reassuring and nudging her two crewmates, scientists Zoe Levenson (Anna Kendrick) and David Kim (Daniel Dae Kim, who quietly steals the show). Both Kendrick and Kim are rather endearing and most importantly quite convincing as scientists trying to prove themselves and validate their research (possibly the Crichton element I referred to). Stowaway Michael Adams (Shamier Anderson) is a prospective applicant for a later mission who seems to have inadvertently circumvented the application bit until its realised that having an additional consumer of ship consumables endangers everybody.

Its a dramatic film and really quite impressively made, technically- I wasn’t entirely convinced by some of the science, as the MTS is set to revolving in order to maintain an artificial gravity reminiscent of how Christopher Nolan did it in Interstellar and then an extension rolls out like some kind of counter-balance and solar array but surely the centre of gravity was subsequently wrong (surely the MTS would continue to be the centre of gravity, but instead this shifts to the Solar array instead). I watched external visual effects shots of the ship on its journey and it just seemed at odds with what I’d seen earlier but never mind, maybe that’s just me missing something, or I saw it wrong, but this coupled with my nagging doubts about some guy being somehow sealed/screwed-in behind an important bulkhead panel left me troubled.

I suppose this film is the very definition of a flawed film, then. Maybe another viewing would alleviate my suspicion/disbelief, and likewise I had to wonder about how healthy a canister of oxygen would be having been blasted by deadly cosmic radiation, but that latter point is really the lesser of my concerns. When the central premise of  film, the crux of the whole drama, is predicated on something that just did not satisfy me at all, then I guess the film’s in some trouble. Either I missed a central piece of dialogue that answered everything or the film deliberately rushed past everything bluffing its way through (I suspect it was the latter). But its definitely well worth a watch, and no disaster.

City That Never Sleeps (1953)

city2John H Auer’s City That Never Sleeps is a bizarre mixture of realistic film noir, procedural crime drama like The Naked City and a fantasy fable like Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. Its such an odd combination that it has a surreal Twilight Zone-like feel, a sense of unreality persisting throughout which is at odds with its attempt to be gritty and ‘real’ (or at least as far as film censors would allow at the time).

It begins with shots of the city of Chicago at dusk,  “I am the city, the hub and heart of America…” instantly instilling the feeling of a Rod Serling introduction for a Twilight Zone episode, albeit here with the casual cosiness of the Angels chatting in the beginning of Capra’s classic. We are introduced by this narrator through short vignettes to the key players in the drama to follow, and then we are off and running on a busy night in which a troubled cop, Johnny Kelly (Gig Young), has come to a crossroads in his life and has to make some life-changing choices. Gig Young himself is a piece of casting that instantly evoked Twilight Zone again, as he appeared in what was possibly its very best episode, Walking Distance, several years later.

city1Kelly is a career cop, albeit a career for which Kelly seems to feel little inclination, forced on him by family tradition (his father a long-time cop near the end of his own career) increasingly resenting, and feeling emasculated by, the fact that his wife earns more than him (and endlessly reminded of it by his mother-in-law who feels her daughter married the wrong guy). So Kelly feels trapped in a job he doesn’t like and a marriage on the rocks, and tonight is the night he has to make a final decision regards quitting  his job and accepting the corrupting influence of crooked lawyer Penrod Biddel (a commanding Edward Arnold) whose offer of big money leads Kelly to think he can then leave town with his nightclub dancer mistress and set up a better life on his own terms.

Having prepared his resignation letter, Kelly begins what he expects to be his last night shift and finds his usual partner is off sick- replaced by an unknown Police Sergeant,  Joe (Chill Willis) whose voice is instantly recognised as the narrator who opened our tale. So there is an air of the supernatural here, with Sgt Joe playing a similar role to George Bailey’s Clarence, Sgt Joe’s subtle remarks to Kelly teasing and prompting him during their night patrol about the value and nobility in being an honest cop protecting the decent people of the city that never sleeps.

Kelly is already something of a corrupt cop and certainly an adulterer, and tonight is evidently his last chance before falling into a bad life of ill repute. The film seems to paint him as inherently a good guy being corrupted by others but I have to say, I took something of a dislike to him from the start. He’s obviously been cheating on his wife (and leading along his mistress Sally (Mala Powers)) and has been working for Riddel in a minor capacity, giving him tips about police cases for some time. This almost soap opera element is the films weakest part, but that may not have been helped by me missing some points during the first third. Riddel has enlisted Kelly to rid him off an over-ambitious associate, William Talman (Hayes Stewart), and the young partner with Talman is Kelly’s own younger brother, Stubby (Ron Hagerthy), who is being pulled deeper into Talman’s own schemes to ruin Riddel. So there is some extra tension there that I missed, becoming quite puzzled towards the end when Stubby and Kelly are obviously so apparently so close and familiar, and Kelly hellbent on protecting Stubby. Maybe I was distracted by the melodrama of Kelly’s wife smartly suspecting her husband of resigning from the force and going to Kellys father, John ‘pop’ Kelly Snr in an attempt to save her marriage and husbands career.

In my defence, there’s clearly a whole lot going on here- sections with Talman ruthlessly desperate to thwart Riddel, the machinations of Riddel and his own wife’s betrayal, the romantic triangle between Kelly, Sandy and her nightclub colleague Gregg who is desperately in love with Sandy. Throw in random crimes/incidents during Kelly’s night patrol with the mysterious Sgt Joe… all of it mixed up with the three seperate styles of film playing out (film noir/police procedural, fantasy fable)  and its quite a curious film. I did enjoy it, but the three styles of film don’t really gel, and I actually wonder if it needed the Twilight Zone-like Sgt.Joe/fantasy fable sub-plot at all.

Almost an interesting failure, ultimately its more than a sum of its many parts, largely saved by some great location shooting, particularly in the latter section when it goes full-on film noir with shafts of light, heavy back-light and low camera angles. Its a great, tense finale and there are some genuine surprises during the film too, including what happens to Kelly’s father who begins to realise his son is compromised by Riddel’s criminal schemes. The final set-piece involving a chase through the streets and over Chicago’s famous elevated railroad track is very good indeed and quite memorable – its almost a pity when the noir aspects are finally dispelled in order to give audiences a positive, life-affirming conclusion. I’m still not really convinced that Kelly deserved it.

The retro ecstasy of The Vast of Night

vastThe Vast of Night is a glorious throwback to sci-fi of old; deliberately set in 1950s small-town America on the desert border with New Mexico, a setting which evokes all the paranoia of that period which informed all those old b-movies of alien menace and Russian Cold War threat. Taking place (almost in real-time, 1917-style) over one long night in a deserted town (the majority of the towns populace at the High School watching a basketball game) it promotes its low budget as its biggest asset- almost like a radio play, everything is suggested, never shown, characters recounting events like campfire horror tales, callers describing things over the telephone or to the radio show. Something is in the night sky, we are told, something unexplained and hidden. People are disappearing.

The retro styling is reinforced by the film being framed as a television programme: the film begins as a slow pull-in towards an old, 1950s-style CRT screen as it begins an episode of ‘Paradox Theatre‘, complete with a Twilight Zone-homage title sequence and Rod Serling narration. We are pulled into the b&w screen, and its grainy monochrome image only gradually resolves into a colour image, although it always maintains its grainy quality. Occasionally, the film fades to black, as if breaking for commercials/’a word from our sponsor!’ before resuming.

And yet, for all its 1950s-television sensibilities, the film does maintain some very impressive, modern twists: the opening sequence is one long single take (possibly a faux-single take, like those of 1917, I’m not sure- its tempting to guess where the cuts and joins might be) as the camera follows the main characters from High School gymnasium and halls, through car parks and streets, breathlessly trying to keep up with both their hurried stroll and their rapid-fire conversation. A later shot takes us all through the town in, again, one apparent single take, from the High School and the streets and backyards to the radio station, brilliantly establishing both the geography of the films setting and the emptiness and deserted feel of the characters milieu. It feels incredibly authentic: considering its very low budget, the film brilliantly evokes its period setting.

vast2It reminded me a little of John Carpenters The Fog, a film that also made its low budget its biggest asset,  particularly recalling that films opening campfire scene and John Houseman’s ghost story which so vividly established the films atmosphere and old-school credentials. Another similarity to The Fog is the use of the radio station and DJ as a central narrative device to move the mystery forward, and describe events rather than see them. The biggest similarity to this of course is Orson Welles’ radioplay of The War of the Worlds, which fooled many of its nation that its events were all real.  Suggestion is most always better than physically showing something in a horror film, a little at odds with how the genre gradually became increasingly graphic over the years, resorting to visual gory excess to shock. While The Vast of Night is perhaps more a cold war/paranoia sci-fi thriller rather than a horror film, it is (mostly) all suggestion, using many Twilight Zone-like tricks to let the viewer’s imagination to do most of the work.

I found it a refreshing approach and a nostalgic nod to all those b&w b-movies I watched and loved as a kid (as well as those tv shows The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits). Curiously, I can’t imagine the film coming out at a more timely moment than during this Covid19 crisis we are living in; the films sense of isolation and fear of the unseen being quite perfect for late-night viewing right now. In that sense, The Vast of Night is absolutely perfect.

The Vast of Night is currently streaming on Amazon Prime

Sex Education – Season One

sexed“You are about to enter another dimension…” so intoned author and producer Rod Serling as he introduced early episodes of The Twilight Zone, and you could forgive British audiences for thinking the same thing when watching Sex Education. I realise I’m middle-aged and schools and students have all changed a lot since back in my day in the 1970s and early ’80s but still, this so bloody weird. Moordale High -the central setting of this mostly teen-revolved drama- is like no English High School I’ve ever seen, and neither are its pupils the kind of pupils I see going to and from schools during my commute, and the rural sedate setting with a vast wooded valley and lovely detached houses for millionaires is not exactly my experience of ordinary urban England.

Turns out this was quite deliberate, the show-runners aiming for a beyond-reality, culturally vague setting that is as much a period 1980s drama as it is a modern one (much of the decor look 1980s but everyone’s got mobile phones and laptops and social media inevitably plays a big part in the story), and as much an aspiration towards American iconic tv/cinema tropes (Back to the Future, Twilight, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as it is a quaintly English story. Its a strange hybrid mash-up that is initially disorientating and even off-putting (I nearly switched it off, but am glad I stuck with it- I wonder if many British viewers actually bailed on it?).  The series was actually shot last summer in Wales, which doubles the oddness, as it boasts a warm and sunny climate rather unlike our typical English weather, certainly in usual term-time, and the Welsh countryside populated by English-accented thespians in often very American-style garb and driving some rather 1980s-era vehicles just heightens the Rod Serling vibe.

But it works. Ultimately, I have to say, while its setting is a very strange, surreal  alternate reality that threatens to slap British viewers, particularly, in the face (I’m sure American viewers don’t even blink, they probably think this is just how we live over here) once you acclimatise to it, it’s kind of crazy but it works.

Neither is Sex Education as brazen or coarse or exploitative as you might expect, and maybe the strange otherworldly setting is a deliberate strategy towards that. Once it settles in past its second episode, it actually tones down much of the sexual aspects and becomes a really enjoyable and quite involving teen romance/comedy mash-up of so many old favourites and tropes it’s a whole lot of fun.  Its a love story between two teenagers in the grand ‘will-they-won’t-they’ tradition of so many dramas and soaps, it’s also the love stories between two male friends, between a son and his sex-therapist mother, between school friends and lovers, long-term and casual, straight and lesbian. Its about relationships in general and all the messy stuff growing up and discovering who and what we are- which probably makes it sound more sophisticated than it really is, but nevermind.

Its a much better series than I expected it to be. Its so much its own thing you just end up going along with it, and a lot of that is thanks to the cast, who are very good (the casting department did great things with this show). Gillian Anderson, of course, is no stranger to playing therapists and could probably play this role in her sleep, really, as its making few real demands on her, but her sense of comic timing is really fine. Asa Butterfield plays her frustrated-but-with-a-heart-of-gold son Otis, and he’s great (I have to wonder if he was considered for Villeneuve’s Dune because he looks a sure fit for Paul).  Emma Mackey’s character Maeve is possibly the emotional core of the whole show, and Mackey is certain for bigger and better things on the strength of her performance here. Likewise I’m sure we’ll sure a great future career from Ncuti Gatwa, who is terrific as Otis’ best friend, Eric, a flamboyant gay black kid from a conservative family who has a great arc through the series and nearly steals the show from everyone around him. There’s many other performers of the cast that I could mention here, but on the whole it’s a fantastic ensemble that just works, and its evident they must have all had a blast working on it- the show is full of such enthusiasm and joy and its quite infectious.

So another great show from Netflix then. Great writing, a great cast, some great deft and sensitive direction,  there’s such a lot going for it and I dearly hope for a second season, as I’d love to see where these characters go from the teasing season finale.

Bring on the Bad Guy!

split

2017.46: Split (2017)

It has been a long time since I actually looked forward to a film from M. Night Shyamalan; probably as far back as Unbreakable back in, 2000. Familiarity breeds contempt, they say, and after the great The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, his further films, Signs, The Village and Lady in the Water clearly showed him to be a director/writer who loved one-line concepts, nifty ideas from which he would extrapolate a movie, often complete with a ‘twist’ stinger. The idea works in theory – Rod Serling did it consummately well with the classic The Twilight Zone anthology series, but a movie is a different beast to a half-hour tv show and it soon became tiresome, for me, anyway, and I finally gave up with The Happening, a film with the most ironic title in film history, as far as I’m concerned, as nothing happened for the whole bloody film.

I never watched The Last Airbender, or After Earth, or The Visit.

Split is a return to form, though, and even teases an Unbreakable 2 at the end (which is titled Glass, perhaps to dispense with the problem of calling it either Unbreakable 2 or Split 2, and ahem, avoid any risk of splitting fans). That said, I think some of the positively ecstatic reviews are more a result of  James McAvoy’s brilliant turn as Dennis, a character who has 23 personalities with a 24th threatening to surface with horrific results, than the quality of the film itself. McAvoy is pretty phenomenal, completely convincing as ‘Dennis’ keeps appearing with a different personality. The viewer is quickly able to identify each distinct personality as much from McAvoy’s visual ‘ticks’ and his voice as much as from what clothes he is wearing. Indeed, later on in the film as the personalities seem to switch during single shots McAvoy’s performance becomes almost breathtaking in its subtlety and clarity.

Beyond McAvoy’s performance, though, the film does fall into problems. The films heroines (captured teenagers imprisoned by Dennis for a grisly fate at the hands/teeth of personality #24) are a pretty bland bunch, and like many  M. Night Shyamalan films, the film is ultimately just too long to sustain its one-liner plot. The film is also surprisingly low on scares/tension until the end, and even there the final ‘twist’ is unfortunately a little weak. If Unbreakable was a superhero origin film, then Split is a supervillain origin film, so what was ostensibly a horror/thriller becomes, in ironic movie split-personality fashion, a superhero genre film- yeah, another one. Which in hindsight is rather fun, I guess. But maybe it is one clever conceit too many and M. Night Shyamalan falling into his old pitfalls.

Still, certainly a return to form for the writer/director and hopefully it bodes well for his next film- yes, one I’m actually looking forward to. So job done, I guess.

Kick the Can (and kick that horrible Twilight Zone movie)

kickcanLast night I rewatched some of Twilight Zone: The Movie– in particular the dreadful prologue featuring Dan Aykroyd and the Kick the Can segment directed by Steven Spielberg. Its a pretty miserable, leaden movie, with the awful on-set accident that killed actor Vic Morrow and two children hanging over the whole enterprise like some terrible spectre. Indeed, considering that accident it is a wonder the film ever got released at all- it would have been little loss to film, as it turned out.

The film made money though, enough to ensure a 1980s revival of the show got made. But in truth it’s a poor imitation of the classic original show.  I know there is much appreciation for the segment that remakes the Nightmare at 20,000 feet episode, but I didn’t get that far into the movie.  In truth, the only reason I watched the Kick the Can segment was Jerry Goldsmith’s music. I remember watching the Twilight Zone: The Movie for the first time decades ago when it was aired on television, and that Goldsmith score was really the only thing that really caught my attention in any favourable way. Eventually I bought the FSM CD, pretty much solely due to Goldsmiths score for that segment. Its a tender, romantic sequence of music, perhaps a little over the saccharin limit for most tastes, perhaps as excessive as Spielberg’s particularly unsubtle direction. Indeed, watching it again last night, it seemed obvious to me that this segment highlights all the worst shortcomings of Spielberg back then. But anyway, I watched it again just to see a reminder of how Goldsmith’s score functioned within it.

Its such a genuinely 1980s movie. The ‘look’, how it sounds, the actors featured, the directors involved. It really should have been a better movie considering the talent. It really should have had more bite. Probably would have been better served by having original stories rather than remaking episodes from the classic series. You can’t capture ‘lightning in a bottle’ twice, and it is clear that the black and white photography really allowed the original a life and mood utterly lost by bringing it into colour and a modern setting. The stories should be universal, yes, but it clearly doesn’t work, remaking them- the truth is, its the episodes that are universal.

I have the complete classic series on Blu-ray on the shelf. I really should return to them, if ever time allows. But this movie? Wouldn’t be surprised if I never watch any of it ever again. Its done.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

clov12016.59: 10 Cloverfield Lane (Amazon VOD)

10 Cloverfield Lane is a very effective thriller, with a taut script and an excellent cast. As its title suggests, it is loosely connected to the original monster movie Cloverfield (just how loosely I won’t go into). Thankfully however this film drops the found-footage stuff and is a wholly more traditional film, and much the better for it.

It also boasts an absolutely wonderful score by Bear McCreary. There is a lot of the feeling of The Twilight Zone watching this film, and much of it stems from McCreary’s Herrmann-esque, evocative score. It immediately places us into a particular sense of mood and place, of a 1950s, 1960s tonal quality, quite non-contemporary. It’s so refreshing to watch a modern film that isn’t saddled with a Hans Zimmer-like score, and it is interesting that this is from McCreary, one of the most exciting talents in television scoring over the past ten years (Battlestar Galactica, Da Vinci’s Demons, The Walking Dead, Outlander etc.).

So anyway, this review is old-hat for many since it’s months since the films theatrical release, so I guess spoilers are ok. Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) is literally driving away from some unspecified relationship woes when she is run of the road in an accident. She awakens in a strange, spartan room – an IV attached to her arm and a brace on her knee that is, alarmingly, chained to the wall. She’s greeted by her captor, a man named Howard (John Goodman), who claims he’s saved her life. He tells her there has been an apocalyptic event, and that he has brought her to his survival bunker. Immediately there is something ‘off’ about Howard. He describes the event on the surface as an attack; maybe by the Russians, but casually also suggesting it was maybe by the Martians. At any rate, the surface has been rendered uninhabitable, and Howard, MIchelle and his other guest, Emmett (John Gallagher) have no choice but to wait it out – maybe a year or two.

As time passes, Michelle begins to doubt Howard’s version of events, but various things seem to corroborate it- Emmett himself witnessed the beginning of the attack and fought for entry to the shelter, and when Michelle gets a glimpse of the outside world she sees a bloodied, poisoned woman desperately trying to gain entrance herself. Howard is evidently unhinged and his story is crazy, but this is afterall a Cloverfield movie- should Michelle really risk everything to get outside and what will she find if she gets out there?

clov2Winstead is terrific in this. She really deserves better and more substantial roles in future genre films- she’s vulnerable but strong too, with a great physicality to her role that really brings to mind Weaver’s Ripley in Alien. Winstead is that good (but then again, I also thought she was the best thing in that The Thing prequel some years back). Goodman is naturally as dependable as ever, and it’s nice to see some of that old disarming charm of his (remember Always?) with the hints of deranged darkness he brings to his role here.

By the time the film ends and (most) of its secrets revealed in a final twenty-minute flourish, I was left with a desire to see more of these Cloverfield films. They could become a great little franchise of Twilight Zone-like stories. That does however come with one caveat- yet again we see here a JJ Abrams project that really harkens back to older originals than really doing something new and unique. He did it with Super 8, Star Trek, The Force Awakens and here The Twilight Zone- he seems adept at reinventing or reinterpreting old material or classic pieces of mainstream culture for new audiences (the Herrmann-like score by McCreary is surely no accident here, and the claustrophobic setting of the shelter has all the hallmarks of The Twilights Zone‘s adept use of working within its limited television budgets) but where is the really new stuff? Is there really nothing new under the Bad Robot sun?

 

 

Logans Run’s George Clayton Johnson has died

lr1I’ve read today of the death of George Clayton Johnson, who passed away on Christmas Day aged 86. Johnson was the co-author of the 1967 novel Logans Run, which will be remembered by any geek who grew up in the 1970s due to the MGM film, the Marvel comic and short-lived tv series that were all inspired by it. It was the last major sci-fi property prior to Star Wars the following summer, and the film is a fascinating insight into how much sci fi changed when Star Wars arrived (these days the film is most famous for its fine Jerry Goldsmith score- Goldsmith had a talent for writing superb scores to lesser films).

lt2I didn’t see the Logans Run film itself until years later (although as I recall, plenty of footage from it was used in the pilot episode of the tv show) but I read the original novel (re-released with the films gorgeous poster art) and enjoyed the comic adaptation (its brilliant how they turned the film into an action title- typical 70s Marvel).

The film was a big budget, high profile production but looks so old and inferior to Lucas’ film, its like something from some other decade rather than the year before. The film bore little resemblance to the original book- I recall reading the book and being curious at how much the Marvel comic deviated from it, but of course the comic was based on the film which had itself changed so much of the story. In the novel ‘lastday’ was reached at the age of 21, while in the film it was age 30: this was likely amended to enable casting older, more seasoned/tested leads but in this day and age of ever-younger leads targeting ever-younger demographics I could see the ‘proper’ age of 21 being adopted in any future film version.

Johnson earlier wrote several episodes of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone series; these would include some of the shows most successful tales, perhaps most notably the episode ‘Kick the Can’ which was later adopted as a segment directed by Steven Spielberg for the big-screen Twilight Zone Movie in 1983. The Twilight Zone led to further work in television, including an episode of the original Star Trek series (‘The Man Trap’– not one the show’s finest hours but it does have the distinction of being the first episode broadcast).