Category Archives: Sci-Fi & Fantasy

Cosmos (2019) Movie Review By Philip Henry

Cosmos Review

Directors: Elliot Weaver and Zander Weaver
Writers: Elliot Weaver and Zander Weaver
Stars: Tom England, Joshua Ford, Arjun Singh Panam, Ben Vardy

Cosmos is the debut feature by brothers Elliot and Zander Weaver and follows the story of three friends who drive out to the middle of nowhere to listen to the cosmos in their car, which is kitted out with all sorts of technology suited for the job.

As the night goes on they become more and more convinced that the signal they’ve intercepted isn’t just a glitch in their equipment or a random pulsar, but that they’ve made contact with an extra-terrestrial intelligence.

Apparently made without any budget, Cosmos is an incredible achievement. The usual things that let down no-budget productions, and believe me, I’ve seen a lot of them, are; sub-par acting, bad lighting, bad sound and unconvincing props, but Cosmos suffers from none of these failings. The acting is natural and believable, the props never once look out of place and the post production on the sound and picture make the finished movie look as professional as anything you’d see in your local multi-plex.

If there is a weak link in the production it’s probably the script. The first hour needs to be about half as long and get to the crux of the story quicker, and there’s enough superfluous chat in there to do this without losing anything vital to the story. The film could also benefit from a bit more explanation of what they’re actually doing/ trying to do out there. The technical aspects are incredibly well researched but a simple analogy or two would make the plot easier to understand for the layman who knows nothing about astronomy. The structure in general could use a bit of re-jigging. There are several heart-felt conversations which all come one after another and would probably work better if they were spaced out more and inserted earlier. The script is still better than most low-budget indie films I see, but the rookie mistakes like using the characters’ names too often in dialogue show their relative inexperience with narrative film-making. Screenwriting is something you never fully master, you just learn how to do it better with each project, and I’m sure this pair’s next script will show that.

The directing is another matter though. I have rarely seen directors at this (lack of) budget level who are so self-assured behind the camera. The composition of shots – using little more than a couple of lighting gels, a camera slider and a smoke machine – make this look extremely cinematic where so many other films in this budget range just look like home movies. The choices on close ups and dolly shots inside the claustrophobic car location show the Weaver brothers are just as adept handling the small personal scenes as they are handling the frantic race against time which leads to the film’s finale. I’ve said it many times: there are people who point the camera at the actors, and then there are directors. The Weaver Brothers are the latter and display a talent I rarely see when viewing films with budgets large or small.

The tone of the film is akin to Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, even if it does take place in a Carpool Karaoke setting most of the time. If the script had a more substantial B-plot dealing with our heroes’ personal lives, I think it would’ve connected better. Are they married? What do their partners think of this pursuit? What are they sacrificing to continue doing this and why? It still has a fantastic ending that did give me chills, thanks in no small part to the excellent and soaring score by Chris Davey which never once betrays the lack of money behind this project.

The Weaver brothers’ background in documentary film-making has served them well with this first feature film, delivering a movie that looks and sounds like most indie-film-makers can only dream of. Despite the flaws in the script it’s still a very watchable, if low-key sci-fi movie, that builds expertly to its conclusion. With the right producer and some actual cash behind their next project, I think these brothers could do great things for the UK film industry.

Someone give them a proper budget and wait to be amazed.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) Movie Review By D.M. Anderson

Terminator - Dark Fate Review

Director: Tim Miller
Writers: James Cameron (story by), Charles H. Eglee (story by)
Starring Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, Diego Boneta. 

While the world may not have needed another Terminator movie, this one cuts to the chase, so to speak, reverting back to what made the first two films undisputed classics.

Gone is most of the convoluted plot baggage that muddied Terminator Salvation and Terminator Genisys. Those films aren’t without merit, but both seemed forget what really drove Terminators 1 & 2(and even the underappreciated Terminator 3) was the thrill of the chase. We were given a crash course in time travel – just enough to accept the premise without scrutinizing it too hard – before pummeling us into submission. I haven’t met many people who cared much about the franchise’s temporal logistics anyway.

Terminator: Dark Fate ignores the last three films altogether, which is ironic since it essentially cops the “Judgment Day is inevitable” assertion of Terminator 3. Only this time it isn’t Skynet sending terminators back in time to dispatch the Connors. Now it’s a computer network called Legion and the target is Dani (Natalia Reyes), a feisty young assembly line worker in Mexico. It’s never effectively explained how Legion evolves to threaten all humankind, nor does it really matter. Once the Rev-9 terminator (Gabriel Luna) arrives in the present day, it’s up to mechanically-enhanced super-soldier Grace (Maclenzie Davis) to keep Dani alive for whatever purpose she serves in the future (revealed late in the film, though the viewer will have figured it out long before).

Of course, the big drawing card (or at-least it should have been) is the welcome return of Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor. Ever since preventing Judgment Day decades earlier, she’s been hunting terminators, though Grace has never heard of her, Skynet or John Connor (unceremoniously killed by a terminator in the very first scene). In fact, Sarah and Grace have an amusingly antagonistic relationship throughout most of the film. Still, she sees a lot of herself in Dani. Playing Sarah as a grizzled, cynical and bitter warrior, Hamilton is clearly having a lot of fun.

It just occurred to me I haven’t yet even mentioned Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s probably because he doesn’t show up for at-least an hour, his existence & motivations are sort-of contrived and – narratively speaking – he’s the least essential character in the film. But hey, it’s not a Terminator movie without Arnold, even if he’s often regulated to being comic relief.

Like the original Terminator, there are no concurrent timelines, no altering the future to save the world. It’s all about the simplicity of the chase, with exciting action sequences and large-scale destruction (though nothing as groundbreaking as T2), relenting just long enough for occasional story or character exposition. None of it ends up being really necessary, but it sure is a lot of fun.

Ad Astra (2019) Movie Review By Gianni Damaia

 

Ad Astra Review

Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga

A journey into the mystic mind of James Grey, Ad Astra kicks the list off with a somber journey into the deeply unsettling unknown both literally and figuratively. As Brad Pitt embarks further out into deep space in search of a missing exploration craft on Neptune, he’s forced to face the fragile turmoil within himself. Certainly space films have been stunning before, and sure they’ve been contemplative, but rarely have the two gone hand in hand so masterfully.

Each crafted image imprints on the mind of the viewer the stunning and relentless awe. Pitting our protagonist against a series of events so cosmic and violent that they reflect his struggle to combat his very nature. As a man brought up to value brain over heart, consistency in character over emotional resonance, we grow to understand the forces working against us are working against his core essence.

The film is a stunning painting frame to frame and the third act, while easily the most problematic in its convenient conclusion and whiplash inducing exposition to kick it off, features some of the best work in Brad Pitt’s already sterling career complimented by an equally mesmerising Tommy Lee Jones. 9/10

Ad Astra (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

 

Ad Astra Review

Director: James Gray
Writers: James Gray, Ethan Gross
Stars: Brad Pitt, Tommy Lee Jones, Ruth Negga

I can fully understand that when you haven’t heard from a friend who lives a few blocks away for a long time, you get prepped and plan a visit to the person in question. Just like that. Just to find out why he or she hasn’t been in touch all this time. And to check whether everything is still alright. In most cases, you’re actually not going to experience anything exciting or breathtaking along the way. Now, extrapolate this situation to a much greater distance. From Earth to Neptune, for example. That’s an enormously long time that you are on the road. And if you’re lucky, you won’t come across any life-threatening or perilous situations either. In short, you are on a spaceship, feeling at ease and try to kill some time. Maintaining your ecosystem daily. Going through your huge pile of magazines full of crosswords that need to be solved. Or you give your spaceship a decent scrubbing every week. All sorts of things so as not to get mad out of boredom. I’m afraid that many home viewers will do the same things while watching “Ad Astra“.
Claiming that there’s really nothing happening in “Ad Astra” is, of course, a bit exaggerated. For example, there are space pirates on the moon targeting the convoy, with Brad Pitt among the travellers. Apparently, building a high-tech space station on the moon is a piece of cake. But a solid defence system to throw naughty space pirates back into the infinite galaxy (far, far away) was apparently too much to ask. Next, there’s also a run-in with a crazy primate on a space ship in distress. And the end of the film is also provided with some fragments that are more action-rich. But most of this two-hour-long SF is nevertheless filled with a lot of complaining, staring at an undefined point and moments of self-reflection. To be honest, I’d call it a demonstration of navel-gazing among the stars.

I confess. I expected something completely different. Let me put it this way. I would have preferred “Ad Astra” to be more in the corner of films such as “Interstellar” or “Gravity” (although I wasn’t a big fan of the latter). The first is a more scientifically oriented SF about black holes and dimensions and whatnot. While “Gravity” wanted to be the most populistic one. And this by having George Clooney and Sandra Bullock make a round dance in space. I link “Ad Astra” to a movie like “High Life“. This was also such a film where the aspect of human psychology and conflict situations between individuals took centre stage. And just like the other listed movies, there are some amazing visual highlights in this movie. Those images of space looked impressive on the large silver screen despite their minimalistic character at certain moments. But then again, I wasn’t waiting for a story about an intergalactic father-son relationship with all its ups and downs.

The most impressive thing about the film? The acting by Brad Pitt. The way he plays the astronaut Roy McBride is simply stunning. An autistic character whose numbness and phlegmatic nature make him a suitable candidate for carrying out such an expedition. The way he performs the psychological evaluation tests bears witness to total body control and lack of emotions. Roy McBride is a person whose heart rate never exceeds 80 beats per minute. Not even in a life-threatening situation when he tumbles out of the atmosphere. And the way he shows how emotions slowly seep into his system is simply admirable. After “Once upon a time … in Hollywood” this is also a rendition with which he could receive a well-known award. They also managed to bait star actors such as Liv Tyler, Donald Sutherland, and Tommy Lee Jones. The roles of the first two, however, have little to no impact.

“Ad Astra” is not an epic space story full of sensational space battles or creatively worked out aliens. Apart from some sporadically added action-rich scenes, this is a film full of philosophical musings and impressions of weighty loneliness. I fear that the opinions about “Ad Astra” will be divided. Some will regard it as the most moving film of the year. In general, the Film Press has words of praise for it. So trust me, it’s a film that will be loved by the connoisseurs of the “better” film. Others are more likely to call it plain boring. The message about the loss of a parent and the search for that parent is kind of obvious. There’s even a theological theme to discern. The result, however, is an end-product that looks long-winded with a denouement which isn’t really satisfying. Well, I’m sure that an Oscar nomination will be in place next year. But for me, it remains an honourable mention.

The Silence (2019) Movie Review By Peter Pluymers

The Silence Review

Director: John R. Leonetti
Writers: Carey Van Dyke (screenplay by), Shane Van Dyke (screenplay by)
Stars: Stanley Tucci, Kiernan Shipka, Miranda Otto

There are still certainties in this world. First of all, you can expect that if a type of movie has enormous success, something similar will appear in no time. A matter of surfing on the wave of success, I guess. “The Silence” resembles, for instance, the successful film “A Quiet Place”. It’s not exactly the same thing, but there are a huge number of similarities with the latter (And yes, I know both films were made almost simultaneously, and it’s based on a novel from 2015. But still!). And then it appears once again that humans are the cause of problems. So, this time no space monsters with a sophisticated hearing organ, like in “A Quiet Place “. Now there are some over-enthusiastic speleologists who can’t resist sticking their noses into something out of curiosity. In particular, a cave that they have discovered. Cries of joy are quickly replaced by cries of fear and hysterical whining, the moment they break through the cave wall. What these human moles didn’t realize was that they were about to release some prehistoric bat-like creatures into the world. Beings who, after years of living in the dark, only rely on their hearing so they can find another victim. Best advice? Be silent.

The biggest difference with “A Quiet Place” is the unveiling of the bloodthirsty, ruthless flying monsters. In “A Quiet Place” it took a while. In “The Silence” you don’t have to wait that long before you see the little monsters at work. Yet there are several similarities to be discovered. So, the word plagiarism is very quickly dangling off the tip of your tongue. Again, it’s about a family with two children with daughter Ally (Kiernan Shipka) also having a hearing problem. Although not congenital but because of a terrible accident in which her grandparents also perish. Here too there are certain confounding factors among the family members that could put others life at risk. In “A Quiet Place” it was a new-born baby whose crying was a lure for the terrible creatures. Here it’s Grandmother Lynn (Kate Trotter) with an annoying cough and the dog Otis who barks all the time. And just like in “Bird Box” there is a safe haven where everyone is heading for.

“The silence” clearly has similarities with a whole bunch of other movies. The disadvantage is that you have an early feeling of haven’t-we-seen-this-already-before. Even though it is all a bit more action-packed and at certain moments more exciting. On the other hand, it’s true that not showing the imminent danger immediately (such as in “A Quiet Place “) ensures that you’ll be waiting with bated breath for that revelation. The biggest difference lies in the religious aspect that’s incorporated in the story. The Apocalypse breaks out and before you know it there’s some ingenious person who immediately starts a cult.

As with any religion, this self-proclaimed religious leader also introduces a dogma that makes it impossible to jeopardize the cult through unexpected, loud noises. The dogma involves a radical intervention on the followers. It is hoped that none of them will get stomach flu, with noisy flatulence as a result. Or that one of the short-sighted followers is a bit too obese, which makes that moving around is quite noisy. Away tactical advantage, I would say. In short, another proof that religion cannot be associated with logical reasoning. On the other hand, they were interested in the fertility of the young girl. Well, that says a lot.

And unfortunately, the film is full of such pathetic ridiculous things. Actually, it was already stupid of them to ride off in a noisy car. And of course, they flee, even though the authorities advised to stay indoors. And wasn’t there anyone smart enough to simply keep the woodchipper running constantly? Maybe an annoying, maddening noise. But anything’s better than being eaten by naked, bat-like flying dinosaurs. With united forces, they could easily have destroyed the colony of animals in one fell swoop. Or were there really so many of these creatures? And nobody here who thinks to throw an object to mislead these bastards. Nope. They do things the hard way and start waving around with a mop.

Fortunately, the acting performances weren’t of a lousy low level. It’s always a pleasure to see Stanley Tucci at work. Although I thought his personage was more interesting in “Patient Zero“. Unfortunately, that movie wasn’t very good. Apparently, there’s also a lot of criticism from the deaf community about the non-deaf Kiernan Shipka playing the role of Ally. According to them, it’s impossible for her to understand what it feels like to be deaf and also that her sign language wasn’t flawless. Could be. But I don’t agree with regard to empathizing with her character. Couldn’t a talented actress or actor empathize to such an extent that it comes across as convincing? I assume that Denzel Washington and Nicolas Cage don’t have a drinking problem. And yet their interpretations as an alcoholic in “Flight” and “Leaving Las Vegas” were damn realistic enough for me. And I am able to objectively assess that, believe me. And finally, admiration for Kyle Breitkopf as the younger brother Jude.

All in all, this film is the weakest one from the “Netflix Originals” stable. As a horror, it’s a total failure. It’s never really scary or exciting. The tension is removed by portraying the scary animals very early in the film. This type of film involves more than just portraying a lot of hysterically screaming people (which in turn has bad consequences for them). No, there are certainly better alternatives to view. And if you don’t know which one, I mean, I recommend a reread.

 

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019) Movie Review By Philip Henry

 

Terminator - Dark Fate Review

Director: Tim Miller
Screenwriters: David S. Goyer, Justin Rhodes, Billy Ray
Stars: Linda Hamilton, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes

I have to admit my hopes were not high for this sequel-come-reboot. Though I quite liked T3, I thought Genisys was a mess and Salvation was irredeemably awful. I obviously wasn’t the only one with this opinion. Dark Fate serves as a direct sequel to T2, presumably in the hope the others will be wiped from the timeline.

The film starts off by introducing us to Dani (Natalia Reyes) and her normal, humdrum life. This is the Latino girl we saw in the trailer and assumed was a kid. She’s actually not a kid, she’s just a very short woman. Anyway, as per usual, a terminator and a protector arrive in a big whirly ball of electricity and we soon realise this ordinary girl isn’t going to be so ordinary in the future.

A lot of people are comparing this to The Force Awakens; saying it’s just a new spin on the old formula, and this is true, but it’s also what made the first two (and arguably the third) Terminator movies work. The CG mess that was Salvation attempted to do something new in the wake of Judgement Day, and Genysis just tied everyone’s head in knots with too many time travel paradoxes, so I’m not against them going back to the original template.

Series creator James Cameron gets a story credit but not a screenplay credit, so it seems he was involved in the early stages and then left the directing to Deadpool’s Tim Miller while he went back to work on his 20 Avatar sequels. It would’ve been great to have Cameron back in the director’s chair, but Miller is as good a stand-in as we could’ve hoped for. He handles the action like a seasoned pro and though the film is light on humour, the few moments of levity we get are well judged and funny.

Unfortunately, the film isn’t perfect; there are a couple of things about it that did niggle me. The opening flashback scene with Linda Hamilton de-aged does not look good and I don’t understand why. Doesn’t everyone use the same de-ageing software? Why do Marvel’s de-aged characters look so good and yet Sarah Connor looks like a PS4 character? The other niggle concerns the military assistance they receive at the beginning of the third act. Sarah says at one point that she is wanted in all 50 states and had a whole episode of America’s Most Wanted dedicated to her, and yet when she calls an old army buddy he not only gives her Top Secret tech weapons, but also access to an army base and lets her take a very large plane! This is never explained and seems like a plot contrivance just to get them into a plane. It’s a shame because one very minor tweak could’ve made it a lot more believable. The army guy who helps them is an African-American with the name-patch HUNT on his fatigues. What if that patch had read DYSON instead? Little Danny Dyson all grown up? Just sayin’.

As someone who went in fully expecting to hate it, I’m glad those two points are really all I have to complain about. I enjoyed this film a lot. Mackenzie Davis delivers the sort of fast, well-choreographed action and violence we expect and hope for from this franchise. Granted, some of it still is CG, but we can’t have everything. Arnie arrives quite late, but he’s a welcome addition to the group when he does and his strained relationship with Sarah keeps things tense.

It’s unfortunate that Dani doesn’t get the story-arc Sarah had in the first film. Where Sarah was an apologetic waitress who wouldn’t confront a guy who cancels minutes before their date, but ends up fighting and destroying a T-800, Dani spends most of the time being protected and letting others do the fighting for her. She does fire a few shots and have a bit of a shout near the end, but it’s not the gradual transformation that would make her believable. It feels a bit like they’re saving that stuff up for the sequel which is always a mistake.

Gabriel Luna as the Rev-9 plays it completely emotionless, except when he’s mimicking someone, and while we can all understand why the actor would make this choice, it does give him all the personality of a toaster. The T-1000 didn’t say much either but he had an intense stare that told us what lay beneath the poly-mimetic alloy was something you should be scared of.

The storyline is basically a reset, so depending on how this one does at the box-office, we may be getting more films with Dani being chased by increasingly upgraded terminators. Unlike Arnie, I don’t think the producers will be asking Gabriel Luna to reprise his role if there are future sequels. He does what the script asks of him but it’s not the sort of iconic performance that would make fans salivate for his return.

Dark Fate has all the ingredients you’d expect from a Termintor movie, and thankfully the action and violence don’t hold back just so the movie can reach a lower age demographic. While it may not be on a par with T1 and T2, I think it’s at least as good as T3 – and remember I liked T3 – and much better than Salvation or Genysis.