“Get ready for a close encounter, bitch!”
They’re back! 20 years on from the aliens first visit they are back. This time, with a bigger ship which is apparently 3,000 miles wide. Only one man can save the day – David Levinson (Jeff Goldblum). Well not really, there are many other people who come into play but yet again the thinking woman’s crumpet steals the show (I acknowledge the fact he is old enough to be my Grandfather but choose to ignore/embrace it). Whilst this sequel does not desecrate the first film, or taint it in anyway, it’s neither better nor worse than its predecessor. And, considering how dark things seem in news and politics at the moment, this may just be the escapism everyone needs.
In the twenty years since the first alien attack Earth has changed completely. All of the world’s nations are united with a level of global peace never seen before. Instead all of the world is working together, using the alien technology that was left behind, to build the Earth Space Defense (ESD) programme. Overseen by President Lanford (Sela Ward), General Adams (William Fichtner) and Director David Levinson, its figurehead is Dylan Hiller (Jessie T. Usher playing the step-son of Will Smith’s absent character). When visiting the ESD base on the Moon, and squaring up to old friend/rival Jake Morrison (Liam Hemsworth), an alien mothership attacks the moonbase and heads straight for Earth. It’s a call to arms for old faces – such as President Whitmore (Bill Pullman) and Dr Brakish Okun (Brent Spiner) – as this could just be Earth’s final stand.
This is a sequel that is full both of pretty awe-inducing spectacle and amusing cheesiness. From the above headline, a line uttered by Jessie T. Usher without any hint of irony or knowingness, to every line uttered by Judd Hirsch as Mr Levinson Sr this is a film full of enough laughs to entertain. Considering the amount of death and devastation that occurs (I gave up trying to estimate the death toll) there is still enough comic relief that you do manage to leave the cinema smiling. In case you didn’t get my oh-so-subtle hints I loved every scene featuring Jeff Goldblum – he has got the nerdy/cool thing nailed! – and his quasi-science.
This does lead me to my main issue with this sequel. Promo material and comments from many of those involved in the film have discussed how this is Independance Day for the new generation. It’s a pointless thing to aim for for two reasons. A) I was two when the original film came out. Does that mean ‘It’s not for me’? B) The best thing about this film is the use of the ‘old’ cast. It is their scenes that are the highlight, not just for purposes of nostalgia but also in terms of character and entertainment. Jessie T.Usher gets sidelined by Liam Hemsworth who is playing a ‘maverick’ who is so bland and vanilla. The actress playing Hemsworth’s fiancee Patricia Whitmore (Maika Monroe), the daughter of the original film’s president, gets to some cool stuff but still needs to be rescued in the process. Travis Tope as Charlie Miller, best friend of Liam Hemsworth’s character, is a great addition in terms of comedy, although he is rather too fixated on a character who looks pretty gets about four lines (Angelababy playing Rain Lo).
Furthermore, the plot itself magpies (it’s my polite preference to steal) a lot from a wide range of other sources. From Alien, to 2001, to Close Encounters and even Deep Impact. In many ways it’s quite a distracting element to see so obviously the ‘influences’ of a film. There’s also the fact the film starts off so big – destruction of several continents big – that manages to be so large it’s almost ineffective. We are starting to see what could easily be described as a type of fatigue from audiences in terms of big explosions – it’s no longer shocking seeing a big screen explosion of a national/international landmark. Sometimes smaller works better. I think that’s why I enjoyed the second half of the film far more than the third. When the battle occurs within a slightly smaller radius, the many different sub-plots start to connect together, and the jokes are flying, that’s when this film really hits its stride.
All in all, this does the job. It’s more than entertaining enough, looks great and doesn’t require too much brain power. Perfect way to while away an evening.
The low budget “spiritual successor” to Cloverfield
Cloverfield was a serviceable found footage horror film that did well at the box office predominately due to its marketing strategy which featured things that took the burgeoning viral marketing to a whole new level. MySpace accounts were created for each of the characters, websites for the fictional companies that featured in the film could be trawled through for clues and the film itself was announced only as a series of numbers which formed clues that were eventually revealed to the release date. Cloverfield appeared in a few films of the year lists and that was about it. Producer J.J. Abrams would regularly be hounded for details of a possible sequel but appeared not to be able to give a definitive answer. When the upcoming release of 10 Cloverfield Lane was announced early this year there was real surprise as no-one had known that it was even filming let alone finished. This was due to the fact 10 Cloverfield Lane had not been filmed – originally based on a script called ‘The Cellar‘ it was adapted and linked to Cloverfield it was filmed under the codename ‘Valencia’. Here we are in March 2016 and 10 Cloverfield Lane has been released and it bares little resemblance either in tone or story to its predecessor. And it’s good. Very good indeed. So good that it’s definitely in the running for my end of the year top ten list.
Fleeing New Orleans and her fiance, intentionally leaving her engagement ring behind in the process, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) drives far away from the city. In the process she ends up in a nasty car accident. Next thing she knows she wakes up in a basement, her injured leg is handcuffed to the wall. She desperately does all she can to escape but all attempts are futile. The locked door opens and she is greeted by Howard (John Goodman) who explains that he saved her life and yes he is keeping her trapped down in the basement but it’s for her own good. His rather menacing nature and pointing out of how much Michelle owes him hugely unsettle Michelle who is desperate to leave. She also meets the other resident of the bunker, Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), who has known Howard for most of his life and is certain that Howard is a conspiracy nut but fundamentally a good guy. Time passes before the pair admit to Michelle why she cannot leave the bunker, a chemical attack has taken place in the outside world contaminating the air and killing the world’s population in the process. The unknown assailants have made the outside world unlivable and the trio’s only hope to stay alive is to remain in the bunker. All of life’s comforts are there, as Howard has spent most of life preparing for such a situation, but Howard’s increasingly controlling and menacing behaviour makes Michelle desperate to leave. Taking matters into her own hands Michelle soon realises the truth of what has happened.
What is truly impressive about this film is how cleverly it terrifies the audience. Considering it is a 12a (something I have an issue with concerning the themes and some of the moments of the film) it manages to do so much with so few of the big violent scares of other horror films. Two of the film’s tensest moments are when Michelle crawls through the ventilation shaft, twice. Through a brilliant combination of editing, camera work, sound and acting they were both sequences I had to watch through my fingers whilst desperately hoping for the best possible outcome. There are a few moments of big and jumpy scares, many of them coming from loud noises that have never sounded so scary, but most of the moments are slow-building subtle fears that build to genuine terror. This is through the fantastic storytelling and narrative. Information is so carefully withheld then slowly realised to the audience. Every new revelation requires a reassessment of what we know and what we expect will happen next.
We know little about what has actually happened outside and we have little reason to trust our primary source for that information. John Goodman is truly terrifying as mysterious Howard whose character gains murkier and murkier added depths with each conversation. He’s a dangerous blend of menace and deluded altruism with every sequence in which he appears forcing us to eye him dubiously, wondering how much he says is actually the truth and how big a threat he plays towards Michelle. The slow revelations that follow only complicate our distrust and unease of his character. Gallagher Jr.’s Emmett is a much-needed comic foil into the tense mix, when tension hits sky-high level it is masterfully lowered with a dose black humour. Winstead’s performance as Michelle is the best of her career, making a character who is truly sympathetic and one which we are desperate to succeed. I’d even argue that, in a year which saw Brie Larson win an Oscar from Room in which she played a woman held in captivity, that Winstead’s performance rivals Larson’s. Winstead’s blend of determination to leave and her struggling to accept the awareness of its possible futility may have resulted in one of the finest acting performances of the year.
If you’re looking for a film that clocks in at one hour and a half, that will drain you of every emotion possible, make you jump out of your seat and shield your eyes in concern, then you’ve come to the right place. Well worth seeing, if you dare…