Get Out: Beneath the skin

Readily admitted by the film’s director Jordan Peele, Get Out is a subversive amalgam of horror films and other movies. Through what it does and does not do, Get Out implants you into the life of African Americans today. From Peele’s point of view, the threat to African Americans of Klansmen and burning crosses is dwarfed by a white suburban culture that fetishizes and fears black identity.

Get Out’s opening scene inverts John Carpenter’s Halloween. Halloween begins with protagonist Laurie unaware of villain Michael Myers stalking her in broad daylight. Upon release Halloween was perceived as a damning commentary on declining teenage morality with the slasher Michael Myers acting as judge and executioner. On another level Halloween reflects social anxiety among the middle class in 1970’s America towards the decaying and predominantly black inner-city. Myers’ entrance into the Illinois suburbs and the bloodshed he causes is the dreaded violence, crime and drugs of urban areas flooding into the prosperous environs. In stark contrast Get Out begins with a black man warily walking through the suburbs at night.  In Get Out, the shooting of Trayvon Martin and others render the suburbs an alien territory for black people instead of what most audiences originally saw in Michael Myer’s hunting ground, a sanctuary away from the stormy city.

The contrasting narrative of perception and location persists throughout Get Out’s first five minutes. A tracking shot of woodland alongside the score evokes the southern backwaters of Deliverance and Southern Comfort. Yet once protagonist Chris travels to meet his white girlfriend’s family we find ourselves not in the archaic deep south but the pristine woods of upstate New York.

By inverting what we expect from film, Jordan Peele rips the viewer out from the white male vision of most directors and firmly plants the narrative into a black perspective. Take Get Out’s first interaction with a white character besides Rose. Chris is stopped while driving and questioned by a police officer, opening the sadly familiar mix of inferiority and fear which can be projected onto African Americans.

Chris’s reception at Rose’s home is unexpected. He doesn’t receive the anticipated mix of hostility and condescension of which the police officer’s reaction to him was a forewarning. More alarmingly, Chris is lavished with adoration from Rose’s family and friends, praising him with an unfettered frankness for the traits they stereo-typically expect him and African Americans to have.

The appreciation of the older white suburbanites populating Rose’s community for Chris and black identity is skin deep. Their infatuation with the attributes black people supposedly possess is a fetishization of black identity, reducing black identity from an equal to a body of trophies covering sex appeal to just plain coolness. In turn the white man’s obsession with Chris’ uniqueness reverts the black man into a physical object, a band-aid for their own flaws, something to be auctioned off and used. Instead of progressing from the prejudice of segregation and slavery, the racism of white America towards African America has simply inverted; from sub-human to superhuman but not yet a fellow man.

The big reveal of Get Out is that Rose and her family have been luring black people to their home to be auctioned off to their white clientele. Their victims are first brainwashed by Rose’s mother into compliance then Rose’s father transplants the client’s brain into the younger black victim.

The sanitised racism lurking beneath the surface of Get Out is personified in the film’s four black victims including Chris. Each victim of Rose’s family, having been brainwashed into becoming hosts for the minds of the older white clientele, represent a stereotype of African American identity. Georgina the maid is motherliness and domestic servility, Walter the gardener embodies athleticism and Andre King is sex appeal. Chris, the fourth victim, represents artistry. In an ironic foreshadowing Chris talks to Jim Hudson before Jim buys Chris in the auction. Jim, an older blind art collector who never had ‘the vision’ for photography comments that Chris, a professional photographer, truly has ‘the eyes’. Jim’s words, and his later attempt to have his brain transplanted into Chris’ head, have an irony to them. Jim never sees Chris beyond being a pair of eyes, forgetting that it is Chris’ mind, along with his heritage, that adds the colour to his vibrant photos of New York City which make up his work.

Ultimately, I could be wrong about Get Out’s deeper meaning. Yet the film still exemplifies the power of film to take someone like myself, a white middle-class kid from England, and put me in someone else’s shoes.

By Saul Shimmin

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Apostasy

Rating: 1.5 out of 5 (poor)

Synopsis: Following a mother and her two daughters within Manchester’s Jehovah’s Witnesses community, Apostasy documents the struggle between rebellion and devotion when living under an orthodox and introverted religion.

Apostasy’s setting and its gendered perspective on religion is brimming with potential. It is a potential left unrealised as the story, despite interesting ideas from director Daniel Kokotajlo, descends into a series of stilted, unceasing and empty conversations.

The starkness and emptiness of the film itself, in its up close documentary style, is a reflection of life for the three women. The deafening silence drives home Apostasy’s message about the restrictiveness of life as a Jehovah’s Witness. By halfway however I no longer wanted to watch Apostasy. I endured the remainder out of stubbornness when retrospectively the cinema’s bar would have delivered a more entertaining fifty minutes. Regardless of the good ideas behind the plot, I realised that nothing had happened and nothing would arrive in Apostasy which would really grip me.

Apostasy, like a lot of contemporary art, justifies its existence on the ideas that its creator purports it to have. Beyond the creator’s proclamation of what his work represents, the creation is an empty vessel framed by ideas and explanations but yielding neither appeal or enjoyment to the ordinary person. Art and film are mediums where the work can carry a message and still be enjoyed by the unaware or the uninitiated. During Apostasy I became painfully conscious that I was watching another person’s ideas, rather than a story.  Film criticism far too often fixates on the ideas and subject matters of an independent film which are salient among more academic and cultural circles, while disdainfully curling its lip at the box office fare. Worse still is the reticence to criticise a film deemed intellectual for fear of appearing uneducated in turn. Apostasy’s look at gender and religion are relevant today and it is not a bad a film, but the film does not merit the recognition awarded by mainstream film critics. To a large degree my displeasure with Apostasy was that it ill fitted the structure of a film. The pace was far too slow and a lot of the background for the three main characters and preceding events in Apostasy were given little attention. If Apostasy had been given the longer run-time of a short television season, much of the intriguing background which is wasted in the film could have been better used.

The film does have some positive aspects. The continuing use of monologues among the main characters as they each talk to Jehovah draws the viewer into their individual approaches to God. The main trio of Siobharn Finneran,Sacha Parkinson and Molly Wright, deliver good performances as do the other cast members while the film’s third act is a surprising shift which sadly arrives too late.

Do see Apostasy if you want to know more about being a Jehovah’s Witness, but wait until it is on the television so you have the mercy of changing channel if desired.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Who are the Mystery Men?

Besides the nod to The New York Dolls, this article is really about Mystery Men, the best superhero film you have never heard about.

Super-heroic spoof

Flight and invulnerability, spandex outfits and ludicrous sidekicks. The concepts of superheroes are childhood fantasies which crumble in the adult world. In the goofy bedlam of Mystery Men’s Champion City, reality reveals superheroes to be losers, oddballs and dreamers. Instead of scowling vigilantes, powerful gods and aliens, the ‘Mystery Men’ are ordinary people pretending to be something more, except for the odd possessed bowling bowl and potent flatulence. Therein lies the wonderful magic of Mystery Men, it looks at itself and superheroes and laughs at the joke.

Released in 1999, the immediate target of Mystery Men’s lampooning is the vaudevillian gaudiness of the Batman films under Tim Burton and Joel Schumacher. Beyond that Mystery Men satirises dystopian films of the 1980s and 1990’s. Champion City’s architecture nods to the mega metropolis of Blade Runner’s Los Angeles, while the film’s aesthetic of old and new technologies living aside each other mimics Terry Gilliam’s Brazil and 12 Monkeys. The gags come from the inherent silliness of superheroes and super villains which Mystery Men exaggerates with a gleefully deadpan take. The real source of laughter lies in the ‘Mystery Men’ of the film; Mr.Furious (Ben Stiller) who has slightly mild anger issues, the Blue Raja (Hank Azaria) a mystic knife thrower haphazardly flinging forks and sometimes spoons and The Shoveler (William.H.Macy) who tackles crime with a shovel.

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The Shoveler is confronted by his wife

The ‘Mystery Men’

Later bolstered by new members, the ‘Mystery Men’ remain endearingly hopeless underdogs stood against villains who break the rules of comic books. In an odd premonition of Christopher Nolan’s Bruce Wayne, Mystery Men’s director Kinka Usher opens up the vulnerability of his superheroes. This vulnerability is not an Achilles heel but the humanity behind the mask or the shovel. Mystery Men, at its deepest level, concerns men and women dreaming of making it big but struggling against their own ordinariness and doubting whether they can save the day. All of us at some point have shared that fear of being ordinary, of questioning how we are different from everyone else in the crowd.

A film before its time

Created before the Marvel-Disney conveyor belt of melodramatic superhero films was even conceived, Mystery Men’s teasing of the genre has made it a refreshing tonic for the staple of today’s box office. Even if you are oblivious to the litany of D.C and Marvel films, Mystery Men’s is objectively funny. Neil Cuthbert alongside Bob Burden, creator of The Flaming Carrot Comics which inspired Mystery Men, crafted a script brimming with hilarious sound bytes. A personal favourite is the Shoveler’s statement to his wife that;

‘God gave me a gift…I shovel well, I shovel very well.’

It is shame that Mystery Men, given its inexhaustible quotability, came out before the YouTube age ushered in highlight reels of comedy films which propelled Anchorman to universal popularity. Alongside the excellent writing are cast whose calibre is something to behold. The initial trio of Ben Stiller, William.H.Macy and Hank Azaria as Mr.Furious, The Shoveler and the Blue Raja are a powerhouse boosted by the later additions of Paul Reubens as The Spleen and Jaeneane Garofalo as Baby Bowler. The list of actors goes on but most importantly Tom Waits plays mad scientist Dr.Heller who cooks up non-lethal weapons in an abandoned circus full of mannequins and chickens. Somehow I think Tom Waits had no difficulty in playing his role. Plus if you want more Tom Waits the DVD copy of Mystery Men has a wonderful deleted scene of Dr.Heller flirting with retirees. Bonus appearances are Eddie Izzard as leader of a disco gang Toni P and Cee Lo Green as a minor gang member.

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Tony P (Eddie Izzard)

Being his only feature film to date, director Kinka Usher brings the attentive detail of creating commercials to Mystery Men.  The result is a trove of gags in the film’s environment; from a retirement home’s bar being stocked with prescription medication to the Shoveler’s trophy cabinet for his weapon of choice. Mystery Men just gets better the more often you watch and the harder you look.

Sadly, Mystery Men followed its titular heroes and shuffled into obscurity after a release met with poor box office sales and poor critical responses. The story does sag in the middle but the reason for Mystery Men’s failure was it took superheroes, a thing Americans hold so earnestly as a reflection of themselves, and thumbed its nose at them.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

 

A Prayer Before Dawn

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 (good)

Synopsis: Cast off into Thai prison for dealing heroin, the strange yet true life of British boxer Billy Moore is a ballad of visceral rawness which sometimes falters against its source material.

Due to the nature of the medium, books can host multiple sub-plots, nuances and themes while films have a limited window to tell a complete arc. The problem films face when transitioning a novel to the screen is either conciseness or fidelity. In trying to faithfully render Billy Moore’s memoirs, A Prayer Before Dawn’s ambitiousness entangles the film in a bramble of plot threads. Suffering from a drifting focus, A Prayer Before Dawn veers from the strangeness and savagery of Thai prison, to Billy’s fight to survive and curb his addiction while also being a boxing film. Even a sprinkle of romance is tossed into the the mix. These elements would meld together in the paper print of a good long book, but in a film they result in a plot which leaps and then spends scenes orientating itself. A Prayer Before Drawn plunges the viewer into a shocking and gruesome reality, but its many stops prevent it being an engrossing journey through Thailand’s underbelly.  

Director Jean-Stephane Sauvaire makes some admirably bold decisions in A Prayer Before Dawn. Absent of any subtitles throughout, the viewer shares Billy’s fear and confusion as he is lost in the Thai commands of guard and prisoner alike. The prisoners themselves are all former Thai convicts. Their grounding in the film’s setting explains how the prisoners unflinchingly depict acts of rape, extortion and violence with a disturbing level of calm. The final and best gamble Sauvaire pulls is his choice of Joe Cole as Billy Moore. Cole brings to Billy Moore the same intensity as his character John Shelby in Peaky Blinders. Yet Cole channels this intensity into someone bearing the brunt of the world, buckling from inner turmoil while reeling at external dangers. Cole captivates as Billy Moore, rendering A Prayer Before Dawn into an intimate look at another rebuilding his life, a man both dangerous and vulnerable. This duality draws away from A Prayer Before Dawn’s problems and proves Joe Cole’s promise to become a venerable star of our time.

Visually, Sauvaire’s use of space and framing invokes the claustrophobia and oppressiveness of prison both environmentally and socially. Certain shots of Billy, his pale skin amid a sea of tattooed prisoners marks out his isolation and seeming incompatibility with this lifestyle.  

Throughout A Prayer Before Dawn I saw the passion and potential of this unique story beyond the rosy tourist images of Thailand. However I struggled to be truly enveloped by the film. Hopefully a second viewing will improve my opinion but I would still recommend A Prayer Before Dawn to anyone looking for something different.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Escape From New York

Synopsis: Escape From New York depicts a dystopian 1997 where New York City has become a prison. War hero turned bank robber Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is offered clemency if he enters New York and saves the U.S President (Donald Pleasence) who is stranded in the Big Apple.

Written by director John Carpenter in the wake of Watergate and America’s loss of faith in itself post-Vietnam,  Escape From New York belongs to Cold War science fiction. Carpenter’s vision of the 1990’s reflects fears in the 1970’s of societal collapse, nuclear war and state control. In Escape From New York America is a police state while the Cold War has turned hot. America’s militarised police, clad in black and obscured by riot visors, are an unsettling mix of Vietnam and Nixon’s faceless G-Men as they descend from huey helicopters. New York’s transformation into a prison represents a sentiment which Carpenter touches upon in Halloween and Assault on Precinct 13; the fear of urban violence, drugs and crime spreading beyond the cities.

Late night television introduced me to John Carpenter’s films, in particular Halloween. At age 14 I bought a DVD of  Escape From New York and devoured the film. Re-watching  Escape From New York years later on the big screen has changed my perception of the story. When I was younger Escape From New York was a strange and alluring thriller. Now I see how modern society has returned to the film’s dark trajectory. In an age of global terror, mass surveillance, mass shootings and rising extremism, we are affronted again by state interference and social instability. Entering into the chaos is anti-heroic gunslinger Snake Plissken. Plissken’s adherence to a tattered moral compass in a grim future represents a begrudging sense of hope, much like Mad Max, that humanity can persist no matter the bleakness. Unlike the original Mad Max films, Escape From New York strikes a lighter tone through Nick Castle’s work on the script. In Nick Castle’s hands, the film gains an awareness of its wackiness; from its gnarled criminal gangs of New York clad in the ruins of the city to the roster of oddball characters.

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Snakes forges a plan

Crafted from a small budget of $5 million, Carpenter’s ingenuity with practical effects makes Escape From New York visually striking. Filmed in the burned out centre of St.Louis, Missouri, the city’s state gave Carpenter carte-blanche for his gnarled interpretation of New York. Atop the filming location are the models, costumes, painted backdrops and other effects which permeate the film. Time has marked the look of Escape From New York but these are just wrinkles defining a growing maturity. The film’s ability to still draw in the viewer opposes modern films whose proclivity for CGI often rushes disbelief back in. Carpenter’s score much like Halloween infuses Escape From New York with a soul of nervous energy and brooding fear as disco and funk are sifted through a synthesizer.

The cast of Escape From New York flesh out life inside the prison. Isaac Hayes as the Duke, New York’s kingpin, swaggers around with bravado like a cowboy villain followed by his posse in rag tag automobiles. Harry Dean Stanton as Brain and veteran of Hollywood’s golden age Ernest Borgnine as Cabbie exude the strangeness and toughness required to survive within the walls of New York. Best of all is Kurt Russell as Snake, whose grit is matched by defiance as he sarcastically thumbs his nose at authority figures. In the end it is Snake who provides the sole honest voice in Escape From New York, revealing the U.S president and his men to be just as corrupt as those living within New York. In today’s political climate, I think we could learn something from Snake.

Thanks to Home Manchester for screening such a great film.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

First Reformed

Rating: 5 out of 5 (classic)

Director: Paul Schrader

Synopsis: A dying priest attempts to save one of his dwindling flock from radicalism. In doing so, Reverend Enrst Toller (Ethan Hawke) veers towards eco-terrorism as he loses all hope for himself and the world.

Through the self-introspection of a priest, America looks at itself and the world beyond and screams in desperation. Sliding from its puritan and republican ideals America has become like the First Reformed chapel, a church abandoned, the city upon a hill no more.  The chapel of First Reformed is a testament to America’s nascent struggle for liberty and tolerance. Now the chapel is absorbed by the Christian organisation Abundant Life whose creationist fervour shields the energy company who finances it. The chapel is a stark reflection of America today, torn by ardent fundamentalism and corporate greed who perpetuate a stagnant quagmire of polarised political partisanship.

First Reformed’s protagonist, Reverend Ernst Toller, has done everything expected of him and yet the American dream has failed him. Now seemingly at death’s door, Ernst begins to question where we are heading and despairs at a system willingly leading the planet towards a slow demise for its own gain. The looming environmental collapse we now face grasps at a deeper aspect of humanity; an awareness of our own fragility. We all sense at times how brittle our life, the lives of our loved ones and the world truely are. When we contemplate this fragility it is easy to be swallowed into a void of despair and uncertainty as the world seems forever poised to crumble. Ernst’s journey in First Reformed is a grapple with the ceaseless death without renewal, leaving him to accept death and hope again or become death in an attempt to master it.

The film’s condemnation of big business and big religion in propagating America’s laissez-faire approach to environmental pollution is subtly done through Reverend Joel Jeffries (Cedric the Entertainer) and businessman Edward Balq (Michael Gaston). Their bullish denial of climate change unravels under Ernst’s guilt for what we have done to this world. First Reformed’s hard stare at our collective responsibility for despoiling god’s work sadly comes at a time when what America has saved is targeted for destruction. Under Trump’s presidency American environmental regulation has been discarded while federal lands and national parks seem ripe for resource exploitation. Whether we would fare better if America was more ecological is a hypothetical. At humanity’s destructive rate in First Reformed we will burn every blade of grass before seriously changing our lifestyles.

When I first watched Gattaca I knew Ethan Hawke was bound for greatness, now First Reformed proves it.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

The Endless

Rating: 5 out of 5 (Classic)

Synopsis: Brothers Justin (Justin Benson) and Aaron (Aaron Moorhead) receive a cryptic video from the ‘UFO death cult’ they escaped from 10 years ago. Intrigue entices the pair back to the community of Camp Arcadia and ensares them in a darker mystery.

The Endless deserves to be a classic lauded with wide recognition rather than the cult film it will likely become. I had not heard about The Endless until the film’s trailer swayed me to attend a Q&A screening. Directors Benson and Moorhead, who play The Endless’ protagonists, expressed surprise at the audience’s size after earlier films had only drawn crowds of 2 or more. Yet The Endless is a flawless thriller whose cosmic horror burrows into the viewer’s nerves and never relinquishes control.

H.P.Lovecraft’s tales, as John Carpenter touched upon in Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown, can fumble as a twist ending negates the horror of man versus the unknown. The Endless’ Lovecraftian roots show in a quotation from the writer, yet the film succeeds where Lovecraft failed. The Endless’ success comes from its relatable story of family and brotherhood, nostalgia and rebellion. The horror of The Endless while gripping and manifest is the supporting context for the tale. Who or what is around Camp Arcadia is drawn out through layers of sub-plots hiding secrets, red-herrings and teasers which open The Endless up to review and reinterpretation. Curiously director Aaron Moorhead said at the BFI Q&A that the film only had ‘two or three real mysteries’. Despite my prodding about the conclusion both directors upheld the film’s tantalising ambiguity.  The presence shrouding the cult is made potent by the film’s budgetary constraints. Any major Hollywood production would tape everything together with CGI. In The Endless however circling crows, crude charcoal etchings and antiquated tapes denote something odder and more menacing than a green screen lurking around.  Interestingly the recordings and images found in The Endless are more than clues, denoting the cat and mouse game between ‘it’ and the brothers as one watches and one searches for the other.

The plot, written by Justin Benson, scares initially and lingers long after its end through mystery, projection and minimal gore. The Endless becomes even creepier through Camp Arcadia’s inhabitants, whose oddness jars with their unbridled pleasantness. The plot’s progression, alongside Benson and Moorhead’s performance, creates a believable dynamic of siblings at loggerheads. The brilliant cast consists of crew members except for Callie Hernandez and Emily Montague who are established actors. The cast’s performance, combined with Benson’s deadpan comedy, exacerbates The Endless’ terror as reprieve turns to horror once again.

The Endless is showing in the U.K at certain cinemas and is available to rent on Itunes and YouTube. Though this is a film which rewards the finding of a screening at the cinema.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Rating: 1 out of 5 (poor)

Synopsis: 3 years after Jurassic World the dinosaurs remaining at the abandoned resort face extinction once more as the island’s volcano is poised to erupt.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s mistake is to choose seriousness over levity in a world where dinosaurs live and exist as tourist attractions. It is a decision which immediately falls hollow as the plot gives way to a lazy rehashing of box office tropes and predictable twists and even throws in much of Jurassic World’s story. Fallen Kingdom’s attempt at maturity is to ask whether dinosaurs, the creatures which have heartily chomped on humans in Jurassic films past, should be preserved for the benefit of future human generations. It is a dilemma quickly answered by Jeff Goldblum’s response of ‘No’. Yet the film ignores the idiocy of its proposed dilemma and struggles on with no purpose for what feels like a very long run-time.

The film is an old fossil, a rather dull affair to behold that has been seen countless times before. The story is a Frankenstein’s monster of 3 arcs hewn together consisting of animal preservation, romance between Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard and Jurassic World’s threat of weaponised dinosaurs. The animal preservation narrative dissolves quickly, and the film’s depiction of this movement as an anti-corporate millennial upsurge is very twee. Pratt and Howard were decent in Jurassic World but without the children of Jurassic World, the pair lack the chemistry to carry the minutes between dinosaurs. Nor do Pratt or Howard seem enthused to return for Fallen Kingdomwith boredom and fatigue lining their faces as they pretend to see another  dinosaur upon the green screen.

The new characters introduced to Fallen Kingdom are evident character types who exist as stepping stones for the story. At least Fallen Kingdom’s return to the threat of military grade dinosaurs spawns a decent turn by Toby Jones as a miniature Trump replete with fake tan, bleached teeth and dubious hair. Jones alone is not enough to save a film which feels remarkably redundant despite being the immediate sequel to a promising soft reboot. Fallen Kingdom’s twists sport the worst of Hollywood’s absent logic, concluding with a ludicrous ending created only to propagate further sequels. All this could be largely forgiven, but in Fallen Kingdom’s fixatation on more ‘human’ and serious themes, it strangles the fun out of the dinosaurs which are the series’ fulcrum.

Following this dismal sequel, Jurassic World should shuffle off into extinction.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Solo: A Star Wars Story

Rating: 4 out of 5 (excellent)

Synopsis: Solo charts the life of Star Wars’ favourite smuggler Han Solo before he became the rogue viewers fell in love with during A New Hope. 

Never has a better spin-off been found in a galaxy far far away. Solo is a swashbuckling adventure of daring-do and oddball characters who bring liveliness and levity to a franchise which can fixate too much on good versus evil. Hopping between the dives of the galaxy and other dangerous corners Solo is a great film to let yourself switch off and simply enjoy, despite Disney’s interference.

Suffering from a tortured development process and a last minute change of director leading to effectively a remade film,  the odds have not favoured Solo. The film’s real misfortune is to follow behind the polemical Star Wars: The Last Jedi and bear the brunt of fan backlash to Disney’s guidance of the franchise. Tragically for a film fated to receive poor opinion among fans, Solo is by accident the most innovative Star Wars instalment since Disney bought the mantel from George Lucas. The Marvel-Disney formula is a false arc constructing a story filled with danger whose consequences will change the axis of the universe . The reality is that each ending changes nothing and none of the heroes ever suffer a price.

More so than in either the original or prequel trilogy, Star Wars under Disney has developed the same hollow self-aggrandising displayed by the Marvel franchise. In stark contrast Solo’s protagonist is at the mercy of larger events while his actions are of little consequence to the galaxy beyond. Ultimately Solo is a great heist film set in the Star Wars’ universe, and it would have even better if Disney had let it be just that. Sadly Disney’s compulsion to weave Solo into Star Wars lore and sound out a possible sequel jars with everything else. Disney threads Easter eggs both obvious and obscure into the Marvel and Star Wars films to generate fan speculation about immediate and future films. In Solo Disney reaches a new level of glibness with its scavenger hunt, placing throwaway comments about The Clone Wars T.V show and letting the camera linger over props from prior Star Wars films. Worst of all is a central part of Solo’s story stemming from a  contextual comment in A New Hope. Instead of using Han Solo as a springboard for something new, Disney loops events from the original trilogy with a fixated neatness to answer questions few fans probably asked about. To someone who has been a Star Wars fan since childhood, Disney’s visible attempts in Solo to generate further speculation, interest and hopefully money out of the franchise grates against Solo’s otherwise decent story.

Since reviewing Doctor Strange I have had the pleasure of reviewing a few of Disney’s offspring in both the Marvel and Star Wars universes. My opinion on Disney’s works is that they are often problematic stories propped by excellent casts. Although Solo’s plot problems are not significant, they are helped by a very robust cast. Woody Harrelson as Thomas Beckett, Han Solo’s reluctant mentor, is a safe pair of hands and Paul Bettany is convincingly villainous as the crime lord Dryden Vos. Plus Bettany really rocks Dryden Vos’ black cape. Emilia Clarke was surprisingly good as Han Solo’s conflicted love interest Qi’ra. Given Clarke’s fame stemming from only her Game of Thrones role and her past involvement in box office flops, I was somewhat worried as to her performance. The fears were unfounded while Alden Ehrenreich is very good in depicting his own version of Han Solo. Gone is the gritty sardonic demeanour of Ford’s character, replaced by a naivete alongside some good comedic timing and quips.

Ron Howard’s experience as a director shows throughout Solo. Howard’s approach in the film is economical, with every scene being a direct depiction of how the viewer should think and feel in that moment. Although the film is filled with the grandiose CGI scenes that are typical to blockbusters, Solo’s opening and later depiction of a planetary invasion truly drew me into the story. Another highlight was a standoff between Han Solo and company against some pirates which bristled with the tension of a Western gunfight. If Howard did re-direct Solo, he truly did rescue this film.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Cargo

Rating: 3 out of 5 (good)

Synopsis: Cargo follows Andy (Martin Freeman), wife Kay (Susie Porter) and infant daughter Rosie surviving in the Australian outback after an unknown zombie epidemic has ravaged Australia and the world beyond.

Since 28 Days Later, the un-dead have become the overused staple of popular culture, shambling into video games, film and television. To Cargo’s credit, the film is a refreshing tonic for the tired genre through a minimal focus on the zombies themselves. Cargo’s world is a quiet apocalypse focusing on people instead of the disaster, bringing the viewer back home to the cornerstones of our lives obscured by everyday stability; of our need for love and family and our sacrifices for both these things.  The two central characters of Cargo, Andy and aborigine teenager Thoomi (Simone Landers) are driven by family in different directions, with one trying to secure their family’s future and the other recapturing their family’s past. Although Thoomi’s arc seems out of sync with protagonist Andy’s tale,  the pair blend well together as Cargo’s inclusion of Australian aborigines and subtle commentary on colonialism gives the film much of its charm.

Cargo’s marketing campaign divulges the film’s opening twist which leaves Andy widowed, infected and consequently tasked with finding a guardian for Rosie in this dark world. The revelation reduces Cargo’s first 30 minutes into contrived exposition  while Andy’s wife is a frustrating plot device. Cargo’s remarkable recovery stems from Martin Freeman as Andy and the convincingly strange characters populating Cargo’s Australian hinterland. From the crippled gas plant worker preparing his post apocalyptic empire to the local school teacher left scarred by a brain tumour, each character has a life omitted from the camera. The absence of detail makes these characters feel like the undefinable people we meet everyday. Yet in the absence of the everyday, the mystery these characters represent in Cargo also teases danger to Andy in a world where social norms are gone. Once cast together, Thoomi and Andy are an unlikely pairing who join together to survive but through each other accept the new world around them and what they must do to survive, leading to Cargo’s heart rendering conclusion.

What pervades the background of Cargo is its commentary on imperialism. The use by one character, called Vic, of Aboriginies as bait for zombies is reminiscent of the racism and land-grabbing of colonialism as he taunts them for taking his wells. By Cargo’s conclusion it is the Aborigines who now wait out the apocalypse, safe from the un-dead as though in the absence of modernity and technology, the land of Australia has reverted back to them.

Cargo is available now on Netflix.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below;

Two movie buffs readying to conquer the world.