What I thought of The Cloverfield Paradox

A decade ago Cloverfield came out having had one of the best marketing campaigns for a film I’ve ever seen having built up an air of mystery about a film which was and is, something hard to achieve. I love the first film because it is the giant monster film I’ve had in my head since being a teenager, and although its sequel 10 Cloverfield Lane is patchy, it works as a claustrophobic thriller before the end gubbins. A third film has been coming which was originally promised last year, and was expected in the spring before suddenly dropping after the Superbowl on Netflix worldwide.

From here on in lies SPOILERS. You’ve been warned!

Directed by Julius Onah and starring Gugu Mbatha-Raw who has fully recovered from having Bonekickers on her C.V and here frankly holds the entire thing together which is good because at times The Cloverfield Paradox is a tedious mess of technobabble and stuff we’ve seen in the likes of Event Horizon.

Mbatha-Raw plays Ava, an astronaut on Cloverfield Station in orbit round an Earth dying through a lack of energy resources which amount in this film to some blackouts not to mention the world’s superpowers squaring off against each other. The station is the one last chance to solve Earth’s problems peacefully as the multinational crew use an experimental particle accelerator to create unlimited free energy for the planet. As you’d expect, something goes wrong and the crew find themselves stranded having lost Earth with increasingly strange happenings occurring on the station.

The plot is pretty routine but the script is appalling. Characters spout clichés, or when faced with horror make quips that sap the scene of any tension. There’s one scene especially with Chris O’Dowd’s character that could have been a highlight of creepy body horror but ends up played for giggles then there’s the climatic fight scene that is welded on badly to the end. This for me is the problem with The Cloverfield Paradox in that is doesn’t know what it’s trying to be and I’ll be blunt, Life trod this sort of ground pretty recently and better. It does manage to explain the events of the two previous films, and I assume future films as there’s at least one more Cloverfield film coming in the next year but take the Cloverfield name and the last 90 seconds off this film and it really is the sort of film you’d watch on Netflix if there was nothing left on your list. The last 60 seconds do lift the film and make it worthwhile though it teases the prospect of a sequel that should be made but probably won’t be.

What is interesting is how Netflix and Abrams decided to release this. It could have had a release in cinemas and made a decent amount of money, but releasing it this way without any notice on Netflix suggests this is an experiment. If this film is deemed successful (and it will be as the Cloverfield name, and the last 60 seconds guarantee it)  then we’re likely to see more films dropping with no notice and that would be a good thing. After all it means then that at least for a day or two we’ll be forced to make our own minds up but hopefully if this sort of thing is done again it’s done better than this.

Cloverfield is ten years old. Really.

Imagine a decade ago? Remember your MySpace profile? Remember Gordon Brown? The credit crunch? The Beijing Olympics? It was quite literally a different world in 2008 and amongst all this Cloverfield opened which for giant monster fans like myself was like Christmas come early. From the minute an unsuspected teaser trailer dropped in the summer of 2007 folk like me hoped it was the monster film we’d had in our heads since we were kids.

The fact that a major Hollywood figure like J.J Abrams managed to get a film made so under the radar that nobody had a clue, let alone it existed til the teaser is amazing even in the distant past of 2008. Add to this a still amazing viral marketing campaign which included a fantastic ARG and the film was something I couldn’t wait to see.

There were many things which at the time annoyed me. The vacuous yuppies were often annoying, but this new way to do a monster film was great, and it featured some fantastic giant monster action.

Giant monster films are much more prevalent now than a decade ago when only the Japanese bravely held up the case for giant creatures wrecking major metropolitan cities, but although Cloverfield doesn’t quite hold up as well as a decade ago, it still stands as a great little monster film even if half the characters are the sort of people you’re sitting there wishing to be smushed.

But to think this is a decade old. Christ, how old do I feel?? Still, at some point I might blog about the idea a mate and myself had about a Gorgo remake that sees the titular monster trash most of southern England from Bristol to London.

The strange case of George Lucas

George Lucas is the creator of Star Wars, and is a very,very, very,very, very wealthy man even before he sold the rights to Star Wars to Disney for billions of dollars so he could sit around spending the rest of his life counting his money. Sadly, Lucas decided to become a grumpy old man upon seeing The Force Awakens and decided that Disney and J.J Abrams had pissed all over his children.

This is a case of seller’s remorse. He’s seen something that he didn’t think of  be more popular than his own work and he’s thrown a strop, but here’s the thing about selling something: once it’s gone it’s not yours. Sure, you can comment upon it, but don’t act like a dick when people call you out and ask you if why you sold it for billions of dollars if you think you can do better?

But this is because for a long, long time nobody has ever called Lucas out or challenged him. He’s been surrounded by Yes Men/Women for far too long and when realising that he’s no longer at the centre of his own creation has kicked back in the media to try to make a case that he’s somehow been wronged, yet, unlike say, the case of Jack Kirby, or Alan Moore, or endless Disney cartoonists over the decades this isn’t a case of a Massive Corporation shafting a lowly creator. This is the case of a very powerful creator making a boat full of cash and getting pissy.

It’s bullshit basically, as are those people crying out for Lucas to be reinstated back at the head of the Star Wars sage. Tough, he sold out. Disney went off to do their own thing and that really is the end of it.

However this is an excuse to post the documentary of the making of The Phantom Menace. Apart from showing the fact that Lucas had turned into a terrible director by this point, it also shows the entire forelock tugging that went on around him in scenes that play like something written by Ricky Gervais in The Office. My favourite scenes are the one where Lucas tries to explain to his mate Steven Spielberg that the droid army is going to look cool with Spielberg doing that thing mates do of being nice, but at the same time thinking ‘fucking hell, really??’.

The second is after the first viewing of the film where everyone realises they’ve got a stinker on their hands. People’s faces are pale as they try to sort out a mess that never got sorted out because nobody had the bollocks to say, ‘actually George, that’s shite, let’s try something else”.

Anyhow, here’s the film, get ready to cringe….

10 Cloverfield Lane proves you can keep a secret

Cloverfield was a found footage/giant monster film I’m rather fond of even if most of the characters are enormous smug arseholes who mainly deserve to die, but it was a success and built up a strong cultish following.

For years producer J.J/ Abrams has teased a potential sequel since the film’s release in 2008 but nothing happened, not to mention since then Abrams has become involved with a new Star Wars trilogy so the prospect of a Cloverfield sequel vanished into the ether. Until yesterday when a trailer for 10 Cloverfield Lane appeared in front of the latest Michael Bay shitefest. Little is known of the film but it already has a Wikipedia page that tells us it’s starring John Goodman (in my mind one of America’s great actors), Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Gallagher Jr.

Whats amazing that in the year 2015/6 a film sequel to a popular film has been made (and I appreciate it was filmed under a different name), a trailer cut, a poster designed and a release date set upon and not one person leaked anything. Not even a sneaky image. That’s amazing, really amazing that everyone stayed quiet and that makes me have some faith in humanity that perhaps people can keep secrets…

So, here’s the trailer.

What I thought of Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens

Spoilers ahead.

Don’t read on if you’ve not seen the film!

Ten years ago the last Star Wars prequel, Revenge of the Sith was released and everyone had the same feeling of relief one has when a loved one finally dies after a long and painful illness. The prequels were finally over and we could all go back to remembering the Star Wars films when they were fit and healthy rather than dying on their feet. Few people thought a decade on we’d have a new Star Wars film, let alone one without the involvement of creator George Lucas, but in Christmas 2015 we’ve got The Force Awakens from director/writer J.J Abrams which is the fist of a series of new films under the new Disney ownership.

As a film it’s fantastic. As a Star Wars film it’s spectacular. This isn’t a dying relative, but some spritely young thing kicking your back doors in. It’s not perfect, not film is, but the gaping plot holes (and there’s two big holes in the film) are easy to ignore. The plot follows some of the same beats at the first Star Wars film, A New Hope, but it’s remixed not to mention this new trilogy seems to have been planned out in advance so there’s dangling threads in terms of plot and characterisation so I don’t mind that.

The plot starts with an opening scene where Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac), a resistance pilot trying to find a map with the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker (who’s went into hiding) is meeting on Jakku with Max von Sydow’s character and instantly the fact Sydow is speaking the first lines in the new film adds it a gravitas from the off that the opening drivel about trade and taxes in Phantom Menace doesn’t have. From there on in for the next 40 minutes or so the film doesn’t let up. We see the First Order massacre a village of innocents, Poe’s droid BB8 escapes into the desert with the MacGuffin (the map) then a Stormtrooper in the name of Finn (John Boyega) rebel against their brutality, and then escape with Poe in a TIE Fighter from the cruiser they’re on which is shot down and crash lands on Jakku.

The first act of the film takes place almost exclusively on Jakku, a desert planet designed to invoke the original but one that had one of the final battles between the Empire and the Rebellion. It’s here that Abrams has some frankly astonishingly framed shots that blow the closed, tedious shots of the prequels. It’s also on Jakku we meet Rey (Daisy Ridley) who is this generations Luke Skywalker, and that comparison becomes clearer in the third act, but the rest of the first act involves Rey and Finn meeting, being found by the First Order, fighting and then escaping Jakku in the Millennium Falcon (which just happens to be on Jakku) before being captured in space by a freighter piloted by Han Solo and Chewbacca.

Harrison Ford is clearly having some fun playing Solo as a grumpy old man, but it’s really the new characters that sell the film as Ridley, Boyega and Adam Driver’s gloriously pissy Kylo Ren (a Darth Vader cosplaying fanboy acting as the First Order’s muscle) that steal the film from the established cast, though Ford has a lot of screentime with all three with some scenes being charming, and one in particular being shocking if you’re not expecting it.

Act two is about filling in the plot which involves a mega Death Star called Starkiller Base that threatens the new republic, but baddies being baddies the First Order use it to destroy the heart of the republic. What I do like here is that the First Order aren’t as organised as the Empire was, plus they’re more bloodthirsty, so they’re the ISIS to the Empire’s Al Queda.

In a very Cantina type bar (and another nod to the original films) on another alien planet that Han takes them to, Finn and Rey find Luke’s old lightsabre thought lost in Empire Strikes Back,but Rey rejects it after experiencing a vision. As the First Order catch up with them (as they too want the MacGuffin so Kylo Ren can find and kill Luke therefore completing the task Darth Vader couldn’t) a battle breaks out, Rey is captured by Kylo Ren, and Finn takes up the lightsabre in battle against his former comrades. After a bit of some frankly dodgy exposition, we’re taken to the home of the resistance after being reintroduced to Leia (Carrie Fisher’s Stallone level botox will make you gasp) there’s a desperate final attempt to blow up Starkiller Base, and to rescue Rey. Also around now it’s revealed Kylo Ren is Han and Leia’s son who was being trained as a Jedi by Luke, but he went to the dark side, hence why Luke fled into hiding.

Rey however proves to be more than capable as she’s not only able to resist Kylo Ren’s force assisted torture, but she’s able to throw it back at him. Indeed, I read this scene as Kylo Ren fiddling around with someone he’s underestimated and misunderstood, not to mention that he triggers something in Rey who manages to use the force to escape, join up with Finn, Han and Chewie on Starkiller Base, However as they sabotage the thingy they need to so the resistance fighters can blow everything up at the end of the film, Han confronts Kylo Ren who has been struggling with being pulled to the light side of the Force. Han and Ben (Kylo Ren’s real name) have a moment where we think perhaps his father has pulled him from the edge, but no, as the sun blinks out and everything turns dark, Kylo kills his father.

At this point Chewbacca goes mental against First Order stormtroopers, as Finn and Rey chase down Kylo. The three face off in a nearby forest to the thingy that needs to get blown up to help end the film is, and just as we think we’re in for a big fight with all three Kylo knocks out Rey, so Finn takes up the lightsabre against the better trained Kylo. He manages to hold his own for a bit but Kylo starts battering him, before nearly killing him and knocking Luke’s old lightsabre into the snow. Kylo reaches out for it using the Force (he is after all, a Jedi fanboy and this is the ultimate bit of memorabilia)  but as the lightsabre flies out of the snow it passes Kylo’s hand and smacks into a surprised looking Rey. The pair have a fight that’s infinitely better than all the fights in the prequels combined.

Rey gets the upper hand on Kylo, gives him a scar to remember her by but before the battle can end, they’re separated by an earthquake as the planet falls apart as the resistance have blown the thingy up. Fortunately Chewie turns up in the Falcon saving Rey and the comatose Finn. Everyone escapes. Plot threads are left dangling for the next two films, and the film ends with Rey, Chewie and R2D2 finding Luke on a remote planet that looks like Ireland. We has a final shot of Luke and Rey meeting. The End.

Plot wise The Force Awakens borrows a lot of beats from the original films so you could say it’s ‘fan service’ but Abrams would have been damned had he done nothing, so he couldn’t win. For me, he gets it right and yes, I think you could go into this film and not needing to have seen the original films because what’s being done is that Abrams is playing with the culture of Star Wars. In fact, Kylo Ren is a meta-comment on fans (dressing as his hero, collecting relics) and a great character in his own right as we’ve not really seen the baddies in a Star Wars film being developed, or having a story arc outwith of Darth Vader and even then that felt tagged on a bit. This doesn’t. Neither does Finn’s arc, or indeed Rey’s. Only Poe Dameron’s character feels thin not to mention is at the centre of one of the film’s plot holes as how did he escape Jakku??

Most of all it feels like Star Wars. I care about the characters from the minute Poe is cracking gags at Kylo Ren, or Finn undergoes a crisis of conscience and decides to redeem himself, to Rey being a lonley scavenger on a backwater planet to  someone that can beat Kylo Ren in a lightsabre fight. It also helps that the script is good. It’s tense, action packed and funny in all the right places, though there’s a lull in the second act and the Starkiller attack is a bit gubbins as it gets in the way of the more interesting battle between Kylo, Finn and Rey, the script is splendid. Just let yourself go and let Abrams hammer you with nostalgia and you’ll love The Force Awakens.

I don’t think it’s better than A New Hope or Empire Strikes Back, but it is better than Return of the Jedi because it’s got real actual character development plus it gives us an important cast member death scene that the films needed (Ford wanted Han to die in Jedi, and he’s right, he should have. It’d have made the situation clearly grave enough that one of our heroes died, but Lucas talked Ford out of it. 30 years later he gets his death scene) plus the new characters are delightful, fun, exciting and threatening. I give a fuck for Finn as he tries to escape the First Order and in the process become a hero. I empathise with Rey locked away waiting for something to happen to her. I even get Kylo Ren’s emo angst. In fact I want to see more of Rey, Finn, Poe, BB8, Kylo Ren and everyone in the film, apart from Supreme Leader Snoke who is just not threatening, or evil enough.

There’s been complaints online that these characters haven’t been fleshed out. We’ve not been told everything about them, or that Rey’s use of the Force in the third act is ‘unrealistic’ in a film where space travel is easy.This is the first of a new trilogy of space fantasy films, so not that word ‘fantasy’ as this is just fantasy, and there’s clearly a plan for the next two films so in this era of people being spoonfed everything it’s going to be hard for people to realise that they’ve got two years to wait til more of the puzzle is revealed but it’s clever. After all, if you’re one of the millions of people that aren’t fans going to see this film and you like it, then you’ll want to come back to get the next chapter. That said,the film probably needed a bit more in the Jakku scenes to give us a bit more of Rey’s life but this is a minor point.

I can’t believe that in 2015 we’ve finally gotten a good Star Wars film that’s a couple of hours of entertaining fun as opposed to a load of bollocks.A year ago the new characters were introduced and people were wary, but now looking back at that teaser I can’t help thinking how great a bit of marketing it is as these are the people we’ll be turning into icons from now on.

See The Force Awakens. It’s blockbuster that doesn’t disappoint.