These Final Hours: time well spent

these final hours movie posterThese Final Hours is what it says: the last hours of Earth, burning to ash as a planet-killing meteorite does the business — the science feels a bit dodgy, but the story is superb.

In the tradition of On the Beach, this beaut Aussie flick traces how James (Nathan Phillips), who admits, finally, that he’s made a few bad choices — hence the prison tats, the wake of disappointment he trails after him — chooses to while away his last moments. Among the options are with his girlfriend at the beach, waiting for the end; with his other girlfriend at a killer party; or less likely, with his sister and her family, or with his mother. Others have chosen different courses: suicide, violence, hedonism, and desperate survival tactics such as wrapping a house in aluminium foil or digging bunkers.

James is en route to party away his fears when he chances upon, amid the anarchy, a young girl in need of help — for once, he makes the right decision. Rose (a delightful Angourie Rice) brings with her conscience and a sense of sacrifice — yes, this road movie is about redemption and finding a sense of self-worth where perhaps there was none. Rather than wanting to numb himself to the pain of that last moment — that last realisation — of mortality, James is given the option of embracing it, and being a better person for it.

There’s a sepia tone, a summer heat, infusing the film, and the soundtrack is well crafted — a jazz number out on the farm, dance for the pool party at the end of the world, and nothing anywhere else but the natural sounds of the world ending. The absence of music adds to the atmosphere and enhances the attempts to drown out reality.

There’s a voice on the radio counting down the hours as the planet boils and James dashes from one event to the next, meeting himself everywhere he goes, with the perceptive Rose riding shotgun.

There is a wonderful conversation between James and his mother that says so much without having to say much at all; the reactions of the characters not only to the apocalypse but to James are convincing and telling.

Written and directed by Zak Hilditch, it’s a relatively minimalist movie, intensely focused, offering tension and pathos in equal measure. As one of James’s girlfriends, Zoe (Jessica De Gouw), says at one point: it’s beautiful.

  • Check it out at the These Final Hours website.


  • Only Lovers Left Alive: pollution is a real pain in the neck, yeah


    only lovers left aliveJim Jarmusch takes the long, slow road to a vampire movie aimed squarely at what happens when you use up resources, but yet, there will still be music.

    Only Lovers Left Alive (2013) features Eve (Tilda Swinton), well read and generally wonderful, reconnecting with her significant other, Adam (Tom Hiddleston). She travels from Tangier, leaving behind good old mate Christopher Marlowe — played with the usual aplomb by John Hurt — to Detroit, where the collapse and abandonment mirrors Adam’s depression. Adam’s a muso of modest but enduring renown, and things are looking all right for the reunited lovers until Eve’s sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska) turns up to rock the boat with her over-eager, insatiable consumerism.

    Because things are already tense for the children of the night, with the blood supply as tainted as the environment. Resources are getting scarce. The good stuff is in demand. And the food chain, and decency, are such fragile things.

    It’s a slow-burner, shot almost doco style as Adam and Eve drive through derelict suburbs, living their lives in splendid and not-so-splendid isolation.

    The vampire culture is wonderfully (under)drawn, with its own peccadilloes and gentle in-joke references. Living in the shadows, observers trying to find safe ways to interact, to leave a mark, however anonymously … the settings mirror the desolation, even Tangier — necessarily by night — an empty place where people offer only what is not needed. And the leads capture the mood perfectly. Swinton’s nuanced performance is a delight, and Hiddleston has the disaffected rock star air down pat.

    It’s crafty, too, how at least one certain prop never gets to satisfy the Chekhov law, although perhaps that’s a Jarmusch law. Along with the music, of course.

    As the predators prowl the decaying streets, the message is there in the coyote howls: nature will have its way, so we’d better look after it.

    X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Edge of Tomorrow — not the time (travel) of our lives

    Two movies in a week: be still my beating heart! And both to do with time travel.
    My friend and I emerged from X-Men: Days of Future Past, in which Wolverine is sent back, fairly convincingly, to prevent the birth of the Sentinels and the apocalyptic mutant/humankind vs machine war that eventually follows, wondering, what is it about this time travel thing?

    I loved the Sentinels when I was reading X-Men back in the day; they were a lot less sophisticated than the movie ones. And just for once, there was no real time paradox, which is what usually does my head in when it comes to time travel narratives: the whole chicken and egg, cause and effect thing. I didn’t see the previous X-Men movie, First Class, but enjoyed the first couple for their ability to explore some themes of prejudice and put interesting, sympathetic characters on the screen. That’s kind of stopped now, it appears: in fact, this movie seems to have reduced all those that came before to being nothing more than a dream. Any fiction writer knows: you don’t do that. You don’t invalidate the investment of your reader, or viewer. It reminds me of the first season of what had been an enjoyable Witchblade (based on the comics): no overt spoiler, but I still haven’t watched the second series.

    But even if I’ve got the bull by the horns in my understanding of why all is shiny in the X-Men world, I didn’t much get much to care about in this flick. Not even James McAvoy’s tortured Xavier and Jennifer Lawrence playing Raven/Mystique on the knife edge of good/bad (or law/chaos, if you prefer) could make me give a damn. A popcorn movie, with no lasting crunch.

    And then there was Edge of Tomorrow, with Tom Cruise dying over and over again in a computer game fashion as his reluctant soldier learns to be all GI Joe in a quest to defeat the lead alien, with a little help from Emily Blunt’s scarred veteran. Had me going there, Tom, on your fun ride, and I could really sense the frustration and weariness, as any gamer could, I suspect, of having to start all over again after every wrong turn. (My kingdom for a save point RIGHT NOW!) But what was with the whitewashed ending? Once again, hit the reset, all is well: victory without cost. He even gets to keep his good name and rank. And the girl, of course.

    Is this something in the Hollywood psyche at the moment? That we can keep making the same mistakes over and over again until we get it right, and all the wrong alternate worlds just go away? Peace in our time, mission accomplished: look mum, no bodybags? It reminds me a little of the sour taste left over by Source Code, in which a hell of a lot of people die in a whole bunch of universes, but that’s okay because the hero finally gets his happily ever after. Icky.

    So, to return to the original question: why we are so fascinated with time travel? Marty McFly and Quantum Leap, Star Trek, The Time Tunnel! And on, and on. Yes, yes, all right: Dr bloody Who. (For the record, I can’t choose between Pertwee and Tom Baker. But ‘Blink': that had a cool time travel premise, didn’t it?)

    It offers a chance to compare and contrast different cultures, different times; to make predictions, HG Wells style, of what current philosophies or technologies might wreak in the future; and to challenge perceptions of historic events.

    But perhaps most often, it seems to be the allure of the second chance, whether it’s another shot at love, or to save one life, or a whole planet, or universe, or right a wrong. To withdraw that statement, to pick the box, to walk instead of drive.

    At the end of the day, though, I reckon the old adage holds true: wherever (whenever) you go, there you are. Now pass the popcorn — it’s time I was somewhere else.


    The Babadook: horror out of the pen


    The Babadook is an Australian horror movie. It’s clever without being pompous or overwrought. A suburban working mother is trying to raise her needy son while stricken by grief over her husband’s death. Then a book is found, and it tells of the Babadook, who once it gets in, can never be got out.
    There is so much to like about this film: acting, setting, lighting, sound, combined with an insightful script. Deftness, depth and subtlety define this movie — the narrative pulled me along, and the ending wrapped it up beautifully, its metaphors intact and satisfied. Here are some of the credits:

  • The heroine is a working single mother, whose hair is in disarray, who looks shattered from the opening frame.
  • The heroine does not wear makeup, except for the one time she does in company who wear it better. This tells us a lot.
  • When the heroine screams, it is not a screech. it sounds real. The acting is uniformly superb, but lead Amelia (Essie Davis) and son Samuel (Noah Wiseman) are particularly brilliant as they carry the emotional journey.
  • There are no aural tricks to make the audience jump. There are no jump cuts to make the audience jump. Possibly, this makes it even creepier, perhaps because tropes are used — opening doors, creaking floors, fleeting shadows, popping lightbulbs. Sound is wonderfully adept at creating mood without intruding or being overtly manipulating.
    badadook movie poster
  • The kid is a weird little guy in his own way, and despite his Home Alone precociousness in the arena of home defence, he is just a kid.

  • The characters act naturally, resulting in increasing isolation and dislocation for the heroine. Mostly through her own decisions. There are no villains, just people trying to deal.
  • The heroine does bad things, but she is not an image of hate or scorn.
  • There is no happy ending, but rather, progress, and ongoing struggle with the hope of some kind of equilibrium.
  • The setting reflects the character’s mental and emotional state.
  • Facts about the characters that inform the story are introduced with subtlety that urge a re-watching to fully appreciate just how well sewn this tapestry is — a few, minor dangling threads notwithstanding.
  • The symbolism is clever and consistent but not pretentious. You want to talk about grief, depression, dysfunction in an engaging and oblique fashion — the personal cost and the impact on family, friends and those around — this is the perfect example of how a horror story can do that.

    I hope writer/director Jennifer Kent, who adapted this feature from her short film, Monster, gets support for her next project. She went to Kickstarter to help this one get across the line, and has rewarded those supporters handsomely.

  • Treating space travel with Gravity

    gravity movie poster
    Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón and written by him and Jonás Cuarón, is a visually stunning examination of working in space. I suspect this movie would be one of the rare beasts that rewards viewing in 3D.

    But it’s not just gorgeous and exhiliarating to watch — at its centre is a human story, a tense, captivating physical and emotional journey dealing with both outer and inner space. And thankfully, character exposition is minimal and natural, and melodrama absent.

    Sandra Bullock plays a doctor, Ryan, recently attached to NASA to conduct an experiment. She and veteran team leader Matt (George Clooney, reliable with humour and dependability) are marooned in space when bad things happen to their transport. Again and again. Their mission becomes one to get back to Earth.

    The physics of space is beautifully, strikingly, rendered on the big screen — thrust and counter-thrust, in an environment with no resistance. Propelling through the confined sections of a space station littered with floating debris — not as much fun as you might expect. Think space walks are genteel? Think again — velocity matters.

    Particularly impressive is the way sound travels only in intense POV scenes, transmitted through spacesuits, while broad scenes are conducted in the silence of space — only the occasionally intrusive score to be heard.

    Bullock is ideal as the doc who has to dig deep — not action-movie deep, just humanly — reading instruction manuals, thinking laterally, using wit and dry humour and sheer tenacity in the struggle to survive. Her journey is intense, and well worth strapping in for.


    Pacific Rim: One for the dinosaurs

    pacific rim posterIt could have, and should have, been superb: Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro (see also Devil’s Backbone, Cronos and Hellboy) helming a big-screen flick in which giant mechs — human-driven robots — battle giant monsters — ‘kaiju’ — for dominance of the Earth.

    Pacific Rim is a pretty movie. It has some comedy moments. Ron Perlman’s appearance got a chuckle from the cinema. But that can’t save it.

    Oh hackney! Where is your plot? Your logic? Where are your characters? Where is your time limit, for pity’s sake?

    No more stereotypes, I beg you. Neither racial nor gendered. Isn’t it time we left this boyish, dinosaur-aged bullshit behind?

    Look to anime, to Evangelion … see? See how something can be pretty and still tell a story?

    Women can pilot mechs and don’t need to be protected by oafish, testosterone-fuelled males. What a great excuse for a punch-up — ‘apologise to the lady’. FFS, the ‘lady’ could’ve kicked both their arses.

    Oh mechs, your tactics are flawed, and writers, your world building so thin I could ride a daikaiju through it as easily as they crash through your ludicrous sea wall.

    I could go deeper, dissect the many aggravations and sheer occasions of stupid evident in this half-baked, pedestrian effort, but I’ve already given it more than two hours of my life.

    In a mech shell: an irrelevant comedy side act, boorish leads — what the hell is Hollywood doing to Idris Elba? — and flimsy plot devices make for a monster of a flop.


    The Hobbit, or, Over the Top with Bilbo!

    Oh dear. This is what happens when you try to out-lord Lord of the Rings with a much simpler, shorter tale. The Hobbit has gone from a journey into maturity for young Bilbo, to a rip-snorting adventure with set pieces more at home on a Disney ride. Orcs! Goblins! Revenge!

    Admittedly, all the over-the-top derring do does help the almost three hours of movie pass more quickly than it feels, although it remains a tedious affair devoid of the warmth and suspense that the original three of Peter Jackson’s franchise mustered so very well.

    I lost count of the wonderful hair-dos sported by the dwarves. Was mildly glazed by the repetition of events from the other movies, such as summoning eagles with a whisper to a moth or an outstretched hand winning the ring toss. Was bemused by the lack of continuity of events in the Shire as depicted in Fellowship.

    And overall just a bit saddened that, to win the respect of his travelling companions, it wasn’t enough for Bilbo to be courageous and clever, but he had to kill something, too.

    Hobbit wasn’t a bad movie, just a dull one, with music, sound effects and scenery among the highlights. It finally found some emotional resonance with the interplay between Gollum and Bilbo, too little, too late.

    Where LOTR had me lining up for the DVDs — indeed, we just watched the extended versions again, a form of cleansing, perhaps — I won’t be dashing out for the Hobbit, and more’s the pity.