David Oyelowo

The Cloverfield Paradox

08/01/18

J J Abram’s Cloverfield franchise has always wielded an element of surprise as part of its arsenal. The first film, a compelling ‘found-footage’ creature feature, directed by Matt Reeves, was sneak-released to cinemas in 2008, and was, in this reviewer’s opinion, a low budget masterpiece.  Its 2016 successor, 10 Cloverfield Lane was a tense, claustrophobic thriller that initially appeared to have nothing whatever in common with its predecessor; until, that is, you reached the film’s final third and everything went completely (and satisfyingly) berserk.

And now, here’s The Cloverfield Paradox, directed by Julius Onah and somehow released direct to Netflix with hardly anyone (including the cast!) aware that this was going to happen. As a means of grabbing attention, it works a treat – but there have already been many voices on social media branding the new release as a complete dud – and news that a fourth instalment, with a Second World War setting, is already in the can have led many to believe that Abrams has, quite literally, lost the plot.

The opening of Paradox certainly grabs the attention, playing like a lost episode of Black Mirror. It’s the year 2028, the earth’s energy supplies are rapidly dwindling and the world teeters on the brink of nuclear war. Ava Hamilton (Gugu Mbatha Raw) is poised to leave her partner, Kiel (David Oyelowo) to go on a mission into outer space. She and the rest of her crew intend to use ‘The Shepard’ – a particle accelerator – to provide the earth with an artificial power supply – but they are warned from the very beginning that in so doing, they risk inadvertently opening portals that will allow alternative realities into existence. Well, they can’t say they weren’t warned.

The story now leaps forward to the mission itself, where Ava and her companions are trying to initiate the ‘Shepard.’ At first, they appear to have been successful – but then some very strange things start to happen… for a start, they can’t seem to find any trace of the earth. Then, they find a woman, Jensen (Elizabeth Debicki) trapped behind the walls of the spacecraft. She claims to be a trusted member of the crew, but they have never set eyes on her before. Meanwhile, engineer Volkov (Aksel Hennie) starts having some very nasty digestive problems and as for Mundy (Chris O’ Dowd)… what exactly has happened to his left arm? Meanwhile, back on earth, Kiel is having some pretty intense problems of his own…

And that’s pretty much it. The film cuts back and forth between its two locations throughout. It’s nicely shot and for the most part, it galumphs along engagingly enough, even though it soon becomes apparent that this is not so much a Cloverfield film as something else that has been slyly retrofitted to slot into that cinematic universe. Indeed, apart from a couple of subtle visual references, you’ll have to wait until the film’s closing moments to make any real connection with those illustrious predecessors.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in an age where film fans are more polarised than ever before, some viewers have excoriated Paradox, blasting levels of vitriol in its general direction that seem somewhat excessive. It really isn’t that bad – just a bit mediocre and nowhere near as good as its progenitors. And of course, the convenient thing about Netflix is, if you don’t like what you’re watching, you can always reach for the ‘off’ switch.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney

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A United Kingdom

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25/11/16

Amma Asante’s A United Kingdom tells the true story of Prince Seretse Khama of Bechuanaland (now Botswana), and the extraordinary international response to his marriage to Ruth Williams, a white, middle-class Londoner. Ruth’s father (Nicholas Lyndhurst) isn’t happy and vows to disown her; Seretse’s uncle, Tshekedi (Vusi Kenene), believes it renders his nephew unfit to rule. But their combined disapproval is nothing compared to the horror of colonial might, and the crushing forces of British and South African politics. It’s a disturbing account of late imperialism, laying bare some awful truths about our not so distant past.

David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike are perfectly cast as the central couple, committed as much to their ideals as to each other. They are at once proud and humble, resolved and open-minded. The film’s focus on Khama’s emotional reactions personalises colonialism in a way I have never seen before, illuminating the brazen greed, hypocrisy and gross sense of entitlement of those seizing rule of lands that are not their own. Jack Davenport, as the brutal, arrogant Alistair Canning, embodies this with ease.

The post-war era is beautifully evoked, with both London and Botswana rendered real and immediate; the cinematography is very good indeed. If there’s a problem, it is perhaps in the feelgood cosiness that somehow permeates this film, despite its immersion in some very ugly deeds. Nevertheless, this is a mightily important tale, and definitely one worth going to see.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Selma

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08/02/15

Selma chronicles the turbulent three month period in 1965, when Dr Martin Luther King led the protest to try and obtain equal voting rights for black people in the Southern states of America. Even though that right had already been officially granted, the powers that be had conspired to ensure that it was one that would never be claimed, so King set out to lead a series of ‘peaceful’ marches from the town of Selma, Alabama to the capital city, Montgomery. What happened next is a matter of history. The racist police and redneck citizenry enacted violent and bloody opposition to the event, beating and in some cases murdering the marchers with apparent impunity.

Make no mistake, this is an important film. It examines one of the most shameful periods in civil rights history and largely gets its message across. But it’s also a curiously muted affair, a consequence perhaps of its 12A certificate, something which demands that the more distressing scenes are somewhat airbrushed. Curiously too, the film makers were denied the use of any of King’s legendary speeches, mainly because the intellectual property rights are tightly controlled by his children and they wouldn’t allow the use of them here (oddly though, they had no problem licensing the “I have a dream’ speech to a French telephone company for an ‘undisclosed sum.’ Go figure.) This meant that screenwriter Paul Webb had the unenviable task of writing some original speeches for one of the greatest orators in history.

Much wrath has been incurred over recent weeks by David Oyelowo’s supposed snub by the Oscar and BAFTA panels. Many have suggested that his performance was overlooked simply because of his race. The truth is that he does offer a solid, understated portrayal of MLK, one that is full of dignity and one that captures the man’s distinctive voice patterns with remarkable alacrity, but at the same time, it doesn’t really have the stature (or the histrionics) expected of an Oscar contender. There are other solid performances on offer here too. Tom Wilkinson shines as Lyndon B. Johnson and Tim Roth perfectly nails the unpleasant, racist demeanour of Governor George Wallace. And yet the events are related at a funereal pace and there are too many scenes of King sitting in darkened rooms, brooding over his next move.

A good film then, though perhaps not a great one – but at the same time, a film that absolutely demands to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. I was warned to expect to shed tears for this and though a notorious ‘weeper’ that didn’t actually happen. But a palpable sense of shame did remain with me, the shame that in my own lifetime, events like this were ever allowed to happen. It also helped me to appreciate the immense courage of all those people who put their lives on the line in the name of civil rights.

4 stars

Philip Caveney