Netflix

Cargo

04/06/18

Just when you think you’ve seen quite enough zombie movies for one lifetime, along comes A Quiet Place. And no sooner have you said, ‘okay, great stuff, but that really is enough now,’ than this film appears ready-to-stream on Netflix and you find yourself thinking, ‘You know what? Maybe there is room for just one more.’

Despite a depressingly over-familiar premise, Cargo succeeds largely by putting a new twist on the old ‘Apocalyptic epidemic of the undead’ scenario and by casting Tim from The Office in the lead role. He’s frankly nobody’s idea of an action hero and, somehow, that really works in the film’s favour. We care about him before he’s said so much as a word.

We are in the Australian outback and ex-pat Andy (Martin Freeman) and his Aussie wife, Kay (Susie Porter), are puttering along a river in their spacious houseboat, with their baby daughter, Rosie, at their side. But this is no holiday cruise. The couple are staying well away from the river banks which are now infested with cannibalistic zombies (yes, I know, but bear with me).  Of course, the constant search for food means that they do have to take some chances occasionally and, when Andy spots a wrecked yacht up ahead, he knows they’ll have to row across to it and investigate. The yacht provides some much-needed rations, but also something rather less welcome – a bite from one of the ‘infected.’ In this world, people in such a predicament are provided with a special medical kit which includes a handy sort of ‘illness tracker.’ This gives the victim a 48 hour countdown to their own doom – and, for those who can’t handle it, the manufacturers have thoughtfully included a lethal injection. The problem is that Andy and Kay’s main priority is Rosie and they soon realise that they need to get her to safety before they succumb to their own impending bloodlust.

Meanwhile, on shore, eleven-year-old aboriginal girl, Thoomy (Simone Landers), is trying to come to terms with the fact that her father, Willie (Bruce R. Carter), is himself rapidly succumbing to the same infection. She has come up with her own unusual methods of keeping him under control…

Writer/directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke have fleshed out their 2013 short of the same title and have managed to create something which, against all the odds, feels fresh and gripping. I love the fact that the zombies themselves are not given centre stage in this film. Indeed, for the first half of it we barely glimpse them; they remain a terrifying offscreen presence – but we are aware at all times of the possibility of their imminent arrival. (Zombie purists might like to know that these creatures are of the George Romero persuasion – i.e. slow and shambling, rather than their more recent fleet-footed iterations).

What Cargo has in abundance is suspense, which ramps steadily up from the opening scenes and at various points has me shouting ‘don’t go in there!’ at the screen. But of course, people do go in there, repeatedly, which works brilliantly. I love the fact that the film incorporates aboriginal mythology and shows the native Australians to be the ones who clearly know how best to handle the zombie situation (there’s a clear colonial allegory here). Also, the ‘48 hours to doom’ scenario lends the proceedings a breathless, race against time quality that keeps me hooked throughout.

You’d think, that with such a doomed and downbeat premise, it would be impossible to pull a feelgood ending out of the bag and yet, somehow, they’ve kind of managed that too.

So, yes, good stuff… but… that really is enough zombie movies now.

Isn’t it?

4.3 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Special Correspondents

Special1

01/05/16

Whatever happened to Ricky Gervais? The glory days of The Office and Extras are now long gone and his occasional forays into cinema have amounted to a few average cameos in other people’s movies and the woeful laughter-free zone that was The Invention of Lying. His new movie, Special Correspondents, is a Netflix original (though actually not original at all, as it’s a remake of 2009 French comedy, Envoyes Tres Speciaux). And, though it pains me to say it, it’s a disaster – a ‘comedy’ that fails to raise so much as a smirk.

Gervais plays Ian Finch, a hapless sound engineer working alongside charmless, bombastic reporter, Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana) who has alienated all his colleagues at 365 News and  is now residing at Last Chance Saloon. Ian’s other workmate, Claire Maddox (Kelly McDonald) is the closest thing to a sympathetic character you’ll find in this sorry tale and she isn’t really given all that much to do. Ian is also lumbered with a shrew of a wife, Eleanor (Vera Farmiga) who has all the inherent charm of a car crash and who gleefully cheats on Ian with Frank (though to be fair, Frankdoesn’t know at the time who she is married to).

When a civil war breaks out in Ecuador, Ian and Frank are despatched to cover the story, but Ian, upset by the fact that Eleanor has just walked out on him, accidentally throws their tickets and passports into a passing garbage lorry, leaving them stranded in the USA. Realising that this was his last chance to make good, Frank persuades Ian to help him fake a series of reports from war-torn South America. They are actually holed up in a restaurant across the road with a couple of friends, the almost terminally thick Brigida (America Ferrara) and her husband Domingo (Raul Castillo).

It’s a slight idea and one that is never really nailed – instead, what we get is a lazy, written-by-numbers story featuring embarrassing racial stereotyping, and a series of plot twists you can see coming from several blocks away. More damningly, there’s hardly anyone here you can root for, as McDonald’s character aside, they all appear to be venal, self-interested scumbags with an eye on advancing their own careers. Furthermore, a scene that emulates a faked hostage video is uncomfortably close to images we’ve seen in real life that are a million miles away from anything humorous. I can’t help but wonder if, in the past,  the sadly absent Stephen Merchant acted as some kind of quality control for Gervais. Left to his own devices, he seems incapable of creating anything with any depth.

With a new David Brent movie looming on the horizon, the only hope is that he’s put a bit more effort into that script, because this one is frankly dead in the water.

1 star

Philip Caveney

Beasts of No Nation

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15/11/15

The world is changing and so are the ways in which movies are funded. Take Beasts of No Nation, for instance – an original production from Netflix, it was afforded only a brief theatrical outing, and it’s probably the last thing you would have expected to be produced by a popular streaming company. It’s a bleak and harrowing look at events during a civil war in an unnamed African country. A young boy, Agu (an extraordinarily affecting debut by Abraham Attah) plays happily with his friends in a country ruled by government troops; but when a rebel force’s resistance starts to gather pace, Agu’s family is caught up in the ensuing chaos. His Mother is forced to flee the country, while his schoolteacher father and his older brother are executed when they are mistaken for rebels. Suddenly a virtual orphan, Agu manages to escape the massacre and flees into the jungle.

There, he is discovered by the rebels, who are led by the charismatic ‘Commandant’ (Idris Elba). He enlists Agu into his rag-tag army, where the boy undergoes a harsh indoctrination into the ways of warfare. Some of the ensuing scenes are unflinchingly brutal and we soon discover that the Commandant’s ebullient image conceals a darker, more predatory nature. BONN is in no way an easy film to watch – but it’s doubtless an important one and all credit to Netflix (and to co-producer Idris Elba), for having the guts to back such a searing and thought-provoking story. Credit also should go to director Carey Joji Fukunaga, who handles his difficult material with great skill, knowing exactly when to cut away from the carnage.

Will Agu survive his ordeal? And if he does survive, will he be traumatised for the rest of his days? You’ll need to watch the film to answer those questions, and it’s there to stream on Netflix, any time you’re ready, but be prepared -you’ll be enlisting for a bloody and uncompromising journey into the heart of darkness.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney