Color Out of Space review

For F*** Magazine

COLOR OUT OF SPACE

Director: Richard Stanley
Cast : Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson, Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Julian Hilliard, Elliot Knight, Q’orianka Kilcher, Tommy Chong
Genre: Horror/Sci-fi
Run Time : 1 h 51 mins
Opens : 20 February 2020
Rating : NC16

Two years ago, fans of cult horror films received the gift of Mandy, starring King of Weird Nicolas Cage. Cage reunites with Mandy’s producers for another outing into the land of the bizarre and unsettling, bringing writer-director Richard Stanley with him.

Cage plays Nathan Gardner, a man who lives on his family farm in rural Massachusetts with his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), witchcraft-practicing daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur) and sons Benny (Brendan Meyer) and Jack (Julian Hilliard). A meteorite crashes outside the Gardners’ home, unleashing an alien force known as the Colour that begins to mutate the living things in its proximity, warping reality itself. The Gardner family is soon consumed by madness as they are trapped by the Colour.

Richard Stanley has not made a narrative feature film since he was infamously let go from 1996’s The Island of Dr. Moreau; the tumultuous behind-the-scenes process is detailed in the documentary Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. It’s good to have Stanley back, and it’s clear that his eccentricities as a filmmaker make him a good candidate to adapt the work of the influential sci-fi/fantasy-horror novelist H.P. Lovecraft. Stanley demonstrates a love for and understanding of the source material, delivering both the mounting, paranoid dread and the gooey Cronenbergian body horror that an adaptation of The Colour Out of Space should possess. The practical creature work by 13 Finger FX is appropriately gross and stomach-turning. This is not a movie for the squeamish: horrible things happen to animals and children and there is a graphic scene depicting self-harm.

While Stanley demonstrates a good command of mood and creates some entrancing visuals, the film’s dialogue is often unconvincing. One of the main things that makes Color Out of Space fall short of greatness is that none of the characters seem like real people, even though we spend a considerable amount of time with them. Joely Richardson puts in a serious, respectable performance, but it’s much harder to buy the Gardners as a family unit than it was to buy, say, the Abbotts in A Quiet Place as a family unit.

Nicolas Cage is at once the film’s greatest asset and its biggest liability. Stephen King disapproved of the casting of Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in the film adaptation of The Shining because the story was about a normal man’s descent into madness, and Nicholson already seemed crazed to start with. This problem is eminently present in Color Out of Space.

Stanley’s favourite film starring Cage is Vampire’s Kiss, in which Cage plays a literary agent who unravels after being convinced that he has been bitten by a vampire. This is the movie from which the “You Don’t Say?” meme is derived. Stanley asks Cage to do too much – few can freak out or melt down on screen the way Cage can, but this undercuts the terror that Stanley has carefully constructed, and the silliness of Cage’s performance sometimes prevents us from relating to the Gardners.

A subplot involving the haughty Mayor Tooma (Q’orianka Kilcher) doesn’t quite seem to go anywhere. Elliot Knight is a good straight man as Ward Phillips, a hydrologist surveying the area for a dam project, but like his equivalent in Lovecraft’s short story, the character functions as a narrator and doesn’t have much presence in the story.

It’s also hard not to compare this movie to the other adaptations of the story, or even unrelated films that were clearly inspired by The Colour Out of Space. Annihilation is the most obvious recent example – what was called “the Shimmer” is basically the Colour. That film did almost everything this one does, just a little bit better.

Stanley has wanted to make this film for a long time, announcing the project in 2013 and releasing a proof-of-concept trailer online that year. There are many little bits of world-building in this film that Lovecraft fans will notice – Ward wears a “Miskatonic University” t-shirt, referencing the fictional university that first appeared in Lovecraft’s Herbert West–Reanimator. Stanley intends to make a trilogy of Lovecraft adaptations, with The Dunwich Horror to follow Color out of Space. Considering how Lovecraft’s work is interconnected and taking the richness of the Mythos into account, there’s a lot to be mined here.

Recommended? Only if you’re a hardcore Lovecraft fan or really love small, weird genre movies. Even then, this asks more patience of its viewers than the average gory body horror movie.

Summary: Color Out of Space marks a welcome return for long-absent cult filmmaker Richard Stanley, but the silliness of star Nicolas Cage’s lead performance undoes the truly unsettling, disturbing elements of the film.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

 

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse review

SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE

Director : Bob Persichetti, Pete Ramsey, Rodney Rothman
Cast : Shameik Moore, Hailee Steinfeld, Mahershala Ali, Jake Johnson, Liev Schreiber, Brian Tyree Henry, Luna Lauren Velez, Lily Tomlin, Nicolas Cage, John Mulaney, Kimiko Glenn, Zoë Kravitz
Genre : Animation/Comics
Run Time : 117 mins
Opens : 13 December 2018
Rating : PG

You know Peter Parker, your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. In this animated film, various Spider-people are putting the “tangle” in “quantum entanglement”, in a story that’s just a little different from the Spider-Man story you’re likely familiar with.

Miles Morales (Shameik Moore), a teenager who’s the son of police officer Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and nurse Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez), is your regular Brooklyn teenager. He is enrolled into a snooty private school and feels like only his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali), who encourages Miles’ artistic pursuits, really understands him. One night, while painting graffiti in an abandoned railway station, Miles is bitten by a radioactive spider, gaining super-strength, the ability to stick to surfaces by his hands and feet, the ability to emanate an electric shock and turn invisible, amongst various powers.

Wilson Fisk/Kingpin (Liev Schreiber), who owns the megacorporation Alchemax, is constructing a particle collider under the building. The collider opens a portal to other dimensions, leading to the Spider-themed heroes of various realms tumbling into Miles’ world. Peter B. Parker (Jake Johnson) is washed-up and reluctantly teaches Miles how to be Spider-Man. Gwen Stacy (Hailee Steinfeld) became Spider-Woman and was unable to save the Peter Parker of her universe from death. Peni Parker (Kimiko Glenn) is a schoolgirl who pilots a mech called SP//DR. Spider-Man Noir (Nicolas Cage) is a hard-boiled private eye from a stylised 1930s, and Peter Porker/Spider-Ham (John Mulaney) is a cartoon animal parody of Spider-Man. Together, these heroes from disparate realities must defeat Kingpin and other villains to find a way back to their respective dimensions, as Miles comes to grips with his newfound powers and the attendant responsibilities.

The filmmakers of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse are painfully aware that practically everyone knows the Spider-Man story, and this animated film is ambitious in that it’s a Spider-Man movie that’s partially about how there are so many Spider-Man movies. On a certain level, it’s philosophical, musing on the universal hero’s journey that echoes through all of fiction, presenting it in wild and woolly permutations. As an animated film, it’s naturally toyetic and is targeted mainly at a kid audience, but it’s also packed with meta jokes (likely influenced by the success of the Deadpool movies) and is not only self-aware but exhibits great medium awareness. This movie does a bunch of things that wouldn’t be possible in a live-action film, and it is interesting to see how that is handled.

However, what makes Into the Spider-Verse stand out from the typical Spider-Man movie also makes it a bit of a mess. The look of the film is a great place to start: the animation is dynamic and eye-catching, employing comic book panels, thought bubbles, onomatopoeia and Ben-Day dots, amongst other devices, to mimic the feel of a comic book. The style deliberately evokes the artwork of Ultimate Spider-Man co-creator Sara Pichelli, and the film is often wondrous to look at. However, there is so much chromatic aberration and the animation is deliberately jerky in a way that tries to blend 3D and 2D animation, so the visual flourishes can wind up being excessive and distracting.

The same is true of the story. We start with a basic Spider-Man template and focusing the story on the Miles Morales incarnation of Spidey does make things inherently different. The film wants its emotional anchor to be the relationship between Miles and his father, but the story gets so cluttered with its multiple Spider-people and villains that one can sometimes lose track of that thread.

Tonally, Into the Spider-Verse seems a little confused. There are plenty of jokes and a lot of the humour is self-referential, but in aiming for dramatic stakes, some scenes and plot points are shockingly dark. A character even gets punched to death onscreen. Some moments are effectively emotional, but others feel out of place.

The voice cast is excellent across the board. Shameik Moore’s Miles is excited but also confused and wracked with self-doubt, and the character is created to be relatable to a large audience, something Moore leans into in his performance.

Hailee Steinfeld captures Gwen’s confidence and charm, but also the quality of being haunted by a personal failure that follows most Spider-people. Jake Johnson brings a certain schlubby quality to his Spider-Man, but another thing that might lose some kids in the audience is that a main character in this movie is a divorced, out-of-shape Spider-Man facing a mid-life crisis.

Brian Tyree Henry brings both humour and authority to his portrayal of Jefferson, while Mahershala Ali’s laid-back coolness and the suggestion that there’s more going on with Miles ‘cool uncle’ than we know flesh the Aaron Davis character out satisfyingly.

Nicolas Cage’s Spider-Man Noir is one of the film’s highlights – and in the same year that he voiced Superman in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, as well. John Mulaney and Kimiko Glenn likewise play up how their characters homage classic Looney Tunes cartoons and schoolgirl/mech anime respectively.

Liev Schreiber’s Kingpin is at times almost as frightening as Vincent D’Onofrio’s in the Daredevil series, but the character’s especially exaggerated proportions can undercut his menace as a villain.

Lily Tomlin’s Aunt May, functioning kind of like Alfred with a Batcave-like secret headquarters that she oversees, is a delight.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is boldly experimental and hits more than it misses with its self-reflexive jokes. However, the film winds up feeling significantly longer than its 117 minutes, with a lot of plot to get to, in addition to feeling a little self-conscious about its out-there visual stylings. Stick around for a scene after the end credits.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Teen Titans Go! To the Movies review

TEEN TITANS GO! TO THE MOVIES

Director : Peter Rida Michall, Aaron Horvath
Cast : Greg Cipes, Scott Menville, Hynden Walch, Khary Payton, Tara Strong, Will Arnett, Kristen Bell, Nicolas Cage, Jimmy Kimmel, Halsey, Lil Yachty, Wil Wheaton, Patton Oswalt
Genre : Animation/Comedy
Run Time : 88 mins
Opens : 30 August 2018

Superhero movie saturation has become such a commonplace topic that there now exists a superhero movie specifically about that phenomenon. In Teen Titans Go! To the Movies, the titular DC team of junior superheroes is feeling left out – it seems that everyone, even the obscure likes of the Challengers of the Unknown, is getting their own movie.

This hits Robin (Scott Menville) particularly hard, because his guardian Batman (Jimmy Kimmel) seems to get movie after movie, while he is left in the shadows. Robin’s teammates Beast Boy (Greg Cipes), Starfire (Hynden Walch), Cyborg (Khary Payton) and Raven (Tara Strong) try to cheer him up, but to no avail. Robin lobbies film director Jade Wilson (Kristen Bell) to make a movie about him.

Deciding that what the team needs is an arch-nemesis to make a compelling movie, the Teen Titans take on Slade (Will Arnett), a dastardly mercenary looking to steal a powerful crystal. In their quest for justice/a movie deal, the Titans run into a variety of other heroes, including Superman (Nicolas Cage), Wonder Woman (Halsey), Green Lantern (Lil Yachty) and The Flash (Wil Wheaton).

There have been many incarnations of the Teen Titans in the comics, arguably the best-known being The New Teen Titans by Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is an extension of the Teen Titans Go! TV series, a comedic spinoff of the 2003 Teen Titans animated series. Teen Titans Go! has long been a bugbear of many fans. Those who grew up on the anime-esque Teen Titans series in the early 2000s consider the parody series to be an affront to their memory of the earlier show. Having grown up on the DC Animated Universe, which began with 1992’s Batman: The Animated Series, this reviewer would argue that while not without many redeeming qualities, the 2003 Teen Titans series was itself a marked step down from the DCAU.

This is a roundabout way of saying that the backlash to Teen Titans Go! mostly stems from a rejection of ‘childishness’ – quite cleverly, this is one of the themes in Teen Titans Go! To the Movies. In the film, the Teen Titans are dismissed by the other heroes because they can’t take anything seriously. This is a very silly film about just how silly superhero movies can be. On the surface, it’s all pratfalls, toilet humour and incongruous song and dance numbers. Beneath that, this movie delights in a playful meta deconstruction of superhero movies and their conventions, without losing sight of its primary audience.

The popular public conception of DC media as being darker than that of rival Marvel, sometimes to a self-conscious extent, gets a lot of play. We wish that directors Peter Rida Michall and Aaron Horvath could’ve seen bits of the upcoming live-action TV series Titans, which appears to fundamentally misunderstand the source material, just so the Teen Titans Go! version of Robin could mutter “fudge Batman”. Alas, we must make do with yet another Martha joke.

There’s a Catch-22 here: on the one hand, the detail-light and deliberately cartoony animation style of Teen Titans Go! doesn’t work particularly well on the big screen, especially when compared to the richness and technical wizardry of something like The LEGO Batman Movie. On the other hand, this being a theatrically-released movie is integral to the central premise of the Teen Titans going in search of their own movie.

The central voice cast from Teen Titans Go! and the original Teen Titans series returns, with several celebrities joining them. While notable-ish names from the music world Halsey and Lil Yachty don’t contribute too much, getting Nicolas Cage to voice Superman is a bit of a casting coup. Cage was attached to play Superman in Tim Burton’s Superman Lives, a film which didn’t come to fruition and is now legend among comic book movie fans.

Will Arnett, who voiced Batman in The LEGO Movie and The LEGO Batman Movie, voices Slade, and just like everyone else involved, sounds like he’s having the greatest time. There are several cameos which will elicit a chuckle or two.

Fans of comics and related media are often afraid of being perceived as childish, because of the long-held stigma that people who read comics or collect toys are socially mal-adjusted. While that appears to be changing, there’s still a fear of embracing silliness within the genre, which has led to overcompensating with ‘grimdark’ takes on the source material. Teen Titans Go! To the Movies examines this in a surprisingly nimble way. This reviewer still isn’t sure that it works amazingly on the big screen, especially in a summer which has given us Incredibles 2, but if you’re willing to let loose for a bit and not take yourself too seriously, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies is worth a look.

Stick around for a stinger after the main-on-end titles.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Left Behind

For F*** Magazine

LEFT BEHIND

Director : Vic Armstrong
Cast : Nicolas Cage, Nicky Whelan, Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Nicky Whelan, Lea Thompson, Jordin Sparks
Genre : Action, Sci-fi, Thriller
Opens : 2 Oct 2014
Rating : PG
Running time: 110 mins
Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins’ best-selling 1995 novel Left Behind has spawned a successful franchise including 15 further books, a young adult spin-off series and three films. Dissatisfied with how the movies turned out, LaHaye sought to remake the film series – he’s gotten his wish of a remake, but not of a “first-class, high-quality movie” as he desired. Airline pilot Rayford Steele (Cage) is stuck in an unhappy marriage, his wife Irene’s (Thompson) Christian beliefs driving both Rayford and their daughter Chloe (Thomson) away. TV news reporter Cameron “Buck” Williams (Murray) meets Chloe at the airport and takes a liking to her, coincidentally boarding the plane her father is flying. In the midst of the trans-Atlantic flight, passengers suddenly vanish. This seems to be a worldwide occurrence, with Christians and all children disappearing. With his co-pilot also gone, Captain Steele must land the jeopardised flight as those left behind struggle to figure out what has taken place.
            We have to feel sorry for whoever went “right, we’re rebooting Left Behind and we want people to take it seriously this time. I know, we’ll get Nicolas Cage!” The three films, starring actor/evangelist Kirk Cameron, were low-budget affairs that flew mostly under the mainstream radar. The thing is, whether one agrees with the eschatological viewpoint within or not, there’s potential in the story for a thrilling, intriguing film. Among Left Behind’s myriad problems is how this potential is squandered with its small scope and poor production values. Director Vic Armstrong is a respected stunt coordinator and second unit director, known for being Harrison Ford’s stunt double in the first three Indiana Jones movies. It’s a shame to see him directing something as embarrassing as this; the vehicular action carrying a distinctly artificial “stunt show” feel about it. At no point does it actually seem like this sudden global catastrophe is really that big of a deal; the budget not allowing for any Roland Emmerich-style vistas of destructive spectacle. The film also ditches the character of Nicolae Carpathia, the Antichrist, losing the international thriller aspect of the book.


            Instead, the film puts its focus squarely on the Rayford Steele character; Nicolas Cage really looking like he’d rather not be in this – and that’s saying something, given this is Nicolas Cage we’re talking about. Anyone coming into this purely to see Cage deliver some of his signature so-bad-it’s-good overacting will be disappointed – you’d think there would be at least one big freaking out scene. Chad Michael Murray, playing the role Kirk Cameron did in the previous films, seems to have difficulty figuring out how to go about his post-teen idol career. Cassi Thomson is bland and whiny as Chloe, but she’s still not as annoying as every last one of the stereotypical passengers on board Rayford’s flight. Nicky Whelan is the pretty blonde flight attendant Rayford plans on cheating on his wife with and there is very little more to her than that.

            From the moment we get a long look at a horribly-Photoshopped family photo, the film is a parade of unintentional comedy. That melodrama is exacerbated by Jack Lenz’s atrocious score, all the music cues overly-maudlin, obvious and cheap. It’s also a drag, the Rapture only actually occurring at around 35 minutes in. At some points, the filmmakers seem oddly out of touch – one character is surprised that another owns a mobile phone, yet the devices depicted are modern-day smartphones. Let’s face it, films catering especially to Christian audiences have generally been poorly-made and cringe-worthy. Unfortunately, the new Left Behind is no exception. The worst part of it all is that it didn’t need to be this way – after all, the HBO drama The Leftovers, set after the Rapture (albeit without the evangelical Christian focus), has managed to be thought-provoking, intelligent and sombre, if often downright depressing. Calling a Christian film “preachy” may sound like a moot point, but a subtler touch could have done Left Behind a world of good. We reckon audiences will be too busy laughing to do any real soul-searching.

Summary: In the Bible, 2 Peter 3:3 warns that “in the last days scoffers will come, mocking the truth…” – well, the ineptly-made Left Behind will only serve as a giant scoffer magnet.
RATING: 1.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong