The Titan movie review

For inSing

THE TITAN

Director : Lennart Ruff
Cast : Sam Worthington, Taylor Schilling, Tom Wilkinson, Agyness Deyn, Nathalie Emmanuel, Diego Boneta, Noah Jupe
Genre : Sci-fi
Run Time : 1h 37m
Opens : 5 April 2018
Rating : NC16

In 2009’s Avatar, Sam Worthington played a man who transfers his consciousness into an alien body. In this sci-fi thriller, Worthington turns into an alien-like being again, albeit under different circumstances.

It is 2045, and mankind is forced to find new means of survival. Overpopulation and environmental destruction have doomed earth. Professor Martin Collingwood (Tom Wilkinson) has devised a revolutionary new procedure which will alter the genetics of test subjects, changing their physiology so they can live on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Collingwood believes that this “forced evolution” is the future of humanity.

Former soldier Rick Janssen (Sam Worthington) is one of the test subjects in the Titan program. Together with his wife Abigail (Taylor Schilling) and son Lucas (Noah Jupe), Rick moves to a research facility where he will undergo the transformation into a new species adapted to life on Titan. Unexpected side effects begin to occur, with the other test subjects turning uncontrollably violent. Abigail realises that she hasn’t been told everything about what exactly will happen to her husband and must face the horrifying reality that this terrifying leap forward in evolution might just be the end of humanity as we know it.

In Singapore, The Titan is being released on Netflix and in theatres. Smaller-scale sci-fi films have always fascinated this reviewer – it’s fun to see how filmmakers circumvent budgetary restraints and tap on their creativity to convincingly create world with limited resources.

The Titan has an intriguing premise and establishes it with a degree of plausibility. The production values pass muster, and the film benefits from the picturesque shooting location of the Canary Islands in Spain. The film has a slow build and there is a sense of dread as to what unexpected mutation lies around the corner for Rick. Towards the end, it enters action movie mode, and that’s when the movie feels a little clumsy and not fully realised.

The theme of man playing god has often fascinated filmmakers, and while The Titan stays a safe distance from schlocky silliness, its exploration of this theme lacks depth. The wider social implications of this type of genetic experimentation don’t quite take hold. Director Lennart Ruff, working from a screenplay by Max Hurwitz (with Arash Amel receiving a ‘story by’ credit), attempts to put the focus on the characters rather than the technical aspects of the procedure. Unfortunately, the characters aren’t especially interesting.

Sam Worthington seemed destined for A-list stardom after the success of Avatar, and while that has eluded him, he’s continued working steadily in smaller projects. Rick is a rather generic hero and the movie doesn’t get far enough into his head for us to appreciate the inner torment he experiences as he undergoes the procedure. It’s not a bad performance, but it could’ve been more affecting.

Taylor Schilling’s Abigail is a paediatrician, and she has a more proactive role in the story than most designated love interests in films of this type do. Thanks to her medical expertise, she can tell that’s something is amiss, and takes it upon herself to find out just what is happening to her husband. The film’s most emotional moments are when we see Abigail process that her husband is being taken from her bit by bit.

Wilkinson lends gravitas and dutifully delivers exposition, but by the end of the film, Dr Collingwood emerges as a rather one-dimensional character.

The other test subjects, who are played by actors including Nathalie Emmanuel, Diego Boneta and Aaron Heffernan, aren’t given huge amounts of character development. The fates that befall the less fortunate test subjects are shocking enough but aren’t quite as horrific as body horror movie aficionados have come to expect. The film’s restraint in not falling back on over-the-top gore is admirable.

The Titan isn’t bad, it’s just one of those films that sounds more interesting on paper than it winds up being. As a smaller scale sci-fi film, The Titan doesn’t take its premise far enough to truly capture the imagination but is unique enough to warrant curiosity.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

This Beautiful Fantastic

THIS BEAUTIFUL FANTASTIC

Director : Simon Aboud
Cast : Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Wilkinson, Andrew Scott, Jeremy Irvine, Anna Chancellor
Genre : Drama/Comedy
Run Time : 1h 32min
Opens : 25 May 2017
Rating : PG

As Lady Sybil Crawley in Downton Abbey, Jessica Brown Findlay didn’t have to do much yard work. She’s making up for that in this comedy-drama, in which she plays Bella Brown. Bella is an aspiring children’s book author, who works in a library. She’s particular about keeping tidy, but not being an outdoorsy type, has never tended to the garden. Bella’s landlord gives her an ultimatum: get the garden in order, or get evicted. Bella’s cantankerous neighbour Alfie Stephenson (Wilkinson), who mistreats his housekeeper/cook Vernon (Scott), happens to be a gifted horticulturist. Alfie has great disdain for Bella because of Bella’s “crimes” against flora, but reluctantly agrees to help Bella clean up the garden, when Vernon quits because he’s tired of enduring Alfie’s abuse. Meanwhile, a young, absent-minded inventor named Billy (Irvine), who often visits the library to do research, catches Bella’s eye.

Writer-director Simon Aboud has pitched This Beautiful Fantastic as a contemporary fairy tale. Hardcore Anglophiles might be enamoured with this concentrated dose of twee – practically every review of this film will use the adjective ‘twee’. However, more cynical viewers will be painfully aware of how the movie is constantly tripping over itself in pursuit of charm and whimsy. It’s a pleasant film to look at and is ultimately a good-natured work, but the film cranks up the ‘adorkable’ factor to sometimes insufferable levels. The works of Roald Dahl appear to have had an influence on Aboud, specifically Matilda and Esio Trot. The “young person befriends grumpy old man” trope has been explored in the likes of Up and A Man Called Ove, with This Beautiful Fantastic delivering a largely typical take on that device.

Aboud does have a talented, likeable cast on hand, even if the characters hew too closely to recognisable archetypes. As the shy writer who would much rather get lost in a book than in the great outdoors, Findlay is fine. However, the character is defined more by her tics than by anything else. The prologue gives us Bella’s backstory, depicting her upbringing in an orphanage and establishing her Obsessive-Compulsive traits. It’s nothing to get worked up over, but the use of OCD to make a character seem peculiar but loveable is a tired device.

Wilkinson can play a curmudgeon in his sleep. He gets all the best lines, but it’s obvious that the crust which encases Alfie will gradually crumble away as the film progresses. The transformation he undergoes is all too abrupt, and while there’s meant to be tragedy behind why Alfie has ended up this way, these layers aren’t sufficiently fleshed out.

Scott seems miscast as Vernon, the awkward housekeeper and talented chef. Vernon is a beleaguered widower who has borne the brunt of Alfie’s invective so he can make a living and support his young twin daughters. Scott has made a name for himself playing supercilious, often sinister characters, and is unable to summon the unguarded sweetness that seems vital to a character like Vernon.

Then there’s Irvine, who seems to have stepped straight out of a sitcom. With unkempt hair, wire-rimmed glasses, a pencil tucked behind his ear, and barely balancing all his gear and books, all Billy is missing is a tattoo reading “nerd” inscribed upon his forehead. Irvine can be endearing, but is often annoying here – not obnoxiously so, but enough to be frustrated with. The love triangle between Bella, Vernon and Billy is not as big a part of the story as this reviewer feared, but still plays out as enough of a distraction from the gardening montages, which frankly aren’t all that interesting.

Instead of sweeping one up into a gently heightened world of wonder, This Beautiful Fantastic is at once too manufactured and too mundane to warrant complete surrender. It does not indulge in overt emotional manipulation and one can sense the earnestness behind it, but an excess of quirk and a lack of substance hampers the film from being the little gem it could’ve been.

Summary: This Beautiful Fantastic wants to be a delight and a curiosity, but even though it has its moments, the movie is too self-conscious and sometimes grating.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Denial

DENIAL

Director : Mick Jackson
Cast : Rachel Weisz, Tom Wilkinson, Timothy Spall, Andrew Scott, Alex Jennings, Caren Pistorius, Mark Gatiss
Genre : Biography/Historical/Drama
Run Time : 1h 50min
Opens : 17 November 2016
Rating : PG-13

denial-posterIn 2000, the U.K. saw one of the most explosive libel trials in history: Deborah Lipstadt (Weisz), an American historian, was sued by Holocaust denier David Irving (Spall). This film, based on Lipstadt’s book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier recounts the dramatic court proceedings. Irving, who contended that Hitler never ordered the genocide of Jews, claimed that Lipstadt had defamed him and damaged his reputation by calling him out on his claims. Lipstadt’s legal team is headed by solicitor advocate Anthony Julius (Scott), known for defending Princess Diana during her divorce from Prince Charles. Representing Lipstadt in the courtroom is Richard Rampton QC (Wilkinson), a leading British libel lawyer. With Irving representing himself and Sir Charles Grey (Jennings) as the presiding judge, the high-stakes case draws the attention of the press and holocaust survivors alike.

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It might be tempting for jaded audiences to dismiss Denial out of hand as bog-standard Oscar bait. After all, it has respectable actors, most of whom are British, re-enacting true events centring on heavy themes. We’d implore you to set your cynicism aside, because this is a story worth telling. Each passing year puts more distance between us and the atrocities of the Second World War, but films like Denial rightly champion the relevance and value of remembering and learning about the Holocaust. Most viewers aren’t historians or lawyers, so it falls to screenwriter/playwright David Hare to adapt Lipstadt’s book into digestible morsels. The resulting film is engaging, easy to follow and even thrilling at the right junctures.

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Director Mick Jackson’s body of work, including blockbusters The Bodyguard and Volcano, might not belie subtlety. However, Jackson did win an Emmy for directing the made-for-HBO biopic Temple Grandin. There are times when it feels that the technicalities of the trial have been oversimplified for brevity, clarity and dramatic license, but Denial never comes off as overwrought or condescending. There is an effort made to be faithful to actual events: all the dialogue in the courtroom scenes is taken verbatim from the trial records. The sequence in which Lipstadt, Rampton and the legal team travel to Auschwitz to gather facts was shot on location and is appropriately haunting and sombre. The judicious use of brief flashbacks depicting the Jewish prisoners in the concentration camp are a way for the reality to hit home without the film being emotionally manipulative.

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Weisz is an actress who effortlessly embodies fierce intelligence, and the Oscar-winner gets to sink her teeth into a wonderfully meaty role here. Lipstadt is characterised as a principled, serious academic, who doesn’t take kindly to being told she cannot stand up for herself and who baulks at being discouraged from testifying. Weisz is an English actress playing an American woman, surrounded by English actors using their natural accents, and is completely believable. In the English justice system, the burden of proof lies with the defendant, not the plaintiff, something which baffles Lipstadt. When Lipstadt clashes with her legal team, we’re rooting for her, and she’s not afraid to admit she was wrong when she realises the rationale behind their advice.

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Seeing as this is based on Lipstadt’s first-hand account, it stands to reason that David Irving would be characterised as a thoroughly despicable man, but one could argue that he’s done a fine enough job of that on his own. Still, there’s a complexity to Irving’s views, however skewed, which gets skimmed over in Denial. Irving doesn’t dispute that Jews were killed by Nazis; he disputes that there was an executive order from Hitler specifically targeting Jews. As depicted in the film, Irving seizes on minutiae, distorting the facts to serve his ideology. He longs to be taken seriously in academia despite his views. It’s been said that it’s more fun playing bad guys, and Spall’s performance is evidence of that. Spall has an expressive visage, visibly relishing every second of hateful bluster and does a whole lot of indignant frowning.

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While Scott may be better known for his villainous roles, he’s also fun to watch as Lipstadt’s steadfast ally. He’s composed but direct and keeps a stiff upper lip. Wilkinson’s Rampton looks at first to be a crusty curmudgeon and Lipstadt locks horns with him, but then we get one of the film’s best scenes, in which they cordially break bread and come to an understanding. As architectural historian Robert Jan Van Pelt, an expert witness for the defence, Mark Gatiss turns in a quietly moving, thoughtful performance. Caren Pistorius also makes an impact in her relatively small role as Laura Tyler, a young lawyer on her first case. In her introductory scene, Tyler visits Irving’s house to deliver materials the defence has gathered, and glowers at him in disgust. Lipstadt later develops a heart-warming, almost maternal bond with Tyler.

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Denial may not be the most searing or pertinent film based on a true story, but it is insightful and emotional all the same. Bringing history into the courtroom changes things up from your average legal drama, and its real-life heroine is one you’ll be cheering for throughout the film.

Summary: The court case at the centre of Denial is a tricky one to bring to life, but an able cast led by Rachel Weisz at her sharpest and a sound, cogent script make it a moving, thought-provoking piece.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong