It would be easy to get cynical of another ‘Netflix original’ movie after three made it into my least favourite movies of 2020. However as the streaming service continues to attract major Hollywood talent, sooner or later a gem would surface. This George Clooney vehicle, which he also directs has him as Augustine, a lone scientist in a research facility in Antartica following a global catastrophe that has wiped out much of mankind. However after receiving a message from a space station travelling back to earth, Augustine races against time to warn the crew of the dangers of a planet they once called home.
This very heart-felt drama has a stand out turn from Clooney, an actor I’ve often enjoyed. His character, who is terminally ill, is complex and believable as a man who has put so much into his career, he’s forgotten how to live. The supporting cast of astronauts, lead by Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything) are also well rounded and convincing. The space bits bare more than a resemblance to Sandra Bullock hit Gravity, whilst the on earth segments feel more like a man-verses-nature survival story … and these two sides make for a compelling whole. Both settings can feel claustrophobic with imminent danger, that although the pace was slow at times I never stopped being fully invested.
For such a concept, a lack of grandeur can be forgiven considering this is more a character piece, although a little light shed on the virus or incident that’s gone down would have been welcome. I was also left wanting a little more detail regarding certain choices Augustine makes in his back story. However, with a genuine gut-punch of an emotional ending, I still came away from this impressed.
I have been an admirer of the work of sibling directors Joel & Ethan Coen for many years now and count movies like The Big Lebowski and Fargo amongst some of the best movies I’ve seen. However sometimes these talented guys seem to stumble upon an idea that for one reason or another just doesn’t work – and I’m surprised to say, this is one such movie.
The plot follows a day in the life of a movie studio exec (Josh Brolin), sometime in the early 1950s, where musicals and swords & sandals epics were all the rage. It’s certainly a fascinating setting and one I was hoping would be a great backdrop to an intriguing kidnap storyline, at least that’s the idea the trailer gave me. However following the mysterious abduction of their biggest star, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), Brolin finds himself being forced to come up with a ransom whilst at the same time juggling a myriad of other issues at the studio.
Now you see here lies the problem … there’s a lot of things going on here; Scarlett Johansson appears as a tough-talking pregnant starlet whose lack of a husband puts her image (and that of the studio) in question. Also twin reporters turn up trying to dish the dirt on Baird Whitlock’s past and a dim-witted western star get’s the opportunity to do his first speaking part in a new movie. Oh and there’s some dancing sailors too, headed by Channing Tatum. Yet despite these admittedly colourful characters, along with Clooney they’re written so one dimensional that it was really hard to care about any them. Johansson, considering she’s one of the most bankable actresses around at the moment gets two redundant scenes, and Clooney’s plot is more perplexing and confusing than gripping.
The movie isn’t without it’s moments though. It looks fantastic (thanks to regular collaborator Roger Deakins) and behind the scenes segments of movies being made will always pull me in. The dialogue at times is also pretty comical (a meeting with various representatives of different religious faiths to discuss a biblical epic is a stand out). Yet the comedy isn’t strong enough to hide the fact the movie fails to go anywhere even remotely interesting and no attention to set design, costumes or musical numbers can make up for such a glaring flaw.
On initially seeing the trailer to this true story set in WWII, the casting of George Clooney, Matt Damon, John Goodman, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchet made me eager to see it. I missed it at the cinema but immediately took the opportunity when it arrived for online rental. Clooney who also directs is a soldier and professor who puts together a band of art historians and curators to journey into occupied France and Germany on a mission to take back stolen works of art.
Blanchet plays a woman who works for the German army but is secretly in league with the resistance who stumbles upon the Germans stealing priceless paintings as the war draws to a close. Historically this was fascinating and the fact Hitler was after this art is quite eye-opening, and made me want to read up on more of what was going on back then. Performance-wise this has an impressive roster of faces, although I found only Clooney and Blanchet stood out (her French accent is very good, and Clooney deliver’s emotional speeches brilliantly). So what was the likes of Murray and Goodman doing here? Of course I’m not expecting a comedy, but their presence just felt wasted, as neither got what you might call time in the spotlight. This was also a film of padding, with a few scenes just there and not really adding a great deal to the narrative (the smoking scene…).
On a plus this is a great looking movie. Production is top-notch recreating the era convincingly and the set design and cinematography are both impressive. The flirty pairing of Blanchet and Matt Damon was also interesting. For a gentler take on events in WWII this was engrossing and at times quite moving. I was left wishing there had been more danger and tension, but for the most part this was still good entertainment.
The type of movie that sells itself from the trailer alone. Seeing Sandra Bullock being flung around space as a space station shatters around her was both exhilarating and exciting … what was this? It felt fresh and new, a whole new cinematic ‘experience’ that finally warranted the dawn of 3D.
I can’t watch 3D, something to do with the fact I am only partially sited in one eye. Shame I know, but for the most part I’m not bothered. This however was the first movie I have seen where I really wish I could have seen it in all it’s multi-dimensional glory. Sandra Bullock is an astronaut working at a space station orbiting earth along with seasoned astronaut George Clooney. However when disaster strikes they are left stranded and floating in the ominous void of space with limited oxygen and limited hope, with no communication with back home. Will they survive?
I thought immediately this was a stunning looking movie, with the special effects, sound-design and camera work all state-of-the-art, transporting this viewer right there and believe me, that’s a unnerving place to be. Director Alfonso Cuarón (Children Of Men) cements his growing reputation as a visual auteur, delivering moments that truly challenge what is possible on film. How some of these shots were achieved baffles me, but that’s the magic of cinema. Bullock is very good in the central role, even if I’d have liked a bit more desperate emotion out of her (but still looks great in and erm, out of her suit), and Clooney is basically Clooney, charismatic but nothing we haven’t seen from him a dozen times. Also that moment Bullock starts barking to a radio transmission … bit odd that.
Yet this is a movie that is all about experience, about being there, about feeling disorientated and about hoping everything turns out ok. In which respect, it excels.
When a movie has a good cast, it can make it one to see regardless of subject matter. However a good time isn’t guaranteed as I realised watching Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy. Thankfully this isn’t the case here. George Clooney plays a politician in running for President and with one more state to win over it is up to his campaign team to make him look good. However when a potential scandal emerges, it’s up to his best team member (Ryan Gosling) to make it go away.
Co-starring such talents as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Marisa Tomei … this is gritty and stylish, peppered with sharp dialogue and cool, classy direction from George Clooney who plays a perfectly believable clean-cut Politician sporting plenty of arrogance. Gosling, as with the earlier Drive is again great, naive but also ruthless in his goals. I also totally love Seymour Hoffman in anything, and he doesn’t disappoint here.
A big plot development towards the end left me a little confused, but that is all I can really say against this, as for a movie about a subject I know very little about – this proved surprisingly absorbing and comes highly recommended.
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