I was so disappointed… instead of the tough, capable Weaver or Rapace, we get a bunch of panicky crew members who make very bad decisions, leading to all of their deaths and leaving evil android David in charge of thousands of frozen would-be colonists. These people have no capacity for fighting, thinking clearly in an emergency situation, or prioritizing… and for some reason everyone in the crew is a married couple, so when their partner dies they become useless. More importantly, it’s no fun watching them walk into traps that we Alien-movie vets easily see coming and just die unceremoniously. Each movie brought something new to the table until this one, which only rehashes things we’ve seen before.

But then I was pondering on the way home – maybe this bunch of useless, easily dispatched characters was assembled on purpose. David says something about humans being a failed species on the evidence that they need a space colonization program in the first place, that it’s worth letting them die, and he’s going to make sure it happens. Maybe this is the opinion of Ridley and the umpteen writers, and they prove their point by having humanity’s most vital mission entrusted to these bozos. The Alien series stories always featured individuals fiercely triumphing over adversity, over external forces and internal human greed, and now Ridley has given his corporate lords another space-massacre movie to sell, but he no longer sees a society worth saving.

Captain Billy Crudup is a Christian, which is mentioned every time he’s on screen to diminished effect from the Prometheus origin-story wonderings. He lasts a good while, is finally replaced by the Carey Mulligan-looking Katherine Waterston (Queen of Earth, Inherent Vice) down on the planet and Cowboy Danny McBride (of mostly James Franco movies) in the ship. The star, of course, is Michael Fassbender as both drama queen David and buttoned-up Walter. They are identical-ish, and in the finale they switch places and you totally can’t tell except that you’ve been expecting it the entire movie, then you know they’ve switched places and you’re waiting for the rest of the characters to discover it and it’s exasperating, then finally it’s too late and you think “good, to hell with humanity.”

Ehrlich called it “majestically shot” and Matt Lynch said “gorgeous,” hmmm, maybe I was sitting too close? Also, come to think of it, David also genocides an entire planet of those bald guys from Prometheus, so maybe it’s less anti-humanity than anti-life.

First Nacho movie I’ve watched since Timecrimes – I missed his Extraterrestrial and didn’t hear much about Open Windows. Anne Hathaway, not a fraction as messed up as she was in Rachel Getting Married, a movie that has been on everyone’s minds lately, is still somewhat messed up, moving to her old town and hooking up with Jason Sudeikis (Floyd in 30 Rock), then with younger Austin Stowell (Whiplash), causing Jason to unfurl his rage and become a supervillain. Anne can become/control a giant beast stomping Korea by stepping into a local playground at a certain time in the morning, and Jason can become a giant robot, and they have drunken childish playground wars while real people die (we assume, all off-camera) across the world, until he gets fully out of control and she travels to Korea and turns the tables, her avatar now in America facing down the puny Sudeikis.

Tim Blake Nelson, who I’ve seen in six movies and never recognized, is a bar buddy who Jason badly offends then he never returns, and Matthew Crawley is Anne’s ex who returns to rescue her from this nowhere small town.

M. D’Angelo:

Colossal never quite decides whether it’s about the unwitting havoc caused by an alcoholic or the toxic behavior of a closet misogynist, and it veers uncertainly between goofy comedy and genuine ugliness. Furthermore, placing the giant avatars in another country suggests barbed commentary on collateral damage caused by American foreign policy — rich potential that the movie ignores … Even at its most muddled, Colossal taps into the universal secret conviction that one’s most trivial actions and emotions are somehow world-consequential.

Preceded by the Peter Huang short 5 Films About Technology – episodes about people’s lives being ruined by cellphone technology – which I guess fits thematically with Colossal in that Katy points out that ever since Certain Women she’s realized all modern movies are about alienation and peoples’ inability to connect.

We’re dumped into the middle of a complex situation in a mechanized future city, where teenage kids are piloting giant robots to fend off invading aliens, or “angels,” then as the show settles into a groove of one angel per episode (each requiring either skill, strategy, or brute force/rage to defeat) it gradually fills in the details – some of them, anyway. Plenty of questions remain: why teenagers? Where do the alien-angels come from, and how are they connected to the apparently partly-biological robots (or “evas”)? Who’s the shadowy organization that runs the shadowy organization that runs the eva program and where did they get their plans and prophecies from? Why do the main characters have a pet penguin? And why is every single character in this show extremely neurotic?

I get that we’re in Japan, so of course there are teenagers piloting giant robots and of course there’s an out-of-place, comic-relief pet penguin. These traditions endure from Voltron to Macross/Robotech to Gundam to American movies like Robot Jox and Pacific Rim. I just played a 2015 Japanese video game in which cool dudes and underdressed sexy ladies pilot giant robots to kill marauding aliens, accompanied by a comic-relief talking potato, so it’s still going strong.

Our heroes:

Things get dark quickly:

The show is obsessed with numbering things (the third child, unit 04, seventh construction phase of tokyo-3, twelfth angel, second branch, code 707), feeling at times like the script was written in Excel. Set in the futuristic time of 2015-2016.

Seele or Nerv or something:

Our tormented lead character is Shinji. He lives with Misato, a hard-drinkin’ penguin-owner who runs mission control along with ex-rival Ritsuko and ex-flame Kaji, or actually I’m not sure what any of their jobs are because I watched the show slowly and missed or forgot some details. Also living with them is super-cocky pilot Asuka, whose whole world falls apart if she can’t be the best at everything. And living on her own is the quiet, often-injured Rei. Everyone has major, major parental and/or love-life issues, the worst of which is that Shinji’s dad Ikari runs the shadowy Eva organization Nerv but has never once spoken to his son with affection, and has a weird offscreen relationship with Rei, who he might be cloning.

Rei-clones:

Ikari-hand:

Then in the final episodes, instead of polishing off the story it dives into the tortured minds of the lead characters for an experimental-film psychoanalysis session. “This is the me that exists in your mind.” Shinji meets the perfect friend who turns out to be the final angel and must be killed by Shinji’s own hands. Asuka’s and Shinji’s moms die repeatedly in flashback. Ikari talks to an eyeball in his disfigured hand. Rei keeps being resurrected. Even the penguin is sent to live with someone else. Finally, Shinji reaches self-acceptance. “It’s okay for me to be here.” I found parts of the final episodes whiny and repetitive, but over the next few days warmed up to the idea of the whole series having been a prolonged Shinji therapy session.


The End of Evangelion (1997)

Then, the movie remakes those last two episodes the way the fans preferred: with mad apocalypse instead of therapy. There are still sexual and parental hangups, petty grievances, inter-agency power struggles, and everyone’s still super lonely and unhappy, but now there’s more sci-fi storyline to go with it. Nine new winged evas are unleashed along with military forces upon our Tokyo base, decimating it. Asuka goes on the biggest homicidal rampage of all time, taking down all the new evas, then Shinji has the biggest crippling self-doubt paralysis of all time, then every other character in the entire series is killed, then Rei becomes a planet-sized god, rapturing and absorbing the souls of all humanity. Unfortunately, the underground control panel nerds stay alive until the very end so they can keep spouting nonsense:

“Ikari has installed a Type 666 firewall on the MAGI’s external feed circuits.”

“Psychograph signal down!”

and my favorite,

“Pilot response approaching infinite zero!”

Said to be one of the best anime series ever… after this and Paranoia Agent I wonder what I should try next. Apparently Death & Rebirth is a skippable movie, condensed from the series and End of Evangelion movie, and there’s a trilogy of remake movies from 2007-2012 from the original creative team, which might be good, but I’ll hold off watching those since Wikipedia says there’s a part four coming. Writer/director Hideaki Anno apparently created the series (particularly the finale) in response to his own battle with depression. He started out as an animator on Nausicaa, also made Cutie Honey (which I enjoyed), some other kid/teen animated shows, and I guess he’s making the next Godzilla movie. Codirector Kazuya Tsurumaki directed the weirdo series FLCL.

Something wonderful (inflatable medical robot turned flying/fighting machine against its own will) combines with standard superhero-team origin-story and standard double-revenge plot with standard twist ending (you mean the most extremely obvious suspect doesn’t turn out to be the shadowy masked villain?). Adequately racially/sexually-diverse team of genius tech-nerd college kids use their lab experiments to defeat their own professor who has hijacked young Hiro’s micro-bots to destroy the military-capitalist who sent the prof’s daughter into another dimension. Interdimensional rescue of cryo-sleeping daughter unexpectedly recalls Interstellar, and robot’s self-sacrifice to serve man, floating away half-wrecked, recalls Terminator 2. Actually made me kinda sad, but as with Guardians of the Galaxy, we get a rebirth epilogue. As much as the world calls out for sequels to recent hit Disney movies, they keep putting out new stuff like this, to their credit.

So, in the straightforward ending, pre-crime dept. head Max Von Sydow murdered precog Samantha Morton’s inconvenient mother and good cop Colin Farrell, while Cruise’s ex-wife springs him from The Attic to bring justice and a happy ending. But an article Katy found says the ending is too idyllic and perhaps Cruise never awoke from The Attic, but actually dreams the last half hour Brazil-style. I love that the movie works either way.

Highlights: creepy doctor Peter Stormare and the following scene with retina-scanning spiders invading his apartment complex, Cruise escaping via auto assembly line, Morton’s freaked-out performance, the still-exciting technology and how most of it is becoming real. Katy is hung up on the mismatched architecture/design styles of all the interiors.

March 2077: I’ll be on an airplane, so I grab the dumbest-looking movie I can find at work to watch through a dramamine haze. A Tom Cruise actioner from last year that I already have no recollection of: that’ll do nicely. I’m playing a feature-length game of “spot the reference,” as it seems to have been concocted from scraps of sci-fi thrillers past. It’s all a bit silly, but undeniably strong-looking, and its sleek production design (and the face of To The Wonder’s Olga Kurylenko) lingered in my mind afterwards.

Cruise plays a Wall-E type named Jack Reacher, left behind to clean up earth after everyone else has moved into space. But he’s also a Moon type, since it turns out Cruise is thousands of clones of himself (maybe that’s more Galactica), and it turns out humanity survives underground and the “people” in space are evil aliens (who blew up the moon in an obvious Mr. Show reference) using fake video images of Melissa Leo to interact with their clone slaves. But Cruise is not a slave, likes to read classic literature and builds a rustic nature shack and nurtures a potted plant and watches Hello Dolly on a creaky old tube TV. No he doesn’t, but it’s funny how the human stuff Cruise salvages for his shack is already old now – classic rock LPs and antique-looking refrigerators.

Clone Cruise has a Clone Wife (Andrea Riseborough of Happy-Go-Lucky) but dreams of Olga, and when she crash-lands after being in orbit for however-many years, they team up with the undergrounders (led by Morgan Freeman) to nuke the mothership, threatened by spherical alien drones with great bassy doom-growl voices (clearly the presence of flying death orbs in a film called OblIVion is a shout to the fourth Phantasm movie).

“Copy 4-0-9, tasking 1-8-5 to grid 2-2.” The movie likes saying numbers aloud, and its mix of all-knowing and easily-fooled technology is nearly plot-hole-worthy – for instance, after Cruise goes for a walk the robots can track his DNA from the air at speed, a light-up trail tracing his exact path, but they always take ten seconds of him yelling his name at them before they stop threatening him with guns. And the planet seems to be all mapped into robot-patrolled grids within alien-drawn neighborhoods, each manned by a Tom Cruise, but his entire Walden shack goes unnoticed for years, and when he follows a homing beacon all the way from base, he doesn’t even know what kind of structure the signal is coming from until he walks right up to it. So they’ve gotten both better and worse than google maps. But I like the all-white Apple-like alien tech with its triangular motif, and the effects are cool and the M83 music pretty great.

We have the technology. The time is now. Science can wait no longer. Children are our future. America can, should, must and WILL blow up the moon! And we’ll be doing it during a full moon, so we make sure we get it all.

I think if Cloud Atlas took itself and its themes and lessons super-seriously it could have been tragically awful. The nursing home segment, genre thrills and obviously silly makeup help keep things on the amusing side. Another way to make the movie awful would be to present it as an anthology, separating the stories and letting each play through, since the main interesting thing about the film is its cross-cutting and the tentative connections between segments, previous events echoing into later ones, sometimes misinterpreted.

Clown Atlas:

Movie is full of “oh who is that guy, I’ve seen him before” moments, but mostly it’s because the same actor played a different role in the previous scene. I kept getting Ben Whishaw (of Bright Star and I’m Not There, playing the young composer/amanuensis) mixed up with Jim Sturgess, and wrongly imagined one or both of them might be Benedict Cumberbatch.

Pacific Islands, 1849: Mad doctor Tom Hanks poisons Jim Sturgess for his money aboard a slave ship.

Cambridge, 1936: Two guys in love – Ben Whishaw goes to work for composer Jim Broadbent (the second movie I’ve seen with an amanuensis after Delius – suppose it’s a cinematic way of showing the artistic creation process) and later kills himself.

San Francisco, 1973: Halle Berry is a reporter onto a murderous secret over some nuclear files provided by the guy from 1936 who didn’t kill himself (a Ralph Fiennes-looking James D’Arcy).

London, 2012: Gangsta author Hanks kills a literary critic, story follows his agent Jim Broadbent to a prison-like old folks home (governed by evil nurse Hugo Weaving) from which he plots to escape.

Neo Seoul, 2144: Doona Bae is a “fabricant”, a robot slave, freed in mind and body by militant freedom fighter Jim Sturgess – very Matrix-meets-V-for-Vendetta.

Big Isle, 106 Winters After The Fall: Hanks is tribal type haunted by an evil clown, rescues space-travelin’ Berry from cannibal warriors led by Hugh Grant.

Susan Sarandon also appears, and Wachowski favorite Hugo Weaving is everywhere. I never recognized Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe) as the poisoned lawyer on the ship and lead revolutionary of Neo Seoul, Doona Bae (sister/archer in The Host) as the escaped fabricant, nor Keith David (The Thing, They Live) as the cop who helps reporter Berry in the 70’s. Also lost track of what the comet birthmark shared by some characters signified.

Aliens vs. Robots.

Robots win.

Stars Stringer as Stacker in Striker. Bland main guy is Charlie Hunnam, Ron Perlman’s Sons of Anarchy costar. Rinko Kikuchi was the newcomer who got all the buzz in Babel, later in The Brothers Bloom and Norwegian Wood. Stacker is father-figure to Rinko, who is soulmate bro-bot to Hunnam. Two scientists are racing for the bomb that is the prize: stuffy Brit is Burn Gorman of BBC’s Bleak House, excitable kaiju fan is Charlie Day of It’s Always Sunny. Lot of TV actors here. There are other foreign robot pilot teams, all dead, all dead. And Ron Perlman plays a huge badass. Obviously.

Garrone’s follow-up to Gomorrah prompts a lot more smiles and less dread, though the dread builds towards the end. The second fiction I’ve seen after Dead Set revolving around the show Big Brother, which must be bigger in Europe (or maybe it was huge here and I just haven’t noticed).

Opens with a great helicopter shot with Elfmanesque music. Luciano, who runs a fish market and plays a noisy blue-wigged woman at parties, is coerced by his family into interviewing for Big Brother at a local mall, then he gets a callback interview at Cinecitta. He becomes obsessed with the show, sells his business to prepare for stardom and gives all his possessions to the homeless to impress producers he thinks are spying on him, but the season’s cast is announced and his phone never rings, so he takes to stalking the show’s spokesman, a former winner named Enzo. Luciano’s obsession grows, but he also learns to hide it from his family, so at the end he wanders off during a trip to Rome, sneaks into the Big Brother house, and the camera pulls slowly out as he laughs crazily to himself.

There’s also a scam plot involving Luciano and his brother getting local seniors to apply for free government-issued robots (?!). I caught one of the gun-happy kids from Gomorrah as a bartender. Alexandre Desplat contributes the wonderful fantasy score.

Reverse Shot:

Back home in Italy, the film has registered more keenly, perhaps because they are still crawling out from under a prime minister whose legacy is marked by tax evasion and media monopoly, game shows and bouncing bimbos. A show predicated on voyeurism and humiliation like Big Brother, the program that sits like a bioluminescent tumor at the center of Garrone’s film, would seem to be the quintessential cultural marker for a period led by a man who was once a cruise-ship and nightclub crooner. Reality is then the unspoken anti-Berlusconi film of the moment, interrogating at once a culture of crassness, wild social inequality, and blatant fraudulence, both financial and otherwise.