Robert Heinlein’s “–All You Zombies–” has long been considered one of the most impossible short stories to adapt into film. To reveal why would be to give the twist at the heart of the story away. Even to say that is to pretend its twist is a gimmick, instead of the very pulse that drives the film.
“–All You Zombies–” was the seminal time travel story in science fiction for decades. It was decked in controversy and a “who cares” attitude. It was the defining moment in Heinlein changing sci-fi from mere adventure tales into questions that uncomfortably probe the nature of how we’re built as a society, the judgments we adhere to simply through habit.
“Predestination” counts alongside “Gattaca” not just as the most important films Ethan Hawke has starred in during his career, but as films that exemplify what science-fiction is at its very best. And though Hawke’s performance is varied and exceptional, it’s Sarah Snook who stands out as remarkable. Again, to delve into it too deeply would be to ruin something special.
“Predestination” isn’t some small film that came out of nowhere either. The Australian Film Institute awards are the equivalent of the United States’ Oscars. “Predestination” was nominated for nine, winning four of them.
I’d highly recommend searching it out. It’s not hard to find via streaming or renting, and the film’s rhythm and mystery are second to none. This is the greatest mindbender of last year.
It is really hard to get me interested in a romantic comedy. Not because I don’t like the genre – it’s none of that “I’m a guy, I can’t do this” guff. It’s because so many are made with the wrong priorities in mind: either stressing Disney-fied “one true love” views of love or deconstructing male friendship toward women as quiet obsessions that would be creepy as hell in the real world yet are nearly always rewarded with a woman-as-prize on film. Neither represents good lessons for either gender.
Give me a Sliding Doors or a 10 Things I Hate About You or even a Forgetting Sarah Marshall or Love Actually any day of the week. But hold the cloying copycat junk. Give me something unique, and I’m as excited for a romantic comedy as I am for any other kinds of film. Which leads me to:
TRAILER OF THE WEEK
I’ve been waiting for Lake Bell to become the next Sandra Bullock for a while now. Armed with a similar sensibility for communicating women finding their way in the world (and being OK with it), but with a voice actor’s knack for accents and an eye toward directing, she finally seems to be breaking through.
Pairing my favorite comic actress with my favorite comic actor – Simon Pegg – makes this film by British TV director Ben Palmer jump out of seemingly nowhere to near the top of my list. Like I said up top, I’m not a sucker for most romantic comedies – it takes a lot to get me interested. Lake Bell, Simon Pegg, and a trailer like this? That all gets me interested.
No one films Ireland like Ken Loach, and the director of the quietly poetic war drama The Wind That Shakes the Barleyreturns to that 1920s and 30s era he depicted so beautifully to visit another moment in Irish history, when a new government – fearful of fascism and communism – cracked down on anything that seemed new or different, that questioned Catholicism or hinted at socialism.
Loach is among the best directors that few viewers know. His films are always visits into other places, times, and worlds, pieces of simmering working class drama filled with human connection and visual poetry. He’s a director who cuts you to your core in the gentlest of ways, like a singer whose voice both calms the soul and haunts it for days.
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – ROGUE NATION
For all intents and purposes, it looks like M:I picked up the borderless rogue state concept that the Bond series developed so well in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, brushed it off, wondered aloud why the hell Bond would just casually drop such a well-developed plot, and said, “Finder’s keepers.”
Why did Bond drop that plot anyway? Oh yeah, that’s why.
If Bond doesn’t want it, I’m happy for M:I to start mattering a bit more than it has in the past. The series continues to get better and fresher as Tom Cruise’s policy of a new director every film leads to giving upcoming action auteurs their best chance to show off all that they’ve got.
It’s a smart-as-hell business model that’s led J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird to bigger live-action fare, and Christopher McQuarrie, longtime writer (The Usual Suspects, Valkyrie, Edge of Tomorrow) and fairly new director (The Way of the Gun, Jack Reacher) may turn out to be a better director than either.
Do I put a serious movie about the ethics of drone warfare above or below the Mission: Impossible trailer? This is a monumentally worthless question, but it’s still one that gave me pause. In the end, it’s not a great trailer. Mission: Impossible‘s is better. But Good Kill looks like it could be a great project. I trust in most things Ethan Hawke, if not in the totality of every movie then at least in his very honest and forthright performances.
Director Andrew Niccol is one of the most up-and-down directors you find. Gattaca remains one of the most important movies of the 90s and one of the most important and singular science-fiction movies ever made. Lord of War featured, in my book, Nicolas Cage’s best performance. Then you have S1m0ne, a thoughtful but ill-constructed comedy, and The Host (the U.S. sci-fi movie, not the fun Korean monster flick). Somewhere in the middle, you have the stylish but rather void Justin Timberlake-vehicle In Time.
Which Andrew Niccol shows up to a given film is difficult to pin down, but Good Kill feels most in synch with Lord of War, and that’s promising. It also reteams Niccol with Hawke. The last time that happened, we got Gattacca. Count me cautiously optimistic.
THE TRANSPORTER REFUELED
This trailer to a FOURTH movie in a franchise that barely managed to hang together a first one has no business making me smile. It doesn’t even have Jason Statham in it.
It looks like something I’d watch. Mind you, it doesn’t look like anything I’d have high expectations for. But sometimes those are two different things. In fact, when it comes to The Transporter series, those are always two different things.
WORST TRAILER OF THE WEEK PIXELS
This idea of classic video game characters invading Earth wasn’t a bad one when Futurama did it. In 2002. It’s just that the cast, led by Adam Sandler and Kevin James, also seems better suited to 2002. Nothing against the actors, but they don’t seem the most appropriate to headline this level of comedy anymore. Hell, Sandler agreed to do one recent comedy only because it included a free trip to South Africa. Their star hasn’t burned out, but it has grown tiresome and repetitive. Imagine Tina Fey, Kevin Hart, Zach Galifianakis, Kristen Wiig, Jennifer Aniston, or Jason Segel in these roles.
Melissa McCarthy – who I’m generally not a fan of because she’s been stuck David Spade-like into movies that make fun of one element of her persona – would slaughter a movie like this. Dice it into little pieces and put it in a soup. Kill it. She would. McCarthy.
Point is, everything about this movie seems…well, not good but at least promising, until you see the faces. Then any notion of clever goes out the window, and “derivative” bolds, underlines, and ALL-CAPS itself. Obviously, I don’t hold out much hope for DERIVATIVE. Er, I mean Pixels.
There were a few fantastic trailers from Australia and New Zealand this week that I didn’t want to get lost in our regular edition, especially because this next film just became my most anticipated:
PREDESTINATION Trailer #2
Here’s the thing about Predestination. It’s based on a Robert Heinlein short story about a time traveler who descends from himself…by impregnating himself before a sex change.
The trailer doesn’t breathe a word of this, but if you know the material, you can see it strongly hinted. Perhaps the film just uses the Heinlein name and the time travel concept. Even if that’s true, it still looks like a visually arresting thriller.
BUT! And this might be the biggest “but” in film history – if it addresses Heinlein’s concept in any way (and I wouldn’t put it past Ethan Hawke to tackle it), we are in for a hell of an ambitious film.
Heinlein’s short story “All You Zombies” is a stunning mindbender about a man who creates his entire lineage using temporal paradoxes. In the time it was written, it was an important and challenging metaphor for the struggles of the transgendered, and made readers feel real emotion for a character they might have ridiculed were he a real person standing before them.
Predestination might just be a time travel noir using the barest framework of Heinlein’s story. But if it’s not…oh boy, if it’s not, if it’s true to Heinlein, it’s one of the most difficult – and potentially most important – film adaptations ever tackled.
THE DEAD LANDS Trailer #1
I’m a big fan of action films about indigenous peoples, because you know what? Indigenous peoples had action franchises, too. Occasionally, a film like this is exploitative, but a surprising amount of the time there’s a real passion and dedication that goes into presenting these societies in detail, and proudly.
The Dead Lands is being produced by the same group that financed Indonesia’s two The Raid movies – the best action franchise of the past decade – and they have a habit of trusting their talent and giving them the means to try out crazy ideas more traditional studios wouldn’t go near.
This means a lot in the countries of Oceania, where there isn’t exactly a lot of money for original filmmaking in the first place. Needless to say, I’m eagerly anticipating a stylish New Zealand action movie that – hopefully – is both respectful and revealing of Maori storytelling culture. After all, we get to hear stories from the perspectives of indigenous peoples far too rarely.
THE MULE Trailer #1
A movie about how long it takes a man to go to the bathroom. Wait, wait! It’s more complicated. You see, he has drugs in his stomach, he’s being detained by the authorities led by Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, Captain America), and he’s being stalked by the drug dealer he’s late in meeting, played by John Noble (Fringe, Sleepy Hollow). He’s cooped up in a small, Melbourne hotel room while a legal aide tries to get him free and his family turns increasingly dramatic.
It looks like a blistering, uncomfortable comedy with some truly intense moments to it, the kinds of comedies Australia does with a brutal sense of just how to make you laugh out of discomfort.
That’s our special Down Under roundup this week. By the way, if you’re looking for more news and reviews on Australian film, I highly recommend my own go-to source, Jordan and Eddie. They’re two young Australian critics who are fantastic reads.