Skip to main content

Having a friend light-years away taught us that distance is just a state of mind.

Earth to Echo
(2014)

Explorers meets E.T. meets Chronicle meets the mechanical owl from the Ray Harryhausen Clash of the Titans. Earth to Echo is nothing if not derivative, but Dave Green’s feature debut is nevertheless reasonably engaging in spite of itself. The only one of the above influences that really works against it (complaining that a movie is like E.T. is complaining that archetypal stories get told) is the found footage conceit. It’s wholly a gimmick, and one the kids appear to have augmented with Pro Tools, adding a cloyingly instructive voiceover (in case the youngsters are unable to get the message) and an unnecessary score that attempts to evoke wide-eyed wonderment.


The voiceover suggests another ‘80s influence, Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me, playing into the nostalgic hue of a last momentous summer spent together before childhood friends go their separate ways. Unfortunately, the gravitas of Richard Dreyfus (as the grown-up Wil Wheaton) is absent here, even by equivalence, replaced by Tuck’s video narrative. Astro (how long before he goes back to plain old Brian Bradley?) played Liam Neeson’s impossibly smart street kid sidekick in A Walk Among the Tombstones, and his character is similarly cocksure here. His commentary is replete with unearned wisdom. It’s as problematic as the found footage (complete with far too many “authentic” recording freezes and recording cuts), such that it’s really down to screenwriter Henry Gayden borrowing liberally from strong sources that renders the picture passable.


The young leads offer variable performances, required to be naturalistic but lacking the range to pull this off. None of the young actors are actually bad, but only Ella Wahlestedt as Emma, the honorary girl and latecomer to the group, has the air of a confident performer. Reese Hartwig is Munch, nominally the oddball science geek (the River Phoenix character from Explorers rather than the pugilist of Stand By Me) but is really just a touch quirky. He’s also abandoned the plot in favour of Alex (Teo Halm). Halm is the least impressive, the foster kid given hang-ups about being left alone in the least subtle of ways.


The boys’ neighbourhood, Mulberry Woods, is due to be demolished to service the construction of a highway. It’s the final week before their enforced move and electronic signals playing havoc with residents. Munch tracks the signal (much as Phoenix led the way with deductions in Explorers) to a spot in the desert where they discover a cute little robot that just wants to get home (so, E.T.). To facilitate this they must evade government agents who want to get their hands on Echo (as they christen him). So, E.T. again. Also E.T. again, the not-quite The Creation of Adam-inspired poster.


The borrowing from Chronicle is most obvious in the video footage (although that film did it so well one forgot about it for the most part), but also surfaces in the underground spaceship of the third act. It’s curious that so many filmmakers choose found footage as a stylistic and narrative form, since it so rarely inspired or appropriate. One can only guess it’s partly down to insecurity on their part. If a film is “supposed” to look scrappy and amateurish at least the director can’t be accused of making a hash of things. Dave Green has secured the gig on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2, so something must have impressed someone (either that or, equally likely, it is some form of punishment on those who liked the first instalment). There’s no good reason for its presence in Earth to Echo, and it would be a better movie without it.


Echo is expectedly adorable, with an effectively chirrupy sound design that elicits oohs and aahs. He’s overtly owl-like, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Archimedes in the 1981 Clash of the Titans (who was that film’s nod to R2D2), but curiously he isn’t an especially prominent character. Following the initial discovery, there is much chasing about and pursuing of goals (the picture clocks in at a crisp 80 minutes, shorn of credits) but not so much in the way of lovable hijinks. The effects are reasonable for the limited budget, which may explain the robot’s limited screen time (Echo’s dismantling and reconstruction of an oncoming truck is more effective for the idea than the realisation).


There are a few amusing moments that suggest this could have been quicker and wittier with a bit more care. Munch’s offers a disarming compliment to the mystified proprietor of a pawn shop (“Excuse me, sir, you have a very very lovely shop”) and his response on being asked “What was that?” as musical instruments on display start sounding off is the literal “F sharp?” There’s also a scene in a bar that begins well but can’t sustain itself.


One’s enjoyment of this picture will chiefly largely depend on tolerance levels for copious handheld camera and also kids being let loose to act like kids. Fortunately the latter never devolves into a Goonies-esque display of incessant shouting and screaming  – although it gets close on occasion – but you’d be forgiven for giving up during the first 10 minutes as the cumulative factors quickly prove wearing. Perhaps the makers realised that, without the gimmick, the movie would look like even more of an ‘80s homage than Super 8 (which is saying something), but that isn’t an especially good reason for it. Earth to Echo is well meaning and inoffensive, but it suffers by comparison with its influences. It lacks either the arch-manipulation of Spielberg’s E.T. (being told that best friends will always be together no matter where they are in the universe is trite rather than sincere, or even ‘berg-ishly treacly) or the out-of-leftfield anarchy that explodes from Dante’s Explorers.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

We’re not owners here, Karen. We’re just passing through.

Out of Africa (1985)
I did not warm to Out of Africa on my initial viewing, which would probably have been a few years after its theatrical release. It was exactly as the publicity warned, said my cynical side; a shallow-yet-bloated, awards-baiting epic romance. This was little more than a well-dressed period chick flick, the allure of which was easily explained by its lovingly photographed exotic vistas and Robert Redford rehearsing a soothing Timotei advert on Meryl Streep’s distressed locks. That it took Best Picture only seemed like confirmation of it as all-surface and no substance. So, on revisiting the film, I was curious to see if my tastes had “matured” or if it deserved that dismissal. 

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.

Prediction 2019 Oscars
Shockingly, as in I’m usually much further behind, I’ve missed out on only one of this year’s Best Picture nominees– Vice isn’t yet my vice, it seems – in what is being suggested, with some justification, as a difficult year to call. That might make for must-see appeal, if anyone actually cared about the movies jostling for pole position. If it were between Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody (if they were even sufficiently up to snuff to deserve a nod in the first place), there might be a strange fascination, but Joe Public don’t care about Roma, underlined by it being on Netflix and stillconspicuously avoided by subscribers (if it were otherwise, they’d be crowing about viewing figures; it’s no Bird Box, that’s for sure).

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

If you could just tell me what those eyes have seen.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Rodriguez’ film of James Cameron’s at-one-stage-planned film of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm on the one hand doesn’t feel overly like a Rodriguez film, in that it’s quite polished, so certainly not of the sort he’s been making of late – definitely a plus – but on the other, it doesn’t feel particularly like a Jimbo flick either. What it does well, it mostly does very well – the action, despite being as thoroughly steeped in CGI as Avatar – but many of its other elements, from plotting to character to romance, are patchy or generic at best. Despite that, there’s something likeable about the whole ludicrously expensive enterprise that is Alita: Battle Angel, a willingness to be its own kind of distinctive misfit misfire.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.