Skip to main content

My advice? Take it to Channel 4. They’ll eat this shit up.

In the Shadow of the Moon
(2019)

(SPOILERS) One time, it would be satisfying if the main protagonist in one of these Grandfather Paradox constructions had done with the inherent inescapability of it all and expressly set out to blow the bloody doors off. If Boyd Holbrook’s increasingly bedraggled, hairpiece-hampered ex-cop, on realising that’s his granddaughter on the beach, the initiator of all these time-travel, would-you-kill Hitler murders – notably, there’s no discussion of whether this is a morally unconscionable mission, presumably because those responsible for kicking off the future civil war are hateful racists, so there shouldn’t be any debate on the matter – had just shot her in the head, that at least would have saved his younger, less chronologically-aware version from pushing her in front of a train.

Jim Mickle previously co-adapted novel Cold in July into an impressive thriller. Here, he’s working from a dog-eared and hackneyed screenplay from Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock, one that becomes less and less interesting as it progresses. In the Shadow of the Moon opens with a glimpse of the conflagration that kicks off war in 2024, then flashes back to 1988, with some icky deaths suggestive of an episode of Fringe. Throw in disbelieving cop banter from Holbrook and Bokeem Woodbine (playing a good guy for a change, so inevitably he gets offed about halfway through) and you have something not a million miles in tone from The Hidden. That soon dissipates, however, and we end up with a picture much closer to Predestination in its reliance on paradoxes as a plot engine.

In the Shadow of the Moon isn’t even prepared to dissect those paradoxes, content to think the very fact of them is clever enough in itself (quite the reverse, they tend to be a lazy, creatively bereft way of telling a story). At one point, Rudi Dharmalingam’s physicist tells Holbrook’s Locke “Time travel’s complicated. Hard even for me to wrap my head around”. Which, presumably, should be enough for us, what with talk of “chronal isotopes” that can be used to, highly plausibly, “trigger a dissolution from a future point in time” and the availing of super moons to travel back in time in nine-year leaps. Arbitrarily rules are piled on to justify the conceit, making the end result even more dissatisfying; told that by Locke that he kills her 27 years earlier, Rya (Cleopatra Coleman) concludes “Then it already happened. Time travel is a one-way trip. I can’t go back until my mission is completed”.

It’s a shame. There’s always a sinking feeling with these kinds of time-travel yarns, that set up intriguing threads you just know will be wasted through the reveal of an underwhelming plot. Occasionally, such a template can be used fruitfully – Dark, also on Netflix, is a prime example, The Terminator another – but they key there is that they usually provide emotional investment rather than simply doubling down on the plot.

Holbrook, who somehow manages to look like Henry Cavill on the poster, is a decent actor, but never seems quite able to fill the screen, and the succession of facial appliances, particularly some scrappy, dog-eared beards, rather emphasise that he isn’t getting much support in making Locke’s thirty-year journey convincing. Michael C Hall, reuniting with Mickle, is thrown a rather thankless supporting turn, while Dharmalingam’s mad scientist might have been more interesting if he wasn’t an ungainly exposition device (and an ungainly exposition device dealing exposition in a standard clichéd scene where the protagonist escapes his bonds while keeping the villain talking).

In the Shadow of the Moon is by no means unwatchable, but Mickle has given it much more attention than it deserves, and by the time we’ve reached 2006, the picture is running on empty. Netflix can chalk up another promising director they’ve given carte blanche to who has duly come a cropper, following the likes of Duncan Jones, Jeremy Saulnier, Gareth Evans and Dan Gilroy. They may represent a home to projects that simply wouldn’t be financed by the big studios in the current landscape, but if all those projects turn out to be duds, no one’s winning out.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

We’re looking into a possible pattern of nationwide anti-Catholic hate crimes.

Vampires aka John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter limps less-than-boldly onward, his desiccated cadaver no longer attentive to the filmic basics of quality, taste, discernment, rhyme or reason. Apparently, he made his pre-penultimate picture to see if his enthusiasm for the process truly had drained away, and he only went and discovered he really enjoyed himself. It doesn’t show. Vampires is as flat, lifeless, shoddily shot, framed and edited as the majority of his ’90s output, only with a repellent veneer of macho bombast spread on top to boot.

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.

I must remind you that the scanning experience is usually a painful one.

Scanners (1981) (SPOILERS) David Cronenberg has made a career – albeit, he may have “matured” a little over the past few decades, so it is now somewhat less foregrounded – from sticking up for the less edifying notions of evolution and modern scientific thought. The idea that regress is, in fact, a form of progress, and unpropitious developments are less dead ends than a means to a state or states as yet unappreciated. He began this path with some squeam-worthy body horrors, before genre hopping to more explicit science fiction with Scanners , and with it, greater critical acclaim and a wider audience. And it remains a good movie, even as it suffers from an unprepossessing lead and rather fumbles the last furlong, cutting to the chase when a more measured, considered approach would have paid dividends.

Maybe I’m a heel who hates guys who hate heels.

Crimewave (1985) (SPOILERS) A movie’s makers’ disowning it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s nothing of worth therein, just that they don’t find anything of worth in it. Or the whole process of making it too painful to contemplate. Sam Raimi’s had a few of those, experiencing traumas with Darkman a few years after Crimewave . But I, blissfully unaware of such issues, was bowled over by it when I caught it a few years after its release (I’d hazard it was BBC2’s American Wave 2 season in 1988). This was my first Sam Raimi movie, and I was instantly a fan of whoever it was managed to translate the energy and visual acumen of a cartoon to the realm of live action. The picture is not without its problems – and at least some of them directly correspond to why it’s so rueful for Raimi – but that initial flair I recognised still lifts it.

I admit it. I live in a highly excited state of overstimulation.

Videodrome (1983) (SPOILERS) I’m one of those who thinks Cronenberg’s version of Total Recall would have been much more satisfying than the one we got (which is pretty good, but flawed; I’m referring to the Arnie movie, of course, not the Farrell). The counter is that Videodrome makes a Cronenberg Philip K Dick adaptation largely redundant. It makes his later Existenz largely redundant too. Videodrome remains a strikingly potent achievement, taking the directors thematic obsessions to the next level, one as fixated on warping the mind as the body. Like many Cronenbergs, it isn’t quite there, but it exerts a hold on the viewer not dissimilar to the one slowly entwining its protagonist Max Renn (James Woods).

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.

You seem particularly triggered right now. Can you tell me what happened?

Trailers The Matrix Resurrections   The Matrix A woke n ? If nothing else, the arrival of The Matrix Resurrections trailer has yielded much retrospective back and forth on the extent to which the original trilogy shat the bed. That probably isn’t its most significant legacy, of course, in terms of a series that has informed, subconsciously or otherwise, intentionally or otherwise, much of the way in which twenty-first century conspiracy theory has been framed and discussed. It is however, uncontested that a first movie that was officially the “best thing ever”, that aesthetically and stylistically reinvigorated mainstream blockbuster cinema in a manner unseen again until Fury Road , squandered all that good will with astonishing speed by the time 2003 was over.

You’re the bravest rat I’ve ever known.

Cruella (2021) Well, this is a surprise. The last thing I expected at this point in the course of Disney’s dogged determination to piss on its legacy was a decent live-action take on an animated classic and a decent origins story to boot at that. Perhaps it needs to be put down to the old exception that proves the rule, but Cruella hits a bullseye in several key respects: performance, direction and (derivative) premise. If the movie wanders during its final act, is grossly overlong and also inherently morally questionable, well that’s simply symptomatic of these times. And Disney all over.