Coming up on the final segment of my review of TV gems of 2018, I’ll talk about the three movies that I watched this year. A few years ago, I would have used the term “made-for-TV” movies and this usually implied that these films were shot differently for a less demanding small-screen experience, with inferior production values. In the post-HBO age, that of course, is no longer the case; films commissioned by HBO (and now Netflix and other streaming services) are put together by the same calibre of talent as any big screen Hollywood film – the writing, acting, sets and visual effects.
- The Cloverfield Paradox (Netflix): This is the third film in the “Cloverfield universe” created by J.J. Abrams and his cohorts, which started with the 2008 found-footage monster-attack movie Cloverfield. This was followed by the critically acclaimed psychological thriller 10 Cloverfield Lane in 2016, which had only a tenuous connection with the first movie. Likewise, The Cloverfield Paradox establishes its connection with the first film only in the last 10 seconds of the film and therefore has been mocked by critics as just a clever marketing ploy, leveraging Cloverfield‘s cult following to bring in viewers for a rather muddled film that seems to have various action set-pieces randomly stitched together. The story is set on a space station, where a group of scientists are testing a particle accelerator in the hope of creating a new energy source. Somehow the experiment transports the space station to a parallel universe and horrible things start happening. The movie has a top-drawer international cast, the likes of Daniel Bruhl, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, David Oyelowo, Elizabeth Debicki and Zhang Ziyi. These are actors who typically bring diversity and acting depth as supporting characters in major Hollywood films, but somehow don’t seem to be the right fit for an outer space disaster movie (reminds me of those 70s disaster films with all-star casts). At a brisk 102 minutes running time, it’s a reasonable way to pass time but after the movie’s finished, one is left wondering what it was all about.
- Fahrenheit 451 (HBO): This film adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s acclaimed 1953 novel of a dystopian future society in which books are outlawed, was much anticipated as it starred powerhouse actors Michael Shannon and Michael B. Jordan, and was being directed by Ramin Bahrani, an independent filmmaker well known for his highly personal dramas such as Goodbye Solo and 99 Homes. The book was previously adapted by celebrated auteur Francois Truffaut in 1966 to mixed reviews. It was hoped that this version would do greater justice to the novel’s themes of state-based censorship and an illiterate society addicted to mindless mass entertainment – eerily prescient of today’s state of affairs. Sadly, the critics liked this version even less, feeling that the adaptation was too superficial and didn’t really explore these themes. Michael Shannon is convincing as always, as the menacing Capt. Beatty, the chief of the “firemen” who are tasked with destroying all the books. But Michael B. Jordan somehow seems miscast in the role of Guy Montag, Beatty’s no.2, who has a change of heart and goes on the run from his former mentor. I think the filmmakers succumbed to the temptation of focusing on the visual effects depicting the future world, rather than on the human story. With a running length of 101 minutes, which is about the same duration as an episode of Game of Thrones, I think it didn’t give itself sufficient time to explore deeper themes and make us care about the characters. In a way, the movie ended up being exactly what the book was trying to criticize – superficial entertainment for the masses.
- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (Netflix): Saving the best for last, this film came out of the blue and I heard about it by sheer chance as a film that my kids were talking about. Having nothing to do one evening, and in the mood for a light rom-com, I watched and enjoyed every bit of it’s High School Musical-like tone and pace (without the music, of course). The movie has quickly become a young-adult phenomenon, igniting the careers of the two charismatic and likeable leads Lana Condor and Noah Centino. The initial plot is a bit convoluted, but essentially has the characters played by Condor and Centino having to pretend like they’re going out together, leading to much confusion and consternation among their schoolmates and friends. The story follows the usual rom-com beats but it’s the chemistry of the two leads and some appealing supporting characters that make this a memorable viewing experience. There is now with talk of a sequel, and for sure, I’ll be waiting for the day it comes out!
For 2019, I am looking forward to Netflix’s live action adaptation of Nickelodeon’s beloved animated series, Avatar the Last Airbender, HBO’s spin-off of the iconic graphic novel Watchmen, BBC’s TV adaptation of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials books and The Passage, Fox’s adaptation of the epic post-apocalyptic vampire trilogy written by Justin Cronin. There’s also the third season of True Detective, returning after a gap of a few years (and the forgettable second season) starring Mahershala Ali, and the small matter of the final season of Game of Thrones.