Ramble No. 61: Six on Amazon Prime

To provide some balance to my previous ramble, which was dedicated to six films available on Netflix, this week I’m going to run through six films currently available to Amazon Prime subscribers. Caution – there are some spoilers below.

Terminal is a 2018 film starring Margot Robbie (Suicide Squad), Mike Myers and Dexter Fletcher. It’s a stylish live action film revolving around train terminal in London which reminded me a little of Sin City in it’s scripting. Simon Pegg also appears in the film as a suicidal English teacher. Robbie is the main character who is trying depose Fletcher’s character and his side kick as the main contract-killer in the city.

The visuals are colourful and almost have an anime-like cyberpunk feel to them. The problem for me was that none of the characters in the story, perhaps with the exception of Fletcher’s, felt particularly real to me and the performances coupled with the over-stylised reality they operated in didn’t really suck me in.

Zoe is another 2018 film. It stars Ewan McGregor as Cole, a divorced, jaded and lonesome android (or ‘synthetic’) creator, and Lea Saydoux (Spectre) as his co-worker, Zoe, who obviously quite fancies him. They both work at a company dedicated to making people less lonely by applying robotics, software and pharmaceuticals to fix their problems. Zoe is an operator of a computer program that gives people a percentage compatibility rating. When she tries it on her own stats matched against those of Cole, the program gives her a 0% compatibility rating.

When she questions Cole as to why the result was so low her reality begins to unravel and we go down that well-trodden but highly thought-provoking sci-fi wormhole of ‘what is human?’.  I got the wrong end of the stick and thought the film was going to centre around the human relationships with the grumpy male synthetic played by Theo James (Divergent). As a result it came as a surprise to realise that Zoe was the focus of this Blade Runner -esque tale (perhaps no coincidence that the Scott Free logo is on display at the start of the film).

The film is generally very good although it gets a bit silly toward the end. Some of the music is very cool and the acting is generally very good – especially from McGregor who, like a cheese, seems to be getting better with age. Hopefully this bodes well for the Obi Wan Kenobi film if/when it happens, because surely McGregor should get and accept first dibs on reprising the role. I digress…

Bad Taste is the low-budget classic brains and blood alien infestation comedy horror from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit hairy kiwi director Peter Jackson. I had put off watching this, Jackson’s 1987 directorial debut, because zombie flicks – and this is essentially what this film is – are not really my cup of tea. But for some reason the mood took me on Saturday morning while Siggy lay asleep in bed.

I was pleasantly surprised by the film and what was most apparent to me very quickly was how good Peter Jackson is as a director. With shit-all funds, some energetic but rather amateur actors (including himself playing two roles), he made a really entertaining and often funny film with some really well-composed and tightly-edited shots. The boy’s got talent!

In terms of the homemade gore and improvised camera set-ups, it reminded me a lot of Sam Raimi’s original The Evil Dead from 1981. However I think Bad Taste actually has the edge because the alien prosthetics, when they’re finally revealed (obviously in the third act), are very effective and also very funny.

Lion had limited time left on the Amazon Prime platform and so that evening I convinced Siggy to watch it with me (I was still getting over a bad cold so didn’t want to go out in the rain. Poor me.). It’s the only film of these six that she watched with me because she’s a busy woman and she’s been away with work.

The film starts with a five-year-old Indian boy called Saroo who gets split up from his older brother at a train station in India and ends up getting accidentally transported thousands of miles from his village to the dangerous streets of Calcutta. He manages to escape the clutches of a paedophile only to wind up in an orphanage run by a cruel and possibly equal as crooked administration. Luckily a woman from an adoption agency finds a home in Australia for the boy with Nicole Kidman and her husband. it’s a no-brainer really, but obviously he’d rather be back with his real mum.

We then fast-forward 25 years. After his friends make him question his need to forget about the past and concentrate on the future, the adult Saroo starts looking for his lost family. He spends hours at night digging through his memories and plotting search areas on a map using Google Earth as a search tool. Did I mention this is based on a true story? Well it is.

Of course it wouldn’t be much of a story if he didn’t find his family, but because it’s a true story let’s just say that not all the news he receives once he gets to India is good news. The film is educational, emotional and heart-warming in equal measure and all the cast are great, especially the little boy who played young Saroo – some scenes are so sad.

Imitation Girl is a short sci-fi film from last year and is similar to Under the Skin apart from the main character doesn’t kill anyone, it’s not based in Scotland and the film isn’t as slow. It popped up as a recommendation after I watched Zoe, so I thought I’d give it a go.

Natasha Kermani (yeah, I don’t know either) plays the role of a young woman who falls to Earth from the sky in the middle of an American desert, and the role of a young woman who works as a disillusioned actor in adult movies who wants to join an orchestra. The black goo alien takes on her form after oozing across an adult magazine some kid’s been reading out in the desert.

The naive alien is taken in by some well-meaning immigrants who feed her, clothe her and look after her. She learns both English and Pashto very quickly and then when she sees ‘herself’ on the television somehow manages to find the actor in the city. The actor has meanwhile been taking a bunch of drugs, falling out with a load of people and ballsing up a piano audition.

The alien and the woman meet and the film ends with the alien dissolving away into a bed of black goo into which the actor disappears. The result looks rather like the surface of the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey and indeed the opening shot of the film that looks like planets aligning is very reminiscent of Kubrick’s classic. This film probably had a lot of promise on paper but the execution isn’t great despite two good performances from Kermani. Also as an aside the phrase ‘breakfast of champions’ is used in the film and I’d like to think it’s a reference to the Kurt Vonnegut novel.

A Monster Calls is the story of a young schoolboy coming to terms with his mother’s terminal illness and a recurring nightmare about losing her. The monster, a walking talking great old tree akin to the ents in The Lord of the Rings and voiced by Liam Neeson,  appears to him at night – always bang on 12:07. We see a glimpse of Liam Neeson in family photo at end of the film implying perhaps that the monster is the spirit of the boy’s dead grandfather.

Like Pans Labyrinth, this film is pretty traumatic for a kids film and I can understand the 12A rating. I’d say it would be pretty traumatic for anyone with fears about the death of their parents or their loved one’s dying from a terminal illness. Felicity Jones (Rogue One) is very good as the mum and so too is Sigourney Weaver as the tetchy but ultimately warm-hearted grandmother.

The film is rather formulaic and doesn’t have much humour in it, however the special effects are very good especially when the monster tells his stories and they are illustrated in colourful animated watercolours. Jones’s deathbed speech to her angry son is very well written and I enjoyed the final scenes where we learn that the monster may have more of a history than he’s perhaps let on to the boy. Pete’s Dragon it definitely is not, and it’s definitely worth a watch – I think it also has limited time left on the Amazon platform so hurry if you do want to see it for ‘free’.

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