Jupiter Ascending Review

I’m aware I’m kind of behind on this review, what with it coming out in February. But I’ve only just got the chance to rewatch the beauty that is Jupiter Ascending, and confirm that yes, all my initial impressions were right.

What is there to be said about Jupiter Ascending? It’s not a movie; it is An Experience. I daresay in the future it will become a religion. It’s Flash Gordon but somehow sillier; it’s The Great Gatsby drunk in space in the eighties as imagined by the sixties as imagined by Michael Bay; it’s every novel I tried to write when I was fourteen transposed verbatim to the screen.

Mila Kunis is sinfully pretty as toilet cleaner Jupiter Jones. We are treated to a fifteen-minute opening sequence showing her parents meeting, her father dying, her being born etc., which is good because I wouldn’t have understood the rest of the movie if this hadn’t been included. She hates her life and is exhausted by her huge Russian family, but her dream is to buy a $2,000 telescope from eBay. Having no money, she goes to sell her eggs for cash; unfortunately the clinic is staffed by aliens who try to kidnap her. But then Channing Tatum, as a wolf-hybrid albino spaceman, shows up in his hover boots and takes her to Sean Bean, who is a were-bee. Turns out bees can smell princesses, and Jupiter is really a space princess who owns the earth.

There is too much plot to fit into a short review, but rest assured that is but the tip of the iceberg. The highlight of the film is undoubtedly Eddie Redmayne as Balem Abrasax, the villain of the piece. He’s… well, where do you start? He’s an angular Cumberbatchian creature, wrapped in an Oedipal complex wrapped in a glittery cape. He not only has no indoor voice; he has no “within the same mile radius of me” voice. Actually that’s not quite true; his voice has two modes. “Brian Blessed at a foghorn convention”, and “Giles Brandreth the day after the foghorn convention, trying to recover his strained voice as he tells a mouse a bedtime story.” I love Abrasax. I could write entire theses on him. I’m going to name my firstborn after him. Redmayne invokes what I like to call “ the reverse-Oscar-retraction effect.” To demonstrate: after seeing House at the End of the Street, I grouchily demanded Jennifer Lawrence’s Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook be returned. Same with everyone involved with Seventh Son. After seeing Jupiter Ascending, I demand Redmayne be presented with as many Oscars as his pale, bony hands can carry. Reward the boy. He may save us yet.

There is sincere credit due; the Wachowskis have created a stunningly gorgeous world of Art Deco spaceships, human-animal hybrids and glittery blue life-sustaining liquids. Even if I had not been entertained by the film I would grudgingly admit it was beautifully rendered. Design buffs will have a great time with the sets, costumes and makeup, and a few knowing nods to other sci-fi greats. After a ten-minute sequence that seems to be an homage to the bureaucratic gymnastics of Brazil, Terry Fucking Gilliam himself shows up in a cameo as the Seal and Signet minister because of course he fucking does. (Incidentally, I just tried to imagine Jupiter Ascending as directed by Terry Gilliam, and it may well be the only narrative in history that would be made less crazy by Gilliam’s directorial input)

Is it a good movie? “No” is the short answer. Did I like it? It’s going to be near the top of my “favourite movies of 2k15” list. And by Jupiter, did I have a good time. In a fantasy/sci-fi market saturated by anaemic Hunger Games rip-offs, Jupiter Ascending was a breath of fresh (glittery, camp and very silly) air. So gather some friends and have a home viewing. Make sure you’re sober; you’ll need to retain your full faculties to fully appreciate everything. And maybe have a group discussion afterwards. With slides. Doors are locked on the outside.


Film Review: “One & Two”

There’s nothing as frustrating as a film that refuses to live up to its potential. The writing and directorial debut of Andrew Droz Palermo, One & Two is the story of two children with strange powers of teleportation, living an Amish-style existence in an isolated farm with their stern father and sickly mother. Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka delivers a solid leading performance as Eva, and the film looks and sounds beautiful. Unofrtunately this is another case of style over substance. One & Two spends 90 minutes on the verge of developing into an interesting story, and then shying away from it at the last second.

One & Two could have been a chilling story with subtle supernatural elements and a breakdown of the family unit unfolding alongside the childrens’ discovery of the outside world. Instead it is a directionless yarn that seems to switch its own goal in storytelling as often as the kids teleport. Is the story about Eva’s desire to explore beyond the wall? Is it about some kind of “greater purpose” – the reason why the family are so isolated, presumably connected to their power in some way? I don’t know. I don’t think the film does either.

It’s also frustratingly reminiscent of a lot of other films that portrayed the themes better; an isolated cult-like family (We Are What We Are); a young girl experiencing the real world for the first time (Martha Marcy May Marlene); the old-fashioned community in a modern world (The Village). The latter example is a deeply flawed film, but one that at least attempted to do something interesting with its premise. The film I was reminded of most strongly in terms of theme and substance was 2004 French fairy-tale Innocence, which also featured secluded children and not a great deal actually happening, whilst implying rich and disturbing story just beyond the edge of the screen. One & Two seems like it is going to do this, but never quite manages it. The supernatural element of the film implies some kind of further magical narrative that the film stubbornly refuses to go near.

Beautiful but empty, One & Two manages to drag despite weighing so little. Now that’s an achievement.

“Raise the Red Lantern” (Dà Hóng Dēnglóng Gāogāo Guà)


Directed by Zhang Yimou Raise the Red Lantern was released in 1991 and, despite censorship and a rough reception at home, was warmly welcomed in the West (Yimou received a Silver Lion for best director at the Venice Film Festival in 1991). The story is inspired by the novel Wives and Concubines (by Su Tong) and depicts Northern China in the 1920s in the thrall of a cultural revolution. Gong Li stars as Songlian – the fourth wife of an elderly landlord; a college student who, due to her fathers death, has been married off by her stepmother to a local lord. It is with tremendous frustration that this woman, who had hopes of using her education to broaden her horizons, now finds herself reduced to the role of an heir-bearing concubine, trapped in a palace at the beck and call of her husband.

Immersed in the world of Raise the Red Lantern one experiences a falling through time to find oneself surrounded by an ancient, labyrinthine palace that acts as both a physical and a mental prison. The tale appears a cruel inversion of the stereotypical western fairytale. The lone young woman who marries a rich lord is set up for descent rather than an elevation of her person and position. Instead of being released, like Cinderella, from the shackles of her mundane life – Songlian is uprooted and bound to a different kind of prison. The mystical world she enters is literally sealed away from change by stone walls. Slowly but surely the heroine’s reason, will and spirit suffocate under the oppressive hierarchy, the ludicrous obedience to backward tradition and the female rivalry that her arrival ignites.

The music of Naoki Tachikawa and Jiping Zhao is poignant and haunting in its shrill echo, permeating, like rain, the silent edifice of the palace. Visually this film is a case of ‘each frame a painting’. The scenography of Lun Yang and Fei Zhao is breathtaking. The camera work relishes in the spacious, monumental grandeur of the palace’s architecture – which, in turn, lends itself easily to bold compositions and striking contrasts. Each long take is elaborate and relies heavily on the monolithic and at the same time ornate geometric structure of the palace with its solid grey walls, intricate window frames and a network of tiled, labyrinthine rooftops. Over time the openness and vastness of the landscape proves deceptive and the perpetual backdrop of grey stone slowly builds up a sense of claustrophobia. The ambience of the film is built and relies on contrasts, both visually and narratively – from the boisterous silk gowns, the pulsating red lanterns, to the alienating white snow and the placating blue of nightfall. Here visual language is engulfed by colour, especially red that saturates drama and ambiguity. Colour fuses with light, filling the screen space and practically pouring out of it. With this overflow Yimou tests their assigned symbolic meaning and emotional expressiveness in a scenery deprived of nature, where seasons are hardly distinguishable and the turn of the year is marked by virgin white snow.

Yimou’s film provides a platform for a western viewer with little to no in-depth knowledge of China to experience (at a safe distance) the atavistic microcosm of Chinese feudal tradition, gender politics and custom in the light of a social revolution. The director concentrates this social and historical contrast in the character of Soglian and presents us with both a rich, dramatic story and a visually compelling cinematic tapestry – allowing us to savor and reflect on the utter otherness of this universe without the fetish feel common to the treatment of asian culture and ‘the orient’ by western cinematography.

         by Nathan

This tribute composition has some wonderful shots in it: