herald

Saturday 16 December 2017

So Extra Terrestrial, that even the script was phoned home

EARTH TO ECHO(Sci-Fi. Starring Teo Halm, Brian 'Astro' Bradley, Reese Hartwig, Ella Wahlstedt, Jason Gray-Standford, Alga Smith. Directed by Dave Green. Cert PG)

Judging by its trailer, Earth to Echo looks like a pretty standard sci-fi adventure for pre-teens. However, as we all know the folk who design these teasers in order to get the punters into cineplexes are devious divils at the best of times.

For example, who can forget that the lads who edited together the promo clip for Sweeney Todd in such a way that it resembled a gothic horror conveniently omitted any reference to the fact that it was a sung-through musical with hardly any conventional dialogue? Naughty.

In this case we do indeed have a group of young teenagers who do take to their bikes on an adventure, who do discover a mysterious alien creature and, yes, there is a spectacular scene involving a big spaceship.

However, what they didn't let slip is the fact that Earth to Echo is the latest example of a 'found footage' film.

Imagine Cloverfield filmed and edited by a 14-year-old filled to the gills with high-energy drinks and you've only begun to imagine the hyperactivity which awaits you over the course of these 90-odd 
minutes.

Shaky

Honestly, for much of its running-time Earth to Echo is practically unwatchable, which is a pity as there's rather decent, if entirely unoriginal, film lurking beneath the relentless barrage of shaky footage and rapid cuts.

The story involves three teenage friends, Alex, Tuck and Munch (Teo Halm, Brian 'Astro' Bradley and Reese Hartwig), who live in a Nevada suburb which is about to be demolished to make way for a freeway.

However, the day before they're due to move they receive mysterious signals on their mobile phones, try to piece the clues together and, of course, film themselves at every step of the way.

Taking to their bikes they head to the desert to discover an owl-like alien creature which needs to get home but, as is the way with such things, sinister government types are after the alien too.

Essentially a mash-up of E.T., The Goonies, Chronicle, Close Encounters and Stand by Me, Earth to Echo has decent performances from the three leads, plus a fine turn from Ella Wahlstedt as Emma, a girl who inveigles her way into the group, and one truly spectacular set-piece but as a whole it's a headache-inducing ordeal which might, hopefully, put an end to 'found footage' as a sub-genre. We can 
but pray.

Rating: : 2/5

NORTE, THE END OF HISTORY

(Drama. Starring Sid Lucero, Archie Alemania, Angeli Bayani, Mae Paner, Soliman Cruz, Sheenly Gener, Angelina Kanapi. Directed by Lav Diaz. Showing exclusively at the IFI)

By the standards of Filipino director Lav 
Diaz's previous work Norte, The End of 
History is a pretty succinct and almost 
commercial proposition.

Shot in colour for the first time and edited down to a relatively trim 250 minutes, it has had his nuttier supporters crying 'sell-out' and longing for the likes of the seven hours-plus monochrome meditation Melancholia. A Ramones video this most certainly ain't.

Favouring long takes, where scenes feel semi-improvised and frequently very little happens, Diaz still manages to exert a certain magnetic allure amid the sheer endurance test of the film's running-time.

Tipping a nod to Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, the story first introduces us to Fabian (Sid Lucero), an arrogant, opinionated former law student who clearly thinks he's cleverer than the rest of humanity.

Deeply in debt to moneylender Magda (Mae Paner), he's one of the most unpleasant characters seen onscreen in a while.

Also in debt to Magda are Joaquin (Archie Alemania) and his wife Eliza (Angeli Bayani), poor but decent folk trying to scrape by as the husband recovers from an unspecified accident. The central story hinges on Fabian stabbing Magda and her daughter to death but Joaquin takes the fall and is sentenced to life imprisonment.

What unfolds is a study of the repercussions of a criminal act and an underlying message that if you're at the bottom of the heap you're essentially screwed, especially in a society as corrupt as the Philippines.

There are consequences for Fabian too, and while the final hour or so of the film is depressing beyond belief, the middle section does grab the attention, with Diaz creating some truly memorable moments (Eliza contemplating suicide and taking her two young children with her is a stunning five-minute sequence) amid the rambling narrative. It's probably best not to go for a few pints before this one.

Rating: 3/5

HERCULES

(Action. Starring Dwayne Johnson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, Rufus Sewell, Joseph Fiennes, Rebecca Ferguson, Peter Mullan, Reece Richie, Ingrid Bolso Berdal. Directed by Brett Ratner. Cert 12A)

The trailer for Hercules is mightily misleading too, implying that it's a fantasy adventure when, in fact, it's a pretty straightforward swords'n'sandals affair.

Based on a comic, the story has Hercules (Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson) and his loyal gang of mercenaries (including Ian McShane as a stoner soothsayer and Rufus Sewell as a trusty sidekick) set a task by Lord Cotys (John Hurt in money-counting mode) only to encounter betrayal after several bloody battles.

The dialogue is camply hilarious - lots of 'By the zits of Zeus they shall pay!' and that class of thing - which gives the British thesps plenty of opportunity to chew the scenery and while the action sequences are decently staged, they would have been much better if I'd actually been able to see them, the film being shot in a gloomy murk which 3D does absolutely nothing to help.

Rating: 3/5

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