In The Shadow of the Moon – Netflix (review)

Brief synopsis: A policeman makes detective in the late eighties after killing a seemingly vicious serial killer whose signature of killing is to liquifies the brains of her victims. Nine years later, she returns. The detective catches up with her again and she tells him that she is trying to save the world.

Is it any good?: In The Shadow of the Moon begins well and is quite gripping for the first hour. Unfortunately, after that it hits the bumpers a bit, turning into a confusing sci-fi come conspiracy thriller. An interesting premise ruined by an overcomplicated, too-smart-for-its-own-good script. The ever smarter than your average bear James Cameron already did a similar story you might have heard of.

Spoiler territory: it is 2024 and a catastrophic event has struck Philadelphia. Back in 1988 a concert pianist (Gregory Millar) takes the stage and begins playing, a diner chef (Stuart Dowling) is busy in his kitchen and a bus driver is beginning her shift. A woman, in a hooded coat (Cleopatra Coleman), walks unnoticed around town.

Blood begins to drip from the pianist’s nose, the cook also begins to bleed from the nose, as well as his ears and eyes. The same happens to the bus driver. All three die, the cook collapsing onto his hotplate, the pianist falling to the stage floor and the driver slumping on to her steering wheel, the bus careering along the road uncontrollably. A book about Thomas Jefferson lies on the tarmac.

Locke (Boyd Holbrook) is woken by his heavily pregnant wife, Jean (Rachel Keller), waking him for his night shift. He gets up and prepares a meal for her before he leaves. A police officer, Locke is picked up by his partner, Maddox (Bokeem Woodbine). The two banter as they move into the night traffic.

Maddox tells him there is a pile-up in town. The bus crash? Yes. They head to the scene of the incident. At the incident, Boyd’s brother-in-law, Holt (Michael C. Hall) is the lead detective. One of the other officers at the scene tells Locke that the driver’s death is unusual. Maddox does not want to get involved but Locke goes to take a look.

He notices that her brain seems to have exploded in her skull and seeped out of her mouth and ears. Holt comes over and gives him a bit of a hard time for being at the scene. Locke notices some puncture marks on the back of the driver’s neck. He shows Holt. Holt is dismissive, saying they could be birthmarks or created by the broken glass.

Another officer comes and tells them that two more bodies have been found in the same condition and with puncture marks on the necks. Maddox does not want to go to the other bodies. They do not need the aggravation. Locke heads to the other incidents. They go and see the pianist’s body and then go to the diner. Same punter marks in the back of the neck.

Locke tries to tell Holt that they need a toxicology report. Holt, in charge of the investigation, does not want the press to get hold of any inflammatory information. They both realise this is probably a serial killer. They head to the hospital and find out from one of the doctors, Hanson (Murray Furrow), that the bodies were infected by an isotope that nobody has ever seen before.

The two officers go to get some food and Locke keeps ruminating about the peculiarities of the case as Maddox tries to dissuade him from getting involved. They get back to the car and hear a report of a girl getting assaulted in a nightclub. They head over to the club. Locke goes to talk to the girl. She gives him a description of the girl in the hoodie and tells him that she pushed something into her neck.

Holt comes in and pulls rank, insisting on interviewing the girl himself. As she is telling Holt about the incident again, her brain liquifies and she dies. With the description of a black woman wearing a blue hooded sweatshirt in circulation, police start picking up every black woman in the area wearing blue.

Out in a parking lot, a police officer sees the woman trying to break into a car and shouts, ordering her to stop. She runs off. He puts out a call telling the force where she was seen. Maddox and Locke are preparing to go look for her when she walks right in front of their patrol car. Boyd locks eyes with her. She jumps onto the car bonnet and runs over the car, off down the road. Boyd gives chase, backing the car up after her.

She runs down a narrow path and Locke and Maddox are forced to pursue her on foot. She runs down into the subway. Joined by Holt and other members of the force, the men head down into the subway. They split up, Locke going down into the tunnels. He finds an unusual contraption that ejects three spikes, the instrument used to puncture the victims.

His radio jumps into life as a message goes out to everybody. Not wanting to alert her to his presence in the tunnels, Locke turns off his radio. He does not hear a message that is for him, telling him that his wife has gone into labour. On one of the platforms cordoned off and out of use, Maddox comes across the suspect. He engages and she quickly overwhelms him, breaking his leg during the altercation. Locke comes running as she runs off. Maddox tells him to pursue her.

Locke catches up with the suspect. She turns to face him and seems to know him. Locke is not interested and tries to arrest her. She is not going to come quietly. They end up fighting, her overpowering him and handcuffing him to some seating. Locke takes the contraption out of his jacket and fires it into her leg. She falls into the path of an oncoming train and is killed.

The police recover what is left of her body. Another officer asks Locke why he is still there, did he not know that his wife was giving birth? Locke rushes to the hospital. As he searches for his wife, his superior, Sergeant Williams (Tony Craig), asks him about the woman. They cannot find anything to identify her. She has no record. She has a bullet wound from a service gun. Locke tells him that he never fired his gun.

Williams tells him nobody else fired their gun either. A nurse comes and tells Locke that his wife is having a complicated birth. He goes to see her and gives her a bracelet as she is in labour. Jean passes out. The baby is born and a nurse brings her to Locke. A doctor comes and tells him that his wife did not survive.

Nine years later, a news broadcast notes the anniversary of the death of the unidentified woman, it being newsworthy because she was a black woman who died in mysterious circumstances around a white police officer. Locke is now a detective and his daughter, Amy (Quincy Kirkwood), is preparing breakfast for the both of them.

It is Amy’s birthday and Locke has gotten her a trinket to put on her bracelet. The bracelet is the one he gave to Jean before she died. They go to visit her grave. There are fresh flowers on the grave. Locke gets a call, much to Amy’s disgruntlement. It is a work call. It is happening again. Locke meets Maddox at the crime scene.

He asks Maddox if he left flowers at Jean’s grave. No. They go and check the crime scene. The victim has died in the same way as before. Holt turns up. Locke asks if he went by Jean’s grave. He tells him he has not. They look at the victim, noting he has some extreme political views.

They get called to look at a videotape of the assailant. It is the same woman. Locke wants to keep the news from the press. Holt tells him it is not his call. Maddox thinks, logically, it is a copycat. Locke tells him about the things that the woman told him, things she should not have known. He looks at the evidence they found on the woman nine years before. There were some keys. He asks another officer, Tabitha (Gabrielle Graham), to look into the origin of the keys.

Maddox is watching Holt at a press conference. Locke joins him, praying out loud that he does not mention the videotape. Holt tells the press about the videotape and shows it. Another victim turns up. With tensions running high on the anniversary, Holt speaks at another press conference, reiterating that capturing the woman is their top priority.

Maddox and Locke cannot find anything that connects the victims. Officer Tabitha brings the keys. She tells them that it is for a plane that was produced the year before. Locke points out that the keys are from 1988. How did she have keys fora plane that had not been made yet?

A scientist, Naveen Rao (Rudi Dharmalingam), wants to speak to them. He has a theory on the case, telling the detectives that a specific lunar occurrence creates a bridge in time and space. Maddox tells him to take his notion to a television station. The detectives leave. They go to a small airfield to look into the plane mystery. The airfield is closed but Locke scales the fence and goes into the hanger.

He finds a man standing by a desk. He asks him if he has seen the suspect. The man tells him he has not but something about his demeanour makes Locke realise something is not right. He writes down on a piece of paper, asking if he is alone. The man draws an arrow, indicating where the woman is. She gets to Locke before he can sneak up on her.

She tells him to put his gun on the ground. She tells the man to tie Locke’s hands. Locke calls Maddox’s phone before his hands get tied. She tells the man to get her the keys to the plane. The man tries to grab a shotgun but she anticipates his action and takes the gun off of him. She hears sirens and sees Locke’s mobile on the ground.

Maddox tries to sneak up on her and she blows his head off, killing him. Locke tries to attack her, seeing his friend get killed but she knocks him to the ground. Locke wakes up in the plane with the woman talking to him. She tells him he needs to stop chasing her. She is on a mission to save lives.

He asks her how she is still alive, as he saw her die. She tells him that she can come back for a short time every nine years. She pushes him out of the plane. He swims to shore and sees the plane wreckage. The woman has disappeared. Holt turns up as the sun comes up. Locke tells him she has gone back. He asks where. To the future.

2006 and Locke’s life, due to his obsession with the female serial killer, has unravelled. He digs up the corpse of a case from nine years before to see if they had been killed by the puncture device. He tries to find Rao but the doctor has disappeared. Locke goes to see the widow of one of the victims. He finds out that he too had extreme political views.

Amy (Sarah Dugdale), now in high school, lives with Holt and his family. Locke picks her up on her birthday. He gives her another trinket for the bracelet. Amy tells him she has not worn it in years. He goes to see Holt and tells him his theories on the case. Holt tells him he needs to get help. Locke pretends to be apologetic and steals Holt’s police badge.

He gets the address of a person connected to one of the victims who shared his ideology. He finds the woman dead, killed the same way as previous victims. The killer is upstairs and runs again. Locke fires a few shots and hits her hand. She finds a motorbike and is off. Locke forces a drive out of his vehicle and gives chase. He chases her to the same beach that she crashed on nine years before. He sees her in a futuristic sphere, the sphere filling with liquid. The sphere, along with her, disappears. Holt is waiting for Locke and has him arrested. Rao watches the whole scene from a high vantage point.

2015 and Rao is doing experiments on pigs. He has a device like the one Locke recovered in 1988 and injects all of the pigs in their necks. He then runs a program that liquifies their brains when he touches the screen. The doctor is alerted to the presence of Locke on the same beach that he was arrested on nine years before.

The doctor snatches Locke. Locke tells him that if they do not stop her, she will keep killing. Rao tells him that is the point. She is changing the world. Rao tells him that he is going to hold Locke for a couple of days, so as the killer can work. Locke manages to free himself and fights with Rao in the van. The van crashes.

Locke escapes from the van and makes his way back to the beach. The woman returns. Locke is waiting for her. He plans to kill her. She tells him that if he kills her, the world will end in the near future. Locke points his gun at her. She tells him that she has known him her entire life. She gives him the bracelet his daughter always wore and tells him it is from her mother. He realises that she is his granddaughter.

In the future, the woman remembers being nine years old in 2015 and a terrorist act the was the prelim to a civil war. When she grew up and a much older doctor Rao (Al Maini) had perfected his technology and also had found a way to breach time and space every nine years. He could also activate the brain liquify program over the same time/space route.

Locke goes to the hospital to see his daughter who is giving birth. Locke meets his granddaughter as a baby. The end.

Final thoughts: In The Shadow of the Moon is a mouthful of a title and a film which disappears a little up its own grandiose intentions. Taking ideas from The Terminator and Looper and many other time loop films, In The Shadow of the Moon, starts promisingly but, because of the muddied storytelling, comes almost to a stop halfway through.

Unlike the aforementioned films, this film suffers from one not knowing what the end goal is trying to achieve or, in this case, avoid. There is mention of a civil war but that would hardly warrant a person travelling back in time to assassinate random people because, in the words of the film, their ideologies and moral compass help to shape the ideas of some person who would cause civil war at some point in the future. What? Exactly.

The war or act is only alluded to and only seems to affect Philadelphia, even though the woman says it will end the world. Seeing as she has come from the future, meaning the world had not ended, what the heck was that supposed to mean? We do not get to know the people who are killed, nor meet the person or persons they supposedly influence.

There is some vague allusion to Jefferson – admittedly, not being an American, I have very little idea what this has to do with proceedings. – and some oblique references to extremism but that is as far as it goes when it comes to a reason for the shenanigans going on in this film.

The acting is fine from all concerned and is directed by Jim Mickle, for the most part, quite well. The dialogue in the script is not bad and sounds natural, though there is the wretched, dreaded, exposition scene with Rao and Locke towards the end when they try to explain the films quite convoluted premise.

Written by Gregory Weidman and Geoffrey Tock, it is the story that this film falls down on. At just under two hours long, In TheShadow of the Moon – there are so many better, catchier, titles they could have come up with – is ultimately let down by the too-smart-for-its-own-good plot which brings an initially gripping thriller to a grinding, laborious trudge midway through proceedings. In The Shadow of the Moon is not an unwatchable mess but you will be underwhelmed if you take a couple of hours out of your day to watch it.

See You Yesterday – review (Netflix)

    Claudette ‘CJ’ Walker (Edna Duncan-Smith) and Sebastian J Thomas (Dante Crichlow) are best friends and science geniuses. They are both at the Bronx Science School and, with the summer holidays coming, are hoping to win a Science expo that is coming up in a weeks time. 

   CJ, though a genius and analytical thinker, is a bit of a hothead and prone to flying off the handle. When she runs into Jared (Rayshawn Richardson), her ex-boyfriend, in the local corner store, they get into an altercation and her brother, Calvin (Astro), steps in to protect her. 

   CJ and Sebastian are working on a temporal relocation experiment – time travel. They plan to go back one day and have created a backpack that can, in theory, create a portal to the past. After they trial the experiment for the second time, the first having failed, it works and they find themselves back to the day before. 

    Excited by their success, the two go back to the store where they saw Jared. Sebastian warns CJ about avoiding bumping into their past selves. Unfortunately, when CJ sees Jared again, she douses him with a slushy. In the resulting confusion, Jared ends up fighting with a confused CJ from the day before. Calvin intervenes again. CJ, the one who has travelled back, douses Jared with another slushy. He chases after her and gets hit by a car. They go back to their proper timeline. Sebastian is frustrated by CJ’s ignoring the possible consequences of messing with the timeline.

    The next day, Calvin is at a summer cookout with his homie. They leave and Calvin gets shot and killed by the police in a case of mistaken identity. A distraught CJ works out how to power the backpacks so as they can go back further in time. The manage to go back further, but their plan to save Calvin is messed up by them encountering Jared and not having enough time to get to Calvin. They are too late to get to him and he is killed again. 

    They return to their own timeline and decide to jump back again. This time they plan to prevent the robbery that precipitated the events that lead up to Calvin’s death. CJ decides to go and warn Carlito (Carlos Arce Jr), the store owner, that he is about to get robbed. Sebastian in that timeline sees CJ and in the confusion, gets shot and killed. The Sebastian that CJ jumped back with fades away. 

    CJ jumps back and attends Sebastian’s funeral. Calvin is still alive. He finds the funeral notice from his own funeral that happened before the first jump. He makes CJ explain everything to him. CJ gets the help of Eduardo (Johnathan Nieves), another super smart student, to build another backpack. 

    She jumps back again and tries to save everybody. Though she saves Sebastian, she is unable to save Calvin. Back in the proper timeline, Sebastian realises that something did not go right and asks CJ for an explanation. She tells him what happened. He says that they cannot jump back anymore. CJ agrees but then traps herself in the garage where they conduct their experiments and jumps back again. The end. 

    Written by Fredrica Bailey and Stefon Bristol, See You Yesterday is an interesting idea not particularly well executed. At only an hour and twenty minutes, it is a relatively short film, but it is told in such a laborious fashion that it seems to drag in parts. 

    Caught between serious drama, sci-fi and comedy, the film does not serve any of the genres particularly well. There are large swathes of the script taken up with an explanation on the workings of the time travel backpacks, information that adds nothing at all to the film. The popular and much used, ‘don’t mess with the timeline’ trope is utilised to good-ish effect in this film, though some of the story is more plot convenience than creative storytelling. 

    The acting in the film and the casting are very good. Unfortunately, only a few of the characters are written above caricature level, the rest mostly filling the roles of recognisable, even for a black person from the UK such as myself, stereotypes. 

    The directing, by one of the writers, Stefon Bristol, is just okay. There is a bit of filler stuff, the almost seventies like effects for the time jump sequences and the trying too hard to be emotive slo-mo as the kids are accosted by the police officers near the end of the film. The rest is just serviceable. The film is beautifully shot, however. 

    The film tries to broach some serious subjects; education, police murdering young black men, black community and ambition. Regrettably, it does not serve any of the subjects at all well. The film goes for visual punch, emotional and spectacle, over story. 

    I was really looking forward to See You Yesterday, as the concept and premise is quite interesting. Disappointingly, it does not deliver. See You Yesterday is not one to watch tomorrow or any other day. 


Alien Warfare – a review (Netflix)

    It was calling me. When a film registers two point four on IMDB, it is begging to be reviewed. Begging I tell ya! The opening credits, which looked like they were knocked up on a budget PC, are woeful. They are, mercifully, short. Unfortunately, the film begins. Whoa, it’s terrible. I am writing this as I watch the film and it’s painful.

    Make no mistake, I am doing you a service by telling you – no – warning you, not to watch this film. This film is a car wreck. Netflix obviously does not watch everything they output. The script is woeful, the acting – ha! – is nonexistent, the story bollocks, camera work is….in focus? 

   Navy Seals team, Mike (Clayton Snyder), his brother, Chris (David Meadows), Jonesy (Daniel Washington) and Thorpe (Scott C. Roe) are sent on a covert, top-secret mission, to check out a mysterious research site of multiple disappearances. 

   Chris is leading the mission, though it is his brother Mike who has always been the leader. We are shown, in an opening sequence, that in an earlier mission to rescue a world leader, Mike’s decision gets the leader killed. That becomes an issue when running the present mission. 

   When they get to the research facility, they find it completely vacant except for one lone survivor, Isabella (Larissa Andrade), a scientist who survived a blast that incinerated everybody else on the base. 

    There is an alien artefact in the base that caused the annihilation of everyone on the base when attacked. This information is relayed to the Seals by Isabella. Aliens attack the base. Mike works out, because he is obviously a genius, that the aliens want to invade earth. 

    In every encounter with the aliens, the guns prove no use whatsoever. These Seals, knuckleheads that they are, unload unholy amounts of ammo at them whenever they encounter them. Of course, it is a complete waste of time. They find out, by accident, that the aliens are affected by electrical signals and hatch a plan to lure them all into one place so as to kill them.

    When that plan goes awry and one of the team, Chris, is taken, Jonesy, who had been taken by one of the aliens earlier and saw their home planet – yes he did – tells them about a spiral pattern. Photographers and mathematicians will understand, the rest of us it’s like ‘what?!’ Isabella and Thorpe, who both have a love of language and communication, work out how to open the artefact.

    The aliens, it turns out, are not trying to invade the planet but trying to retrieve one of their own, who happens to be inside of the artefact that is in the research base. Mike, now leading the team and desperate to get his brother back, confronts the aliens with their brethren. Initially, he threatens to kill the being unless he gets his brother back. He quickly relents and they swap brother for the alien. 

    The groups acknowledge a peaceful truce and the alien beam up to their spaceship and fly off. Chris and Mike wonder what they are going to tell the top brass. The end. 

    Oh god, Jesus wept, my eyes! This film is staggeringly awful. In times past, when there was such a thing as shame and fame or notoriety at any cost was not craved, a right-minded person, on watching this wretched mess, would replace their name in credits with Alan Smithee, directors would anyway, a pseudonym used to avow credit of particularly bad work. What a writer would do is anybody’s guess. 

    All concerned with this project should have adopted a pseudonym. The directing – step forward Jeremiah Jones – is atrocious, the writing – Ben Bailey, Dave Baker, and Nathan Zoebl – is the kind of thing a fourteen-year-old sci-fi geek might come up with and he would still get a ‘D’ minus. 

   The acting is so shockingly bad that you might think that they were all friends of the director. I would think that they are all enemies of the director as only an enemy would put anyone in a project this woeful. If he had any friends in on this project, they are either no longer friends or played the parts of aliens so no one saw their faces. 

    The film is ninety minutes long and feels like it last five hours. You could not get high enough to enjoy this film. I am almost angry reviewing it, it’s so terrible. There must be a fund that Netflix has and are just giving away money for people to create content, that could be the only reason they did not pass on this film. 

    This is, hands down, the worse film I have watched on Netflix. I’m am confident that I will not see a worse film this year. I may see a more disappointing film but I will not see a more inept, badly executed, miserable excuse for a film as Alien Warfare in the rest of 2019. Avoid, you have been warned.


Annihilation – a review

Alex Garland’s latest big-screen offering – and small screen, more on that later – is the ‘cerebral’ thriller Annihilation. I put cerebral in quotations as Inception this is not! Admittedly I am one of the few people who were not blown away by Garland’s last outing, the enjoyable but, I felt, too ponderous, Ex Machina.
I will say that Garland definitely has a good visual style. Like Ex Machina, Annihilation looks incredible, which contributes to an initially interesting and disturbing atmosphere. That soon wears off as the story gets not so much going as plods along.
Natalie Portman is Lena, an ex-soldier turned scientist/biologist whose husband, Oscar Issac’s Kane, also a military person, has gone missing presumed dead. Lena mopes around her home, sullen with grief and guilt – she had an affair with a married colleague at the college she works at, though it is not indicated whether the affair happened whilst her husband was missing or beforehand – cutting herself off from friends and acquaintances.
Kane returns but he is different and cannot explain his year-long absence. When he suddenly becomes critically ill, Lena takes him back to the military base in an effort to save him. There she meets Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Dr Ventress who tells her about her Kane’s return from an exploratory mission into an unexplained area they had named the Shimmer, due to its dome-like shimmering quality.
Ventress goes on to explain that several missions had yielded no results and they had lost much personnel. All the previous expeditions had been male only, so for no discernible reason I could fathom, the next suicide – sorry – expedition would be an all-female affair. Lena, military trained and a scientist to boot, decides to join the mission reasoning – poorly – that the answer to whatever is killing her husband is inside the mysterious Shimmer.
So, on a planet where a person can barely sneeze without it hitting the internet and satellites from every first world country orbit the planet, this Shimmer has been being investigated, for over a year, just by the Americans. A year in which it has expanded and they have kept feeding military bodies to it. Right. Onward.
Five intrepid ladies head into the Shimmer, besides Lena and the doctor, there is Tessa Thompson as the DNA specialising, anthropologist Josie Radek, Gina Rodriguez as the overtly gay Anya Thorensen and Tuva Novotny as Cass Sheppard. All have their scientific specialities, not that it matters much in the context of the film.

Only the good doctor knows Lena is related to Kane, the only person to have returned from the Shimmer.
Once inside the Shimmer, all sense of time and orientation is lost, the women cannot remember entering the Shimmer, nor can they recall how long they have been inside.
They trek on exploring the wondrous and lush landscape. On coming upon a semi-submerged houseboat, they proceed to investigate. One them gets attacked by something in the water. Obviously. After a frantic rescue, there is a brief showdown with the unidentified river/swamp beast. Lena shows her military prowess, emptying a clip into it. Bravo.
There is quite unbelievable science, gobbledygook and hapless exposition as they speak of DNA adaption and mutations. Unfortunately, such subject matter has been executed so much better in other films and television programmes.
There is madness, mutiny, abduction and death but it is not anything you would care about as none of the characters is particularly memorable or empathetic. I would give out a complete spoiler-laden review, but it would make very little difference in the context of the film, with its somewhat ambiguous premise petering out to a most unsatisfying conclusion.

None of this is the fault of the talent on show, who all try gamely with the material they are given, but with exposition kept to a bare minimum – usually a good thing – and explanations almost nonexistent, the story struggles to keep a viewer either engaged or caring.
Annihilation is almost too smart for its own good, with the questions it poses – why would you keep going in? How has no one in the world noticed there’s an expanding light bubble in North America? – not the ones it perhaps hoped for. Annihilation was released in theatres in the U. S. but in Europe, due to some distribution issues, was released on Netflix. As I said earlier, the visuals in the film are stunning so it is a pity – even with the advent of supersize televisions – that it could not find even a limited theatrical release in Europe, as its visual scope at least deserves a large screen.
Annihilation is not unwatchable, but it is disappointing and somewhat pretentious with a good film buried beneath the pretensions.