‘Moonfall’ Knocks Everything Out of Orbit

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Moonfall (CREDIT: Reiner Bajo/Lionsgate)

Starring: Patrick Wilson, Halle Berry, John Bradley, Michael Peña, Charlie Plummer, Kelly Yu, Eme Ikwuakor, Carolina Bartczak, Maxim Roy, Stephen Bogaert, Azriel Dalman, Donald Sutherland

Director: Roland Emmerich

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for The Regular End-of-the-World Chaos

Release Date: February 4, 2022 (Theaters)

Given its title, I had hoped that German disaster auteur Roland Emmerich’s Moonfall would be some sort of random rebuke to James Bond’s Skyfall. I don’t know what that would entail exactly, but I can’t help but think in puns. But instead, this end-of-the-world epic is actually some sort of unholy union at the intersection between Transformers: Dark of the Moon and The Matrix Resurrections. The former because of the secrets that have been hiding out for generations on Earth’s satellite, and the latter because of the urgency for humans to live alongside artificial intelligence.

Emmerich is of course known for blowing up the world in the likes of Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, and 2012, but he’s also known for his conspiracy theory streak. Remember 2011’s Anonymous, which posited that William Shakespeare wasn’t actually the author of his plays? Most people don’t! If you do, though, the inner workings of Moonfall might seem somewhat less inexplicable. But only a little.

So the deal is, there’s been this massive coverup on the part of NASA ever since astronauts Brian Harper (Patrick Wilson) and Jo Fowler (Halle Berry) lost a fellow spacefarer to what appears to be an attack from electrical interference that’s taken the form of a swarm of locusts. This leads to a coverup, which predictably tears Brian’s life apart. Meanwhile, this random dude named K.C. (John Bradley) has been going on and on about how the Moon’s orbit is changing, and I’m no expert in astrophysics, but that doesn’t sound so good. For some reason, nobody on NASA has noticed this until now because – as far as I can tell – they just haven’t bothered to look down at the data. Anyway, Patrick, Jo, and K.C. all eventually head to the Moon, where they learn both that the coverup has been going on for basically all of human history and also that the artificial intelligence behind the attacks is actually apparently trying to help out humanity. So I’m left wondering: why did it have to be so deadly to get everyone’s attention?

Back on Earth, Brian’s kids, ex-wife (Carolina Bartczak), and her new husband (Michael Peña) are walking through the snow in Aspen, Colorado to find somewhere safe. And I don’t know what this has to do with anything! Yes, I realize that disaster movies usually have ostensibly more grounded stories to anchor our emotions, but it helps if it’s clear what those grounded stories have to do with the disaster. Maybe that connection was explained at some point, and I just forgot. Oh well, at least the conspiracy theories are plenty loopy. If only there had been even more loopiness.

Moonfall is Recommended If You Like: Half-baked conspiracy theories, Halle Berry realizing there’s an emergency, Random court scenes

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Orbits

This Is a Movie Review: ‘All the Money in the World’ Brings the Life-or-Death Thrills, But Could Go Deeper in the Psychology of Vast Wealth

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CREDIT: Sony/Columbia TriStar

This review was originally posted on News Cult in December 2017.

Starring: Michelle Williams, Mark Wahlberg, Christopher Plummer, Charlie Plummer, Romain Duris

Director: Ridley Scott

Running Time: 133 Minutes

Rating: R for Kidnapping-Related Dismemberment and the Vices of the Rich and Organized Criminals

Release Date: December 25, 2017

First off, for those of you wondering: yes, director Ridley Scott has seamlessly replaced Kevin Spacey with Christopher Plummer in the role of J. Paul Getty. No distracting editing or effects tricks appear to have been necessary, and anyone unfamiliar with the backstory should not have any reason to suspect an unusual production.

As All the Money in the World states explicitly, the Getty family’s massive fortune makes them practically an alien species living among human beings. Is it J. Paul Getty’s billions that make him see the world differently, or has he always been that way? Certainly his instinct for negotiating every possible deal is unprecedented, but his particularly uncompromising worldview goes beyond that. How else to explain a man who takes extreme measures not to ensure that his grandson is freed from kidnappers, but rather to ensure that he gets the best possible deal out of the exchange?

Ridley Scott’s knack for ruthless efficiency makes it difficult to really plumb those psychological depths. (It also means that there are moments when characters are staged partially in shadow and I am not sure if it is an artistic decision or just poor lighting.) It is impossible to avoid them entirely, because of Getty’s singularity and Plummer’s inherent understanding of the role. The audience is left to draw its own conclusions, but we are nudged towards just accepting that this man is totally inscrutable.

While this efficiency may skimp on the thematic depth, it at least ensures the satisfaction of a nail-biting thrill ride. The kidnapping victim, John Paul Petty III, who goes by Paul, (Charlie Plummer, unrelated to Christopher) is adrift by his familial station, but he has still enough of a survival instinct to give his scenes plenty of verve. Paul’s mother Gail (Michelle Williams, with a distractingly self-aware but perhaps historically accurate Mid-Atlantic accent) is understandably constantly on the verge of an emotional breakdown, but she remains steely, surprising herself perhaps most of all. And Mark Wahlberg is unusually upright and decent as the former CIA operative assisting J. Paul and Gail. In the moment of watching, the rescue mission grips you, but in the long run, the mark of J. Paul Getty leaves you existentially disoriented.

All the Money in the World is Recommended If You Like: Films About Real Life Rescue Missions and the Most Notorious Criminal Enterprises, Attempting to Understand the Wealthiest People on the Planet

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Negotiations