\

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Madi, the Graphic Novel Conclusion to Duncan Jones’ Moon Trilogy

September 15th, 2021
,

Duncan Jones has described his 2018 film Mute as the second part in trilogy of loosely-connected sci-fi films set in the universe of his breakout 2009 film Moon.  Mr. Jones has spoken of being unsure that he’d be able to raise the funds to make his third planned film; instead, last year he and co-writer Alex de Campi launched a kickstarter to create a graphic novel of this story.  Madi: Once Upon a Time in the Future is a 260 page graphic novel published by Z2 Comics that is available here from that publisher or here from Amazon.

Madi is set in the near future; it introduces us to a young woman named Madi, a former British soldier who has had much of her body replaced with cybernetics so as to be a better soldier.  Madi is no longer in the military, but she’s still paying off the cost of those implants, and so she and several of her fellow enhanced former soldiers have become a group of mercenaries for hire.  After a job goes wrong, Madi goes off on her own and gets herself hired by the head of a corporation to steal secrets from a rival company.  Those secrets turn out to be embedded in a cybernetically-enhanced young boy named Dean.  Rather than turn him over to be taken apart, Madi and Dean and a hacker named Ted wind up on the run.

I quite enjoyed Madi!  This would make an awesome movie.  As it is, it’s an extremely enjoyable graphic novel.  (Click here for an in-depth interview with Duncan Jones & Alex de Campi in which they discuss the decision to create Madi as a graphic novel, and the process of doing so.)

I love the world-building in the book.  The story is set in a futuristic world that has lots of fun details and idiosyncrasies to be discovered.  At the same time, the tale of battling corporations who treat people as disposable feels extremely relevant.  That’s a compelling balance!  I love exploring the world of this story.  Clearly a lot of thought was put into creating and developing this near-future setting.  The world of Madi feels real and thought-out in a way that enhances the best sci-fi stories, in any media.

Madi is set in the same world as Moon and Mute, but the stories are completely stand-alone.  The connections are actually extremely tiny, little more than seeing the “fly meal” packages (fast-food delivered by drones) that we saw in Mute.  However, having seen those prior films, particularly Mute, it’s fun for me to see how, for example, what we glimpsed of a future city in Mute (in that case, Berlin) is expanded … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Mute, the Second Film in Duncan Jones’ “Moon Trilogy”

I was blown away by Moon, Duncan Jones’ 2009 directorial debut.  It’s a fantastic original sci-fi film, featuring Sam Rockwell in a terrific leading performance.  (Well, actually multiple terrific leading performances… watch the movie!)  Unfortunately, I haven’t been nearly as taken by the follow-up films directed by Mr. Jones that I have seen, such as Source Code and Warcraft.  In 2018, Mr. Jones’ film Mute was released on Netflix.  I was excited.  I’m always interested in original sci-fi premises, and the film looked like it had an incredible cast.  Even better, Mr. Jones described Mute as a “spiritual sequel” to Moon, and so of course I was eager too see what that meant.  But Mute’s reviews were atrocious, and for one reason or another I never caught up with the film until recently.

The titular mute is Leo, played by Alexander Skarsgard.  Leo was horribly mangled in a boating accident as a boy, rendering him unable to speak.  He works as a bartender in a futuristic Berlin, and is in a relationship with one of the waitresses at the bar, Naadirah (Seyneb Saleh).  When Naadirah vanishes, Leo begins a relentless hunt through the scuzzy underbelly of the city in an attempt to find her.  This brings him into contact with Cactus Bill (Paul Rudd), an AWOL American G.I. working as a surgeon for a local crime-boss, as well as Bill’s scumbag friend and fellow surgeon Duck (Justin Theroux), and many other sketchy and dangerous characters.

I really wanted to like this film; I was hoping that it’s bad reputation was unearned.  It’s definitely not a catastrophe, but unfortunately in the end I felt it was a misfire.  It just didn’t work for me, though there was a lot that I enjoyed.

I loved the film’s imaginative futuristic setting: the cool, gritty, dirty, Blade Runner-esque future Berlin.  The film and all of its sets/locations were beautifully well-designed.  The world-building is top-notch.  The film is set in an unnamed near-future year, and I loved that what we saw of Berlin was futuristic but at the same time very real and grounded.  That was very cool.  This is a much larger-scale film than Moon, and it’s fun to see Mr. Jones and his team stretch their wings to bring this sci-fi setting to life.  I’m sure this film was made on a budget that’s a fraction of a big studio epic, and Mr. Jones and his team really made the most of their resources.  The film looks great.

The film’s cast is strong.  Alexander Skarsgard cuts an imposing and memorable figure as Leo.  Mr. Skarsgard’s expressive face helps us bring us inside this silent and closed-off character.  Paul Rudd … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Catching Up on 2016: Josh Reviews Warcraft

I have no attachment to or even any knowledge of the game Warcraft.  I have never played the game, in any of its incarnations.  But I was interested in the film version because of the involvement of Duncan Jones at the helm.  Mr. Jones directed Moon, a fantastic tiny-budget sci-fi film from 2009 starring Sam Rockwell.  That film made me a forever fan of Mr. Jones, and I was curious to see how he’d interpret the massive game canvas of Warcraft.

Warcraft.cropped

The film tells the origin of a conflict between humans and Orcs on the fantasy world of Azeroth.  As the film opens, we follow Orc clan-leader Durotan and his pregnant mate Draka as they, and other Orc warriors, flee their dying world.  Their powerful leader Gul’dan uses his magic to transport the Orc horde from their dying world to the lush Azeroth.  There they face that world’s protectors, including King Wrynn (Dominic Cooper), Protector Medivh (Ben Foster), the warrior Lothar (Travis Fimmel), and the young mage Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer).  But not all Orcs are evil and not all humans have Azeroth’s best interests at heart.

This is a tough film to unpack. I love the enormous ambition on display in every frame.  This film wants to be a spectacular fantasy epic.  It is stuffed full of characters and places and creatures, all of whom have complicated names and back-stories.  The look of the film is full-on fantasy epic, with elaborate costumes and props and sets and settings, many of which are enhanced by extensive CGI effects.  There are enormous vistas and expansive CGI fantasy cities and locations.  There are incredible creatures and and lots of magical super-powers.

It’s all, as I just commented, incredibly impressive in the scope of its ambition.  Unfortunately, I can’t say that the film works at all.  I don’t have any pre-existing knowledge of Warcraft, the characters or backstory.  I am someone who loves sci-fi and fantasy, and my eyes don’t glaze over when it comes to crazy names and fantasy settings.  But this movie overwhelmed me.  It was all “too much of a muchness” (to quite the great Ira Steven Behr, one of the main writers behind the best seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine).  There were just too many characters, too many locations, too many hard-to-say and harder-to-remember long, very fantasy-sounding names.  Far too much was thrown at the audience far too fast, without giving us strong enough characters to be able to hold onto and invest in.

This film’s problems emphasize for me the successful way Peter Jackson launched his Lord of the Rings trilogy.  That film is an enormous fantasy canvas, stuffed full … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

Josh Reviews Source Code

The phenomenally high-quality Moon (starring Sam Rockwell — read my review here) guaranteed that I’d buy a ticket for director Duncan Jones’ next film.  Well, that film has arrived, and although it took me several weeks to find the time to get catch it in a theatre, I’ve finally seen Source Code.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Captain Colter Stevens.  He wakes up on a train heading towards Chicago, but doesn’t have any idea how he got there.  His last memory is flying a mission in Afghanistan.  Across the seat from him is a woman, Christina (Michelle Monaghan), who seems to know him, but he has no idea who she is.  Also, she calls him Sean.  After a few frantic minutes trying to figure out what’s happening to him, the train explodes, killing Captain Stevens, Christina, and everyone on board.

But Captain Stevens doesn’t die.  He wakes up in some sort of pod.  A woman on-screen in a military uniform identifies herself as Goodwin and begins to lay out some of the details of Captain Stevens’ situation.  A terrorist detonated a bomb on that train and has threatened to decimate Chicago by detonating another bomb, this one with nuclear material.  A technology known as Source Code will allow Captain Stevens to relive the last eight minutes of life of one of the passengers on the doomed train.  He has that long to try to identify the bomber and prevent the threatened destruction of Chicago.  They’re going to continue sending him back into that eight minutes until he does.

Let me get this right off the bat: Source Code is no Moon. It’s an entertaining sci-fi thriller, and it certainly has some fun mind-bending concepts, but it’s nowhere near as memorable as the incredibly original, tightly-structured Moon.

Both Jake Gyllenhaal and Michelle Monaghan do fine work as the two leads.  They’re both talented and charismatic enough that they capture our interest even though we don’t really get to learn much about either character.  The focus of the film is far more on the intricate sci-fi plotting than it is on developing characters.  That’s not a criticism — I love twisty plot-driven films.  But when comparing this film to, say Speed (which is certainly not great cinema but is a rousing action adventure that also focuses on a man and a woman trapped in an enclosed moving vehicle in a tense situation), it’s clear that we certainly get to know Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock’s characters far better than we do those of Mr. Gyllenhaal and Ms. Monaghan.  I adored Ms. Monaghan’s work in the magnificent Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang and the also-terrific Gone Baby Gone, and I’ve been waiting … [continued]

Browse Josh's Portfolio and the Comic, Reviews or Blog archive.

2009 Catch-Up: Josh Reviews Moon

Though 2009 is well in the past, I’m still trying to find time to watch those 2009 films that I missed (some of which I listed when writing my Best Films of 2009 list).  At the top of my I-really-wanted-to-see-it-but-never-did list from 2009 was Duncan Jones’ little sci-fi film, Moon.

When I say “little,” I am referring only to the budget (5 million dollars).  Because in no other way is Moon a “little” film.  No, Moon is a phenomenal achievement, and it surely would have made my Best Films of the Year list had I seen it in time.

It’s the near future, and the great Sam Rockwell (Galaxy Quest, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, Frost/Nixon) plays Sam Bell, working alone in a small helium-3 mining station on the moon.  His only companion is the station’s computer, Gerty (voiced by Kevin Spacey, perfectly cast).  Sam is nearing the end of his three-year contract and is anticipating his return to Earth and to his family.  Of course, it’s not going to be that simple.

I’ve barely said anything about the film’s story, but I really think that’s for the best.  This is a film best appreciated going in cold, without knowing any of the plot twists.  Suffice it to say, when a distracted Sam crashes one of the station’s small rovers, he unwittingly sets into motion a chain of events that leads to things quickly going more and more awry in his once-efficient little moon station.

Moon is an acting tour-de-force for Sam Rockwell.  With the exception of a few other people glimpsed briefly on computer monitors, Sam is the only character on screen for the entire film.  But he dominates the screen so thoroughly that I didn’t even really consider that fact until well after the film had ended.  Mr. Rockwell has always been known for bringing a particularly idiosyncratic brand of humanity to the flawed array of characters he has portrayed on screen, and his Sam Bell in this film is a spectacular example.  Once the plot gets going, Sam’s ordered life starts to fall down around his ears, and the way Mr. Rockwell brings to life his increasing desperation, and also his surprising inner reservoirs of strength, is wonderful.  Shame on the Academy for not nominating this spectacular acting performance!!

Writer/director Duncan Jones jokes in the DVD’s special features that the most recent example of an “indie” sci-fi movie that he can think of is Danny Boyle’s Sunshine, which was made for around 50 million dollars. Moon was made for 5 million.  To say that my jaw was on the floor when I learned that this movie was made for such a miniscule … [continued]