Where worlds collide

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Authoritarian states have historically put a lot of effort into using movies for propaganda, sometimes with spectacular results.

While the Nazis forced much of Germany’s top talent to Hollywood, much to the latter’s benefit, its studios continued to operate throughout the war. One epic about the Titanic proved to be too realistic, as production delays had undermined its expected morale-boosting purpose.

The movie wasn’t released because the tragedy was too close to Germany’s own changing fortunes. Originally, the purpose was to show the perfidy of the English ship’s owners and their callous disregard for the passengers. Action footage was later used to great effect and without credit in a British production, A Night to Remember, in 1958.

The Chinese government imposes strict quotas and censorship on imported Western movies. Hollywood kowtows to these rules if the Chinese box office – the world’s largest – is critical to the financial success of a blockbuster. But that applies only to a handful of productions.

China is also making its own blockbusters, most of which imitate the patriotic message of the Nazi cinema. This usually means taking an event from history and giving it some spin. For example, several recent Chinese movies give credit to the Communist Party in resisting the Japanese during the 1930s and 1940s when in fact it was Chinese Nationalist forces.

The realm of outer space offers fresh possibilities, without the need to distort history. Liu Cixin’s novel The Wandering Earth has been adapted for the screen in two parts, which have proved Chinese film-making techniques and budgets are equal to anything from Hollywood. Another plus for the Chinese is the eclipse of serious science fiction and disaster movies thanks to the surfeit of comic-book “universes” and Star Wars spinoffs.

The Wandering Earth II (CMC Pictures) is a prequel to the 2019 feature, which is now available on Netflix. Put together, the pair offer dazzling entertainment that will appeal to anyone who enjoyed Gravity, Ad Astra, and The Martian.

The prequel also makes the overall story more comprehensible, as the background shows division in the world community, the UN having been replaced by the UEG (United Earth Government), over how to protect the planet’s future.

One option, pushed by the Americans and its big-tech companies, is conversion to a digital life. The other, backed by China, is the Moving Mountain Project, which means propelling Earth out of its orbit around an expanding sun and finding another solar system.

Audiences of the original will know the latter course is followed. But this doesn’t happen before high-speed elevators from Earth to space stations and moon bases are destroyed amid technical and political disputes.

These events take place over several decades in the near future, with a multinational cast speaking English as well as Chinese. It’s a novel cultural response to the American-centric predecessors such as Armageddon and Deep Impact.

The moral messages that emphasise the collective good over individuals in such movies is ironic, given that both emanate from two different world views.

Rating: Mature audiences. 173 minutes.



First, two complaints. One was the decision to put the seemingly endless credits of today’s movies at the beginning. But this slow start was nothing compared with the poor-quality digital projection at the commercial screening I attended. This is becoming too common due to cinemas failing to maintain adequate light intensity, leaving audiences to watch a gloomy screen. The viewing burden is heavier when faced with serious film-makers, such as Todd Field, who extend their stories past two hours. His plot is daunting enough without such impediments, as a world-famous orchestral conductor spirals downward in a career-ending series of incidents that don’t seem important at the time. But they gradually coalesce into a melodramatic climax that includes a heady mix of “cancel culture”, identity politics and whether an artist’s personality should affect judgement of their work. Cate Blanchett is at her best in the lead role, in which she explains much about the nuances in classical music for the uninitiated. This includes a scene in which she is interviewed by real-life New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik and rehearsals for a recording performance of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony.

Rating: Mature audiences. 158 minutes.

The Menu

The cult of the celebrity chef may be celebrated on television, but they are, literally, poison in the cinema. That might be giving away too much of a plot in which Ralph Fiennes prepares an evening of extreme dishes for diners who have paid thousands of dollars to come to his resort island restaurant. Their wealth and pretension are easy targets as Fiennes skewers them with his subversive views on social inequality, bad taste and consumerism. He has researched his guests and has surprises for each of them. But one guest (Anya Taylor-Joy) is a stand-in, who upsets his plan and triggers a ghoulish gastronomic denouement. Director Mark Mylod is best known for his work on the TV series Succession.

Rating: R16. 108 minutes.

Everything Everywhere All At Once
(A24/Amazon Prime)

This hot favourite for the Oscars is built on mundanities facing Asian-American matriarch Michelle Yeoh as she tries to keep her laundromat business afloat amid disputes with her visiting father from China, an unsupportive but well-meaning husband she wants to divorce, a stroppy daughter, and a tax investigator, played by Jamie Lee Curtis. But when writer-directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (Swiss Army Man) get going, they add Matrix-style “multiverses” to create a dizzying display of cinematic fireworks. Much of this depends on kung fu action, in which Malaysian-born Yeoh made her name (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). For some, this might throw light on the plight of migrants in a new society and how the next generation adapts. But for others, including myself, this is like throwing paint at a canvas in the hope some has meaning. It if wins the big Oscar, this movie could herald a worrying trend that favours the unintelligible over the intelligent.

Rating: R13. 139 minutes.


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Nevil Gibson

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