It seems like an annual tradition that a critically-acclaimed sci-fi from an auteur will be released to either adoration or derision or both from a general audience. Gravity, Interstellar, The Martian and Arrival all earned acclaim and were generally well-received by audiences, but then Blade Runner 2049 and Annihilation faltered at the box office and the latter did not even receive international distribution, instead being bailed out by Netflix while a studio reluctant to even release the film barely marketed it at all. I think the box office results of Ad Astra will be carefully examined by studios to see whether this genre is worthy of being financed as original films’ performance at the box office continues to trend downward. What’s also interesting is that this film is a holdover from 20th Century Fox—now Disney owned—which could be completely reshaped itself under new management. Ad Astra’s release was pushed back numerous times which was concerning as it could have been a sign of studio apprehension, as the film is a clear financial film relying on star power, word of mouth audience response and marketing. The September release date the film was given was clearly a clever choice however, as only one franchise heavyweight was released, so it was mostly a level playing field between mid-budget original films, which was quite refreshing and I hope becomes the case more often. The film has performed better than expected, crossing more than 100 million worldwide, but it still stands to lose money, it’s box office performance similar albeit slightly better than another space-based film, First Man. These auteur-driven films go against typical Hollywood filmmaking, but it’s saddening to see such a lukewarm audience reception for a more creative take on the genre and going against convention.
Hustlers appears to be the breakout film of the year so far, earning strong reviews at Toronto International Film Festival, banking more than expected on its opening weekend at the Box office, and inciting unexpected but deserved Oscar buzz for an established star. Hustlers is also a welcome success for a great female-fronted film after Booksmart, Annihilation and Widows all earned significant acclaim but struggled to make the kind of money Hustlers has made in two weeks throughout their theatrical runs. These were disappointing results not only because these were films of high calibre, but because they made significantly less than lazy gender-swapped remakes Ocean’s 8 and Ghostbusters. Neither of these films are particularly awful but women deserve to lead their own standalone creative properties, rather than being handed recycled formulas from male-dominated franchises. These reboots don’t celebrate their female leads like they think they do, because they’re already being treated as an afterthought, coming years after the latest franchise entry in an attempt to cash-in on different marketable demographics. It’s disappointing that just by having name association these films will automatically make more money than this stream of original films struggling financially, it is indicative of the franchise-driven market we live in, but it causes me to worry. Hustlers like Widows and Annihilation is a mid-budget original film, these are the type of films that are becoming increasingly rare due to being a financial risk that even stars can’t bring big enough audiences to. Neither of the latter two crossed a 100 million worldwide, and it’s likely that Hustlers will, as this is a promising outcome that should hopefully encourage studios to carry on making these kinds of films. Hustlers is exceeding expectations due to good marketing, smart casting, and an interesting premise, it is possible for a film to have all three and still struggle, but the former is so crucial, and can often be mishandled by a disinterested studio, so it’s nice to see everything come together for this film to be the success that it is.
Hailing from BoJack Horseman heavyweights Kate Purdy and Raphael Bob-Waksberg, Undone has some serious pedigree to get expectations high, and similarly to Netflix’s groundbreaking animated series, Undone is funny, dark and deeply moving. Like BoJack too, Undone is an exploration of mental health in modern society and is an empathetic look at people afflicted with mental illness, perhaps inherited through family. Undone also has a unique animation style rarely seen on television by combining rotoscoping and 2D oil paintings to create an achingly beautiful look for this dark and surreal show. The series opens with our tear-stricken protagonist Alma crashing her car after seeing her deceased father on the street opposite her; the show’s pilot then retraces to introduce us properly to Alma and the people surrounding her all of whom she has complicated relationships with. There’s her deceptively optimistic sister Becca trying to masquerade some deep-rooted issues; her faithful, very concerned mother Camila trying to prevent her daughter from neglecting her own health; and then there's her boyfriend Sam who she shares a profound bond with but is concerned by their contrasting outlooks on life. Alma’s mental health is shown to be deteriorating from the onset of the episode as she’s struggling with the mundanity of her routine life, and this causes her to act self-destructively in a series of events that leads up to the crash and have repercussions when she reawakens in hospital some time later. However, what strikes her most after waking from her coma is that she can now see her deceased father, who sets a mission for her to uncover the mysteries behind his death with her new abilities to manipulate time and space. With this fantastical premise, Undone breaks a lot of rules to give a wholly unique viewing experience with amazing visuals and great lead performances both in the actors’ vocal and motion capture performances.
Tendrils of her hair cling to her cherub face as she
In the throes of night when the sky is dark and
Time is relentless even as it