The AFI Film Festival is currently going on – and they have a pile of great films happening over there if you want to check it out. I had been watching for Shadow in the Clouds, and was excited to accidentally run into it here at AFI, it just looked like an interesting little film. I adore little slices of life films. I particularly love them when they feel crossbred with the Twilight Zone or Black Mirror. The best is, this movie has such an old timey feel going for it, and yet it has such a progressive, and fast forward message that it sort of hit me coming and going. It was almost like a radio theater drama playing out in an aircraft. It was as if the recent Vast of Night film was made into a World War II Black Mirror Radio Theater episode. So let’s do this shall we: Movie Shadow in the Clouds Recommendation!!
And like I said – yeah, this film isn’t perfect. Heck, it’s tragically flawed if you are looking for a Marvel fun fest. But if you are interested in a flawed female lead protagonist that wins as much as she screws up? And you prefer a smaller scale tableau to watch – then maybe this one is for you. Here’s a good litmus test – if you enjoyed Vast of Night, you’ll probably also enjoy this as well. And seeing how polarizing Vast of Night was (to reference, see the car crash that was my inbox immediately after releasing that post) this one will probably roll in a similar fashion. Probably the only thing protecting me right now is the fact that outside of the AFI Film Fest, it’s dubious it’ll hit theaters and streaming services for a while. (phew!)
Since I don’t believe there is a trailer released yet for the film – why not peruse this discussion with Chloë Grace Moretz and the director Roseanne Liang, talking about the crafting of an imperfect heroine instead:
Movie Shadow in the Clouds Recommendation
The story of Shadow in the Cloud is a pretty simple conceit. A bomber, traveling in the Pacific, is heading out to deliver transponders to Samoa. Maude Garrett is a last minute addition to the flight under the guise of a super secret assignment. And probably one of the most interesting aspects of the film is the sheer atrocity involved with a woman being signed up for the military during World War II. Heck, probably signed up anytime. But what do I know? The first 20 minutes is just one sexual tirade after another against our protagonist. And it’s even more interesting seeing as how this film is written by Roseanne Liang. Is this the story she wants to share with us? A story about the years of denigration that woman have had to put up with at the hands of military men? Why don’t we tuck that idea away, and bring it back up later.
The question though, from the get go, is what is the top secret item that is in her package? It sort of glows when she partially opens it to look inside. Immediately my mind went to Pulp Fiction and the theory that the briefcase contained Marcellus Wallace’s soul. Haven’t heard that theory yet? Huh. Yeah, the number one theory explaining Pulp Fiction’s briefcase contents is that it’s his soul, and that he sold it to the devil in order to become a successful gangster. Yes, it’s a rabbit trail. And you are okay all the same. No lacerations, no heart attacks. You are just fine. So what is in Maude’s secret, glowing, container? Is it her soul? Maybe… the movie opened with a very strange sequence of events with the plane materializing out of nowhere, in a sort of tip that maybe all of this is a dream? Or maybe, there is something else going on here. So, who knows?
When Maude Garrett presents her orders to the captain, and to the crew, they are immediately dubious. But, they let her board…and soon she is placed inside the Sperry Ball Turret on the undercarriage of the bomber. And then, the film begins to take on a radio theater quality as the production refuses to leave Garrett’s perspective. It’s a very cool trick that places the viewer in the trapped bubble that is that ball turret. Apropos of absolutely nothing – I have a poem to share:
From my mother’s sleep I fell into the State,
And I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze.
Six miles from earth, loosed from its dream of life,
I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters.
When I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose.The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner by Randall Jarrell
Apparently it was a extraordinarily dangerous place to work – and only the smallest member of the crew could even be put in this particular location. The ball turret was small in order to reduce drag on the plane overall. Want a better picture of just how horrifying the ball turret could be, this quote from the LiHerald.com:
“Drafted on Nov. 19, 1943, Buczak was just 18 the first time he crawled into a ball turret. His diminutive 5-foot-5-inch frame made him a lock for the job. “I was the smallest, so I was elected,” he said. “It was like suicide going in there.” Aside from being in an extremely vulnerable position, the ball turret gunner could only see under the bomber. With a limited line of vision, enemy fighters attacking from 12 o’clock would often seem to come out of nowhere.”
But the risk that Garrett had affixed to the bottom of the plane wasn’t from other fighter aircraft, but rather from gremlins. Her fight goes into the next level when she begins to see things in the clouds. Japanese fighters, sure. But also the persnickety, supposedly mythical creatures that were blamed for all manner of equipment failures throughout WWII. When the ball turret hatch wouldn’t open because the latch snapped off in her hand, we know that she’s going to be in really big trouble. And when the gremlin meets her under the plane, and she has nowhere else to go, things start to get really serious for Garrett. The gremlin knocks out the number three engine, then begins damaging the number four.
It is then that the crew, unaware of the gremlin on the plane yet, gets it in their mind that whatever that package is that’s on the plane, that is the thing that is causing all the issues they are experiencing. And soon enough it becomes revealed that Garrett isn’t really Garrett, and that package isn’t a top secret dispatch, but rather a baby. Her own baby. You see, it would seem, that Garrett faked the orders, and tried to stow away to get away from an abusive husband. She’d had an affair with Quaid, one of the men on the plane, and the product of that affair was a baby, and a husband that was out to kill her. Thus the flight to Samoa in order to get away.
From here on out, the film sort of requires a leap of faith similar to that of Shia LaBeouf’s turn in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. You remember that horrific scene when, in order to outrun the bad guys in the jeep, he swings from vine to vine? Yeah… it sort of feels like that. Garret, or Johnson, whichever name you’d prefer to go with, she finds herself performing stunts on the bottom of a plane that is probably 10,000 feet in the air, with bullets flying, and the plane pivoting and swinging, all while attempting to retrieve her gremlin stolen baby. It’s a bit much for one’s plausible suspension of disbelief abilities. At least for me anyway. But I was having fun with the film, so I went with it. But I love how it all started… when the gremlin took off with her baby, she says, “You have no idea just how far I will go”… and that was a very believable kick off for the Cirque du Soleil festivities.
And, after finally retrieving her baby, she manages to step into the anti-aircraft guns and shoots a few zeroes out of the sky, and then she assists with the landing of the plane after the pilots had been seriously injured. It’s like she deftly sidesteps bullets like Neo in the Matrix, all while her male counterparts are falling left and right. But I saw this as theatrical judgement. Judgement for their misogynistic vitriol. For their sexually offensive comments. And for their generally dismissive demeanor. They’d been judged by the playwright, and be found wanting. As a result, Garrett slides through the film generally damage free. She vanquishes the gremlin in the air, then does it again on the ground. All the while, Quaid, and the rest of the surviving members of the crew just stand back and watch as she saves them all and her baby to boot.
What Else Is Happening Here?
One way to look at this film would be literally. A gremlin World War II movie film? I guess. Or, you could look at it as a film that talks about the gremlins facing women today, whether women in the workplace, or the home, or just out and about…it could be another vantage for the assaults hitting women from all sides in all aspects of life. Not picking up what I’m putting down? Your Honor, I’d like to submit to the court this as video evidence to explain to the reader why they are being extraordinarily dense at this particular moment…
Sure, is street heckling literally what this movie is about? No. But could it be? Yes. Could it be indicative of a larger issue that women deal with daily? Sure. And in the first 30 minutes of this film the harassment that Garrett goes through is just stupid crazy. So much so I was curious as to how offensive it would have been like for women during the World War II time frame. A 2016 military report detailed the following: “The most frustrating and disappointing finding is how little has changed over time both in terms of cultural shifts and what survivors of MST have experienced and continue to experience with people they need to be able to trust and rely on.” So it really doesn’t shock anyone that this has been a standard issue in the military for long as recorded history.
Could it be that the military aspect of this issue is just a random setting? What if we made the movie about a director named, oh, I don’t know, Roseanne Liang, and about the fact that she is a minority woman, attempting to make action movies in Hollywood? That and about her attempt to make a movie with a female lead? Yeah, you might as well as add a pile of sexist military men and a gremlin that is hellbent on ripping the guts out of your ship…and your plans for taking on Hollywood.
But What About The Movie??
Believe it or not, I am talking about the movie. But, if you’d like me to stick to the actually plot points of the movie – and you are actually that myopic in your vantage, then sure, we can “talk about the movie.” I thought it was an awesome Twilight Zone episode. Actually, wasn’t there a movie with this basic premise in the Twilight Zone movie? I think it was a passenger plane, and the gremlin was bigger? Anyway, yeah, it was a great little Black Mirror. A wonderful mindjob TV serial. But no, this isn’t $12 theater viewing material. Not by a long shot. The directing was filled with funny pacing, of assumed poignant moments I didn’t fully comprehend. Like the decision to have Garrett breast feed the baby at the end seemed weird? I mean, yeah, we all assume that the baby needs to eat. And the fact that it was really only 70 minutes into the movie that it was over? It felt like a fluff moment. Dying for 15 more minutes? Send in a second gremlin. Bring the dead one back to life? Cause the plane to explode again. I don’t know. But it felt like it was an hour long TV show that got pushed too far, and now we are watching her breast feeding? Yeah, that was weird.
I was really horrified by the abuse that she had to put up with during the first half of the movie. I was appalled that this was all too real. I thought her flawed character, stealing her way onto the plane, running for her life, but maybe in all the wrong ways, was good writing – and compelling. There was enough here that I enjoyed that I can, with a good conscience, recommend it. But don’t pay extra for it like I did (cough, tax write off, cough). So hopefully it will come to you guys by way of Netflix, Prime or some other streaming giant you already get your movies from. I had a good time with this cool little film. Made me THiNC. which is good. And the Weta visuals were great as always.
Anyway, what did you think of our Movie Shadow in the Clouds Recommendation? Check it out if you get a chance.
Edited by: CY