Turbo Kid

turbo_kid.jpgDirector: François Simard, Anouk Whissell, and Yoann-Karl Whissell. Starring: Laurence Leboeuf, Munro Chambers, Michael Ironside, Aaron Jeffery, Edwin Wright. Canada (Quebec), New Zealand, 2015. Budget: $60,000. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 3/4. An eccentric childish post-apocalyptic sci-fi with lots of gore.

– I thought all robots were evil.
– Depends on the model.
(The Kid and Apple are getting to know each other)

– You want to see something cool?
– I always want to see something cool.
(a conversation between The Kid and Apple)

“Turbo Kid” is  a faithful homage to the 80-s, a naïve love story occasionally slipping into a gory bloody post-apocalyptic trash. Sounds dorky? Well, it looks dorky too, and is entertaining as hell from the first frame.

The film doesn’t hesitate to borrow everywhere it can, but you don’t blame kids at the nearby playground for copying chases and fighting they saw on the TV screen, do you? Especially if they have a super-blaster-glove and BMX bikes.

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Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

a53c13372cc8d6fbcc97829b65d226f4.jpgDirector: George Miller. Starring: Mel Gibson, Bruce Spence, Vernon Wells. Australia, 1981. Budget: $2 million. IMDb: 7.6. My rating: 2/4. Post-apocalyptic gory gasoline obsessed car chasing sci-fi.

– I’m just here for the gasoline.
(Max Rockatansky)

There are some things I cannot understand. Premise: I enjoyed “Fury Road”, I love post-apocalyptic themes, I fully comprehend that in 1981 it was ground-breaking (and in 1979 as well), that it was shot for laughable $2 million, it had the cutie Mel Gibson and it was an Australian movie.

But how the hell in a cult film that is widely recognized as one of the best action movies ever made there is so little action and so much talking?

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Dredd

Dredd

Poster by Jock.

Director: Pete Travis. Starring: Karl Urban, Olivia Thirlby, Lena Headey, Domhnall Gleeson. USA, 2012. Budget: $45 million. IMDb: 7.1. RT: 78%. My rating: 3.5/4. Gritty dystopian cyberpunk at its finest.

– Negotiation’s over. Sentence is death.
(Dredd)

– I was wondering when you’d remember you forgot your helmet.
– Sir, a helmet can interfere with my psychic abilities.
– Think a bullet in the head might interfere with them more.
(a dialogue between Dredd and the rookie Judge Anderson)

– I am the law.
(Dredd)

It’s not like I’m keen on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes ratings… but how often does it actually happen that a reboot of a non-Marvel/DC superhero movie has 78% RT and 7.1 IMDb, outgunning by all means the so-bad-that-it’s-good 1995 version?

You’re right – almost never. “Dredd” is probably the only decent superhero sci-fi flick released since Marvel/DC brainstormed (brainwashed?) the world. It seems though that nobody noticed that (myself included, till yesterday).

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Parade of the Planets

parad planetDirector: Vadim Abdrashitov. Writer: Aleksandr Mindadze. Starring: Oleg Borisov, Sergey Shakurov, Sergey Nikonenko, Liliya Gritsenko, Aleksandr Pashutin, Pyotr Zaychenko. USSR, 1984. IMDb: 7.2. My rating: 3.5/4. A surreal metaphor about the end of an era, generations and human fate.

– I was a good student. And all good students dreamt to be astronomers. Discover new stars. But all stars have already been discovered…
(conversation between main characters)

– I was a butcher, I was…
– And now?
– And now I’m a spirit.
(conversation between main characters)

“Parade of the Planets” gives you an illusory airy, gauzy feeling. It’s woven of a light and some invisible matter – hard to catch, yet impossible not to feel. It’s late in the afternoon, the sky is still crystal, but you feel the air is thicker, there’s a sense of doom all around… the thunder is coming. The storm that will wash away everything. We won’t even see it, probably, but the feeling itself is overwhelming. Continue reading

City Zero (Zerograd)

zero-cityDirector: Karen Shakhnazarov. Starring: Leonid Filatov, Oleg Basilashvili, Vladimir Menshov, Armen Dzhigarkhanyan, Evgeniy Evstigneev. USSR, 1988. IMDb: 7.6. My rating: 4/4. Theatre of the absurd, mysterious tragicomedy & black metaphor.

– I need one first class ticket to Moscow.
– There are no tickets.
– I don’t care which one,
first or second class…
– I have neither of them.
– Where is the manager of the station?
– The manager won’t help.
(a dialogue between the train ticket seller and the main character)

20170614_070542It’s called a silent hysteria. The late 80-s, without doubt, were the most prolific period for the underground culture in Soviet Union, especially for the rock music, when so many original bands appeared whose heritage is still relevant today. But mostly they were still prohibited, while the the cinema was changing… ”Of all the arts, for us the cinema is the most important”, as Lenin once said. The censorship became less strict – occasional nudity, freethinking or just weird stuff were allowed.

”City Zero” is the finest dark offspring of that epoch. It wasn’t appreciated by the masses at that time (which is not a good symptom by itself, given that in large part the movie is about crowd manipulation as well…), being an intellectual, allegoric and metaphoric dark tale. It was the 4th feature film by Karen Shakhnazarov, already a successful and experienced director, and he managed to capture the spirit of the falling empire in this theatre of the absurd. As he admitted later, portraying the Perestroika and fall of the USSR wasn’t his priority, but the film outgrew the original intention of the director.

What’s most remarkable, “City Zero” is normally classified and sci-fi/mystery – and if you analyze every single scene separately, there’s nothing completely impossible. The famous cake scene actually happened once. But looking at the whole story makes you feel like slowly drowning in the swamp… It’s kind of ”Donnie Darko” goes on ”Mullholland Drive” in ”The Twilight Zone” atmosphere.

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The Man from Earth

man_from_earthDirector: Richard Schenkman. Starring: David Lee Smith, John Billingsley, Tony Todd, Ellen Crawford, Annika Peterson, William Katt, Alexis Thorpe, Richard Riehle. USA, 2007. Budget: $200,000. IMDB: 8.0. My rating 4/4. Intellectual imaginative dialogue-based science fiction.

– There is absolutely no way in the whole world for John to prove this story to us. Just like there’s no way for us to disprove it.
(one of the film main characters)

– I am going home and watch Star Trek for a dose of sanity.
(one of the film main characters)

It’s often said that a good science fiction should in first place activate our imagination and not rely merely on being a visual stimulator. “The Man from Earth” is a minimal dialogue-based intellectual science fiction at its best. But it will provide you with more fantasy, drama, thoughtful remarks about biology, religion and psychology than you could expect from a film shot almost entirely in one house with zero action or special effects for $200,000. Continue reading

The Machine

f04c6c2af663d16125acc53ff0ea71e9.jpgDirector: James W. Caradog. Starring: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Denis Lawson, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Sam Hazeldine. UK, 2013. Budget: $1 million. Box office: $322,000 DVD sales. IMDb: 6.1. My rating: 3.5/4. Noir cyberpunk tale about a thin line that separates humans and A. I.

– How do I know that you’re alive and not just a clever imitation of life?
(one of the main scientists)

”The Machine” beats the recent ”Ghost in the Shell” adaptation with an incredible ease. If it were done in the 80-s, it would have been a cult movie. But it’s a 2013 directional debut by the Welsh director James W. Caradog, so let’s just be humble and categorize it as… almost excellent.

I have often been harsh with independent sci-fi about A. I. There hasn’t been much of it in last decade – I mean, the good one that makes think and feel, like ”Automata’ or ”Ex Machina”. Most of the others failed, taking the easy path of violence like ”A. I. against humans” or puzzles like “guess-who-is-robot-who-is-human”, which I find it incredibly boring.

So I prepared for the worst after watching the trailer of ”The Machine”, but found out something completely different. And it seems not only me. I have no idea why it was promoted (according to the trailer and poster) as an action-based sci-fi about A. I. ”The Machine” unexpectedly turns out to be dense, smart and sensible science fiction, and in the last place it’s about gore and rampage.

The plot. Near future. The West is in state of a Cold War with China. British scientists are working on creating android killing machines that will help in case of a real war that seems inevitable. Implants and artificial limbs for humans are being developed. Ava, a young scientist, joins Vincent in the hidden research facility in the attempt to develop the first self-aware artificial intellect. But they are on the edge of something bigger.

What I liked. The Machine” feels like a spiritual sibling of ”Blade Runner”, but consciously done in a harsher way. What surprised me most is that often it felt really scary – and not because of some cheap thrills. It’s because of how well it shows a thin line between humans and androids. Fear of the unknown. Few examples…

  • The guards that work as security in this research facility are for the most part wounded or partially disabled war veterans. They were given artificial limbs to substitute missing body parts or special implants that help to recover whatever sense they miss (in case their brain, sight, hearing etc were damaged), but it has certain side effects. Pretty soon they lose the ability to speak – nobody knows why, but a brilliant explanation is given later in the movie – and it seems that they start to have more of the machine than of human.
  • As the Machine (the main character) is ”born”, she behaves almost as a normal human, with small subtle differences that feel incredibly weird. There is a brilliant episode when the Machine is thinking that she is smiling to Vincent, but in fact her ”smile” looks like a sinister grin because she doesn’t know how to smile – but she doesn’t realize it, saying that she smiles it in  the same way as humans. The Machine doesn’t see the difference, so she heads to the mirror in order to learn how to smile. It looks creepy. This scene alone feels incredibly powerful.

Plus there are many episodes that feel really tense as they show broken, distorted human emotions, as if seen through a broken glass. Very creative and thoughtful approach. ”The Machine” shares a lot with the recent adaptation of ”Ghost in the Shell”, but it explores things in a deeper and more original way. Shame on you, Hollywood.

The acting is much better that one could expect from a $1 million budget directional debut of this kind – and not only from main protagonists Caity Lotz (awesome double role here), Toby Stephens and Denis Lawson, but from incredible background characters as well. Iranian-born Pooneh Hajimohammadi and Sam Hazeldine did especially a great job, portraying people with mutilated and warped senses and emotions, avoiding any kind of cliches that are typical for the genre. Kaity Lotz was very good (nothing to do with awful ”400 Days“), taking the role more seriously than portraying just a newly-created A. I. She managed to show a very wide array of emotions, from childish first steps and mistakes to delusions and learning how to survive in a cruel human world.

The movie is beautiful visually as well. It borrows a lot from “Blade Runner” visual style, and thanks God it does. It never becomes the end in itself though, blending the visuals with the narrative and using them as an integral part of the story. Everything feels organic here. With a tiny $1 million budget the Welsh director James W. Caradog and his team did really a good job. The movie never looks cheap. The synth-based soundtrack gives the warm 80-s feel as well.

What I didn’t like. There are certain moments that feel a little bit like a cliche (mostly the villain part that felt strained), but compared to the overall creativity and thoughtfulness put into the movie, let’s just close eyes to it. Finally, you cannot want everything from such a good debut like here.

Worth watching? Yes. ”The Machine” unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most original and well-crafted movies about A. I. of the last decade. It may not be as delicate and refined as ”Ex Machina” – and we don’t need another ”Ex Machina” anyway, don’t we? – but feels fresh, original and creative. Good old dense cyberpunk with an intense texture and often scary feel. A must-see for anyone who’s into thinking sci-fi.

Watch also: ”Automata”, ”Ex Machina”.

3.5/4

 

Never Let Me Go

never_let_me_goDirector: Mark Romanek. Starring: Andrew Garfield, Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley. UK, 2010. Budget: $15 million. IMDb: 7.2. My rating: 2/4. A love triangle story in a dystopian society.

– We didn’t have The Gallery in order to look into your souls. We had The Gallery to see if you had souls at all. Do you understand?
(Miss Emily)

There is something deeply weird with “Never Let Me Go”, the third feature film by Mark Romanek. Mostly, it’s the tone. Continue reading