Frequencies (OXV: The Manual)

Director: Darren Paul Fisher. Starring: Daniel Fraser, Eleanor Wyld, Owen Pugh. UK, 2013. Budget: unknown, but very low. Box office: unknown. IMDB: 6.8. RT: 100%. My rating: 1.5/4. Romantic girly YA movie pretending to be hard science fiction.frequencies

– Sex is like masturbation, just with someone else.
– I hope not.
(conversation between Marie and Zak)

– I have a 210 I.Q. I never needed to take notes. I just didn’t want to always have to look at people or have them looking at me. It’s the eyes.
(Marie)

It may actually took a while to figure out what is wrong with “Frequencies”. The photography is solid, the dialogues ate witty, the acting is trustworthy and the concept may seem intriguing. Quiet high ratings for such a low budget British movie. But… it just doesn’t work all together. For a not high demanding viewer that doesn’t ask too many questions, “Frequencies” may seem fine. But after a deeper look, it’s easy that it is just another shallow YA movie, this time without a big budget. The whole construction of the movie starts falls apart rapidly. “Frequencies” suffers from a typical disease of being too ambitious, hence trying to say too much and as a result saying little.

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The plot. What we have here? An alternative version of the world, where each person has a special frequency. It totally decides your destiny – those with high frequency w20170307_143753ill never be late for a train, get a bad job offer or spill a cup of coffee (and vice a versa). The whole society is divided from early school years in different groups based on each person’s frequency. Accidentally a boy (Daniel Fraser) with one of the lowest frequencies ever falls in love with a girl (Eleanor Wyld) with a uniquely high frequency. Can he find a way to stay with her?

After a good start, instead of developing more main characters and telling us more about 20170307_143545frequencies and the dystopian (utopian?!) world, the movie is piled up with unnecessary elements. None of which are truly original or well explored, mostly being borrowed elsewhere. Examples? For a few minutes we are introduced to a character who learnt how to foresee the future – this idea is never repeated again. Then, main characters manage to invent a special machine that can alternate frequencies if special words are pronounced. What is it, science fiction or Harry Potter? (I have nothing against Harry Potter, by the way). Then we learn that these magic words cause a side effect (and it’s rather silly). Later, we are introduced to the music concept – music somehow equalizes different people’s frequencies. To make it even worse, the plot even introduces a conspiracy based society. And trust me, there’s much, much more…

20170307_143708With this kind of a realization, the main concept seems even more superficial. Finally, what is this frequency? Is it your destiny? So what will happen if somebody with a high frequency and a low frequency go to catch the train at the same time? The movie never explores even an idea that simple, let alone how the whole society works.

The reception. The film currently has 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (which I find weird). It didn’t win any major awards on independent film festivals except for Kansas City FilmFest.

Worth watching? Not really. “Frequencies” may impress those who haven’t seen many good films as technically it is a well done movie. But dig deeper and you’ll recognize that it looks more like 20170307_143732a shallow gimmick than a good-hearted story it intended to be. After all, it’s one more YA romantic story about a divided society, two teens who cannot be together for some reason (frequencies, in this case) and try to change their destiny.

Don’t fool yourself with the sci-fi wrapping – there’s very little of it. The more you deconstruct the film, the more it starts to fall apart. Surprisingly, the messed up plot, good photography and very decent acting may mask the flawed concepts pretty well (hence high ratings), but as you peel deeper there’s little inside. At its best, “Frequencies” can deliver some witty lines.

Acting:  3/4
Directing: 2.5/4
Originality: 2/4
Maturity: 1/4
Pathos level: high
Final vote: 1.5/4

Watch instead: “The Lobster” for wry and deadpan humour about our society norms and a couple relationship’s dissection, sentimental “Fahrenheit 451” by Francois Truffaut is a curious old dystopia based on Ray Bradbury’s novel, “THX-1138” for minimal and deadly visuals, “Gattaca” for a futuristic take on humanity, “Sunshine” for space dystopia, “Moon” for a minimal thought-provoking futuristic dystopia.

But if you really want to understand why I was so harsh with “Frequencies”, have a look at “Dead Man’s Letters” and “Stalker“. These movie are meaningful and touching, but never manipulating… never having so much vicious excess.

400 Days

400Director: Matt Osterman. Starring: Brandon Routh, Tom Cavanagh, Caity Lotz, Ben Feldman, Dane Cook. USA, 2015. IMDb: 4.5. Budget: unknown, but very low. Box office: $58. My rating: 0.5/4. Comatose fight of Solaris vs 2001 vs Alien vs Moon.

 What is your current mood?
 Tired… and a little hung over.
 Tired and hung over aren’t moods, I need something like happy, sad, depressed, angry.
(a dialogue between main characters)

400 Days” is a brilliant showcase of how with very little you can achieve even less. I found it on some faraway dusty sci-fi forums thanks to a viewer who complained about ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, criticizing it as a dull and uninspiring movie with bad acting. Thank you, dear unknown viewer! I must confess I feel like a snob by saying this, but… should a basic cinema education be introduced in secondary education program? At least, as a short course?

Still, I am particularly proud I have seen a movie that grossed $58.00 (fifty eight dollars). Way better than ”Man Down” with Shia LaBeouf that took just £7.00 at UK box office during its premiere, isn’t it? I am also deeply convinced that even worst movies can tell you something new – for example, this year NASA will be actually testing 6 potential cosmonauts for 8 months in closed environment to examine psychological issues. On Hawaii.

20170427_062257400 days is the length of the preparatory mission for a space travel to the Moon. 4 people selected. They will live together in a claustrophobic underground environment, kind of a spaceship simulator, in order to see how psychologically prepared they are for a real mission. As their voluntary imprisonment is reaching the end, something starts to go wrong. It seems that it wasn’t exactly a preparatory mission.

Sounds cheesy? Well, that’s actually the least cheesy part of the film. NASA actually is developing a similar program right now on Hawaii, it’s called HI-SEAS. 6 people, 8 months, Mars-like simulated environment and geology exercises. You can read more here, it’s interesting.  Here is a photo of how it actually looks like:

habitat

20170427_062124The problem of the movie is not the idea. It’s actually pretty good. The problem, as it often happens with the low budget sci-fi, is the realization. I also have no idea why exactly 400 days are needed, not 399? Doesn’t sound like a cool name for the movie? Pardon my vocal gymnastics, but it may give you a general idea of the internal logic of the film. Or, to be more precise, its absence. What is the characters background? What kind of program is that? Why20170427_062109 these 4 people are selected? Why one of them is taken right out of jail? Where comes from the image from the poster? Why the slogan is ”time to kill”? We will never know that.

Oxford Dictionary has a pretty good definition of this movie. “Comatose – of or in a state of deep unconsciousness for a prolonged or indefinite period, especially as a result of severe injury or illness.”

20170427_062223The first 40 minutes are particularly hard to watch, since this is how much the movie actually takes to arrive to the main point (which was already clear to anyone who read the description or saw the trailer). Damn, in Peter Jackson’s ”King-Kong” it took more than one hour to show us the ape… but at least we saw it!

20170427_062151To make it even worse, these 40 minutes are full of broad hints that there is something wrong with the future mission (as if it wasn’t clear already), boring wandering around the ship and weird behavior for no apparent reason when the characters start to go mad (probably because it was written in the script?). The sets look cheap – but still would do fine for some secondary “Outer Limits” episode, if cut by half. “400 Days” feels infinitely long. Like 400 minutes (God bless you, Peter Jackson).

20170427_062243The acting is on the same level as everything else. But it’s not the fault of the actors because we have some good names here. I mean, these people can act. I don’t know what Brandon Routh (Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns“, Egdar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” which I adore) is doing here. Tom Cavanagh dilutes the ongoing sleepiness with some sinister lines, but that barely saves the movie. And Caity Lotz? She did a brilliant performance in “The Machine“, a cyberpunk movie I just loved.

Oh. Almost forgot.

The characters here have one bad habit. They talk.

I mean, they comment literally everything that is happening around, often several times – like we, viewers, have a 3-year-old-kid brain and are not able to get it. There is a remarkable episode, when the main characters have been 20170427_062137hanging around in one place for roughly 2 minutes of the onscreen time and one of them finally says, ”Hey guys, how long we have been wandering around here?”, and his mate replies ”I think an hour or two”. It’s curtains.

20170427_062209The ending could provide some catharsis to all this like it often happens in ending-based movies, but there is virtually no ending. Yes – when the movie ends, you have barely no idea of what actually happened. It’s simply not shown. There are some clues here and there though, so basically here we have same story as with lots of other dull sci-fi like “Primer” or “Uncanny“, when various geeks will watch the movie over and over 93455 times to solve the puzzle.

Worth watching? I think the Oxford Dictionary has a pretty good definition of this movie. “Comatose – of or in a state of deep unconsciousness for a prolonged or indefinite period, especially as a result of severe injury or illness.” The Oxford Dictionary is right – with a huge choice of great sci-fi of all kind like we have now, there is very little reason to watch ”400 Days”.

But if you don’t take the movie too seriously, it can be plenty of masochist fun to watch too. It will be a tough experience you’ll never forget.

Watch instead: anything else. Perfect “Ex Machina“, ”Moon” & ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, quite good “Exam” & ”Signal”, all of these are valid flicks for some mind-bending thrills, not mentioning old classics like ”Solaris”.

0.5/4

Avalon

Director: Mamoru Oshii. StarringMalgorzata Foremniak, Wladyslaw Kowalski, Jerzy Gudejko. Japan, Poland, 2001. Budget: $9 mln. IMDb: 6.5. My rating: 1.5/4. Boring to death cyberpunk with occasionally interesting visuals.

As someone who is a gamer, a computer and sci-fi enthusiast, I found this to be a pretentious long winded bore.
Puddncakes T

The makers should be sued for comparing this piece-of-crap with a cult-movie like The Matrix.
mrspock79

Oshii uses the camera like an artist uses his/her brush and canvas: this movie is a painting.
dingo865

“Avalon”, a Japanese-Polish co-production, may not be the most renowned sci-fi movie, but its director, Mamoru Oshii, must be well known to anyone even remotely interested in cyberpunk and virtual reality, as he originated “Ghost in the Shell” (1995), considered to be one of the cult fundamental pillars of the genre.

Let me be honest – I didn’t like the film. It suffers from the same problems as the recent “Ghost in the Shell” (2017) film adaptation, “heavy on style, but lacking in thought and intelligence”. But at lest ”GitS” has fast-paced action and big budget that helped to masquerade it’s emptiness. ”Avalon” doesn’t have it. Basically, it’s all about a videogame cyberpunk mode on and nothing else, and I can’t say I was very impressed by the style. Let me save your time…

…these are some of the most impressive scenes of the film. There a couple of others, but that’s it. The rest is much duller and looks like a bad melodrama. There’s little action and lots of awfully written dialogues. Yes, almost the whole movie is shot in a yellow sepia tone.  The visuals strongly remind of the videogames of early 2000-s. Decide by yourself whether it’s a compliment…

AvalonUnfortunately – and I say it with sincere bitterness because it sounded promising – “Avalon” did not live up to my expectations. It has 3 major problems. All of them are really just the basics of a decent filmmaking:

a) it is secondary to so many other films, stories and that could even pass if it wasn’t such a…
b) …melodramatic congestion of characters with stony faces doing…
c) …stuff that you just don’t care about.

Here’s Ash, the main character of the movie, played by Malgorzata Foremniak. She has one face expression for any kind of emotion. Just like Vladimir Putin.

Now, it’s a whole bunch of problems here, isn’t it? And what or who can save all this? Well, there’s one guy called Mr. Style.

…because what Mamoru Oshii was trying to create here is style. And style is like the wind breeze, often you cannot describe it, taste it, see it, yet you can’t stop feeling it. There are some die-hard cyberpunk fans that claim that “Avalon” is another Oshii’s masterpiece. Don’t believe them. It’s not a totally flawed movie… but it’s just boring.

And it looks horribly dated. “Alien”, shot in 1979, does not look dated. “Terminator 2” (1991) does not look dated. “Avalon” does, and I am sure it looked dated just few years after the release.

I have no idea who could be an audience of this film. The gamers didn’t like it – there are literally dozens of games out even in 2001 that were smarter, cooler and exciting. Japanese didn’t like it – the movie was a huge fail in Japan, it seems that they are not really into the classic atmosphere of a “moribund socialism” of Eastern Europe. Only die-hard cyberpunk fans may find something here or somebody who has never seen a VR movie. For everyone else the movie offers little, except for occasionally interesting visuals.

The production. “Avalon” was a weird co-production between Poland and Japan. All the cast, setting, dialogues and decorations were purely Polish and you can feel it straight from the first frames. I have no idea why Poland was chosen – probably because it was cheap (only $9 mln) to shoot there and the army even allowed to use their tanks and equipment for the filming.

The plot. The youth of the future is becoming increasingly addicted to an illegal and lethal virtual reality game “Avalon”. Ash, one of the best players, hears of rumors that a more advanced level of the game exists… Even if she discovers the next level, will she ever be able to come back to real life?

avalon3

Worth watching? If you are not a die-hard cyberpunk and virtual ritual reality fan… then no. Not really. As for the visuals – maybe in 2001 it looked original and fresh, but I would rather replay ”Deus Ex” one more time. The original 2000 game. Which I have replayed at least 10 times already.

Watch instead… just to be honest about the technology advancement, here’s a selection of films released before “Avalon” – “The Matrix“, “Ghost in the Shell” (for anime lovers), “eXistenz“, “Dark City“, “Truman Show“, “Johny Mnemonic” – all these were much better movies about virtual realities (or just fake realities). Heck, even “13th Floor” was better. Far from being perfect ”Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”, the first big computer-animated feature film and a huge box office bomb with $137 mln budget was a better movie!

Check also:  Top 10 Mamoru Oshii’s films that are not “Ghost in the Shell”

1.5/4

Natural City / Blade Runner rip-off

naturaal cityDirector: Min Byeong-cheon. Starring: Yoo Ji-tae, Lee Jae-eun, Seo Lin. South Korea, 2003. IMDb: 5.8. My rating: 0.5/4. ”Blade Runner” rip off.

If somebody ever creates a list of ”Blade Runner” rip-offs, please put ”Natural City” on the first place.

We all know that ”Blade Runner” and another obscure movie by R. Scott did had a long-lasting effect on cinema, cyberpunk and science fiction.

We all know what is the difference between a homage and a rip-off.

”Natural City” was probably intended as a faithful homage – even the poster’s line said ”The Blade Runner era finishes and the Natural City myth starts” – but unfortunately ended up being a bad rip-off.

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Triangle

TriangleDirector: Christopher Smith. Starring: Melissa George, Michael Dorman, Rachael Caprani, Henry Nixon, Liam Hemsworth. UK, Australia, 2009. Budget: $ 12 millions. IMDb: 6.9. My rating: 1.5/4. Unscary horror wrapped in a dull time-looped puzzle.

– Well listen we don’t have to go today if you don’t want too.
– No I do… I… I… I wanna go.
– You sure?
– Yea… yea!
– Yea? OK!
 Lets go sailing!
(a typical dialogue)

Most movies about time travel/time loops share one thing in common. No, it’s not what you thought. It’s an immense and inexplicable character obtuseness. I mean, what would a normal person do if he travels in time and meets his friends or even himself? Of course, kill everybody, do odd stuff he wouldn’t normally do, write scary messages to your counterpart and maybe slaughter him as well! Otherwise time travel is not fun, right?

It’s also the first thriller I have ever seen that takes its own plot so carelessly – the poster itself is already a spoiler. Continue reading

Morgan

Director: Luke Scott. Starring: Kate Mara, Anya Taylor-Joy,morgan Rose Leslie, Michale Yare, Toby Jones. USA, 2016. IMDB: 5.8. My rating: 1/4. Sci-fi thriller about androids and stuff.

– Do you know the cruelest thing you can do to someone you’ve locked in a room? Press their face to the window.
(one of the scientists)

20170415_080345”Morgan” will surely provide you with some powerful insight about which tales Ridley Scott told his kids before sleep. It is another take on androids in the recent wake of independent A.I. science fiction and a debut feature of Luke Scott, whose father directed several movies we all adore. But “Morgan” is too immature to tell a complex story and the movie admits this quickly by itself, as it quickly abandons any attempts of being smart and tries to compensate it with some action. Not really good action. Continue reading

Soylent Green

Director: Richard Fleischer. Starring: Charlton Heston, Edwarg G. Robinson, Leighsoylent_green Taylor-Young. USA, 1973. IMDb: 7.3. My rating: 1.5/4. Dystopian future cli-fi.

– Why, in my day, you could buy meat anywhere! Eggs they had, real butter! Fresh lettuce in the stores.
– I know, Sol, you told me before.
(conversation between Sol and Det. Thorn)

Imagine Ellen Ripley would stop lurking around in a middle of the heat and starting a love affair with a crew member, because the alien suddenly went vegan? Stuff like “Soylent Green” is the worst kind of cinema. The trailers and marketing campaign say it is science fiction (adventure, action, thriller, put what’s right in your case). 10 minutes pass, and you think – well, maybe it will start now. Other 10 minutes are gone, and you say – well, it was just a good warm up, now is the time! And as you reach 30-minute mark, you admit – you have been cheated. It’s a fucking melodrama. Continue reading

Uncanny

uncannyDirector: Matthew Leutwyler. With: Mark Webber, Lucy Griffiths, David Clayton Rogers. USA, 2015. IMDB: 6.3. My rating: 1/4. Guess-if-it-is-a-robot-or-not science fiction.

– Your lack of focus on what’s important means you miss the big picture. And that made you lose the game.
(David Kressen)

This movie belongs to the great category called “one more movie”. What is it, you will ask me? Oh, one more movie where we have to guess:
a) if it is human or robot/android/vampire/monster/somebody else
b) who exactly is the robot and who is the human
c) after the final plot twist – oh this beloved trick, the final plot twist! – guess again who is the robot.

So… A scientist (Mark Webber) created a human-like robot (David Clayton Rogers) with perfect AI. As the scientist falls in love with the journalist (Lucy Griffiths) that visits his laboratory, the behaviour of the robot becomes stranger.

Continue reading

Passengers

passengers_ver2Director: Morten Tyldum. Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Chris Pratt, Michael Sheen, Lawrence Fishburne. USA, 2016. IMDB: 7.0. My rating: 1.5/4.

– Jim, these are  not robot questions.
(Arthur, the robot-barman)

– We were woken too soon… Ninety years too soon!
– We have too go back to sleep!
– We can’t!
(typical dramatic dialogue between main characters)

A second movie in Hollywood by a Norwegian director Morten Tylden, who made great and brutal “Headhunters” (which I highly recommend, a thriller with really Norwegian spirit) and his most famous film “Imitation Game”, both received well on various festivals and public. Tyldum mentioned few years ago that he has been dreaming to make a sci-fi movie for a long time. Did he manage to do it well? Barely.

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Primer

primer-movie-poster-2004-1020241222Director: Shane Carruth. Starring: Shane Carruth, David Sullivan, Casey Gooden. USA, 2004. IMDB: 7.0. My rating: 1/4.

Abe: Did you notice those? When you were controlling the feeds, did you notice the parabolic? Hey, it’s important. Parabolas are important. Here, look at this.
Aaron: I don’t know, Abe.
Abe: Now, I’m gonna start it up and let it run for sixty seconds with, with nothing in it, okay, it’s empty this time.
Aaron: [watching the time] That’s twenty-two.
Abe: In all the equations that describe motion and heat…
[They start to cross-talk over each other]
Aaron: Now, just one minute, just a second…
Abe: …in all the Feynman diagrams, what’s the one variable that you can turn into negative and still get rational answers from?
(a conversation between main characters)

Aaron: You know that story, about how NASA spent millions of dollars developing this pen that writes in Zero G? Did you ever read that?
Abe: Yeah.
Aaron: You know how the Russians solved the problem?
Abe: Yeah, they used a pencil.
Aaron: Right. A normal wooden pencil. It just seems like Philip takes the NASA route almost every time.
(a conversation between main characters)

Primes is one on remarkable examples of where independent ultra low-budget science fiction can get. It was made by Shane Carruth for just about $ 7,000 (he also wrote the script, the soundtrack, played one of main characters and lots 20170214_140511of other stuff as well). It gained good recognition on festivals (including Sundance grand jury prize, oh yeah) and still holds 7.0 with almost 80.000 votes on IMDB. Sounds like a great deal for a true low-budget sci-fi fan? I also thought so. But it’s fascinating to see how high a movie like “Primer” can get, gaining recognition between geeks. Continue reading