metaphysics

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 hav5e 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. (more…)

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. (more…)

THE MACHINE

f04c6c2af663d16125acc53ff0ea71e9.jpgDirector: James W. Caradog. Starring: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Denis Lawson, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Sam Hazeldine. UK, 2013. Budget: $1 million. IMDb: 6.1. My rating: 3.5/4. Noir cyberpunk tale about the border between 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.  (more…)

Dead Man’s Letters

dead mans lettersDirector: Konstantin Lopushanky. Starring: Rolan Bykov, Iosif Rykliv, Viktor Mihaylov. USSR, 1986. IMDb: 7.7. My rating: 4/4. Post-apocalyptic portrait of mankind’s last days.

– The whole history of mankind is a history of a slow suicide of a living matter that by sheer accident acquired an ability to think – but that did not know what to do with this fateful ability. It could not find any better use for it than invention of the most effective ways of a total suicide.
(of of the main characters)

Endless piles of rusty metal, interminable yellow twilight, dirty radioactive puddles of mixed water and blood. And dead bodies. Dead bodies everywhere. Children, men, women. Everywhere. There is no hope here. It’s finished. There is no ”if”. The doomsday clock has moved. We are just witnessing the final decay of small group of survivors that will last several months, probably. There is not even a single hint about their survival. It’s a death rattle.

And imagine shot all of this in a Tarkovsky-like manner – the director Konstantin Lopushansky actually worked as assistant during ”Stalker” filming.

Perestroika was a crucial time for Soviet cinema as well. More and more things became allowed – the censorship started to close eyes on occasional nudity, violence, absurdism – things that were all cut ruthlessly before 1985. ”Dead Man’s Letters” and ”City Zero”, probably best examples of Perestroika cinema in the sci-fi genre, are the result and the reflection of that weird epoch, and it would be difficult to imagine them elsewhere. (more…)

Coherence

CoherenceDirector: James Ward Byrkit. Starring: Emily Baldoni, Maury Sterling, Nicholas Brendon, Elizabeth Gracen, Hugh Armstrong, Alex Manugian, Lauren Maher, Lorene Scafaria. USA, 2013. IMDb: 7.2. My rating: 4/4. A metaphysical jazz-like improvisation about your inner self and your choices, wrapped into a relationship drama and disguised as a science fiction puzzle.

– And then, he took me to some lawyer bar.
– A lawyer bar?
– Yeah. A lawyer bar, kind of. I don’t know. Everybody there seemed like a lawyer. I felt like I was the only person without a tie.
– Well, maybe we should get you a tie for emergencies.
– Yeah, wardrobe emergencies.
(a dialogue between Em and Kevin)

20170417_132232It’s surprising to see how easily “Coherence” operates on a multitude of layers. Apparently, it’s a mature and delicate observation of what happens when a group of seemingly adult people and old friends gather for a dinner (check out great psychological theatre-like movies like “Carnage”, “Little White Lies”, “Perfect Strangers”). Then it easily turns into a science fiction thriller in a minimal setting (“Moon”, “Resolution“), that soon becomes quite disturbing. Even when you understand what is happening, the film won’t calm down and stop there, but bring its premise further and further. Thirdly, it’s a mind-bending puzzle that almost causes a brain fracture – lots of other sci-fi will seem like a relaxing stroll on a beach after the labyrinths you immerse 20170417_132056in here. Like “Primer“, the film gained a huge notoriety between all kind of geeks because of its riddles. But while “Primer” was a film about nerds and brainiacs for nerds and brainiacs, “Coherence” could be easily appreaciated by everybody.

But what makes me really praise it is that finally, all these things blend naturally to bring the viewer to a different kind of reflection – on almost metaphysical level. Whether to see it in that way, is your choice. “Coherence” works well on any of its layers, no matter how deep (or not deep) you want to go. (more…)

I Origins

Director: Mike Cahill. Starring: Michael Pitt, Steven Yeun, Brit Marling, Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey. USA, 2014. IMDb: 7.3. My rating: 3/4. Science, fiction, love, drama, reflection (in any order).

– How many senses do worms have?i_origins
– They have two. Smell and touch. Why?
– So… they live without any ability to see or even know about light, right? The notion of light to them is unimaginable.
– Yeah.
– But we humans… we know that light exists. All around them… right on top of them… they cannot sense it. But with a little mutation, they do. Right?
– Correct.
– So… Doctor Eye… perhaps some humans, rare humans… have mutated to have another sense. A spirit sense. And can perceive a world that is right on top of us… everywhere. Just like the light on these worms.

(conversation between Sofi and Ian)

“I Origins” is a tricky film. Probably it is the most difficult review I’ve ever written so far, as my impression passed from initial delight to dubious perplexity then finishing with some insight and comprehension. The film is deceitfully easy to watch as it is gorgeous 20170407_035501visually with some good acting (especially Michael Pitt was a great discovery) and warm affectionate soundtrack. But it may not be easy to read the main message – like many good directors, Cahill tries to leave enough space for various interpretations because here main arguments are pretty sensitive – science and religion. The result may anger those viewers, who interpret ”I Origins” in too straightforward manner, while others will adore it (and if you have a look at various reviews, this is exactly what happened). Both are right – yes, the film is uneven, but still, ”I Origins” is a very good science fiction movie. It also has more of real science than fiction.

By the way, long-time friends and collaborators Brit Marling, Mike Cahill and Zal Batmanglij are an interesting case indeed. (more…)

Embers

Director: Claire Carré. Starring: Jason Ritter, Iva Gocheva, Greta Fernández. Poland, USA, 2015. Imdb: 5.3. My rating: 2/4. Research about human identity through memory loss in a dystopian world.

In the near future a virus has infected most of the population, causing embersa dysfunction of the short-term memory and the creation of new memories. That is the whole plot of the movie, which consists of several stories about how people survive in this world. I found “Embers” through various festival nominations (about 30 of them!) and decided to give it a try, despite quiet low Imdb rating. I couldn’t find any info about the budget, but the film raised $ 23,000 on Kickstarter.

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Arrival

Director: Denis Velleneuve. Starring: Amy Adams, Forest Whitaker, Jeremy Renner. USA, 2016. IMDB: 8.0. My rating: 4/4. Science fiction poetry.arrival

– If you could see your whole life from start to finish, would you change things?
– Maybe I’d say what I felt more often. I-I don’t know.
(conversation between main characters)

Arrival is a beautiful reminder that when we gaze at the stars we actually look at ourselves. Shot mostly in dark colours, it is full of internal light. It is a poem, a reflection, a meditation. A story about the most valuable things we have, our fears and desires. About humility, our (in)ability to hear each other and what makes us human. The visual style of the movie tries to bring up Tarkovski’s movies – and not many modern science fiction movies can be proud of that. Still, ”Arrival” combines that in a modern and accessible way that makes the film not an art-house experiment but rather a story for all of us, if we let it in our heart. ”Arrival” is that kind of film that even though not perfect but it makes you feel ashamed for having even a slightest intention to criticize it.

20170329_013106 (more…)

Source Code

Director: Duncan Jones. Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga, Jeffrey Wright. USA, 2011. IMDB: 7.5. My rating: 4/4. Timelooped science fiction thriller. Source_Code_Poster

– You seem concerned about the time. What are you late for?
– I’m on my way to an asshole festival. I hear you’re headlining.
(a dialogue between Gyllenhaal’s character and a train passenger)

– Source Code is not time travel. Rather, Source Code is time re-assignment. It gives us access to a parallel reality.
(Dr. Rutledge)

“Source Code” is an incredibly catchy and stylish sci-fi thriller that captures your attention easily and straight from the start. All things are in the right place here – it offers a great story, real characters that you care about, intrigue and a fast pace. Once again Duncan Jones shows us after his amazing debut “Moon” (2009) that you don’t need big funds or epic action to make good sci-fi, and “Source Code” is for sure a remarkable sci-fi film. (more…)