Screamers

Director: Christian Duguay. Screenplay: Dan O’BannonMiguel Tejada-Flores. Starring: Peter Weller, Jennifer Rubin, Roy Dupuis, Andrew Lauer, Charles Powell. Canada, USA, 1995. IMDB: 6.4. Budget: $20 mln. Box office: $5.7 mln. My rating: 3.5/4. Post-apocalyptic old-school science fiction B-movie about androids, horror and nuclear wastelands.

– Well, you’re coming up in the world – you’ve learned how to kill
each other.
(Colonel Hendricksson about two androids fighting each other)

– Jefferson, you must be confusing me with someone who gives a shit.
(Colonel Hendricksson)

For a horror story set on a faraway planet, where almost nothing alive is left and killer robots keep on furrowing the ground in search of a new prey, “Screamers” is a very sentimental movie. Under a bloody and violent disguise one can easily feel that it’s also a story about alienation and loneliness. Then mix enough dark humour, abandoned wastelands on a faraway planet, robots with human-like disguise and extreme cynicism. Yes, it’s a sci-fi B-movie – exactly that type of B-movie that we sometimes need so much.

The story. 2078. Sirius 6b, once a prospering mining colony, is now some kind of an abandoned wasteland – a result of a long civil was between 2 fractions who couldn’t find agreement on how to proceed. One of them, Alliance, created AMS (Autonomous Mobile Swords) that are 20170223_193019so effective and hunting down their enemy fraction. These self-replicating machines are called screamers because of an incredibly high sound they produce during the attack. Few people are still left on this planet and try to find a way to escape from it. It seems that 2 fractions finally managed to reach some truce. But colonel Joseph Hendricksson (Peter Weller – “Robocop“, “Naked Lunch“, “Star Trek Into Darkness“) feels that more probably both sides have abandoned their armies, leaving them to slowly vanish here.

The visuals. The world here is full of rust and despair. It looks dead. Abandoned facilities. 20170223_193143Empty deserts covered with snow. Nothing moves here. Nothing happens. Almost everyone has left or died. Many got killed by each other, others by screamers. There are still some people who exist here… yes, “exist” would be the right word. Great, remarkable decorations (mostly Quebec industrial areas). Just seeing how lonesome people cross these hollow landscapes is impressive. Sentimental, but not cheesily melodramatic music and the dialogues – mostly highly cynical small talk – greatly underline their loneliness.

20170223_193547Pretty soon both sides realized that screamers learnt how to improve themselves, replicate and create various kind of disguises that look absolutely human, like a small boy with a teddy bear (type 3), the wounded soldier (type 4). We still don’t know though what type 2 looks like. It makes the atmosphere pretty tense as everybody suspect each other, finally that leads to shooting one of fellow soldiers. He repeatedly used same phrases over and over (it was thought that screamers’ vocabulary is very limited).

20170223_193348What I liked. The good thing is that “Screamers” never over-concentrates on something (that would made it a failure). It doesn’t try to develop complex concepts about human identity like “Blade Runner. It’s not a 100% horror but it has its tense moments that will make you nervous. It has enough plot twists and till the end you don’t know who is who, when even Hendricksson himself suspects he is a robot. It doesn’t rely too much on special effects – the CGI looks pretty dated here, but it looks like 20170223_193815an integral part of the movie. It has enough romantics and humour too. Simply put, “Screamers” does a little bit of everything without trying to be exceptional in it, and it does it so well, that it makes it versatile and remarkable – you just never get bored.

Peter Weller plays a cynical and experienced soldier who still 20170223_193123has some hope in getting out of this planet. Great and memorable role. As the story unveils, under the mask of a cynical soldier starts to appear a sentimental and lonely man. Speaking mostly with short rough one-liners, he nevertheless accepts to take the boy they found in the ruins (to find out later that it’s a disguised screamer), he begs Jessica to continue their trip because “you’re the only thing I have left”.

20170223_193331Other actors are really good as well. All of them have brisk and memorable characters. Some reviewers mentioned thst Andrew Lauer was a miscast (he plays a chatty sidekick), but I didn’t feel so. The music is surprisingly good (mostly orchestral, by Jerry Devilliers – I found out that he mostly just did some lesser known TV series and that’s all) and contributes really well to the overall atmosphere. I actually don’t like the overused orchestra soundtracks in the 80’s and early 90’s sci-fi, but here it’s perfect. Jennifer Rubin’s beauty (“A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors“, “The Crush“) was a lovely addition to the desperate world, and Roy Dupuis (“Shake Hands With the Devil“, “The Barbarian Invasions“) was just fine as a cynical soldier.

The production and reception. The movie, directed by the Canadian director Christian Duguay (“Human Trafficking“, “The Art of War“) is loosely based on Philip K. Dick’s “Second Variety”, where the action took place on Earth and was more about the post-Cold War era. Dan O’Bannon, the sci-fi veteran (he wrote “Alien“, co-wrote Carpenter’s “Dark Star” and did one of main roles, co-wrote “Total Recall“) initially wrote the screenplay that was later reworked. The production was painful and it was a box office failure (roughly $20 million budget vs. $ 5 million box office), criticized20170223_193722 by almost everybody upon its release. Nevertheless, “Screamers” gained a cult status with time, regularly being part of various 90-s sci-fi tops. I can understand that. The movie didn’t look groundbreaking or innovative when it came out, nor it had big fast-paced action scenes. But they are not needed here.

Worth watching? Absolutely, if you like good old 80-s sci-fi like “Outland“, “Inquest of Pilot Pirx” or “The Abyss“. I wouldn’t really consider it a horror movie, but the atmosphere may get very creepy. “Screamers” has all the ingredients in the right place and doesn’t take itself too seriously, leaving enough space for gore, darkness, robots, fun and just a good human story.

Spectacularity: 3.5/4
Acting:  3.5/4
Directing: 3/4
Originality: 2/4
Final vote: 3.5/4

3.5/4

***

If you want to learn more about “Screamers“, Den of Geek did a brilliant lengthy article here. A sequel, “Screamers: The Hunting” was released in 2009 ( but it seems to be pretty bad, just recycling the first movie (with Lance Henriksen though).

 

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

The Disappearance of Willie Bingham

What can I add? “The Disappearance of Willie Bingham” is brilliantly executed short film, and it is terrifying because of how real it feels. In a longer version it would be a perfect “Black Mirror” episode, they like to flirt with creepy ideas like here.

It’s not horror in the traditional sense, but Matt Richards’ short The Disappearance of Willie Bingham is plenty horrific. The concept alone—punishment by dismemberment (that has a ring to it)—is a gnarly take on the criminal justice system, allowing victims to determine what goes and what stays on a criminal’s body: hence the name, The Disappearance of Willie Bingham. You really have to appreciate what Richards has done here, taking a simple concept and spiraling it into a gruesome tale of what a completely unhinged justice system might look like in the future. Stay out of trouble, kids.

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Liquid Sky

Director: Slava Tsukerman (also co-writer, co-producer). Starring: Anne Carlisle, Paula E. Sheppard, Otto von Wernherr, Bob Brady, Sousan Doukas. USA, 1982. Budget: $500,000. Box office: $1.7 mln. IMDb: 6.1. RT: 94%. My rating: 2.5/4. A crazy dive into the 80-s punk, new wave and fashion youth subcultures in New York with an unexpected alien visit.

– Young people with no faith in their heart must be punished; but there are more creative ways of doing that and such film as “Liquid Sky” is a prime example of this.
(Michelle King)

– Come on, teach me. Are you afraid? You’re right, because they’re all dead. All my teachers.
(Margaret, one of the film’s main main characters)

– I’m sorry, but duty is more important than shrimps.
Oh. Well, the duty is yours, the house is mine. And in my house, shrimps are more important than duty.
(The German scientist is being seduced)

Sometimes remembering the experience of watching a film provides more enjoyment than actual viewing, and Slava Tsukerman’s first foreign experience may be a good example of it (and, to some extent Alex Cox’ cult film “Repo Men” – both films share a lot in common, even if the latter is much an easier watch for an unexperienced viewer).

“And I am androgynous not less than David Bowie himself. And they call me beautiful, and I kill with my cunt. Isn’t it fashionable?”

The first 30-40 minutes of the film captivate you with its striking origininality, an attempt to express the feeling of alienation through real aliens and a dive into a sexual androgyny that was widely discussed in the media at the time. However, later the films starts to replicate itself, and the middle part is just overly long, even if the final episode proves to be quite a big satisfaction.

New wave and punk scenes that celebrated themselves, sex predation and drug addicts, sexual promiscuity and fashion industry, aliens and alienation – all these wonderful elements intertwine into one hallucinating mix in “Liquid Sky“. This independent film, created on a rather small budget ($500,000), quickly acquired a cult status among cinephiles of that time and was well received by American critics, and it’s no wonder – imagine Andy Warhol shooting some cheesy 50-s science fiction, because this is how “Liquid Sky” looks like.

“Me and my rhythm box! Me and my rhythm box!”

Glam and decadance. The film made a certain effect when released and was even profitable. Many call it a cult. Now, from my unbiased-2017-point-of-view the film seems to be slowly fading into oblivion, just like “Hardware“… However, if you browse across the web, there are various references to the film here and there, or even inspired photoshoots or mockery:

20171020_143906

The plot. A tiny alien spaceship (imagine the size of a salad bowl) lands in New York, right above the house or Margaret, once a well-behaving girl from Connecticut and now an aspiring bisexual model (by Anne Carlisle, who did a double role in the film). The bodiless visitors don’t interact with humans, their aim is unknown. However, a German scientist Johann, another alien in the Big Apple, seems to have a theory – invisible aliens thrive on a substance produced by the human brain during the orgasm, which they manage to extract from the victim, killing it in the process. Margaret, who is going deeper and deeper into the downward spiral of promiscuous sex and violence, grasps this concept quicky and starts to use it for her own benefit…

The film is shot in a totally deadpan manner with a little amount of humour. Apathy and indifference prevail the minds of this self-absorbed youth, and that is supported by a gloomy monotone synth soundtrack and flamboyant, acid colours and designs.

Worth watching?Liquid Sky” is a particular film, not in good or bad sense of the word. I love weird slow stuff. I enjoyed some early Harmony Korine’s film (“Gummo“). But with this… I felt that there was more style than substance, and that’s the case when you need to love the style to enjoy the film. So I cannot recommend it directly to anyone due to its prevailing sense of otherness and dazzling individuality – decide by yourself. Played mostly by non-professional actors and shot by newly arrived in New York Russian immigrants-filmmakers (hence the dominating sense of an alienation, probably?), it’s a time capsule of the New York club scene of the 80-s and shows many kinks many of us could’ve never imagined, and does it from an unusual perspective. Finally, this is why we watch the movies, isn’t it?

“Liquid Sky” is one of the favourite films of Nicholas Winding Refn (who directed one of my all-time favourites “Drive“, plus he did a confusing flick called “The Neon Demon“…), among “Suspiria“, “Videodrome“, “La Dolce Vita” and some others. All these movie are well-known for their style domination. Have you seen anything the Danish director did? 😆

Spectacularity: 2.5/4
Acting:  ?
Directing: 2/4
Originality: 4/4
Final vote: 2.5/4

P. S. Здесь красочное интервью на русском языке.

The One I Love

Director: Charlie McDowell. Starring: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson. USA, 2014. Budget: $100,000. Box office: $513,447. IMDb: 7.1. My rating: 3/4. Witty dissection of a couple relationship wrapped in a sci-fi puzzle.

– Let’s say you buy a gorilla.one_i_love
– Excuse me?
– Let’s say you buy a gorilla, Ethan.
– You can’t buy a gorilla.
– I know that, it was for the story. But fine, let’s say
you buy an aardvark, okay?
(conversation between main characters)

What I especially liked about ”The One I Love” is that it’s a smart and small movie that is not trying to be pretentious and artsy – of those kind that are slow and hard to watch, burdened with their artistry and attempt to say something deep (like beautiful but soulles “High-Rise“). While 20170406_041833somebody could criticize it for not digging as profoundly as it could, I’d rather say that it intelligently leaves you enough space to analyze it by yourself. From one hand, it’s still some kind of a weird story dark romantic comedy about a couple in crisis. But it’s also a psychological minimal science fiction with witty plot and unusual approach. And as you start to understand what is actually happening in the movie, it can get pretty creepy. In short, ”The One I Love” is a micro-budget ($100,000) film about a couple in crisis with lingering and memorable aftertaste. Last but not least, it’s a puzzle.

20170406_042229If you have seen an indie with Mark Duplass (“Cyrus“, “Safety Not Guaranteed“), a one man orchestra, then you’d probably know at least vaguely what to expect from “The One I Love“. Intimate atmosphere, unorthodox script and dialogues, warm human touch imbue almost all of his works. In case you are not familiar with his works, this movie could be a good reason to do it. It’s also was a curious case when the critics were asked not mention the plot of the movie since it’s pretty difficult to write about it without spoiling anything. Before the release, it had two kinds of a test screening – where the audience knew the main idea of the plot and where it didn’t (the second screening did much better).

The One I Love” is pretty minimal, basically, it’s a theater with two actors – Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss (“Mad 20170406_042244Men“, “High-Rise“). Almost everything is happening in one location. But thanks to an original idea with some very good acting the film keeps you glued to the screen. It’s also a debut movie by Charlie McDowell, the son of legendary Malcolm McDowell (“A Clockwork Orange“). It seems Mark Duplass has really a distinctive flair for revealing talent in young directors. He was contacted by McDowell who wanted to make something ”relationship-oriented” and during three weeks they with Justin Lader build up a very detailed 50 page script, where everything was described with 20170406_042113smallest details – everything except for the dialogues, that were improvised by Moss and Duplass right during the filming to make the story more alive and real. 9 weeks later the movie done. Pretty quick even for such a small movie.

20170406_041948But small doesn’t mean that it offers little, right?  You could draw some parallels between ”The One I Love” and brilliant ”Coherence” (a must-see!). Some other wonderful movies like ”Closer” and ”Sliding Doors” also come to my mind. But while the ”Coherence”  was more about our choices and character formation in general, ”The One I Love” is rather a dissection of a couple relationship using science fiction to approach the question from an unexpected angle. It is an intimate story about something very private though still an 20170406_042004experience almost all of us had. So I would rather rather leave you to analyze the movie by yourself. For those who are already in a relationship – go on and watch it together, it may be pretty thought-provoking for a good discussion.

20170406_042145What I liked less. Still, a movie deserves some criticism as well. While Duplass’ passion for micro-budget-oriented movies is indeed adorable – he even said that it’s actually easier to make money with a movie that has a budget of $500,000 rather than $5,000,000, I wish the film showed us the story from a bigger view. I suppose it’s not only a budget question though, but more of time and organizational matters since the movie was made barely in 3 months. At times I felt like the movie is a little bit too tight in its minimal setting for what it wants to explore.

20170406_042215The recepton. It’s always a pleasure to note that such small independent movies can gain good recognition – 80% on Rotten Tomatoes, 7.1 with 27k IMDb votes and a Saturn Award nomination as Best Independent Film.

20170406_041731Worth watching?The One I Love” is a curious dissection of a couple relationship. If you love sci-fi puzzle and Charlie Kaufman-like movies, definitely check it out. It leaves enough space for psychological depth, while remaining a pretty quick-paced and at times creepy puzzle. The plot is sturdy and witty. So yes – instead of an endless array of various kind of romantic comedies whatever, watch ”The One I Love”. I don’t like this cliched definition, but it’s a thought-provoking movie indeed. While not perfect and probably a little bit too minimal (I still prefer ”Coherence”, which I consider a low-budget cinema masterpiece, but it was also heavier and darker), ”The One I Love” is an interesting, refreshing and original psychologic puzzle about all of us.

Spectacularity: 2.5/4
Acting:  3.5/4
Directing: 3/4
Screenplay: 4/4
Final vote: 3/4

Watch also: Other great low-budget sci-fi movies set in a minimal setting: “The Man From Earth“, ”Exam”, ”The Cube”, ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, ”Moon”, ”Coherence”, “Version 1.0“.

P. S. Read here Q&A with the Duplass brothers.

What Happened to Monday? (Seven Sisters)

Director: Tommy Wirkola. Starring: Noomi Rapace, Glenn Close, Willem Dafoe, Marwan KenzariPal Sverre Hagen, Christian Rubeck, Cassie Clare. 2017, UK-Belgium-France-USA. Budget: unknown. Box office: $19 mln. IMDb: 6.7. My rating: 2.5/4. Dystopian sci-fi thriller about overpopulation.

monday-movie-poster-xl“Beyond an insult to intelligence.”
(zippersthemule)

“The film portrays a dystopian future where overpopulation has lead those in power to create a one child rule, with chilling justifications for abhorable acts in the name of protecting humanity.”
(denise-314 from the UK)

“Stunning Movie Exciting from the first minute.”
(Mahmoud from Egypt)

 

One. “What Happened to Monday” is a movie where Noomi Rapace performs 7 different roles – 7 sisters. Remember Tatiana Maslany and her multiple clone performances “Orphan Black“? It’s a tough role for any artist, so is Noomi Rapace good enough?

Two. If you ever wondered what will happen if you make a combined clone of Michael Bay & Roland Emmerich and make him become a director of a mid-budget movie, here’s your chance.

Three. Movies and plots are like jeans. The best examples look like this, solid and firm:

Think of “Children of Men“, “Ex Machina” or “Stalker“. Solid and firm.

Some others, like “Pacific Rim“, “Terminator: The Judgment Day” or “Star Wars” may have occasional plot inconsistencies, but it’s fine. They know it. We know it. It doesn’t matter. We can both get through it, still having strong orgasms watching the final result.

Other candidates, like “Armageddon” (miners learning to be astronauts? grass on the asteroid?) or “The Dark Knight Rises” (send all the police forces underground? why no! make them look perfectly clean shaven? fine!) may be pretty fucked up with plot holes and inconsistencies, but pretend like they aren’t and proudly try to masquerade them with quickly-paced action, CGI and other bollocks.

But there’s worse than that – some films (“Passengers“? Any Roland Emmerich film?) almost brag about their plot problems, proudly presenting them in-your-face as a newly discovered gem.

“What Happened to Monday” falls somewhere between the last two categories. But while Roland Emmerich’s films never take themselves too seriously, “What Happened to Monday” does.

***

Here’s a quick autopsy – the film starts like a “Children of Men“-wannabe, then spends some time as a “Passengers“-like whiny melodrams about family values, then finally – thanks to the unknown xenomorph God – abandons any attempts to appear smart and converts itself a pretty straightforward sci-fi thriller. The overall feeling after having watched this Netflix-distributed dystopia was like observing the monster from “Frankenstein” – it moves clumsily, sometimes makes a sincere smile, but you can clearly see that it wasn’t seamed too accurately and is an extremely artificial creation.

I may sound overly sardonic and happy to crush the movie’s corpse body, but “What Happened to Monday” isn’t actually a bad film. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on. Seriously. The sci-fi designs are curious, like the mirror that tells your physical condition and skin problems or a self-programming punching bag.

The film has an excellent premise – how the society turns itself into a totalitarian regime state to protect the world from overpopulation. There weren’t too many films about it, in fact, and half of them are surely from the 70-s (with “Soylent Green” being the most obvious example, plus some elements from “Logan’s Run“).

The visuals are one of the films strongest points too.

It has a wonderful cast – Noomi Rapace (the original 2009 Swedish “The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo” – a very good movie, by the way; “Prometheus“), Willem Dafoe who needs no introduction (“Antichrist“, “Platoon“, 2002 “Spider-Man“) and Glenn Close (“Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1“, “The Girl with All the Gifts“).

So what went wrong? The details. From the first frames you dive into a fascinating world of Mr. Cliche. He is the boss in this dystopian world. The details completely ruin any credibility of this world, and for a dystopian movie that is crucial. That’s like teaching miners how to be astronauts when you can teach the latter how to drill.

In order to avoid the spoilers, let me make an example. All the people must carry an ID card. In any time of the day and night you must be able to prove that you’re the only child in the family. Even when you go to buy some meat, you still need to give your card to the butcher – why?! But I can swallow it. Okay. But if you’re a 35-year-old-woman, it means your mum is at least 50 years old, then what’s the point? If you were the only child yesterday, it’s obvious that tomorrow you’re still the only child because your mom can’t have kids anymore. That’s a big plot hole, but while watching the film I made a rough list and counted about 10 of them, and that’s just during the first view.

Where Alfonso Cuaron was subtle in portraying such a realistic dystopia, “What Happened to Monday” uses a far simpler approach. It’s like Michael Bay filming “Children of Men“. Need to portray an overpopulated world? Just show an overcrowded street 5 times in a row. Totalitarian society? O.K., who cares how it was created and who allowed it. Just show how the police taking away the kids from the angry parents! (…and why all the kids are between 5 and 10 years old? Why they don’t take infants?) Putting illegal children in a cryocam without letting the parents to visit them? Sure!

But if you manage to close your eyes on it, it’s not a bad flick. I was delighted to see Noomi Rapace performing the role(s) of 7 sisters. Noomi Rapace, the chameleon actress… I thought she will become a major movie star 5 years ago? I loved her roles in “Prometheus” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”, but due to bad luck after 2012 she did 6 movies (mostly crime/thrillers), 4 of which had less than 35% on RT and pretty low ratings on IMDb. Only “The Drop” with her and Tom Hardy seems to be a good flick (7.1 IMDb and 90% RT).

Willem Defoe, a great American actor, was okay here – his role was limited (thanks to the script!) to a kind-but-severe-uncle cliche. Glenn Close, also a versatile and and talented actress, portrayed a very cliched villain that you want to punch in the face from the first frames… but I can’t blame her for that (thanks to the script!).

Worth watching? “What Happened to Monday” may easily satisfy young unpretentious veiwers (think “Surrogates” or various YA dystopias which I can’t stand), so I get it why Netflix stepped in. For everybody else… If you want to see what happens if Michael Bay and Roland Emmerich make a baby and then make him become a director and shoot “Children of Men” sequel… you’re more than welcome! Just don’t forget that these big-bada-boom guys can still do some nice stuff, especially if mixed with seven clones of Noomi Rapace, one Willem Dafoe, a dystopian setting and some chilling thriller.

Watch instead: choose any kind of dystopia you like! “Children of Men” for a modern, minimal and extremely relevant dystopia, “A Boy and His Dog” for 70-s black satire, “Moon” for a minimal low budget sci-fi awesomeness, “Dead Man’s Letters” for all Tarkovsky’s fans, “Version 1.0” for a Kafkaesque surreal cyberpunk, “THX-1138” for an arthouse film, “Sleep Dealer” as a smart illegal workforce Mexican dystopia – all much better movies. For a quick-paced action… ”V For Vendetta” (also by no means perfect movie) or bloody lovely ”Watchmen”?

Or be a sweetheart and help ”Blade Runner 2049” that is definitely struggling in the box office.

2.5/4

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Space Station 76

space_station76Director: Jack Plotnick. Starring: Liv Tyler, Patrick Wilson, Marisa Coughlan, Matt Bomer. USA, 2014. IMDb: 4.9. Budget: roughly 1 million. My rating: 2.5/4. Retrofuturistic black parody, Jim Jarmusch vs Wes Anderson on a 70-s space station.

– Warning. Dr. Bot must remind Misty not to become… too close to her therapist bot.
– I’ve gotta be close to somebody.
– We must keep this professional.
– Don’t be so cold.
– I must maintain objectivity.
– But I feel like…  I just feel like you and I have really been going through it here, you know? I feel like I have really been connecting with you. You know me.
– Emotion overload.

(Misty visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

 

– I’m a leg man, you know?

(a discussion between 2 guys about newly arrived female crew member)

 

Can you imagine the future with corded telephones and colonies on orbital space stations, VHS cassettes and interstellar travel? If you can’t, Jack Plotnick did it for you. ”Space Station 76” is a 1970-s version of the future that never came. And “Space Station 76” has one of the best A.I. ever. Seriously.

 

What I liked. It’s actually easier to describe ”Space Station 76” by saying what it isn’t.

 

It’s not exactly a comedy – at least, not if you understand modern comedy only as ”21 Jump Street” or Seth Rogen-like comedy. It’s more of a Jim Jarmusch vs Wes Anderson on a 70-s space station-like film. Deadpan humour. You never know when the characters are actually joking – well, probably except for the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot, the true gem of the film.

 

It’s not really a science fiction, or, at least, not in first place – the film mostly mocks its retrofuturistic sci-fi setting and ridiculous 70-s costumes, but in a nice and elegant way. It’s not a pure parody – the film really cares about its characters, never using them just as subjects of ridicule. It’s not an art-house movie – the film is not that experimental and distant from the viewers. Last but not least, it has R rating and uses it smartly – no dick jokes, but deadpan humour. The scene with the frozen dog was just nuts.

 

Combination of all this makes ”Space Station 76” pretty unique – and as it often happens with movies of  this kind, the audience hardly got it. ”I wanted to explore what it was like to be a child growing up in the summer of the 70s, which was my experience, but I wanted to tell it in sort of an artistic way by setting it in the future as we had imagined it would be in the 70s”, said Jack Plotnick in an interview.

 

There’s a weird funny episode when Liv Tyler’s character, Jessica (who just arrived at the space station) and Matt Bomer’s character, Ted (who has been living there for a while with a psychotic wife) are trying to approach each other and having a meaningful intimate conversation. Ted has an artificial arm that sometimes goes out of control. When Jessica, following her romantic impulse, puts Ted’s arm on her heart, the hand goes rogue and starts to squeeze Jessica’s left tit. All of this showed with in a deadpan manner, finishing with Jessica finally saying ”I think I should go now”.. If you like that kind of humour, you’ll find ”Space Station 76” brilliant.

 

Visually it’s a beautiful film. You may accuse it of anything but the style. It really squeezes most of its tiny budget, citing 70-s science fiction classic like Logan’s Run and Star Wars. And Dr. Bot, oh! That’s the quintessence of artificial intellect and a good parody. It reminded me of another oddball movie ”Dark Star”, the episode when Sgt. Pinback was trying to convince the Bomb N. 20 not to explode.

– I need to tell you I have just been feeling… so much better since we started treatment. I mean, like, even just my dreams  have just been better. You know, like, I haven’t been having all those feelings… and I’m just really feeling in the now.
-Feelings can sometimes pull one out of the now and put them in the then. Live in the now, not in the then.
– I don’t wanna be in the then. I wanna be in the now.
– Talking about the now can put one in the then.
– I don’t want to be in the then, I want to be in the now. I wanna move forward…
– Don’t move too far forward, you’ll be out of the now. Not too far forward.  Stay in the now.

(Misty visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

 

– What are you thinking in the midst of this silence?
– Actually, I was thinking about smoking.
– Cigarettes contain carcinogens which may cause cancer in carbon-based life forms.
– Right.
– You are a carbon-based life form… therefore, cigarettes may cause cancer inside you.
– Thank you.
– You’re welcome.

(The captain visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

 

What I didn’t like. Space Station 76” is at times uneven, especially in the first part. The photography, the acting, the music – all is well-crafted and you feel the movie was made as a passion project, but it’s the screenplay that occasionally sags, running out of fuel – maybe because it was written by 5 different people? Some scenes intended as funny left me perplexed. Some felt really unnecessary. Some plot lines got lost in the middle and didn’t get the development. A more carefully crafted screenplay would really help the film. It’s especially seen in the first half of the film, with the second being more juicy and concentrated.

All the actors created memorable and bright characters – maybe, even too much, as at times they seemed little bit too monotone in their role, like playing the same note over and over. Of course, it was intended as a part of the movie’s style, but a little more versatility wouldn’t harm the film. Liv Tyler (superhero satire “Super“, sci-fi “Robot & Frank“, “Armageddon“) was a nice exception to that, as her character was actually alive, with doubts and flexibility. It was great to see Patrick Wilson (Nite Owl in “Watchmen“, “The Conjuring”) who added a weird touch to the film with his pseudo-sexist obsessions.

The production. The project was originated by Jack Plotnick at his house while experimenting with his friends and favourite actors. This is his debut film, but Plotnick is by no means a newbie – he is in first place an actor with 20+ years of experience (”Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, ”Drawn Together”, ”Wrong”).

Worth watching? Decide by yourself. ”Space Station 76” is an interesting project, but definitely not for everyone. If you like weird and touching humour of ”Super”, ”The Lobster” or ”Defendor” combined with a retrofuturistic sci-fi look on the 70-s, definitely yes. I started to watch it with bias but learnt to appreciate it more and. Visually stylish and delicate, ”Space Station 76” still leaves weirdly good aftertaste, even far from being perfect. It’s an odd little movie that is trying to find its own tone.

2.5/4
Watch also: if you want too see a weird sci-fi comedy, have a look at “American Astronaut“, “Dark Star” or “Kin-Dza-Dza“.

Kill Command

fcd8861acdbf8bbb9d79dd7a098acbdfDirector: Steven Gomez. Starring:  Vanessa Kirby,  Thure Lindhardt, David Ajala. UK, 2016. Budget: $1.5 mln. IMDB: 5.7. My rating: 3/4.  Creepy sci-fi thriller about military guys and 1 cyborg vs huge rogue robots on a remote island.

– It’s like watching 1.5 hour long cut scene from some shitty video-game.
(ola_norsk)

– This is exactly what a B-movie should be like.
(InterArmaEnimSilentLeges)

– If you remember your feeling from watching the Predator for the first time – you will certainly enjoy Kill Command.
(Stasulos)

I didn’t have any kind of expectations from “Kill Command”, one more movie about the military guys vs the robots. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much? Probably, but that would also diminish the movie’s quality.

Just look at this beautiful picture. It says it all. Those who still are not fully convinced, scroll below…there are more pictures.

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Do you smell death in the air? No?

giphy-downsized-large

Well, now you do.

The plot. In the not so distant future, a military group is sent to an island for training. The purpose or type of training is unknown. They are accompanied by Mills (ice-cold Vanessa Kirby) – half-human, half-android, who has significant difficulties in gaining the trust of the others humans due to her ‘impure’ nature. As the unit deploys on the island, they unexpectedly lose any connection with the outer world. Soon the group encounters robotic creatures they did not expect.

The production. “Kill Command” is a debut by Steven Gomez (responsible for both directing and writing), who has built a career in visual effects. It has a budget of around $1.5 million (it was hard to find the precise info, but it’s about that), which is very low for a movie that includes massive robot fighting scenes. But it looks as great as $150 million movies. Visually, I enjoyed ”Kill Command” much more than “Passengers”. Only that is a great praise already. The location is outstanding. It’s an island with hills, deep forests and some abandoned facilities – a perfect place for a sci-fi scenario like here. The movie was shot entirely in the UK.

Kill-Command-Movie-Wallpapers-7

Of course, technically it is still one more movie that explores the idea of a group of people going somewhere remote where they encounter something scary and unknown. But somehow ”Kill Command” still manages to be an original movie. It leaves a good aftertaste. When you watch these kind of movies, it often happens that it’s actually fun to watch, but they quickly fade out of your memory and the impression worsens as time passes. Strangely, with “Kill Commando” a reverse effect happened. What makes it stand out?

Several things. It’s quiet slowly paced. You will not see a continuous sequence of extremely quick cuts that resemble more a video clip, than a movie (hi, Michael Bay!). It somehow reminded me of the sci-fi wave of the 80-s/90-s. Even the action scenes are not that fast. You have enough time to see everything in detail and I think, it was more typical of a good old sci-fi film of 20-30 ago, than some newer stuff. In one of the interviews, Gomez said he tried to show the robots in all the detail from close distance – and he succeeded.

Kill Command” is quite a minimal movie – remember, it’s set on a tiny remote island – but what you see has great design and lots of details, starting from abandoned facilities, uniforms, weapons and, of course, robots. Reminds me of Far Cry in a way (well, except for the robots, but that’s a mino-or detail). The other thing is the location set and it’s used to a great extent. I would even dare to say that I had a feeling – pardon – that some scenes come close to being almost meditative. Maybe I am wrong. But even remote feeling like that says a lot about the impression you can get from a movie. I still remember well one of the scenes – in the light of a sunset, the soldier is on the roof of an abandoned building, aiming with his rifle somewhere faraway, waiting for the enemy. His body posture is tense. Around him you see the see, the sunset, the forests. In a “normal” low budget robot movie, that scene would last half a second, here it lasted 3 or 4 and seemed like an eternity, but in a good way. And there are some scenes like that that here and there – it’s not something straightforward, but more of something you understand later.

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The main problem of the movie comes from here too. I don’t know though if it was Gomez’ intention to film in that way  (from trailer and posters, it seems no and probably that’s why some part of audience didn’t like it that much – they didn’t see that was expected compared to how the movie was promoted). That would be interesting to know and it’s a pity that the movie did not develop more in this direction. It looks like it can’t decide whether if wants to become an action movie or something slower and deeper. The acting is quiet good, but uneven. The characters could have been developed more. You could easily find other things to criticize. But should you?

The reception. The movie has a whopping 5.7 on IMDb – totally undeserved, but 67% on RT may render some justice. I guess most IMDb bad reviews come from guys from were expecting a fact-paced action robot movie, but ”Kill Command” is better than that. Most reviews over the web are quite positive too, check out here, here and also this amazing insight here.

Worth watching? Yes! Far from being perfect, it’s a beautifully shot and richly detailed warfare movie. Tense, minimal and with its own nerve. No useless philosophizing about what makes human a human or robot a robot bla bla bla because it’d ruin the movie. Just keep in mind that it’s just not an average fact-paced sci-fi flick with humans and robots, like the recent hypnotizingly beautiful but rather soulless “Ghost in the Shell” adaptation, nor it is an arthouse film. So if you are a fan of “Terminator“, “Predator” (which reboot is coming out in 2018!) or, maybe, “Far Cry”, definitely have a look.

3/4

Frankenstein (1931)

Poster - Frankenstein_02Director: James Whale. Starring: Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Mae Clarke, John Boles. USA, 1931. Budget: $262,007. Box office: $12 mln. IMDB: 7.9. My rating: 4/4. A classic horror tale.

– Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive… IT’S ALIVE!
(Henry Frankenstein)

– Would you like one of my flowers? You have those and I’ll have these. See how mine float.
(Little girl talking to the monster)

– The brain which was stolen from my laboratory… was a criminal brain.
(Dr. Waldman)

– That body is not dead. It has never lived. I created it. I made it with my own hands, from the bodies I took from graves, from the gallows.
(Henry Frankenstein)

There is some very primordial feeling in “Frankenstein”. A fear not so much of the unknown, but rather of something (and this word, “some – thing” is crucial here) non-understandable, incomprehensible, irrational. Unlike most post-70’s horror classics (although I am not such a big horror conoisseur), it is not driven by purely evil instincts which normally include only chase, torture and murder, but has a more human face and body. Human soul? Good question. But body – yes, even if it comes in artificially combined limbs and organs. Like a caged animal, it retreats or attacks. Caged in by humans. And created by humans, too.

The background. Tons of literature was dedicated to “Frankenstein” and all that surrounds it. In short, it belongs to so-called Universal Horror films. Officially, it was a period between 1923 and 1960, although it was the Classic Period (roughly 1930-1946) when the best movies were made, like:

You can read in short about the most important things of the Classic Period here.

Two rival actors, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff played a crucial role in establishing the success of the new world of horror and often starred together (Lugosi was even initially casted as the monster in “Frankenstein”, but refused the role claiming that playing the monster is too low for such an artist). What’s interesting, both actors and the director were expats – Boris Karloff and James Whale were British, Lugosi was Hungarian.

stillAnnex - Clive, Colin (Frankenstein)_NRFPT_01

What I liked. So let me develop my initial thought. Most post-70’s Western horror movies create the suspense by jump scares – the film is not showing the fear source for a while and that is followed by an unexpected attack. For example, often the modern Asian horror works, for the most part, in a different way, the atmosphere itself is the swamp of fear you’re drowning in; the shock moment, although important, is not decisive. So if you want a simple comparison. “Frankenstein” was clearly shot in the vein of modern (last 20-30 years) Asian horror, like most pre 70’s horror movies in general.

So if we have to compare, say, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956, an amazing sci-fi metaphorical horror with social subtext, one of my all-time favourite movies) and post-Halloween slashers, “Frankenstein” is definitely closer to the first one. It’s not a movie you’d watch just to get some adrenaline. In first place, it’s a wonderful story to follow with a gloomy atmosphere.

There is a great book “Of Mice and Men”, probably one of most beautifully painful novels ever. In case you haven’t read it, here’s the story. Two migrant field workers are in California on plantations during the years of Great Depression—George Milton, a smart but uneducated fellow, and Lennie Small, a bulky and strong giant with a mind of a child, mentally disabled. As the events unfold, we see that probably there is no place in this rational world for such people as Lenny. What it had to do with the movie? Well, Lenny and Frankenstein share a lot in common. They are portrayed as monsters, but they are just victims.

What I didn’t like. It is clearly visible that the film was shot in a studio with paper backgroungs and that distracted me a little in several important episodes. I wonder why nobody took care of the film and did a proper restoration instead of shooting useless remakes like “Victor Frankenstein” (2015, with James McAvoy, Daniel Radcliffe) – these things are easy nowadays, just look what George Lukas did with his “THX 1138“. Then there were some occasional weird video editing cuts, but that’s a minor complaint.

Worth watching? Absolutely. “Frankenstein” is a great story. I have enjoyed the film much more than I expected (and my expectations were already high!). And it’s awesomeness lies not only in the everlasting influence, as it often happens with older movies. Just like “Metropolis“, “Frankenstein” doesn’t feel dated. A gloomy gothic atmosphere (hi, Guillermo del Toro), wonderful acting – especially Boris Karloff who portrayed not just a monster but a complex character – and beautiful photography.

The primordial inner shiver definitely works on multiple levels here.

4/4

 

 

 

Top 10 Soviet Science Fiction Movies

Here is my Top 10 Soviet sci-fi movies with a dozen of modern trailers I made specially for it while studying some video editing.

†1924-1988 selection.

Beautiful new ambient, shoegaze, dreampop, synthpop and techno soundtracks included.

 

 ***

1. ”Stalker”, 1979.

A cerebral timeless masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky, probably the most renowned and influential Soviet/Russian director. Loosely based on a story by important Soviet science fiction writers Strugatsky brothers (and seen by many as a prophecy for several upcoming catastrophes including Chernobyl), “Stalker” could be interpreted as a philosophical tale about destiny and choices. But there’s much more that that. It’s simply one of the most important cinema achievements ever, let alone science fiction. The story follows three men as they penetrate deeper into into a mysterious area called “The Zone”, each of them for a different purpose. A thinking sci-fi geek’s must-see. This movie is like a Universe, there are always new layers to discover. Read more here and here.

Music by Bowery Electric.

2. ”City Zero”, 1988.

Theatre of the absurd, a mysterious tragicomedy, a dark metaphor. The late 80-s, without doubt, were the most prolific period for the underground culture in Soviet Union, especially rock music but also cinema. ”City Zero” is the finest dark offspring of that epoch. The film is normally classified as sci-fi/mystery – but if you analyze every single scene separately, there’s nothing completely impossible. It’s the sum of all parts that is greater than the whole… The famous headcake scene actually happened once in Russia. But looking at the whole story makes you feel like slowly drowning in the swamp… It’s kind of ”Donnie Darko” goes on ”Mulholland Drive” in ”The Twilight Zone” atmosphere. My full review here. Watch online here.

Music by Auktyon (Аукцыон).

3. ”Dead Man’s Letters”, 1986.

Directed by K. Lopushansky, surely the most faithful of all Tarkovsky’s followers (he worked as assistant on ”Stalker” set), this film is a heavy and realistic portrayal of the end of the world. Endless piles of rusty metal, interminable yellow twilight, dirty radioactive puddles of mixed water and blood. And dead bodies. Dead bodies everywhere. Men, children, 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. Just a matter of time. My full review here. Watch online here.

Music by Ital Tek.

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