mystery

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…)

Mimic

mimicDirector: Guillermo del Toro. Starring: Mira Sorvino, Jeremy Northam, F. Murray Abraham, Giancarlo Giannini. USA, 1997. Budget: $30 million. IMDb: 5.9. My rating: 3/4. Gothic gloomy tale about giant bugs vs humans with incredible visuals.

– How come you love bugs so much?
– These guys were building castles while dinosaurs were still wimpy little lizards.
(Mira Sorvino’s character about her passion)

I must confess that I approached “Mimic” with some kind of suspicion. I adore Guillermo del Toro. He is an incredible artist with unique visual style, but being just his second feature film (“Cronos” was the first one and it had good critical success, by the way), I had a doubt that it wasn’t already that Guillermo del Toro we all know and love. It’s also his lowest rated movie on IMDb. Damn, I couldn’t have been more wrong. A thousand apologies. Darkness blended with acid colours, gothic gloom in Victorian style, church-like sewers, unborn creatures, gore and blood. Pure joy for the heart. (more…)

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. (more…)

400 Days

400Director: Matt Osterman. Starring: Brandon Ruth, Tom Cavanagh, Caity Lotz, Ben Feldman, Dane Cook. USA, 2015. IMDb: 4.7. Budget: unknown, but very low. 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. (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…)

10 Cloverfield Lane

Director: Dan Trachtenberg. Producer: J. J. Abrams.Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elisabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr. USA, 2016. IMDb: 7.2. My rating: 4/4. Exemplary sci-fi thriller.

– It’s the end of the world and he’s upset about a dead pig.cloverfield-lane
(one of the main characters)

“10 Cloverfield Lane” will beat you up, drag down the stairs and then suddenly act like an old friend who will tell you some good jokes and offer a few beers. Just to beat you up to death again 10 minutes later. And with all due respect to Dwayne Johnson, it’s John Goodman who should be called The Rock. Damn. It’s such a relief to finally see a great thriller, one of the most abused genres probably. And a good sci-fi thriller is even a more rare specimen.

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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…)

The One I Love

Director: Charlie McDowell. Starring: Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Ted Danson. USA, 2014. 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. 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 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. (more…)