07.12.1972. Last manned Moon landing.

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Eugene Cernan aboard the Lunar Rover during the first EVA of Apollo 17.

Here’s what Wolfman from the Wolfman’s Cult Film Club says:

”Eugene Cernan was the Don. He did the whole moon landing trip in 1969 with the Apollo 10 mission before Buzz, Armstrong and Collins to test the mission. Even going through the deployed stages on the lander. I heard they purposely didn’t put enough fuel in the lander because they knew there’s no way he could resisted the pull of landing on the surface. LOL.

If you ever get the chance to watch the footage of Apollo 17 Moonwalk with Eugene Cernan and Ronald Evans mucking around on the Moon you’ll find it hysterical. The banter and the amazing way they talk to each other is incredible. You can only think they must keep talking to stop from thinking about what the fuck they are doing hehe.
Plus check out the documentary on Eugene, it’s a real coming to terms with life after something so gigantic has affected you with the passing of time. The Last Man On The Moon. It’s on Netflix and it’s very recommended. Eugene Cernan is a LEGEND.”

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.

ARQ

Director: Tony Elliott. Starring: Robbie Amell, Rachael Taylor, Shaun Benson, Gray Powell, Jacob Neayem. USA, Canada, 2016. IMDB: 6.4. Budget: about $2 mln. Box office: Netflix! My rating: 2.5/4. Timelooped sci-fi thriller.

– He has apples.
– Nobody has apples anymore.
– He does.
(the military guys)

– I was ordered to recover an energy turbine. Apparently, it’s a time machine.
(Sonny)

Netflix seems to be definitely interested in taking some part of the low- and mid- budget sci-fi pie (I have recently reviewed 2017 Netflix-distributed film “What Happened to Monday?“).

The plot.ARQ” is another try to fool around with the famous Groundhog Day effect, now in a very limited space. Through just few strokes and accidentally heard TV news it seems that the diminishing amount of fuel becomes the cause of armed conflicts in the world in a not so distant future. We just have the vague picture of what is happening as only in last minutes the story gets out of the appartment, where a20170211_080738 young couple tries to protect an innovative machine that could possibly change the concept of producing energy. But as they wake up in their bedroom, the house gets assaulted by strangers in masks and they got killed. Seconds later, they wake up again at the same place and time and the situation repeats as they try to find the way out of the loop to save the machine.

Welcome in the company of groundhogs!

What I liked. The movie is tensely filmed and certainly doesn’t leave you bored. With each loop (and there are a loooooooooooooooooot of them), more and more details are revealed and characters seem more complex than before, multiplying and stratifying. It’s fast paced, so you don’t have too much time to t20170211_081042hink over inconsistencies of the plot. There are also enough plot twists to keep you interested and they’re well done.

What I didn’t like. The problems arise with the casting of the main characters – unfortunately Robbie Amell does not have the drama of Jake Gyllenhall (who did a great time-loop sci-fi “Source Code“) or the wry humour of Bill Murray (“Groundhog Day“) and Rachael Taylor is not as sensitive and brutal as Emily Blunt (from another time-loop gem “Edge of Tomorrow“) and honestly was quite annoying. Amell at least tries to look trustworthy, but Taylor… most of her acting consists of a slightl20170211_081258y open mouth and widened eyes. Considering that 98% of the movie is shot in just several rooms and everything is pretty minimal, that can be a little annoying. The right chemistry here is missing. I saw her in Marvel’s “Jessica Jones” and she was much better there. Fortunately, the wild team of the unknown militaries compensate that well with more charismatic Shaun Benson and Gray Powell.

The main gimmick is used too much – the movie lasts barely 90 minutes and that is not 20170211_081023much, but almost all of the time we see the same time-loop in different variations. As we all know, exemplary exercises in minimalism are so difficult to comply. “ARQ” is no exception – though it tries pedantically. As many noted, if cut by half it would be an great episode of something like “Black Mirror“.

The production.ARQ” is a full-lentgh debut for Tony Elliott, who was mostly a screenwriter before (including highly popular “Orphan Black” and the TV series “12 Monkeys“). However, he originated the idea long time before that in 2008. The budget was under $2 million and the film was shot in 19 days in Toronto.

Worth watching? While “ARQ” is certainly not a new word in the genre and does not reach the heights set by its predecessors, in first place due to a lack of chemistry of the main characters, but it can still be entertaining and fun to watch. There are much worse time paradox films like “Triangle” (which was just ridiculous). So, maybe give it a try. Just don’t expect it to be some groundbreaking sci-fi relevation, okay?

Acting:  2.5/4
Directing: 3/4
Originality: 2.5/4
Pathos level: low
Final vote: 2.5/4

Watch also: “Source Code” is definitely a much better time-loop film that I absolutely love, and it still keeps things minimal. “Edge of Tomorrow” is an awesome blockbuster with a shitload of irony, highly recommended even for those who can’t stant Com Truise. And, of course, don’t forget “Groundhog Day“, which was recently ressurected as a musical (read about it + some curious little known facts about the film here).

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Director: Zack Snyder. Screenplay: David S. Goyer, Chris Terrio. Starring: Ben AffleckHenry Cavill, Amy AdamsDiane LaneLaurence FishburneJeremy IronsHolly HunterGal Gadot, Jesse Eisenberg. IMDb: 6.6. RT: 27%. My rating: 2.5/4. Budget: $250 mln. Box office: $873 mln. A mystery documentary on how to spend $300 mln and make a dull film.

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– We’re criminals, Alfred. We’ve always been criminals. Nothing’s changed.
(Batfleck’s rant)

So… here’s supposed to be a review of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and I would like to be honest with it – I have little to say this time. This poster expresses my emotions pretty well. Why so serious?!

Sure, this film received fare more hate it deserved, but… it is indeed pretty dull and boring. Not bad – it has a lot of spectacular moments, which is a must with a budget like this. Especially the final battle when Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman fight together against Doomsday.

And the new batsuit? It’s prettu cool! Although I don’t get why Batman needed shining eyes. There’s a lot of awesomeness in this film, which however stops the same moment as… the characters stop fighting and start talking! Hugging, moaming, kissing, put whatever you want here… oh, boy! It is so pretentious. Amy Adams was particularly annoying – nothing in common with her marvellous performance in “Arrival“.

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So the overall feeling I had after watching this was “meh”. That’s it. It’s much better than “Suicide Squad” which was just horrible (except for Margot Robbie, of course), but it’s still one big “meh”, especially because Zack Snyder can be a very good and creative director – I really adore “Watchmen“… and “300” was a visual feast, so “BvS” will be more or less enjoyable for anyone who enjoyes Zack Snyder’s films.

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Why so serious?

I don’t want to start ranting about how awesome were the 90-s blockbusters bla-bla-bla because every decade has its highs and lows and I hate this nostalgia bullshit, but productions like these really make me lose faith in Hollywood, especially taking into consideration how many useless remakes, sequels, reboots and other franchises-wannabe were released in last years. So far “Justice League“, the next installment of the DC Universe, doesn’t seem to be too convincing either.

The cast is theoretically superb (a selection of a dozen best actors Hollywood currently has, even for some secondary roles we have Jeremy Irons or Laurence Fishburne), but it doesn’t help. The characters are not believable and feel 2D. Totally wasted. Batfleck was nice, surely quite a convincing Batman (I still prefer Christian Bale though, as Affleck doesn’t have enough darkness in him for this role and often looks like a plumber billionaire), Jesse Eisenberg was largely criticized for this role (he played Lex Luthor, the main badass) but I thought his idiotic lines brought at least some humour in otherwise boring-to-death dialogues.

And Eisenberg was surely better than Jared Leto’s ridiculous Joker.

So the acting was… fine. Gal Gadot was particularly charming.

The writing was bad and I really felt sorry they had to say those lines. It’s like, you know, watching your favourite actors and really feeling ashamed for what they’re doing… Ever happened to you? As for the rest… The score was good. The visuals were awesome. But it doesn’t save the film. “BvS” can be summarized with one word – overcalculated. It is easy to feel that all the darkness in this movie was calculated and feels artificial, compared to Nolan’s trilogy.

The production wasn’t easy though and the film was in a development hell for years. Nothing really worth your attention here. The film is also a rare Hollywood blockbuster that has a R-rated Director’s Cut so I even included it on my list of all R-rated superhero movies ever released (44 titles!).

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You cannot fight the boring dialogues of this film.

The pacing and the editing are messy. Moreover, every 10-15 minutes the music becomes quiet, the camera stops jerking and the characters slow down and start throwing litres of pathos off the screen, talking about justice, love, delusion… Why?! The person responsible for these lines should be fired immediately. If someone removes these parts, it will be an awesome flick.

Yeah, literally cutting every scene when the characters open their mouths and just leaving the action scenes would make it a pretty cool film. Taking into consideration that there is really a lot of cool action, that movie would last at least an hour and a half, precisely enough for a cheesy 80-s action movie! Otherwise I …

Spectacularity: 3/4 (for the action scenes); 1/4 (for everything else)
Acting:  3/4
Directing: 3/4
Originality: 2/4
Pathos level 4/4
Final vote: 2.5/4

…but it is a perfect movie to watch when you’re cooking something, by the way. So each time when the characters start talking, you can take your eyes off the screen and concentrate on what really matters. Now I wonder whether “Justice League” can beat that?

Spring (2014)

Directors: Aaron Moorhead, Justin Benson. Written by: Justin Benson.  Score: Jimmy LaValle (“The Album Leaf”). Starring: Lou Taylor Pucci, Nadia Hilker, Francesco Carnelutti. USA, 2014. Budget: unknown, but tiny. Box office: $49,970. IMDB: 6.7. RT: 88%. My rating: 4/4. Love horror deconstruction.

“Just because you haven’t seen something before, it doesn’t mean it’s supernatural.”
(Lilly De Silva from Australia)

“I also highly commend the snippets of philosophy, morality, mortality, religion and science which were sprinkled throughout the film and delivered with just the right amount of wit and depth…”
(Lilly De Silva from Australia)

“The only reason i did not turn this off was because i live in a place without wifi so had no option to download or stream anything else.”
(Nicholaus Hedman)

Okay folks, here a film praised not only by me, but by Guillermo Del Toro himself as “…one of the best horror films of this decade”. If that means something to you, keep on reading, otherwise… otherwise I guess you ended up on a wrong blog! 😲

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This scene is not as simple as it seems.

Justin Benson and Aaron Scott Moorhead continue to trick the viewers with their second film and deconstruct the movie genres, now in a very romantic and sweet way. “Spring” is irresistible from the very beginning to the last frame. Just like the main characters of the movie, it enfolds you with charming and genuine story. And like “Resolution“, their previous movie, it’s more of a mystery, than horror.

It took me a while to have enough courage to approach this movie since I really adored “Resolution”, the debut picture of Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead. After reading the interviews and the premise, I was afraid that the directors would not be at a height of their first movie and pay too much attention to the horror genre itself. Oh oh oh. I couldn’t be more wrong.  “Spring” is an incredibly refreshing romantic monsterpiece.

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I could stare at this for hours too. Easy!

The story. After losing his mother and his job, Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci – “Thumbsucker“, 2013 “Evil Dead” ), a young American guy, decides to go wild and buys a random travel destination, participating in various parties and other craziness. He is impulsive, but… he simply feels lost. Evan accidentally meets Louise (Nadia Hilker – “Allegiant“), a young Italian girl living in a small Italian city near the Amalfi coast. Soon he founds out that not everything is what it seems and there is some dark obscure truth behind Louise.

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Something creepy must be hiding this charming smile… or is it just my imagination?

The production and shooting. The script, the location and how they intertwine is truly impressive. Justin Benson wrote the script while shooting ”Resolution”, when he was still working at the restaurants. In various interviews the directors mention the difficulties they had in finding the funds even after a successful indie debut – they went to Cannes Festival covering all the expenses by themselves (normally that doesn’t work that way), then scouting the right locations in Italy and meeting some producers. The project was initially thought to be shot in Italy and you can feel it – the city is an integral part of the story and deserves a special word.

”Spring” makes you feel like you are right in the middle of an upcoming spring blossom.

What I liked. It goes without saying how gorgeous is the location (it is actually Polignano a Mare in Apulia), but what is important here is how Benson and Moorhead actually develop the characters in this ambient. The light, the nature, various life forms, the feel, the architecture and the spirit of the place  blend organically with the story.  There is some kind of sense of doom here. Some scenes of the movie were not even programmed, but were a pure luck, like, for example, a couple of dead birds. Benson and Moorhead, it seems, are keeping a secret about shooting something that may sound like a cliche on paper but turns out to be genuine and original. Like ”Resolution”, Spring” flows so naturally that you never look at the watch.

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Bloody, but not disgusting.

Benson and Moorhead approach the actual filming in a very mature way for such young directors. I read about how they both hate establishing shots, considering them waste of time (these usually wide shots show the whole location from a distance preparing the audience). So they used the drones and trying to find some unusual feel and peculiar angles. This kind of approach embraces the whole movie, without becoming an end in itself though (and many directors fall in this trap once they’ve found an original visual style).

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Polignano al Mare, the film’s main location.

The acting. Can’t praise more brilliant performance of Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker. Amazing chemistry. They found a perfect tone for the picture, giving you a sense of watching a seed that is breaking the ground and is slowly becoming a tree, deepening its roots. If Evan is a seed, searching impulsively and painfully for something (or somebody), then Louise, with all her transformations, would be the nature – water, sun – that comes and goes as she pleases. Their increasing connection reminds that loving means growing, and growing means taking more and more layers off yourself and the other person that can be painful. I would also like to give a special mention to Francesco Carnelutti, a veteran Italian actor, who played a old farmer. His character was sharp, kind and wise. Carnelutti passed away in 2015. He did his first role in 1969.

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The dialogues often makes you wanna stop and pinch yourself. When Evan arrives in the town, continuing his somewhat of a substance-based journey, he is quickly approached by a charming stranger, Louise… and you know what would happen in most romance movies, right? Here Evan asks whether she is a prostitute.  By the way, it’s the debut film for Nadia Hilker. My standing ovation. Lou Taylor Pucci mentioned somewhere that before being actually contacted by Benson and Moorhead, he was actually searching for a love horror movie (on what his representatives said that such stories don’t exist).

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You think that airplane can’t hit his head? Then you forgot what real sci-fi is.

The music. Jimmy LaValle, a one man band (he performs as “The Album Leaf” – post-rock, indie pop, ambient; check it out if you have never heard of it) created tender and heartwarming tones for the picture. After graduating from college, Benson worked on documenting an album of “The Album Leaf”, it seems that now his past connection bring great results.

The reception. Like ”Resolution”, ”Spring” was greatly received everywhere and received various awards on indie festivals . Guillermo del Toro wrote in his Twitter, ”Just in case I wasn’t clear: Spring is one of the best horror films of this decade. And the only Lovecraftian film that has blown me away.”

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That’s it folks. I guess after reading how I drool over the film, these numbers won’t surprise you…

Spectacularity: 4/4
Acting:  4/4
Directing: 4/4
Originality: 4/4
Final vote: 4/4

Worth watching? Movies like ”Spring” make my faith in independent cinema stronger than ever. Keep in mind – it’s more of a mystery/thriller and has nothing to do with modern jumpscare horror, being a heartfelt, layered and genuine Lovecraftian film, capable of saying lots of things. Surely one of the most refreshing and picturesque love horror stories in many years, ”Spring” actually makes you feel like you are right in the middle of an upcoming spring blossom.

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What they do in the shadows…

 

***

Here’s a link to the movie on Amazon – digital version / BluRay+DVD. I watched it in streaming version so can’t tell exactly how the package looks like… If someone has it, please share.

 

***

Here you can read my review of Moorhead’s & Benson’s previous movie (“Resolution”, 2012) which I absolutely loved too. Their next movie, “The Endless”, must be out very soon and seems to be a spiritual sequel to “Resolution”.

Embers

Director: Claire Carré. Starring: Jason Ritter, Iva Gocheva, Greta Fernandez, Tucker Smallwood, Karl Glusman, Roberto Cots. Poland, USA, 2015. IMDb: 5.3. Budget: unknown, but very small. Box office: none (direct-to-video). My rating: 2/4. Research about the human identity through memory loss epidemic in a post-apocalyptic world.

“How can a person who has no memories show up with shaved pits?”
(Bartolomeu from Portugal)

“Toward the end I was hoping to see some kind of point to justify the favorable reviews – instead the movie just ended.”
(J-J N from United States)

“…it was not that generic Hollywood garbage.”
(A1CashFlow from East Coast USA)

In the near future a virus has infected most of the population, causing a 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.

Embers” is a very minimal movie. Mostly it tries to follow the mood of “Stalker” by Andrei Tarkovsky but with a more romantic flair. The ideas (and there are quiet many of them) are good, but the realization is not perfect. Unfortunately. When something is made of bare20170404_142135 bones, every millimeter should be of a perfect beauty. Otherwise… don’t do it that minimal? Tarkovsky was a master of long, haunting scenes with stunning visuals, photography and music, thus, he could create endlessly slow scenes where barely nothing happened. In this debut film by Claire Carré, this kind of maturity is missing.

20170404_142058The reception. The biggest problem of “Embers” is that it is desperately trying to look like an art-house movie or a video installation. It reminds me of people, who do various efforts to look smart/cool/intellectual – you know, meaningful quotes and pauses, unusual look, weird hipster pants, whatever. After few minutes of talking it’s pretty easy to recognize who is trying to imitate something and who is really different. Unfortunately, “Embers” is balancing very unevenly between both types – hence the festival success where all this artsy stuff is highly adored, but low ratings from the public (80% RT / 5.3 IMDb). IndieWire praised it as “the best sci-fi discovery of the year”. Just to remind you for a sec, that in 2015 were released such sci-fi movies as “Ex Machina“, “The Lobster“, “Chappie“, “The Martian“. What are they smoking there?

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Maybe these people weren’t informed that “Ex Machina” was released the same year too?

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20170404_142154The ideas and the plot. Let’s talk about the ideas. The film consists of several story lines. A guy and a girl, who supposedly are a couple and do not recognize each other every morning as they wake up. The do not remember their names and mostly sleep in abandoned buildings. As the day goes on, they find a way to restore the connection, but the next day the story repeats. Then there is a scientist, living in the forest with his everyday reminders how to heat up the water or start the fire. He is working on the cure to defeat the virus, but he struggles to keep all the things is his mind as they fade out too soon. A young fellow, who has unstoppable rage and violence inside, pouring it on anyone and anything he sees. Finally, 20170404_142321a father and his daughter, who managed to hide from the epidemy in the high-tech bunker and are only characters, who escaped from the virus. The daughter struggles with her boredom. Locked inside, she cannot create new memories because every day seems exactly the same to he. We don’t know more than that, the characters shown are pretty blank, just like their memory.

What I liked. The movie uses the memory loss as a metaphor, how people are locked up in a certain circle of behavior. In most circumstances, a person acts only in certain way and cannot see itself from the outside. It’s like for every event a human is programmed for several different reactions, but is it possible to overcome and do something else?20170404_142116 This reflection reminds me of brilliant “Ex Machina” by Alex Garland (the conversation about Pollock, remember). Every character in ”Embers” represents a certain commonplace – a romantic couple, a professor, a bully, a bored daughter seeking adventure. Most probably they would follow the same behavioral patterns in a normal world. So what makes them human? Memories? The ability to create new memories?

What I didn’t like. The realization of the movie is far from being perfect. Almost everything was shot with a shaky camera and from a very close distance. This was a little embarrassing (I do not have anything against a shaky camera, but what was the purpose of it here?). The music could be 20170404_142435much better and create more atmosphere. The location sets are great (Poland and USA), but the photography seems to be not that careful (again, why so many close-ups? Show us more of the abandoned city with abandoned streets). It’s not visually interesting enough to be a video installation either. All this prevents from enjoying the movie fully and connect with the characters who are pretty blank already. Many scenes could have been cut easily, being repetitive or just dull. So I can understand many negative reviews. The movie for sure is not just for some random moviegoer. But a science fiction and independent cinema fan (like me) may see it differently.

Spectacularity: 1.5/4
Acting:  3/4
Directing: 2/4
Originality: 3.5/4
Final vote: 2/4

Worth watching? Maybe. If you want a slow non-Hollywood dystopia. Well, “Embers” is not completely flawed for a first step. I’d definitely have a look at the next movie by Claire Carré though, because this debut feel a little bit incomplete and too artsy. Ironically, just like its characters who are struggling to create new memories, most viewers would do the same after watching “Embers”. The ideas are there and maybe for somebody it’s worth exploring this reflection upon human identity. I’d love to enjoy it more, though.

You can stream or buy “Embers” online here.

Watch also: “Sleep Dealer” is a very curious Mexican dystopia worth checking out. Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” (which I consider one of the best films ever) seems like an obvious recommendation. Debuts as “Moon” by Duncan Jones and “10 Cloverfield Lane” by Dan Trachtenberg  are also excellent minimal dystopian thrillers.

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).

 

‘Slaughterhouse-Five, or Children’s Crusade’ by Kurt Vonnegut

The letter said that they were two feet high, and green, and shaped like plumber’s friends. Their suction cups were on the ground, and their shafts, which were extremely flexible, usually pointed to the sky. At the top of each shaft was a little hand with a green eye in its palm. The creatures were friendly, and they could see in four dimensions. They pitied Earthlings for being able to see only three. They had many wonderful things to teach Earthlings, especially about time. Billy promised to tell what some of those wonderful things were in his next letter.

Billy was working on his second letter when the first letter was published. The second letter started out like this:
“The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just that way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the dead person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is just fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that somebody is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is ‘so it goes’.”

***

– Why me?
– That is a very Earthling question to ask, Mr. Pilgrim. Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber?
– Yes.
– Well, here we are, Mr. Pilgrim, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.

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.