Starship Troopers

Starship Troopers” is way more subtle that may seem during the first viewing. I’ve watched it multiple times… the first time was at the tender age of 7, and I am still under its spell. Wonderful analysis, Jaime Rebanal.

”….it only ends up reinforcing its own cleverness here because if this is all that one sees, then a viewer has indeed bought into the propaganda that Starship Troopers has designed itself to “sell.” It sells a shallow idea that humans are good and aliens are bad, but because of the glamor present within the image, the exciting nature of the action sequences even becomes deceiving in the most clever manner.”

Works like a propaganda film, reflecting another sort of truth.  (✯✯✯✯✯)

Full post here: Starship Troopers – Review — Jaime Rebanal’s Film Thoughts

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Update.  Love this comment by The Celtic Predator of Express Elevator to Hell Blog:

”Something I discussed ad nauseum in my review of this film is how much flack it gets from fans of the Robert Heinlein novel it’s supposedly adapting. While Verhoeven’s nth hyper-violent social satire was undercut upon release by critics who ironically swallowed its fascist propaganda at face value, as you noted above, most of the ensuing criticism of this film I’ve encountered in the 20+ years *since* it’s release has been from bibliophiles, not cinephiles. You know how book-lovers are — they treat their source material like Scripture.

Look up Robert Heinlein if you haven’t already. He had the opposite life experiences of Paul Verhoeven, and most of his military predictions have come true in Western democracies, e.g. all volunteer service, male and female combat personnel, etc. He also had a rather privileged upbringing, served as an officer in the US Navy, and to my knowledge never saw combat in a foreign war — a stark contrast from Verhoeven’s childhood under Nazi occupation.”

Attack The Block

Director: Joe Cornish. Starring: Jodie Whittaker, John Boyega, Nick Frost, Luke Treadaway. UK, 2011. Budget: $13 mln. Box office: $5.8 mln. IMDb: 6.6. RT: 90%. My rating: 3.5/4. A fucked up version of E.T.

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– No idea. Not a bloody clue. Maybe there was a party at the zoo, and a monkey fucked a fish.
(Nick Frost’s character about the alien the boys found)

– You’re quite fit you know? Have you got a boyfriend?
– Yeah.
– You sure about him? Where is he? Cos he ain’t exactly lookin’ out for you tonight.
– He’s in Ghana.
– You going out with an African then?
– No… he… he’s helping children. Volunteers for the Red Cross.
– Oh… is it? Why can’t he help children in Britain? Not exotic enough is it? Don’t get a nice suntan. Tsst.
(conversation between two teens)

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This one is a true gem with a distinctive British flavour. A lovely movie indeed and it’s much more than it seems. It’s kind of a bad street teenager with rough manners, but with a good heart buried deep inside, sentimental and ready for the next adventure. The story starts with a teenage street gang of mixed race in South London suburbia – they find themselves right in a middle of an alien invasion. So i20170205_210824magine mixing the life and language of street teenagers who try to seem cool and control, as they believe, through fear and minor crimes, with the sudden attack of the monsters. Hilarious, scary, atmospheric and sentimental. And all that wrapped in a social context.

Dedicated to all fans of Cornetto trilogy (the director Joe Cornish is a long-time collaborator and friend of Frost, Pegg and Wright).

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”Maybe there was a party at the zoo, and a monkey fucked a fish.”

***

Like in most good sci-fi, the aliens are just a premise for something bigger. The gang members, who l20170205_210726ook rather unpretty in the beginning of the movie when mugging a nurse (and most of them are barely 15 years old), start to gain our sympathy and trust. They learn how to find their own voice and character, to surpass their previous social and ethnic prejudice. I would even dare to say that it makes the film pretty unique. There are plenty of movies where some bad guys are locked up in a place and are forced to protect it and then finally we start to like them more and more (Hi, John Carpenter!). But these kids are not just some c20170205_212226onvicted murderers in prison. They are real teenagers who live in that way, for one reason or another. And you have a chance to see them in a unique environment with aliens and stuff. Even leaving aside all the social context, this is a wonderful and entertaining sci-fi movie.

Surprisingly great acting by mainly unknown to me actors (except of Nick Frost… plus I wrote this review around January 2017, when John Boyega wasn’t fighting one more time against the Dark Side!). If you enjoyed such movies as ”Shaun of the Dead” and ”Hot Fuzz”, then for sure don’t miss this one (by the way, Nick Frost starred in all of them). The effects look great and the monsters’ design is awesome. Minimal, but extremely effective. Here it is:
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Interestingly, this is a debut for both director Joe Cornish and (now famous) John Boyega. Jodie Whittaker has made since then a great appearance in one of my favourite ”Black Mirror” episodes – ”The Entire History of you”. It had a great reception on festivals and from critics. $13 million budget with $5.8 million box office.

By the way, Cornish 20170205_212135describes ”Attack the Block” as “a fucked-up version of E.T.” (one of movies that influenced him most). He is right, it’s pretty fucked up, and it gets quite bloody and violent at times as well. But like I said, remember that street boy. He might be not what he seems, just give him time.

 

Acting:  3.5/4
Spectacularity: 3/4
Originality: 4/4
Pathos level: very low
Final vote: 3.5/4

Some cool fan-made posters:

 

Outland (1981 movie)

downloadDirector/writer: Peter Hyams. Starring: Sean ConneryFrances Sternhagen, Peter BoyleJames B Sikking, Kika Markham. UK, 1981. Budget: $18 mln. Box office: $17-20 mln. IMDB: 6.6. RT: 58%. My rating: 3/4. Dark old-school science fiction in deep space with western flavour.

– Even in space, the ultimate enemy is man.
(movie’s tagline)

– If you’re looking for money, you’re smarter than you look. If you’re not, you’re a lot dumber.
– Then I’m probably a lot dumber.
– That could be very dangerous.
(a dialogue from the film)

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Outland” is quite a well-known 1981 sci-fi noir thriller, but the curious fact about it is that originally the director Peter Hyams wanted to do a western (critics often compared it to ”High Noon”… but I’m not a movie snob critic). So what happened? Once again on this blog I have no choice but to mention Ridley Scott‘s iconic 1979 ”Alien” and its long-lasting influence, because ”Outland” was probably one of the first films trying to reproduce it. Maybe unconsciously. But it’s easy to feel. If you thought that the word ”reproduce” is too strong, then let me tell you this – often the film’s setting and the events make you feel like they’re taking place in the same universe…

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What I liked. The film has an incredible production design. I mean it. Just look at these images…  Just as on ‘Nostromo’, most people are over 30-40, everything is industrial, claustrophobic and looks like an old factory. Little light, little space. Heck, even the soundtrack of both movies was done by Jerry Goldsmith and bears some resemblance in its oppressive dissonance. The costumes designer John Mollo also worked on both films (he also contributed to two Star Wars movies, namely ”Episode IV: A New Hope” & ”Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”, plus dark sci-fi ”Event Horizon” that I highly recommend). Star Wars movies are also the reason why the film I’m reviewing here turned out to be set in a galaxy far, far away….

But here’s a surprise… All this actually makes ”Outland” a good old-school sci-fi. Because even if Peter Hyams was obviously influenced by ”Alien” (which he denies), he also managed to develop the his first sci-fi feature film (well, if we don’t count ”Capricorn One” which was a different story) in its own key and tell a different story, where you can clearly feels its western roots. Almost forgot – there are no aliens in this film. The real monster here is the man. That’s the difference between making a rip-off and ”inspired by…”.

Another element that makes this film something bigger is obviously Sean Connery. The Scottish actor plays a very rightous type of guy, the one that will stop at nothing to get justice. Connery starred in ”Outland” 2 years prior to his final – 7th! – James Bond movie (”Never Say Never Again”) and if you think for a while why he was initially chosen to play James Bond, it’s easy to understand why in terms of characters Connery basically owns ”Outland”. Charisma. It’s all about charisma. Just watching Connery doing some stuff captures your attention – of course, that alone doesn’t make it a good movie, but add believable characters and impressive gritty techno noir visuals and you got the recipe.

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The plot. Io, Jupiter’s moon. A police marshal is sent on a remote mining colony just to discover a drug-smuggling conspiracy several days later… Wait wait wait. Why am I telling you this? Even the movie’s logline was nicely prepared here with some stunning visuals:

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As for the story, it is very simple and makes you even wonder why Hyams decided to create the sci-fi setting. Basically, ”Outland” is a cop story about the good guy fighting bad guys. Hyams did several cop movies prior to directing it – ”Busting” (1974) and ”Peeper” (1976). So the real question you could ask is whether ”Outland” is a cop story with a sci-fi flavour or is it a sci-fi movie with some cop story added to it? Even if the answer may vary on what kind of movie background you come from, I’d choose the first option.

Still, Hyams subsequent directing choices confirm that he became interested in both genres, as he directed other cop movies later in the 80-s, such as ”Running Scared” (1986), ”The Presidio” (1988, also with Sean Connery), ”Timecop” (1994, again mixing sci-fi and cops), but he also did some notable science fiction productions like ”2010: The Year We Make Contact” (1984) and ”Relic” (1997, sci-fi horror). Hyams also directed a pretty passable, in my opinion, ”End of Days” (1999, with Schwarzenegger and Gabriel Byrne).

What I liked less.  Somewhere in the middle of the movie, however, things start to slow down a little too much. There’s a lot to enjoy, but at its core ”Outland” is very simple (which is not a problem at all), however, what is worse, so are its characters. There’s no real drama, the plot development is pretty predictable and the characters, for the most part, are just too cardboard. An exception is Frances Sternhagen who won the Saturn award as supporting actress – she was quite annoying and the whole love story subplot felt a little strained (which is no wonder, given that initially her character was supposed to be male, just like Ellen Ripley). Still, these can be considered minor complaints. We don’t really watch 80-s sci-fi movies for a deep character drama… do we?

Acting:  3/4
Spectacularity: 3.5/4
Originality: 2/4
Pathos level: very low
Final vote: 3/4

Worth watching? Even if not perfect, it is easily one of the best lesser-known 80-s science fiction movies. ”Outland” may feel like one of those movies that somehow outgrew the intention of its creators, but it was no accident – Peter Hyams is a talented director and he had a good team which guaranteed the result. I can easily recommend this both for both crime thrillers and sci-fi aficionados. Just don’t expect it to be something groundbreaking. It’s a simple movie… with gorgeous visuals, fantastic designs and bombastic Sean Conney.

Bonus 1. It’s the first time ever I saw squash (the game) in a sci-fi movie! I’m an avid squash player so that was really nice and unexpected.

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Bonus 2. The film was originally supposed to be called ”Io”.

Bonus 3. A curious excerpt from Hyams’ interview (thanks to mossfilm):  “Sean had to expose parts of himself that I don’t think have ever really been exposed on film before. You could see it in him, it was like a horse before the race. That kind of strain. You could see him like start to paw the ground. The day before, he just sat around, and got very quiet, which wasn’t like him. I asked if he’d like to do the close up before the master? He said okay. And you knew, somehow or other, he would put it down on the first take, you just knew it. Sometimes you can just sense it, I guess it’s just part of your job. I had a feeling that there was going to be a special kind of intensity. Sean sat down and did it. When he got done, there were camera operators and grips crying. People applauded. It was a really special moment.

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Tears of Steel (short sci-fi film)

tearsofsteel-posterDirector/writer: Ian Hubert. Starring: Derek de LintSergio Hasselbaink, Rogier SchippersDenise Rebergen. Netherlands, 2012. Budget: roughly €300.000. Box office: direct-to-video. IMDB: 5.6. RT: not rated. My rating: 3/4. Action-packed futuristic time-paradox sci-fi dystopia.

– You’re a jerk, Thom!
– Look, Celya, we have to follow our passions, you have your robotics, and I just want to be awesome in space…
– Why don’t you just admit that you’re freaked out by my robot hand?!
(the real reason behind how robots will take over)

”Tears of Steel” is a short (10 minutes) Dutch science fiction film, and I’d easily say it’s a good remedy for anyone whose daily mana stamina levels depend of how much cyberpunk, robots, post-apocalyptic and futurism themes are consumed.

Continue reading

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…

 

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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.

 

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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.