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?

Screenshot_20171105-150346

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

batman-v-superman-trinity-rising

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.

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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.

Sunshine

“If this movie was American, it would doubtless be a bunch of American cowboys being sent up with fireworks and catch phrases.”

 

A wonderful review of this hugely underrated movie by Assholes Watching Movies. I can rewatch it endlessly. Like in case of “28 Days Later“, Alex Garland and Danny Boyle’s collaboration brought an incredible result. And why? Because – among all other things – they had a good solid script.

***

Alex Garland’s second movie, “Annihilation“, will be out pretty soon. trailer was released recently and it looks absolutely hypnotic.  I really think in 20 years he may become what Villeneuve is now if he continues like that.

The cast is impressive – Natalie Portman, Oscar Isaac, Tessa Thompson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Sonoya Mizuno. Really looking forwatd to it.

 

ASSHOLES WATCHING MOVIES

50 years into the future, the sun is a dying star, and Earth will die along with it. We send a ship of astronauts to bomb the sun back into shining but the team goes awol somewhere out in the million miles of space. So we send another one, but this IS IT. Mankind’s last hope. We’ve officially mined all of Earth’s resources for this motherload. No pressure!

sunshine02The new team includes Rose Byrne, Chris Evans, and Cillian Murphy. They’re clearly already under stress when we meet them several years into their trip to the sun, but shit’s about to get a whole lot messier. Just as they’re approaching the most dangerous part of the mission, they receive a signal. It’s a ping from the lost ship. It’s been 7 years since anyone’s heard from them…they can’t still be alive, can they?

The crew debates whether they should divert their…

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Space Station 76

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

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

(Misty visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

 

– I’m a leg man, you know?

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

(Misty visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

 

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

(The captain visits the robotic psychologist Dr. Bot)

 

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

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

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

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

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

A Trip to Mars (Himmelskibet) / posters

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This is not a Soviet film as you might have thought, but a Soviet poster for “A Trip to Mars” (“Himmelskibet“), a silent 1918 Danish film, one of the earliest productions in space travel sub-genre of science fiction. It’s interesting to note that Denmark didn’t make another science fiction film until the 60-s.

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This original poster was cool, but not as the Soviet one.

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Pay attention to the writings.

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I won’t review it since this oldie is mostly interesting for cultural reasons and cinephiles (I’ve already covered “Aelita“, a silent Soviet movie about, guess what, also a trip to Mars! It seems like people really preferred Mars to the Moon), but moviessilently.com did a terrific film analysis, here are some highlights:

  • “The spaceship is called the Excelsior but it looks more like a fat little airplane.”
  • “It seems that Mars was once warlike but then some guy showed up and said, “Hey, what if we make love and not war!”
  • “The performances are very… European, especially among the human characters. There was a tendency in European silent cinema to treat film acting as a series of poses, which leads to a choppy set of movements as the performers check items off the list. “Let’s see, I need to be excited then determined then indignant…”
  • “The first key problem with the film is that modern science fiction fans have seen this scenario before but always with a twist.”

Version 1.0 (Paranoia 1.0, One Point O)

one-point-0-1417958542Directors: Marteinn Thorsson, Jeff Renfroe. Starring: Jeremy Sisto, Deborah Unger, Udo Kier, Lance Henriksen, Bruce Payne. 2004, Iceland, USA, Romania. Budget: $1.7 mln. Box office: unknown. IMDb: 6.2. My rating: 3.5/4. Surreal cyberpunk.

– I’m full of bugs. I’m full of mistakes.
(one of the movie’s main characters)

– You ever have that feeling where you’re not sure if you’re awake or still dreaming?
– All the time. It’s called mescaline.
(a dialogue from “The Matrix”)

“Is atmospheric but in a way that made me nervous, I wanted to tear the seat and theater apart.”
(p_imdb-238-926380 from Germany)

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Has it ever happened to you to spend days while you are trying to get a certain information or a document? The office rats send you from one office to another (“Sure, ask my colleague from room 867 on the 16th floor“), you spend hours on the phone, then from one building to the opposite side of town (“Yes, we are open on Tuesday from 16.00 till 18.00 and on Thursday from 10.00 till 12.00“), and days pass and you feel being sucked in some insane surreal bureaucratic vortex. I experienced it more than once and – while I hope it didn’t happen do you – I bet you went through this too.

Now imagine of experiencing this kind of feeling in your own apartment, located in a somewhat post-Victorian post-communist gloomy house full of surveillance cameras, weird dark holes and obscure personalities. Every day you receive a nicely packaged box which is perfectly empty. Every day. You spy your neighbours, install the surveillance, but… the packages keep appearing. And THE MILK. You are just obsessed with milk now. “Nature Fresh” brand milk. Continue reading

Silent Running / posters

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Some of you may rightfully wonder why the name of Mark Kemrode, the film critic, is floating on the poster. The answer is simple – he likes to float, too this is a cover of his book, “Silent Running“. He often said that the film is one of his all-time personal favourites, citing his preference for it over “sterile and emotionless” “2001: A Space Odyssey“.

Now I start to doubt even more in the sanity of top-notch movie critics as calling “Silent Running” the best sci-fi film is just insane – for a serious cinema critic, not fanboy like me. But that does not make the book cover any less beautiful. It was designed by Olly Moss and he did a bunch of awesome movie posters, including very original “Star Wars” posters (and it must be very difficult to make an original SW poster!). Amazing work.

…and just for the record, the other most recent time I ranted about insane movie critics was when ebert.com rated “Alien: Covenant” 4/4.

Here is another poster oldschool poster.

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And a wonderful photo from the shooting.

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I reviewed the film before, so check here my GIFs about the film and the amazing special effects of the flight through the Saturn rings here. That was something incredible.

Plus, here’s some interesting info about “Silent Running” that I didn’t cover in my review. “After the success of Easy Rider (1969), directed by Dennis Hopper, Universal Studios hit upon the idea to let young filmmakers make “semi-independent” films for low budgets in hopes of generating similar profits. The idea was to make five of these movies each for $1 million dollars or less, not interfere in the filmmaking process, and give the directors final cut, a level of control seldom allotted to even the most successful directors. The movies produced were The Hired Hand (1971) directed by Peter Fonda, The Last Movie (1971) by Dennis Hopper, Taking Off (1971) by Milos Forman, American Graffiti (1973) by a young and impressionable George Lucas, and lastly Silent Running. Released in 1972 (5 years prior to the release of the first Star Wars film), Silent Running is an environmentally themed American sci-fi film written, produced, and directed by the legendary filmmaker and visual effects pioneer, Douglas Trumbull.” Thanks to Supercult Show blog that did a very comprehensive write-up about the film.

Now… Suntory time, as Bill-motherfucking-ghostbuster-Murray once said.

032 Silent Running - Silent But Deadly Poster