Alien: Ressurection

alienDirector: Jean-Pierre Jeunet. Starring: Sigourney Weaver, Ron Perlman, Winona Ryder, Dominique Pinon, Brad Dourif, Gary Dourdan, Michael Wincott. USA, 1997. Budget: $60 mln. Box office: $160 mln. IMDb: 6.2. RT: 55%. My rating: 3/4. Xenomorphs… shaken & stirred.

– Hey, Ripley. I heard you, like, ran into these things before?
– That’s right.
– Wow, man. So, like, what did you do?
– I died.
(a dialogue from the film)

It may seem strange and irrelevant to write about ”Alien: Ressurection” more than 20 years after its release, especially given that it’s mostly known as a faulty sequel abruptly suspending the franchise for 15-20 years. Or less, it depends how you count. Plus it is the lowest rated movie of the franchise. So why even bother?

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Honestly, I think there was some misunderstanding. Mostly it happened for two reasons:

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  • The tonal mismatch tone of the new xenomorph’s movie was strickingly different from any other entry of the series and many couldn’t stand it… even considering that 3 previous movies was totally different flicks as well (namely: a horror, a blockbuster, a thriller). But in many ways ”Alien: Ressurection” was totally wicked and wry, as if Terry Gilliam directed it (hint: he didn’t, but the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet was directly influenced by Gilliam as a filmmaker).
  • Weak final which worsens the aftertaste of the film

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Lets also have a quick look at how the xenomorph’s formula works… worked:

  • Alien (1979) = 8.1 IMDb – $11 mln budget + $104 mln box office + 7 years till next sequel
  • Aliens (1986) = 8.0 IMDb – $18 mln budget + $130 mln box office + 6 years till next sequel
  • Alien 3 (1992) = 6.4 IMDb – $50 mln budget + $160 mln box office + 5 years till next sequel
  • Alien: Ressurection (1997) = 6.2 IMDb – $60 mln budget + $160 mln box office + 15/20 years to a real prequel

Then the franchise started to twitch all over, detox and show some remote signs of life thanks to 2 crossovers, namely…

As the detox period ended, cracked-and-close-to-dementia Ridley Scott started to sweat…

  • Prometheus = 7.0 IMDb – $120 mln budget + $400 mln box office + the wow effect  + because it really was quite a solid sci-fi thriller with a brilliant cast and cool designs
  • Alien: Covenant = 6.5 IMDb – $97 mln budget + $240 mln box office + unclear future of the franchise
  • Unknown Covenant sequel which will concentrate more on the A.I. than xenomorphs and will supposingly link the events to the original film

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I think that in its own wicked way, ”Alien: Ressurectioncould have easily been considered as one of the most creative and dazzling entries of the franchise. By no means the film is a masterpiece, but it’s not a cash-in, trying to blindly copy/rehash the success of the first two movies (like ”Alien: Covenant” just did). It does have its own style, full of grim grotesque, weird humour and surrealism. It’s not a balanced movie, but it’s exactly the case when you think ”oh at least they tried”.

 

15 years before Scott started digging his own shit again with ‘Prometheus‘ and 20 years before ‘Alien: Covenant‘, Jean-Pierre Jeunet (and Joss Whedon, whose contribution as a witer is important, even if he – in his own words – hated the movie) weren’t afraid to approach the creepy theme of genetic modifications and alien/human crossbreeding.

 

They had enough balls to modify the main character (the main reason why Marvel movies prosper so much nowadays – they’re not afraid to tweak, weaken or strengthen their characters) and dig deeper into the essence of human and xenomorph nature. While many wish the movie maintained a more serious tone, I think that given the whole ridiculousness of the plot, the tone set was quite right. Otherwise it just would be even worse.

C’mon, you cannot have a storyline like that and stay serious. That would be too much. That’s why I kinda like the movie – it knows its shortcomings, it dares to create something new and not simply rehash the old stuff, it has enough humour to smooth things over.

 

Without giving away too much of the plot, there are 3 particularly remarkable episodes that set the tone. I wasn’t too sure about the first one as it had really impressed me as a teen, but after rewatching it nowm 20 years later, I feel as good about it which rarely happens. Here we go, this is the episode where you see that xenomorhps can learn and adapt (just some GIFs as I don’t want to give away too much of the plot):

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Here’s another episode where we learn that Ripley’s character was ‘tweaked’…

It’s exactly what a sequel like this needs and what ‘Alien: Covenant‘ was missing. The lesson is simple, Ridley – if you can’t make it as creepy as hell, at least don’t be so serious. Please.

Finally, the 3rd episode that I find particularly significant and valuable to the core of the franchise is when Ripley enters the crossbreeding laboratory. A perfect example of the new direction the franchise could easily take, especially considering the final part of the movie and Whedon’s ideas about the battle for Earth.

 

It has always surprised me that among all the cast only Sigourney Weaver has been considered as the core value of the franchise – each of 4 movies always featured strong and charismatic supporting characters, and I don’t see what was the problem of making a 5th Alien movie without Ripley (no, I don’t mean ‘Prometheus’ which I must admit did have a strong cast, I mean the real sequel). Lack of good ideas, probably, but not having Sigourney Weaver onboard is no excuse.

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The production. Before moving to the film itself, I’d love to mention some facts about the crew and the production. Jean-Pierre Jeunet directed several curious flicks such as ”Delicatessen” (post-apocalyptic black comedy), ”City of Lost Childern” (fantasy tale, also with Ron Perlman) and ”Amelie”. The script was created by Joss Whedon (”Serenity”, ”Avengers”) and it wasn’t an easy task – he wrote multiple versions of it, all of them denied by producers and Sigourney Weaver as well as she was not interesed in that kind of setting… The original script had a third act on Earth, with a final battle for Earth itself. Here’s what Whedon said in 2005 about the film:

“It wasn’t a question of doing everything differently, although they changed the ending; it was mostly a matter of doing everything wrong. They said the lines…mostly…but they said them all wrong. And they cast it wrong. And they designed it wrong. And they scored it wrong. They did everything wrong that they could possibly do. There’s actually a fascinating lesson in filmmaking, because everything that they did reflects back to the script or looks like something from the script, and people assume that, if I hated it, then they’d changed the script…but it wasn’t so much that they’d changed the script; it’s that they just executed it in such a ghastly fashion as to render it almost unwatchable.”

On the contrary, H. R. Giger loved the film. I’m with Giger this time.

Worth watching? So, what a paradox, if you think of ”Alien: Ressurection” in terms of pure geeky nerdy fun, I think it could easily qualify as one of the best sequels ever, because it’s not afraid to turn upside down and expand the original cult movies and very little sequels have enough balls to do so. It could have been much better, yes, but it is far from being as bad as many claim. I really recommend it, if you like wry humour and don’t sit and pray the whole day for the sacred 1979 horror (which is as delicious now as it was back then) and 1986 blockbuster (which in my opinion was an absolute breakthrough for its time, but from other point of view reduced the sense of danger coming from the xenomorphs, making them more similar to an insects…). Finally, it’s that kind of movie that even if you hate it, you can still enjoy it. Just know that it’s different.

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

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Here’s a lovely poster of Alien 3 for those who don’t agree with my review.

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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.”

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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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.”

“The Last Question”, a short story by Isaac Asimov (1956)

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Isaac Asimov considered “The Last Question” one of his best science fiction works, and rightfully so. For those who haven’t read it – go on, it takes roughly just 15 minutes. For those who have – it would be great to know your thoughts on it as it touches very complex matters, such as ageing, biomechanics, what is immortality, interstellar travel and many others…

Spoilers below (just highlight the text):

  • Do you think this kind of scenario is plausible? That first we live longer, than we become immortal, then, bored by the immortality and getting used to the environment, we start to separate from our physical bodies?
  • Do you think that names that combine letters and numbers are a cliche? VJ-23X, THX 1138… I think it is a cliche, although it doesn’t mean it was so in 1956.
  • How do you interpret the ending?
  • Here’ s a good discussion.

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The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way:

Alexander Adell and Bertram Lupov were two of the faithful attendants of Multivac. As well as any human beings could, they knew what lay behind the cold, clicking, flashing face — miles and miles of face — of that giant computer. They had at least a vague notion of the general plan of relays and circuits that had long since grown past the point where any single human could possibly have a firm grasp of the whole.

Multivac was self-adjusting and self-correcting. It had to be, for nothing human could adjust and correct it quickly enough or even adequately enough — so Adell and Lupov attended the monstrous giant only lightly and superficially, yet as well as any men could. They fed it data, adjusted questions to its needs and translated the answers that were issued. Certainly they, and all others like them, were fully entitled to share In the glory that was Multivac’s. Continue reading

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

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

 

400 Days

400Director: Matt Osterman. Starring: Brandon Routh, Tom Cavanagh, Caity Lotz, Ben Feldman, Dane Cook. USA, 2015. IMDb: 4.5. Budget: unknown, but very low. Box office: $58. My rating: 0.5/4. Comatose fight of Solaris vs 2001 vs Alien vs Moon.

 What is your current mood?
 Tired… and a little hung over.
 Tired and hung over aren’t moods, I need something like happy, sad, depressed, angry.
(a dialogue between main characters)

400 Days” is a brilliant showcase of how with very little you can achieve even less. I found it on some faraway dusty sci-fi forums thanks to a viewer who complained about ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, criticizing it as a dull and uninspiring movie with bad acting. Thank you, dear unknown viewer! I must confess I feel like a snob by saying this, but… should a basic cinema education be introduced in secondary education program? At least, as a short course?

Still, I am particularly proud I have seen a movie that grossed $58.00 (fifty eight dollars). Way better than ”Man Down” with Shia LaBeouf that took just £7.00 at UK box office during its premiere, isn’t it? I am also deeply convinced that even worst movies can tell you something new – for example, this year NASA will be actually testing 6 potential cosmonauts for 8 months in closed environment to examine psychological issues. On Hawaii.

20170427_062257400 days is the length of the preparatory mission for a space travel to the Moon. 4 people selected. They will live together in a claustrophobic underground environment, kind of a spaceship simulator, in order to see how psychologically prepared they are for a real mission. As their voluntary imprisonment is reaching the end, something starts to go wrong. It seems that it wasn’t exactly a preparatory mission.

Sounds cheesy? Well, that’s actually the least cheesy part of the film. NASA actually is developing a similar program right now on Hawaii, it’s called HI-SEAS. 6 people, 8 months, Mars-like simulated environment and geology exercises. You can read more here, it’s interesting.  Here is a photo of how it actually looks like:

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20170427_062124The problem of the movie is not the idea. It’s actually pretty good. The problem, as it often happens with the low budget sci-fi, is the realization. I also have no idea why exactly 400 days are needed, not 399? Doesn’t sound like a cool name for the movie? Pardon my vocal gymnastics, but it may give you a general idea of the internal logic of the film. Or, to be more precise, its absence. What is the characters background? What kind of program is that? Why20170427_062109 these 4 people are selected? Why one of them is taken right out of jail? Where comes from the image from the poster? Why the slogan is ”time to kill”? We will never know that.

Oxford Dictionary has a pretty good definition of this movie. “Comatose – of or in a state of deep unconsciousness for a prolonged or indefinite period, especially as a result of severe injury or illness.”

20170427_062223The first 40 minutes are particularly hard to watch, since this is how much the movie actually takes to arrive to the main point (which was already clear to anyone who read the description or saw the trailer). Damn, in Peter Jackson’s ”King-Kong” it took more than one hour to show us the ape… but at least we saw it!

20170427_062151To make it even worse, these 40 minutes are full of broad hints that there is something wrong with the future mission (as if it wasn’t clear already), boring wandering around the ship and weird behavior for no apparent reason when the characters start to go mad (probably because it was written in the script?). The sets look cheap – but still would do fine for some secondary “Outer Limits” episode, if cut by half. “400 Days” feels infinitely long. Like 400 minutes (God bless you, Peter Jackson).

20170427_062243The acting is on the same level as everything else. But it’s not the fault of the actors because we have some good names here. I mean, these people can act. I don’t know what Brandon Routh (Bryan Singer’s “Superman Returns“, Egdar Wright’s “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” which I adore) is doing here. Tom Cavanagh dilutes the ongoing sleepiness with some sinister lines, but that barely saves the movie. And Caity Lotz? She did a brilliant performance in “The Machine“, a cyberpunk movie I just loved.

Oh. Almost forgot.

The characters here have one bad habit. They talk.

I mean, they comment literally everything that is happening around, often several times – like we, viewers, have a 3-year-old-kid brain and are not able to get it. There is a remarkable episode, when the main characters have been 20170427_062137hanging around in one place for roughly 2 minutes of the onscreen time and one of them finally says, ”Hey guys, how long we have been wandering around here?”, and his mate replies ”I think an hour or two”. It’s curtains.

20170427_062209The ending could provide some catharsis to all this like it often happens in ending-based movies, but there is virtually no ending. Yes – when the movie ends, you have barely no idea of what actually happened. It’s simply not shown. There are some clues here and there though, so basically here we have same story as with lots of other dull sci-fi like “Primer” or “Uncanny“, when various geeks will watch the movie over and over 93455 times to solve the puzzle.

Worth watching? I think the Oxford Dictionary has a pretty good definition of this movie. “Comatose – of or in a state of deep unconsciousness for a prolonged or indefinite period, especially as a result of severe injury or illness.” The Oxford Dictionary is right – with a huge choice of great sci-fi of all kind like we have now, there is very little reason to watch ”400 Days”.

But if you don’t take the movie too seriously, it can be plenty of masochist fun to watch too. It will be a tough experience you’ll never forget.

Watch instead: anything else. Perfect “Ex Machina“, ”Moon” & ”10 Cloverfield Lane”, quite good “Exam” & ”Signal”, all of these are valid flicks for some mind-bending thrills, not mentioning old classics like ”Solaris”.

0.5/4

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“.