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.

Biomorphic Surrealism / Francis Bacon

Bacon, Francis, 1909-1992; Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion

“…there is one artist who seems to bring about an almost universal dread in all those who view his work, and that is of course, Francis Bacon. Bacon’s artworks are made up of shrieking figures, ghastly contortions of flayed meat and gristle, they are visceral, oozing and corporeal to the point of revulsion…”

Reblogged from The Surrealist Junkie. Check the full post here – it is very interesting, and as it often happens, his tough life directly influenced his art. Francis Bacon (1909-1992) is absolutely unique in his ability to express a distorted and muted feeling of fear and pain.

Here is the Irish artist himself:

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Phaidon did an excellent edition about Francis Bacon.

High-Rise / posters

4 bloody lovely posters for “High-Rise” that I must have missed when reviewing Ben Wheatley’s surreal film. The last one has some very curious details.

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High-Rise” a bloody mess of a dystopian movie based on a novel by J. G. Ballard, but it had its moments. And it also had Tom Hiddleston, Siena Miller, Jeremy Irons and absolutely beautiful although rather lifeless visuals.

 

The Killing of a Sacred Deer / posters

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”… from the dude who made the weird as shit yet wholly entertaining The Lobster. And The Lobster himself, Colin Farrell, returns alongside director Yorgos Lanthimos for The Killing of a Sacred Deer” (reblogged from The Missing Reel).

Couldn’t agree more. Lanthimos and Villeneuve are probably the most remarkable directors of the last decade who manage to combine incredible visuals, original concepts and meaningful story. And both are just getting started.

Children of Men / posters

Allow me a small personal note this time. When the film was out, it didn’t make such a big impression on me. I don’t recall the exact reason. It just didn’t. I was a naive 17-year-old teen living in a…let’s call it, well, a rather badly developed second-world country with no immigrants and no terrorism (they just weren’t interested, ha, ha).

Now, 11 years after its release, I consider it a prophetic masterpiece. The reasons are simple. I moved to a place with a much higher GDP. I watched the news and I read the newspapers. Then I rewatched the film just recently and it almost made me cry.

”Children of Men”, at its core, is a horror movie. The dystopias often portray the future that is too distant or mutilated. Here everything is just so familiar…

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A gloomy poster by Jock.

But it wasn’t a really successful picture when released though. Almost a flop.

The film, in hindsight, seems like a documentary about a future that, in 2016, finally arrived,” says Abraham Riesman in a freaking awesome film analysis that includes his interview excerpts with Alfonso Cuaron:

“The hope is something that you create,” says Cuaron. “You live by hoping and then you create that change. Hope is trying to change your present for a better world. It’s pretty much up to you.” The gap between our world and that of Children of Men is closing rapidly, but he refuses to give up his faith in our wayward species. There are dark days ahead, to be sure, but perhaps they will also be days of transformation. “Look, I’m absolutely pessimistic about the present,” Cuarón says. “But I’m very optimistic about the future.

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Coming back to the poster… visit Jock’s official website. He does an amazing artwork. And here Ryan provides some good insight into Jock’s poster for “Halloween”.

Top 10 Soviet Science Fiction Movies

Here is my Top 10 Soviet sci-fi movies with a dozen of modern trailers I made specially for it while studying some video editing.

†1924-1988 selection.

Beautiful new ambient, shoegaze, dreampop, synthpop and techno soundtracks included.

 

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1. ”Stalker”, 1979.

A cerebral timeless masterpiece by Andrei Tarkovsky, probably the most renowned and influential Soviet/Russian director. Loosely based on a story by important Soviet science fiction writers Strugatsky brothers (and seen by many as a prophecy for several upcoming catastrophes including Chernobyl), “Stalker” could be interpreted as a philosophical tale about destiny and choices. But there’s much more that that. It’s simply one of the most important cinema achievements ever, let alone science fiction. The story follows three men as they penetrate deeper into into a mysterious area called “The Zone”, each of them for a different purpose. A thinking sci-fi geek’s must-see. This movie is like a Universe, there are always new layers to discover. Read more here and here.

Music by Bowery Electric.

2. ”City Zero”, 1988.

Theatre of the absurd, a mysterious tragicomedy, a dark metaphor. The late 80-s, without doubt, were the most prolific period for the underground culture in Soviet Union, especially rock music but also cinema. ”City Zero” is the finest dark offspring of that epoch. The film is normally classified as sci-fi/mystery – but if you analyze every single scene separately, there’s nothing completely impossible. It’s the sum of all parts that is greater than the whole… The famous headcake scene actually happened once in Russia. But looking at the whole story makes you feel like slowly drowning in the swamp… It’s kind of ”Donnie Darko” goes on ”Mulholland Drive” in ”The Twilight Zone” atmosphere. My full review here. Watch online here.

Music by Auktyon (Аукцыон).

3. ”Dead Man’s Letters”, 1986.

Directed by K. Lopushansky, surely the most faithful of all Tarkovsky’s followers (he worked as assistant on ”Stalker” set), this film is a heavy and realistic portrayal of the end of the world. Endless piles of rusty metal, interminable yellow twilight, dirty radioactive puddles of mixed water and blood. And dead bodies. Dead bodies everywhere. Men, children, women. Everywhere. There is no hope here. It’s finished. There is no ”if”. The doomsday clock has moved. We are just witnessing the final decay of small group of survivors that will last several months, probably. There is not even a single hint about their survival. It’s a death rattle. Just a matter of time. My full review here. Watch online here.

Music by Ital Tek.

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Tarkovsky / posters

“And so, what is a film? It’s a mosaic made of time.” (A. Tarkovsky)

 

Dreamy and poignant posters for several films of the great Russian director, by Curzon Artificial Eye. These are definitely most beautiful posters of his works I have ever seen (including probably the original posters)  as they reflect carefully the poetic nature of these films, which continue to influence modern filmmakers, such as Dennis Vileneuve who directed the best science fiction movie of 2016, ”Arrival”.

And probably will make the best sci-fi of 2017. And who is currently working on Blade Runner 2049.

 

Event Horizon

Director: Paul W. S. Anderson. Starring: Sam Neill, Laurence Fishburne, Kathleen Quinlan. USA, 1997. Budget: $60 mln. Box office: $27 mln. IMDB: 6.7. My rating: 3/4. Sci-fi/horror/thriller in deep space.

– Where we’re going, we don’t need eyes to see.
(Dr. Weir)

– You will never be alone anymore. Now you are with me. I have beautiful things I want to show you.
(Dr. Weir’s dead wife)

Darkness, space, hell, madness and obscurity. Such a cheerful company. Welcome on board of the “Event Horizon”.

Before Paul Anderson entered the endless Resident Evil epos, he did some other notable films as well, like “Mortal Combat” and “Event Horizon”. We all know how his films look, right? I suppose almost every teenager (well, I speak mostly for boys) had a period, when he is eager to watch stuff about zombies, strange creatures, space and stuff. So what happens when these boys grow up? Some make movies, others watch them. Mostly, without being too serious about it. If there is a movie for each occasion, so for me these movies are perfect to watch late on a Friday, when the brain protests against any kind of work. Or after a late party, when you come home late but still not sleepy. But… “Event Horizon” is not exactly what you would expect from a typical Paul Anderson’s film.

It’s also has a very curious and bleeding produciton history, probably one of the best I’ve ever read together with ”The Island of Dr. Moreau”.

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