ARQ

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome in the company of groundhogs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kill Command

fcd8861acdbf8bbb9d79dd7a098acbdfDirector: Steven Gomez. Starring:  Vanessa Kirby,  Thure Lindhardt, David Ajala. UK, 2016. Budget: $1.5 mln. IMDB: 5.7. My rating: 3/4.  Creepy sci-fi thriller about military guys and 1 cyborg vs huge rogue robots on a remote island.

– It’s like watching 1.5 hour long cut scene from some shitty video-game.
(ola_norsk)

– This is exactly what a B-movie should be like.
(InterArmaEnimSilentLeges)

– If you remember your feeling from watching the Predator for the first time – you will certainly enjoy Kill Command.
(Stasulos)

I didn’t have any kind of expectations from “Kill Command”, one more movie about the military guys vs the robots. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed it so much? Probably, but that would also diminish the movie’s quality.

Just look at this beautiful picture. It says it all. Those who still are not fully convinced, scroll below…there are more pictures.

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Do you smell death in the air? No?

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Well, now you do.

The plot. In the not so distant future, a military group is sent to an island for training. The purpose or type of training is unknown. They are accompanied by Mills (ice-cold Vanessa Kirby) – half-human, half-android, who has significant difficulties in gaining the trust of the others humans due to her ‘impure’ nature. As the unit deploys on the island, they unexpectedly lose any connection with the outer world. Soon the group encounters robotic creatures they did not expect.

The production. “Kill Command” is a debut by Steven Gomez (responsible for both directing and writing), who has built a career in visual effects. It has a budget of around $1.5 million (it was hard to find the precise info, but it’s about that), which is very low for a movie that includes massive robot fighting scenes. But it looks as great as $150 million movies. Visually, I enjoyed ”Kill Command” much more than “Passengers”. Only that is a great praise already. The location is outstanding. It’s an island with hills, deep forests and some abandoned facilities – a perfect place for a sci-fi scenario like here. The movie was shot entirely in the UK.

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Of course, technically it is still one more movie that explores the idea of a group of people going somewhere remote where they encounter something scary and unknown. But somehow ”Kill Command” still manages to be an original movie. It leaves a good aftertaste. When you watch these kind of movies, it often happens that it’s actually fun to watch, but they quickly fade out of your memory and the impression worsens as time passes. Strangely, with “Kill Commando” a reverse effect happened. What makes it stand out?

Several things. It’s quiet slowly paced. You will not see a continuous sequence of extremely quick cuts that resemble more a video clip, than a movie (hi, Michael Bay!). It somehow reminded me of the sci-fi wave of the 80-s/90-s. Even the action scenes are not that fast. You have enough time to see everything in detail and I think, it was more typical of a good old sci-fi film of 20-30 ago, than some newer stuff. In one of the interviews, Gomez said he tried to show the robots in all the detail from close distance – and he succeeded.

Kill Command” is quite a minimal movie – remember, it’s set on a tiny remote island – but what you see has great design and lots of details, starting from abandoned facilities, uniforms, weapons and, of course, robots. Reminds me of Far Cry in a way (well, except for the robots, but that’s a mino-or detail). The other thing is the location set and it’s used to a great extent. I would even dare to say that I had a feeling – pardon – that some scenes come close to being almost meditative. Maybe I am wrong. But even remote feeling like that says a lot about the impression you can get from a movie. I still remember well one of the scenes – in the light of a sunset, the soldier is on the roof of an abandoned building, aiming with his rifle somewhere faraway, waiting for the enemy. His body posture is tense. Around him you see the see, the sunset, the forests. In a “normal” low budget robot movie, that scene would last half a second, here it lasted 3 or 4 and seemed like an eternity, but in a good way. And there are some scenes like that that here and there – it’s not something straightforward, but more of something you understand later.

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The main problem of the movie comes from here too. I don’t know though if it was Gomez’ intention to film in that way  (from trailer and posters, it seems no and probably that’s why some part of audience didn’t like it that much – they didn’t see that was expected compared to how the movie was promoted). That would be interesting to know and it’s a pity that the movie did not develop more in this direction. It looks like it can’t decide whether if wants to become an action movie or something slower and deeper. The acting is quiet good, but uneven. The characters could have been developed more. You could easily find other things to criticize. But should you?

The reception. The movie has a whopping 5.7 on IMDb – totally undeserved, but 67% on RT may render some justice. I guess most IMDb bad reviews come from guys from were expecting a fact-paced action robot movie, but ”Kill Command” is better than that. Most reviews over the web are quite positive too, check out here, here and also this amazing insight here.

Worth watching? Yes! Far from being perfect, it’s a beautifully shot and richly detailed warfare movie. Tense, minimal and with its own nerve. No useless philosophizing about what makes human a human or robot a robot bla bla bla because it’d ruin the movie. Just keep in mind that it’s just not an average fact-paced sci-fi flick with humans and robots, like the recent hypnotizingly beautiful but rather soulless “Ghost in the Shell” adaptation, nor it is an arthouse film. So if you are a fan of “Terminator“, “Predator” (which reboot is coming out in 2018!) or, maybe, “Far Cry”, definitely have a look.

3/4

The Machine

f04c6c2af663d16125acc53ff0ea71e9.jpgDirector: James W. Caradog. Starring: Caity Lotz, Toby Stephens, Denis Lawson, Pooneh Hajimohammadi, Sam Hazeldine. UK, 2013. Budget: $1 million. Box office: $322,000 DVD sales. IMDb: 6.1. My rating: 3.5/4. Noir cyberpunk tale about a thin line that separates humans and A. I.

– How do I know that you’re alive and not just a clever imitation of life?
(one of the main scientists)

”The Machine” beats the recent ”Ghost in the Shell” adaptation with an incredible ease. If it were done in the 80-s, it would have been a cult movie. But it’s a 2013 directional debut by the Welsh director James W. Caradog, so let’s just be humble and categorize it as… almost excellent.

I have often been harsh with independent sci-fi about A. I. There hasn’t been much of it in last decade – I mean, the good one that makes think and feel, like ”Automata’ or ”Ex Machina”. Most of the others failed, taking the easy path of violence like ”A. I. against humans” or puzzles like “guess-who-is-robot-who-is-human”, which I find it incredibly boring.

So I prepared for the worst after watching the trailer of ”The Machine”, but found out something completely different. And it seems not only me. I have no idea why it was promoted (according to the trailer and poster) as an action-based sci-fi about A. I. ”The Machine” unexpectedly turns out to be dense, smart and sensible science fiction, and in the last place it’s about gore and rampage.

The plot. Near future. The West is in state of a Cold War with China. British scientists are working on creating android killing machines that will help in case of a real war that seems inevitable. Implants and artificial limbs for humans are being developed. Ava, a young scientist, joins Vincent in the hidden research facility in the attempt to develop the first self-aware artificial intellect. But they are on the edge of something bigger.

What I liked. The Machine” feels like a spiritual sibling of ”Blade Runner”, but consciously done in a harsher way. What surprised me most is that often it felt really scary – and not because of some cheap thrills. It’s because of how well it shows a thin line between humans and androids. Fear of the unknown. Few examples…

  • The guards that work as security in this research facility are for the most part wounded or partially disabled war veterans. They were given artificial limbs to substitute missing body parts or special implants that help to recover whatever sense they miss (in case their brain, sight, hearing etc were damaged), but it has certain side effects. Pretty soon they lose the ability to speak – nobody knows why, but a brilliant explanation is given later in the movie – and it seems that they start to have more of the machine than of human.
  • As the Machine (the main character) is ”born”, she behaves almost as a normal human, with small subtle differences that feel incredibly weird. There is a brilliant episode when the Machine is thinking that she is smiling to Vincent, but in fact her ”smile” looks like a sinister grin because she doesn’t know how to smile – but she doesn’t realize it, saying that she smiles it in  the same way as humans. The Machine doesn’t see the difference, so she heads to the mirror in order to learn how to smile. It looks creepy. This scene alone feels incredibly powerful.

Plus there are many episodes that feel really tense as they show broken, distorted human emotions, as if seen through a broken glass. Very creative and thoughtful approach. ”The Machine” shares a lot with the recent adaptation of ”Ghost in the Shell”, but it explores things in a deeper and more original way. Shame on you, Hollywood.

The acting is much better that one could expect from a $1 million budget directional debut of this kind – and not only from main protagonists Caity Lotz (awesome double role here), Toby Stephens and Denis Lawson, but from incredible background characters as well. Iranian-born Pooneh Hajimohammadi and Sam Hazeldine did especially a great job, portraying people with mutilated and warped senses and emotions, avoiding any kind of cliches that are typical for the genre. Kaity Lotz was very good (nothing to do with awful ”400 Days“), taking the role more seriously than portraying just a newly-created A. I. She managed to show a very wide array of emotions, from childish first steps and mistakes to delusions and learning how to survive in a cruel human world.

The movie is beautiful visually as well. It borrows a lot from “Blade Runner” visual style, and thanks God it does. It never becomes the end in itself though, blending the visuals with the narrative and using them as an integral part of the story. Everything feels organic here. With a tiny $1 million budget the Welsh director James W. Caradog and his team did really a good job. The movie never looks cheap. The synth-based soundtrack gives the warm 80-s feel as well.

What I didn’t like. There are certain moments that feel a little bit like a cliche (mostly the villain part that felt strained), but compared to the overall creativity and thoughtfulness put into the movie, let’s just close eyes to it. Finally, you cannot want everything from such a good debut like here.

Worth watching? Yes. ”The Machine” unexpectedly turned out to be one of the most original and well-crafted movies about A. I. of the last decade. It may not be as delicate and refined as ”Ex Machina” – and we don’t need another ”Ex Machina” anyway, don’t we? – but feels fresh, original and creative. Good old dense cyberpunk with an intense texture and often scary feel. A must-see for anyone who’s into thinking sci-fi.

Watch also: ”Automata”, ”Ex Machina”.

3.5/4

 

Kong: Skull Island

kong-skull-island-posterDirector: Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson. USA, 2017. Budget: 185 million. IMDb rating: 6.9. My rating: 2.5/4. Giant gorilla vs. giant everything.

– Kong’s a pretty good king. Keeps to himself, mostly. This is his home, we’re just guests. But you don’t go into someone’s house and start dropping bombs, unless you’re picking a fight.
(John C. Reilly’s character)

It’s interesting to note once again the Hollywood’s tendency of last years to invite young indie directors for blockbuster production – Garreth Edwards/Star Wars, Colin Trevorrow/Jurassic World, James Gunn/Guardians of the Galaxy – probably hoping they will deliver a fresh breath.

And forget the bearded romantic from New Zealand, who was responsible for his own beautiful and canonical version of King-Kong. Peter Jackson, of course, was relying on the classical King-Kong story of 1933, even though with a more modern and refreshing approach. New Kong is several times bigger, stronger, more dangerous and more… boring.

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Triangle

TriangleDirector: Christopher Smith. Starring: Melissa George, Michael Dorman, Rachael Caprani, Henry Nixon, Liam Hemsworth. UK, Australia, 2009. Budget: $ 12 millions. IMDb: 6.9. My rating: 1.5/4. Unscary horror wrapped in a dull time-looped puzzle.

– Well listen we don’t have to go today if you don’t want too.
– No I do… I… I… I wanna go.
– You sure?
– Yea… yea!
– Yea? OK!
 Lets go sailing!
(a typical dialogue)

Most movies about time travel/time loops share one thing in common. No, it’s not what you thought. It’s an immense and inexplicable character obtuseness. I mean, what would a normal person do if he travels in time and meets his friends or even himself? Of course, kill everybody, do odd stuff he wouldn’t normally do, write scary messages to your counterpart and maybe slaughter him as well! Otherwise time travel is not fun, right?

It’s also the first thriller I have ever seen that takes its own plot so carelessly – the poster itself is already a spoiler. Continue reading

Lazer Team


Director
: Matt Hullum. Starring:  Burnie Burns, Gavin Free, Michael Jones, Colton Dunn, Allie DeBerry, Alan Ritchson. USA, 2015. IMDb: 5.7. Budget: $2.4 million. My rating: 3/4. Action sci-fi comedy about four losers saving the world.

– My calculations show that, scientifically, we’re screwed.
(Neil)

– Guys, guys, guys. Help, help. Hagan, I promise I won’t try and bang your daughter.
(Zach)

It’s going to be a tough one. Probably I have never seen a movie that borrows so much elsewhere while still has its own little charm. Bashed by critics and mostly loved by the public, it holds the record as the highest-funded film through Indiegogo. With a decent amount of dick weird humour and tons of pure geeky fun, ”Lazer Team” may not always convert quantity into quality, but it’s itching to start a fight. If you adored stuff like ”Paul” or ”Iron Sky” (and I bet you did…) and are ready to embrace “21 Jump Street”-style humour, here’s a new piece of nerdy sci-fi awesomeness. Add ”Galaxy Quest”, some warm 80-s low budget sci-fi feel and here we are.

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Dr. Strange

Director: Scott Derrickson. Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen. USA, 2016. IMDb: 7.6. My rating: 2.5/4. Marvel superhero flick, this time with magic.

– Well, what’s this? My mantra?doctor-strange-poster
– The Wi-Fi password. We’re not savages.
(conversation between Dr. Strange and a monk)

The never sleeping guys from Marvel continue to expand its cinematic universe, this time with the introduction of magic and Benedict Cumberbatch. As usually, “Dr. Strange” gives us exactly what is expected from an average Marvel film – awesome effects, humour, not much gore, cynical but good-hearted main hero and an overall charming feel of a little marvel. Maybe it doesn’t reach the heights set by the first “Avengers” or “Iron Man”, but lots of fun and entertainment are guaranteed.

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Still, I feel that ”Dr. Strange” got way too much praise than it actually deserved. Continue reading

10 Cloverfield Lane

Director: Dan Trachtenberg. Producer: J. J. Abrams.Starring: John Goodman, Mary Elisabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr. USA, 2016. IMDb: 7.2. My rating: 4/4. Exemplary sci-fi thriller.

– It’s the end of the world and he’s upset about a dead pig.cloverfield-lane
(one of the main characters)

“10 Cloverfield Lane” will beat you up, drag down the stairs and then suddenly act like an old friend who will tell you some good jokes and offer a few beers. Just to beat you up to death again 10 minutes later. And with all due respect to Dwayne Johnson, it’s John Goodman who should be called The Rock. Damn. It’s such a relief to finally see a great thriller, one of the most abused genres probably. And a good sci-fi thriller is even a more rare specimen.

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Attack The Block

Director: Joe Cornish. Starring:  Jodie WhittakerJohn BoyegaNick Frost, Luke Treadaway. UK, 2011. Imdb: 6.6. My rating: 3.5/4. Black comedy with alien invasion in London suburbs.

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

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

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